Today we come to our second-to-last reading in John Stott's classic work The Cross of Christ. We are in a section that discusses some of the implications of the cross, or, as Stott phrases it, “living under the cross.” He wants us to know that the cross directs our conduct in relation to other people which leads to this chapter’s topic: loving our enemies.
I sense that the book is beginning to slow down a little bit. While last week and this week have had plenty of good information, it seems like the greatest impact of the book was earlier on. I guess that should not be surprising. And still, Stott continues to deal with important topics.
The first thing Stott looks at is conciliation and here he shows that the command that we live at peace with everyone is very difficult to actually do, at least in part because true reconciliation and peace requires both parties to cooperate. Here is what he says:
If our peace-making is to be modeled on our heavenly Father’s, however, we will conclude at once that it is quite different from appeasement. For the peace that God secures is never cheap peace, but always costly. He is indeed the world’s preeminent peacemaker, but when he determined on reconciliation with us, his “enemies” who had rebelled against him, he “made peace” through the blood of Christ’s cross (Col 1:20). To reconcile himself to us, and us to himself, and Jews, Gentiles and other hostile groups to each other, cost him nothing less than the painful shame of the cross. We have no right to expect, therefore, that we will be able to engage in conciliation work at no cost to ourselves, whether our involvement in the dispute is as the offending or offended party, or as a third party anxious to help enemies to become friends again.
In a later section Stott offers some thoughts on what our attitude toward evil should be (according to Romans 12 and 13). He makes four points: evil is to be hated, evil is not to be repaid, evil is to be overcome and evil is to be punished. After looking at the authority of the state in punishing evil, Stott pauses to reconcile two things that may appear to be contradictory: overcoming evil and punishing evil.
In the light of the cross, Christians cannot come to terms with any attitude toward evil that either bypasses its punishment in an attempt to overcome it or punishes it without seeking to overcome it. Certainly the state as the agent of God’s wrath must witness to his justice in punishing evil-doers. But Christian people also want to witness to his mercy. It is overly simple to say that individuals are directed by love, states by justice. For individual love should not be indifferent to justice, nor should the state’s administration of justice overlook that love of neighbor which is the fulfillment of the law. Moreover, the state is not under obligation in its pursuit of justice to demand the highest penalty the law permits. The God who laid down the “life for life” principle himself protected the life of the first murderer (Gen 4:15). Extenuating circumstances will help to temper justice with mercy. The retributive (punishing the evil-doer) and the reformative (reclaiming and rehabilitating the evil-doer) go hand in hand, for then evil is simultaneously punished and overcome.
And that, of course, has implications not just on a national level, but even on the levels of parenting and church discipline and anywhere else authority exists.
One last quote: “On the cross, by both demanding and bearing the penalty of sin and so simultaneously punishing and overcoming evil, God displayed and demonstrated his holy love; the holy love of the cross should characterize our response to evil-doers today.”
For next week please read chapter 13, “Suffering and Glory.”
The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose.