Did God Rob the Grave?

Lyrics matter.

One of the greatest reasons they matter, especially in a corporate worship setting, is because they teach. Christians learn about God not only through sermons but also through praise. We sing songs of God’s sovereignty and songs of His love and through it all, we come to know him more fully.

We are also called to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). To worship in truth means that we must take great care for the words we are actually singing. We must do our best to sing only truth to and about God.

Yet there is a movement in contemporary Christian music toward lyrics that are not biblically or doctrinally sound. Lyrics are no longer conveying truth but are becoming more oriented around our feelings and our response.

We previously noted-  that an increasingly prevalent theme in worship songs is the reckless love of God. We looked into scripture to see if God’s love really was reckless and found that it was not.

Another song that mirrors this trend is Resurrecting by Elevation Worship. Here is how the verse of concern goes:

“The tomb where soldiers watched in vain
Was borrowed for three days
His body there would not remain
Our God has robbed the grave”

When I first listened to the lyric, I questioned – Did God really rob the grave?

What is the grave?

The “grave” in these lyrics first refers to the grave in which Jesus was laid after his death on the cross. Jesus is crucified on the cross, takes on the full wrath and punishment of God we deserved, and lets out his final breath. We see in the four canonical gospels (Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, and John 19:30-42) that Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate and asks for the body of Jesus. He then takes Jesus’ body to a tomb, wraps him in linen, lays him down and covers the tomb with a stone. In the most literal and historical perspective, this is the grave of Christ.

However, the truth lies deeper than the physical location where Christ was buried. The grave, in a deeper, truer sense, refers to death itself. The significance of the absence of Jesus in the tomb is that he resurrected and defeated death (1 Corinthians 15:26). To defeat the grave would, therefore, be a reference to defeating death itself. To no longer be in the grave means that Jesus defeated death and was raised to life.

Did God rob the grave?

Now having clarified what the grave refers to, it is necessary to go deeper into what the artist might mean by saying “our God has robbed the grave.” The phrase “robbing the grave” has many negative meanings but given the context of the biblical narrative, the one that best relates is the notion of Jesus “cheating death” by not actually dying when he should have for he had risen.

However, even to say that God cheated death would not be in line with scripture. One of the commandments given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai was that we shall not steal (Exodus 20:5). We see all over scripture that God commands his people to not steal (Leviticus 19:11, Deuteronomy 5:19) and even see Christ repeating this commandment (Matthew 19:18, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20) in the Gospels. So God has declared over and over again that we are not to steal. Not only do we find that God hates stealing but also that he is a God of justice. We see in Deuteronomy 32:4 that God declares that all of his ways are just because He himself is just and upright. Throughout scripture, we can see that God does not steal. To say that God “robbed” anything would go against what He says we should not do.

The question, then, goes deeper than whether God did or did not rob the grave to whether he ever could. This is not, then, just a question of the actions of God but of the nature of God. The question becomes: Is it possible for God to rob (steal) or cheat even in relation to death?

What we find in scripture is that not only that God does not lie (Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Psalms 33:4, Proverbs 30:50.) but also that He cannot lie. We see in 2 Samuel 22:31 that God’s way is perfect and His words prove true. God, in his perfection, is not able to sin for if He were able to sin then he would no longer be perfect. Thus, if God cannot sin and he does not lie then there is only truth in His declarations. Therefore when God says He is just then He is just. It’s is not only that God does not steal but that He cannot for his very nature is that of justice.

In seeing the nature of God, that He is just and that He does not lie, we, therefore, cannot say that God ever steals or robs. To say that God can do these things infringes on His very nature and His own declaration of that nature. We cannot say that God “robbed” the grave or “cheated” death for we must not attribute to God that which is in not true of Him.

An Unhelpful Speech

Why then does this matter? Is this not a matter of language used to figuratively describe what God accomplished through the resurrection?

We must, understanding the teaching nature of worship songs, take into careful consideration the words we sing. The use of lyrics that are not doctrinally sound leads us to speak words that illustrate God’s actions and his nature in a way that is ultimately unbiblical.

To say that God “robbed the grave”, although seemingly harmless, teaches people something that is not true about God. There is no situation in which saying that “God robbed the grave” is edifying to Christians. We should not look for justification to defend the song when scripture says otherwise. We must think rightly of God and our speech and our song must reflect that right thinking.

