I love sports because as a fan, even though I have no direct involvement, I still feel I’m part of the game and get to experience the full spectrum of emotions. In a 2010 article about the soccer world cup, Bill Simmons shared a perfect example of the emotions of fandom.
“I hate how teams milk leads in the last 15-20 minutes by faking injuries and taking forever to sub players. When that Ghana player had to be carried off on a stretcher at the tail end of the America game, then hopped off like nothing ever happened as soon as the stretcher was out of bounds, I thought that was appalling. Actually, it made me want to go to war with Ghana. I wanted to invade them. I’m not even kidding. That’s another great thing about the World Cup: Name another sport in which you genuinely want to invade other countries when you lose.”
Like Bill, I remember watching this game and feeling outraged. Why wasn’t Ghana punished for this blatant fake injury? It felt unjust, but it was just a soccer game. In America, most of us are so sheltered that our sports teams are our closest proximity to injustice. Because of this, we have a negative stigma about God’s justice, but anyone who has seen their friends and family murdered knows that if God weren’t a God of justice, God wouldn’t be worthy of praise. Unfortunately for us, when we rejected God, we committed treason, and God’s justice requires this treason be paid for.
Recall that last week we looked at how for heaven as a utopia to exist, something fundamentally needs to change within the human heart.
So we must both pay the price for our treason and have our hearts fundamentally transformed. Both are required for our salvation, but neither are sufficient on their own. If we pay the price for our treason but aren’t changed to where we can submit to God, we will continue to commit treason. If our hearts are changed to where we submit to God, but our treason isn’t paid for, God would rightfully judge us as guilty from our past treason, and our sentence would be death. We need both, and we find both at the cross.
Jesus lived a life of perfect submission to God the Father so that He could be our substitute and endure the punishment for our sins. On the cross, Jesus’ perfect, eternal relationship with God the Father was severed so that we could be declared righteous before God.
In his first letter, John writes,
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
Because of the cross, God can be just and merciful; because of the cross, we can be declared innocent.
But the cross is not only the place where our sins are paid for, it is where we can find a love powerful enough to transform our hearts. When we see that Jesus endured the punishment we deserve to make us righteous before God, when we understand that the true pain of the cross was the sting of His eternal relationship with God the Father being severed, when we understand the depth of God’s love and desire for us to be reconciled to Him, when we see that God is a King who is willing to sacrifice His son for His people, the Holy Spirit fundamentally transforms us so that we want to submit to God and live under his reign.
It is a great paradox that this transformation is simultaneously partial and complete. It is complete because when we are transformed, we are brought from death to life and given the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. It is partial in that even though we have the Holy Spirit, we don’t submit to God fully. In our minds, we desire to submit to God, but in our hearts, we’re still prone to rebellion. We need God to perfect this transformation, and praise God that He has promised He will! Next week we will examine how God keeps this promise.