Half the Distance

Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.
~ Psalm 119:136

A modern fable and the interpretation thereof

Theoretical physicist, Grayson Eccles, BS, MS, PhD, solely occupied a table for two at his favorite restaurant. At the late hour he preferred, the dining room was quiet and sparsely populated. He cut a portion from his filet mignon and winced at the clatter of plates and knives and forks, which interrupted his reverie. The diner opposite Eccles had a white-knuckle grip on the circular table in front of him with both hands. Eccles was mentally noting the diner’s pallor when commotion set to.

“We need a doctor!” Lots of people were rushing about and talking at once, but that cry at least was clear. If Eccles had not understood it, it was repeated sufficiently so he could make it out. “Hey!” Eccles turned his head as his waiter nearly perched on his left shoulder. “Aren’t you a doctor?” Eccles sighed. “I am not that kind of doctor.” The waiter moved closer, though Eccles didn’t think that was possible and concluded the waiter must be attempting to resolve the dichotomy paradox.

“I think this guy’s choking! Don’t you know the Heimlich?” Eccles thought about reaching for the glass of wine on his table, but rather drummed his fingers. “Sir, I am in the unbroken line of intellectual investigators traced back to the Copernican Revolution. If you wish to know about Descartes, Newton, Lagrange, or Einstein, I will happily oblige. If you’re trying to work out an understanding of thermodynamics, general or special relativity, or quantum mechanics, you could not apply to a better man for assistance. While Dr. Henry Heimlich was a commendable researcher and accomplished thoracic surgeon, I am not studied in his maneuver.”

A deathly still descended on the room. The waiter looked up at the victim, no longer struggling. EMTs poured through the doors and knew they were too late. They set about their solemn work. Eccles looked at the remains of his steak with pursed lips. He finished off his wine and sat the glass down. He glanced at his bill, mentally calculated 18%, laid down his cash, and left to go home. The waiter, as he later recounted the events of the evening, said Eccles went through door, putting on his hat, and muttering something about “half the distance.”

What meaneth this?

It is natural to be disgusted or angry with the Eccles character. How could he sit nearby, eating and drinking, while a man choked to death? How could he return home in his own cloud of abstract thought without being affected by what had just happened? It’s unthinkable, but do we well to be angry? In Eccles’ defense, he was a brilliant physicist. He was a man engaged daily in the great work of life. He had no medical training—not even a simple class in CPR. Staying consistent with the story, had he stood up and rushed over to the man, he would not have been able to save his life.

You recognize I have a point here. We can hardly fault the man for not saving someone’s life when it was not possible for him to do so. But…But, though he was not able to save the man had he tried, his indifference to the man’s suffering and death are inexcusable. Aside from the interruption from the waiter, his evening went on much the same it would have if the man had not choked. This is reprehensible. How could he simply not care?

Thou art the man

How can so many Christians be coldly indifferent to the condition of their lost family, friends, and neighbors? How can they go on about life while the lost are dying around them? Many Christians are scrupulous concerning abstract points of theology and distinctive doctrinal formulations, but are unmoved by the lost around them. We have all heard the excuses for indifference.

“I can’t save anybody. God does the saving.”
“No use pleading with sinners to come to Christ.”
“God’s going to save his elect regardless of what I do or don’t do.”
“Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine.”
“You will be eaten by cannibals!”

It is absolutely true that we cannot save anyone else. We cannot even save ourselves. However, to disobey the commands to evangelize and to be without compassion for the lost is to not follow or be like Jesus. Jesus was moved with compassion for the lost and wept over the lost (Mark 1:41; 6:34; Luke 7:12-13; 19:41-42). Paul was similarly moved concerning his lost kinsman (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1). Paul plead with sinners to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). Even in the Old Testament we find a compassionate call to the lost (Isaiah 55:1-7; 65:2; Jeremiah 31:18-20). God has revealed himself as a God of wrath but also of mercy. Because he is so great in mercy, sinners are bid to come to him (Psalm 51:1; 130:7; 1 Timothy 1:15-16).

Do not blame doctrine for indifference. We could not produce a sounder theologian than Paul, or even Jesus himself, yet they both were moved with compassion toward the lost. Brother pastors and preachers, have we misplaced the emphases in our preaching such that we have lost Gospel-centeredness, and Christ-centeredness, producing a people with calloused indifference toward the lost and dying world? If so, we are actually leading people away from following Jesus and becoming more like Christ. Brothers, we must repent of such disobedience and misleading of God’s sheep and return to knowing nothing but Christ crucified and the preaching that manifests Christ in the sight of all (1 Corinthians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6).

May God break our hearts and loose our tears over those who go on in unbelief. Let us never sit coolly by, eating and drinking, while thinking abstractly with people dying around us. And as far as our moral fable is concerned, we have only covered half the distance.

The Sky is Not Empty

Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain. ~ Psalm 104:2

Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain. ~ Psalm 104:2

God is in Heaven, and that’s good for us.

Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God thou art very great; thou are clothed with honour and majesty.
– Psalm 104:1

Like the Bible in Genesis 1, Psalm 104 starts with the reality of God. There is no proof, defense, explanation, or justification–God is. He revealed himself to Moses as the “I am” (Exodus 3:14). He explained himself as “I am that I am”–unlike any other. He is self-existent, uncreated, and unending.

He revealed himself to the prophet Isaiah as unlike any other (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11). The Book of Isaiah reveals a God of majesty and power. He is the one who stretched out the heavens like a curtain and measured the oceans in His hand. His judgments are fierce and His wisdom silences all. Though He thunders, He also gathers His people as little lambs and carries them in His arms. He comforts them as a mother comforts her small child. He also atones for the sins of His people through the offering of His suffering servant and He pardons and washes as white as snow.

God is revealing himself and inviting us to know Him. God is there and He is not silent.

How does God reveal himself?

He reveals himself in His creation (Psalm 19:1-6) and in His word (Psalm 19:7-11). Psalm 104:1-35 shows how the order and constancy of life and the world testify of God. All of His works reflect His glory. He reveals himself specially in His word and in His Son (Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:1-18). Only through His Son, Jesus, can we know God savingly (Matthew 11:27).

What is revealed of God?

God reveals himself to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. He reveals that He is the creator and sustainer of the universe. He is supremely sovereign. He is supremely holy. He is supremely knowing and wise. He is supremely righteous. He is supremely just. He is supremely true. He is supremely loving.

God is God. He is self-existent. He is alone worthy of praise and worship. He is greater and higher than all His creation.

How do we get it wrong?

God is the greatest reality. He is ultimate reality. He has revealed himself but we fail when we don’t acknowledge Him or we distort His reality. The Bible identifies at least six worldviews that fail because they are wrong about God.

  1. The fool thinks there is no God (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). He makes man the highest being and survival-of-the-fittest is his ethos. The fool thinks that whatever he has the power to do, he can do. There is no fearful looking for judgment with him, because there is no one to judge.
  2. The rich, worldly man doesn’t think of God (James 4:13-17). God may be there, or He may not be there to the worldly minded. It doesn’t matter to him, because he takes no account of God in his daily life.
  3. Pharaoh thinks God has no right or authority over him (Exodus 5:2). He judges the truth of God’s claims and can receive or refuse at his own discretion. He is deluded into thinking he can mediate his own reality. He was postmodern before it was cool. The man-on-the-street way of saying it is, “That may be true or right for you, but it is not true for me.”
  4. The wicked think that God is like them or like a man (Psalm 50:16-23). God may object to their thoughts and ways, but He can do nothing but thunder in the distance. If He objected to them, He should have spoken or forever hold His peace.
  5. Nebuchadnezzar thought that God was beside him (Daniel 4:29-37). He thought he could make his own way and maybe even that God owed him prosperity. He was an early prosperity preacher who made God a means to an end in order to get a little more comfort during his vaporous appearance on earth.
  6. False professors think God is their imaginary god (Matthew 7:21-23). They live their lives using God’s name, but they have actually put God’s name on the craft of their own minds and ultimately do not know Him at all.

We don’t overstate the case to say that knowing God is a life-and-death reality. God’s existence is the greatest truth, greatest reality there is. We come now to our last question.

How is God’s existence good for us?

If God is who He says He is and who He shows himself to be, how is that good for us? Or, what are we profited by it? God’s existence is good for believers and unbelievers. Let me explain.

Good for believers

God being there for believers means that daily you have answers to the questions of life. It doesn’t mean that you know everything, but you can know some things for certain. Being a believer means that God has specially revealed himself to you and you know truth that the greatest human mind cannot find out on its own.

God’s existence means you have purpose and meaning to life. You’re not left to drift and wander aimlessly. You have no need to question why you exist or futilely pursue fulfillment.You are set to pursue His righteousness and His kingdom. You have a purpose.

You can make some sense of suffering because God is there. You don’t know how it all works together or why one thing comes to one and not another. You know suffering isn’t pointless.

You have comfort for the sorrow of death. Death is a painful separation and a reminder of frailty. In death, you do have hope, though it is washed with tears.

You have forgiveness and cleansing from sin. Apart from God there is no atonement and no covering righteousness. Though you fail everyday, the blood of Jesus Christ washes your sins white as snow.

You have help. You are not alone, though there be no human beside you. You do not have to live and do of your own strength or wisdom.