And as we have found, this is not even possible for God in his justice. Even if we are figuratively describing God’s actions, we must do it in a way that is true of God. We should never falsely describe God or His nature, especially in a setting of corporate worship through which people learn about God.

The resurrection is a beautiful truth that not only secured our justification (Romans 4:25) but defeated death (Acts 2:24, 2 Timothy 1:10, Hebrews 2: 14-15). We must use our words, therefore, to display this truth and build up the Church. We must think rightly about our God as He revealed Himself to us through His word.

 

Is God’s Love Reckless?

As I sing or listen to worship songs, I am reminded of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John. He tells the woman that there will be a time when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. One of the clearest examples of where spirit and truth come together is through songs of praise. Therefore the lyrics of these songs are important because they offer glimpses of truth that move our spirits to sing with joy and gratitude. Lyrics can carry such theological depth that helps people to know God more clearly and deeply.

However, there are moments when I am listening to a song, and I hear lyrics that make me question their truthfulness. One lyric that has become prevalent in contemporary Christian music is the “reckless love of God”. In hearing songs on the reckless love of God, I wanted to see if it is biblical to attribute such a negative character to God’s love.

Does God not really care about the consequences of His love?

These were the questions that led me to Scripture to better understand God’s love.

Why do people attribute God’s love as being reckless?

Reasoning through these questions, I realized that from a human perspective, God’s love does seem very reckless. As we read the Bible, we see that God desires all people to be saved, dies on the cross for those people, and yet, he is still rejected. This seems like a blind devotion to a people who continue to hurt him and refuse all that he is. This kind of love is confusing and seems ridiculous because the logical thing to do is not love those who hate and refuse you. It also doesn’t make sense because sinners do not deserve such love. It’s not only that God keeps loving people who don’t love him back but that he’s loving people who don’t even deserve the love in the first place.

This kind of love seems reckless. It seems that God loves so selflessly that he doesn’t care if he gets hurt. He continues to go after sinners without concern for himself. It seems that God’s love is about bringing people back to him no matter the cost to himself. For many people, this is the conclusion that they come to. However, is this really the truth that Scripture conveys?

Is God’s love reckless?

God’s love seems reckless because he is so unconcerned about himself or his well-being in the way he loves. However, Scripture seems to paint a different picture of God and the purpose behind His love. The whole Bible shows us that God is not unconcerned with himself but is ultimately for himself.

We see that God restores and even saved the Israelites from Egypt for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:1-3; Psalm 106: 7-8). We are not only told do good works to glorify God but to do everything for the glory of God (Matthew 5:16; 1 Corinthians 10:31). Paul writes that God blessed us in Christ, chose us before the foundation of the world, and predestined us for adoption, all to the praise of his glorious name (Ephesians 1:3-6). All throughout Scripture we see God not only working but commanding us to work for his praise and glory. God is ultimately for God.

In seeing this, it may seem that the God of the Bible is a selfish and egotistical God. However, it is because God is for God that he is for us. If God was not for himself, he would be saying that there is something outside of himself that’s better. It would also mean that God wouldn’t have to be for us because there would be something better than God being for us. John Piper explains that it is “because God is unique as the most glorious of all beings and totally self-sufficient, he must be for himself in order to be for us. If he were to abandon the goal of his own self-exaltation, we would be the losers. His aim to bring praise to himself and his aim to bring pleasure to his people are one aim and stand or fall together.”

Therefore, God’s love for his people is not unconcerned with himself, but it is for his own glory. God loves because loving his children will bring them greater satisfaction which in turn brings himself more glory. God being for God is what’s best for us. As Matt Chandler explains, it is because “God is for God and ultimately about the praise of his glorious grace, (that) God is not after our begrudging submission but after our joy. God is ferociously about our joy because the more we enjoy him the more his grace is gloried in.”

God’s love cannot be unconcerned about himself or his well-being. God does not love outside of his glory, but his love for us and his glory are intertwined. God’s focus on his glory leads to more love for us and in loving us more, it will lead to greater glory for himself.

It also seems that people believe God’s love to be reckless because he doesn’t know if people will ever turn to love him and yet, he still does. However, when we look at Scripture, we see that everything is in God’s hands (Proverbs 19:21; Proverbs 16:9, 33; Isaiah 14:24). We see in Romans 9:6-8 that God knew exactly who would be saved and who would continue to reject him for it is the “children of God’s promise [who] are counted as his offspring”. So, it is not that God poured out his love onto people without knowing who would believe in him. It is not that God is waiting for people to choose him—we do not go after God, God comes after us. God’s love cannot be reckless in this case because he fully knew and understood that in order to save sinners, he had to send his own son to die on the cross. God does not love us blindly—we are fully known yet fully loved. God’s love was not a reckless love but a love designed and laid out before we were even formed.

God’s love also resembles a reckless love because whether or not we will turn to him, we still don’t deserve it. It almost seems wrong for God to love us and because of this, God must not care about his own well-being in order to give us such a wrong love. Although it is true that we do not deserve the love of God, it is not a reckless love that he gives us. It is a God who fully knew the hearts of man and yet still chose us in spite of our sinfulness. It is a love that does not make sense to us, but it is a love that covers our sin (1 Peter 4:8), a gracious and beautiful love that was paid for by the blood of His son. It is a love undeserving but it is not a reckless love—it is a love so great that it was given in spite of our depravity.  

What Scripture says about God’s love

The Bible thankfully does not leave us to guess the nature or expression of God’s love but instead portrays a beautiful and glorious picture of that very love. From the creation of man to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ to our current sanctification and to the future return of Jesus, everything is a display of God’s glory, grace, and love.

We are able to see that God’s love is steadfast (Lamentations 3:22-23, Psalm 25:10, Deuteronomy 7:9, Psalm 36:5) as it is unrelenting and does not give up on us. God’s love is sacrificial (John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 3:16) as God sent his very own son to die on the cross and in love endure the wrath of God that we deserved. Scripture tells us that God’s love is good (James 1:17, Titus 3:4-5) as he works all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). God’s love is so merciful (Ephesians 2:4-5) that he made us alive with Christ while we were in active rebellion against him. God’s love is glorious, full of grace, forgiving, accepting, and drives out our fears and our shame.

God’s love is so great that these descriptions are just grazing the beauty of his love. In all the glorious ways the Bible defines God’s love, it does not portray God’s love as being reckless. It is not that God’s love is unconcerned with his well-being, but it is all for his glory which leads him to work for our joy. He does not blindly love, hoping that the people he loves will turn to love him back, but he is fully aware of who his children are. It is a love that is given fully and freely to those undeserving; a love manifested in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. To see God’s love as reckless is a very human understanding of God’s love and not a love shown through the Bible. We must not confuse our understanding of God’s love with the love that God reveals to us in Scripture.

As Marshall Segal writes in his book Killjoys, “the God who made heaven and earth has been treated by all mankind—every man and woman—as worse than a slave. Yet he abandons his throne to find his defiled bride, cleanse of her filth, and marry her to himself for all eternity. Anyone reading this story might think God is a reckless lover—a lovesick fool blinded by his devotion to a woman he cannot and should not trust. Husbands like him are trapped in a violent, broken cycle of heartbreak, regularly and hopelessly deceived, betrayed, and deserted. Not this Husband. No, what looks like blind devotion is an all-seeing, unstoppable commitment to his name and his bride—a family of undeserving, but chosen children. There’s nothing reckless about a God who writes the story—beginning to end, every page—and then carries it out in unexplainable, relentless, and sovereign love.”

It may seem that God’s love is reckless, but his love, the love revealed to us through the Bible, is much deeper and much more glorious. It is a beautiful and everlasting love that we do not ever deserve, yet are still given. We must do our best to set our minds and hearts on the truth of this very love so graciously revealed to us.

Photo By Ben White

The Lie of Sin and the Truth of God

A few years ago, after moving to a new apartment, my family decided to purchase a new TV. Although I would usually keep the box the TV came in for some possible future use, I decided to throw it out due to the lack of space.

As I was waiting for the elevator to throw out the box in the basement, one of my neighbors, who was around the age of 8, appeared around the corner. He looked at the box I was holding and stood in awe in the presence of my box. In excitement, he asked me if the TV was mine, to which I responded that this was only the box and that there was nothing inside. Yet, even though he knew that there was nothing in the box, he desired the box. He desired it because he knew what it offered: life with a big TV.