You have guidance. Life can be a confusing maze at times and our way is one of the easiest things to lose. You have sure counsel from God.

You have hope. Everyday you live a life filled with hope. You have something to live for and something to die for. You have something to look forward to that outweighs all grief and pain now.

Good for unbelievers

It might seem odd to suggest that God’s existence is good for unbelievers because that means their condemnation is sure. Many deny His existence rather than face such reality. However, if you are not a believer, I’m glad you are reading this and I assure you God’s existence is good for you.

God’s existence means there is ultimate meaning to life. If there is no God, then all is random, chaotic, and meaningless. I know you are taught that continually but no one lives their life consistently with that view. You probably show kindness to others and care deeply about social justice. You likely want to help the hurting and relieve as much suffering as you can. If life was truly random and meaningless, why would you do any of those things? God’s existence is the foundation for all good things and makes life meaningful.

God’s existence assures you of personal worth and dignity because you are created in the image of God. The questions: Who am I? Why am I here?, have answers because God exists. You are a living soul worth more than the whole world (Matthew 16:26). You are not a waste nor an accident. You have been fearfully and wonderfully made by a wise and loving creator.

God’s existence means that God himself and truth can be known. You are not left to wander in a void. You are not left to doubt and fear with no comfort or sure knowledge. God can be known because He has given you witness of himself.

God’s existence means you can have eternal life. You can live forever in a new heaven and a new earth where sin will never enter and all is true, good, and beautiful.

God is there. God is not silent. God is good for us. Look to His creation. Look to His word. Look to His Son.

Grace or Work

And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. ~ Romans 11:6

And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. ~ Romans 11:6

Is there any glory for man in salvation?

We considered that salvation is of the Lord in a previous post. The biblical sum on the subject ascribes all glory to God in the salvation of men. So, accepting that salvation is God’s work, is there any room for man’s work in the salvation of his own soul? Does he contribute? Does he get any credit?

The Bible answers that question in three key ways.

  1. God will not divide or share His glory with any other.

    Paul states three times in Ephesians 1 that God’s work in salvation is to the praise of His, God’s own, glory. In verse 3, Paul blesses God who has “blessed us with all spiritual blessings . . . in Christ.” The spiritual blessings are enumerated in verses 4-5. These include being “chosen . . . in him before the foundation of the world,” in order that “we should be holy and without blame before him in love;” and being “predestinated . . . unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself.” All these are “To the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6).

    Several blessings are further enumerated in verses 6-12. “He hath made us accepted in the beloved.” “We have redemption through his blood,” and “the forgiveness of sins.” He has “made known unto us the mystery of his will.” “We have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him.” These also are “That we should be to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:12).

    Furthermore, the saved have been “sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance.” This is so that we will ultimately come into the full inheritance of the “purchased possession,” and this also is “unto the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:14).

  2. Man cannot boast of anything before God.
    Salvation is a particular display of God’s grace, mercy, and love to fallen, human sinners. Paul wrote, “For by grace are ye saved through faith . . . not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). So God does the “work” of salvation and applies that work as a gift of grace to a fallen, incapacitated sinner. Man is left without any boast before God.

    But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe:for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness:that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

    Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay:but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid:yea, we establish the law.
    – Romans 3:21-31

    God has so ordered salvation that man has nothing to boast in himself and his glorying is only rightly in the Lord. “That no flesh should glory in his presence . . . That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:29, 31).

  3. Salvation cannot simultaneously be of grace and of works.
    Words mean things and, like matter, cannot be and not-be at the same time. Genesis 1:1 declares, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” As Francis Schaeffer put it, “The God who is there.” 1 The Bible begins with a distinction—God creates. So you have God and creation; God and not-God. God is the Creator, not the created. The creation is the created and not the Creator.

    The Bible points out just such a distinction between grace and works for salvation.

    And if by grace, then is it no more of works:otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace:otherwise work is no more work.
    – Romans 11:6

    The distinction is made between salvation by works and salvation by grace. It cannot be both at the same time. To make it so does violence to the very meaning of the words—”grace is no more grace” and “work is no more work.” Paul explains this distinction in Romans 4:1-8. To work is to earn a wage, or payment. When the payment comes for work done, that payment is settling a debt. It is a sum that is owed. It is not a gift given.

    Salvation is described as an undeserved gift. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Salvation is an overwhelming gift of grace that gives us what we do not deserve and removes from us what we do deserve, namely death or judgment for sin.

So the answer is, No. There is no glory for man to take to himself in the salvation of his soul. Salvation is start-to-finish of God, and, therefore, all glory belongs to Him.

Notes:

  1. Schaeffer, F. A. (1970). The God who is there: speaking historic Christianity into the twentieth century. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

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