The Lie of Sin

In many ways, the TV box is a picture of sin in our lives. We look at sin, and we desire it because of what it potentially offers us: happiness and satisfaction. We sin because we believe that sin will hold true to its offers and bring us what it promises. With the TV box, my neighbor saw the potential life with a bigger TV, which to him equaled more happiness and satisfaction.

This is why sin is so attractive. What sin offers us is love, acceptance, joy, and satisfaction. It promises to give us what we so desire and long for in our hearts.

Sin, however, is a lie and just like the TV box, there is nothing inside. Its promises are empty, and all it provides are temporary gratifications. It is attractive on the outside but when we look in, we find that all it is full of are lies.

However, the lie goes deeper than just unkept promises.

Not only does sin not provide what it promised, but it also brings death (Romans 6:23) and leads us further away from God for it is something that God hates (Psalm 5:4).

Sin promises life but in reality brings death. This is the lie of sin.

The Devastating Exchange

Although we may know that sin is wrong, the truth is that we fall into the lie of sin. We start to believe the promises of sin and begin to actively participate in it.

Paul addressed a very similar problem in Romans 1. He talks of people who, although they knew of God, did not honor him or give thanks to him. They then, in what they believed to be wisdom, exchanged the glory of God for images resembling man and animals (Romans 1:23). These people started to believe that these images would bring them joy and satisfaction.

In the same way, we exchange the glory of God for the sins of our lives. We believe that relationships, money, sex, our careers, and other things will bring us joy and satisfaction. We take inherently good things and not only place them above God but make them our God.

This is the devastating exchange. We give up God and instead settle for images that are far less glorious. As C.S Lewis said in “Weight of Glory“, “ We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

In all this, God knows that nothing could satisfy the souls of his creation other than himself. In knowing this, God gives people over to the very sinful desires of their hearts to show them that only he can satisfy (Romans 1:24). He wants his creation to see that they must go to him to be satisfied. He wants more for us than to participate in this devastating exchange where we give up God for sin.

The Truth of God

In Romans 1, Paul says that people exchanged the truth about God for a lie. The lie of sin was that it did not provide all that it promised and in face of this lie, we exchanged the glory of God for this very sin.

What we need to help us not fall into the lie of sin is to see the truth of God. Here are 3 truths that we must hold onto:

1. God is the most glorious

There is nothing in this world that is as glorious as God is. He is so glorious that even the heavens declare his glory and the skies proclaim his handiwork (Psalm 19:1-2). Not only do the heavens declare his glory, but all things are from him, through him, and to him (Romans 11:36). He is the King of glory and we can never truly fathom the depth and breadth of his glory. (Psalm 24:10)

It is then by seeing and knowing that God is the most glorious that we stop chasing lesser things. In order to see through the lie of sin, we must know that whatever sin may give will always fall short of the glory of God. Even if sin kept its promises, it would be providing a shell of true glory.

2. Only God can satisfy

It is because our souls long to be satisfied that our default tendency is to do what we can to fill it. However, the truth is that nothing in this world can satisfy besides God. Many times throughout Scripture, its writers declare that God satisfied the longings of their soul (Psalm 107:9) and that he fills us with joy and eternal pleasures (Psalm 16:11). Furthermore, Jesus himself says that you must drink from the water that he gives in order to never be thirsty again (John 4:14). What this shows is that everything other than God will continue to leave us thirsty and empty.

The more we come to understand that only God will satisfy, the less we will look to other things to satisfy us. By understanding this, we come to see more clearly that sin can only provide temporary satisfaction. Thus, we fight sin with that truth that only God can truly satisfy.

3. God deserves all the glory

In knowing that God is the most glorious and that only he alone can satisfy, our response to these truths must be worship. We must know that it is because of these two truths that God deserves all the glory. So in our pursuit of fighting sin and finding satisfaction in Christ, we must give all the glory to God who deserves all our adoration and praise (Revelation 4:11).

As we hold onto these truths, may we continue to fight sin and run to our God who provides eternal satisfaction.

Progress Not Perfection

Philippians 3:12-21

Straining Toward the Goal

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

I first heard the phrase “progress not perfection” a few years back listening to a sermon by Pastor Matt Chandler. Since then it’s been a truth that I have preached to myself in times when I am faced with failure or feel the weight of my sinfulness. It is a truth filled with hope for the everyday Christian in their pursuit of holiness.

It’s Not about Perfection

Many people will attest to the fact that they can never be perfect and that no amount of effort could ever be put in to reach perfection. Yet, even though we acknowledge this fact we still attempt to be perfect or at least appear that way. This can be seen in the way that the world views failure.

Failure is criticized, mocked, and even put on social media for people to laugh at and enjoy. The culture of failure is that we must do our best to not be a part of it. We must not fail or else we’ll be the most shared video on Facebook. Our attempt and effort to never fail can also be seen as a pursuit of perfection for perfection cannot be obtained if there is failure. It’s quite ironic that we see people try so hard not to fail and to make everything so perfect when the general consensus is that perfection cannot be obtained.

This irony can also be seen in our Christian lives and in our pursuit of holiness. We as Christians have an understanding of our sinfulness yet we strive to be “perfect” Christians. We end up focusing so much on the process of sanctification (becoming more like Christ) that we lose sight of God himself. We agree that we cannot be perfect but do our best to never mess up or break God’s law.

Scripture gives us a radically different picture of both perfection and failure. What Apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:12 is that he is not yet perfect. He admits right away that he’s not a perfect Christian and not fully like Christ and that he has a long way to go. This is encouraging for us because it helps us see that it’s not about perfection. Paul knew that it’s not about being the best person or the best Christian because perfection wasn’t something he could ever attain in this lifetime. He knew and understood his sinfulness and so humbly admitted that he was far from perfection. By understanding this, Paul was able to lay down the burden of striving to achieve an unattainable perfection.

It’s About Progress

If it’s not about perfection what is about then? Does this mean that we can do whatever we want? Should we even do anything if we can never be perfect anyways?

These questions can be answered in the same verses where Paul admits that he’s not perfect. As soon as Paul says that he’s not perfect in verse 12, he goes on to say that he “press(es) on to make it (his) own”. Although he knows he’s not perfect and can never be, he still puts in the effort to be more like Christ. Paul knew that sanctification was a process that needed effort for there to be progress.

What Paul also understood was the difference between pursuing holiness and legalism (conviction that law keeping is the ground of our acceptance with God). The difference between holiness and legalism is not in the action but in the heart behind the action. The reason that Paul “pressed on to make (holiness) his own was because Christ Jesus made him his own”.

Reading the bible, praying, serving the church, and the like are not actions that are limited to a person who is legalistic. A godly Christian who earnestly seeks a deeper relationship with God must also do these very things. However, the legalist puts in effort toward this with perfection in mind. The Pharisees put in effort toward holiness not to know God more but because they viewed moral perfection as the grounds of acceptance. The Christian, however, puts in effort because there is an understanding that God has made us His own.

Christians press on toward holiness and righteousness because we know the truth of the Gospel. We know that God sent Jesus to die on the cross through which our sins were forgiven and paid for. We know that God raised Jesus from the grave and was thus satisfied with the payment. It is through this that we were made sons and daughters of God. We are no longer our own but God’s as he made us His own through the blood of Christ.

It is this truth that we hold onto and this truth that drives our effort and our sanctification.

Perfection in Our Progress

What we will come to see is that in our progress there are many times when we will fail. There will be moments when God seems so far from us, and in our sinfulness, we seem so far from Him. In these moments, we must remember that there is a perfection in our progress: the perfection of Christ.

Because Christ died for us on the cross, His perfection is viewed as our perfection (2 Corinthians 5:21). So, even in our failures, our imperfections, and our sins, God still sees the righteousness of Christ when he sees us.

It is Christ’s perfection that we hold onto in our progress for it brings us hope and comfort in our failures and imperfections. We hold onto Christ knowing that our progress is driven by the grace of God and that all our failures and sins were paid for on the cross.

We must remember that it’s about progress and not perfection, and in the process, we hold onto the perfection of Christ which brings us hope and comfort.

Photo by Bruno Nascimento