One of the key principles of Christian discipleship is that to say the same things over and over again must not be grievous to the teacher, because this repetition is safe for the disciple (Phi. 3:1). I remember hearing an anecdotal story about someone in Luther’s ministry telling him that he was always saying the same thing in all his sermons, and by gum, when will Luther say something new. Luther replied, “Well, when you start living what I’m preaching now, then maybe I’ll consider preaching something else!” We are creatures that oft forget, and need continual reminders of what it is we actually believe.
Bunyan’s Christian had to stay on the straight and narrow, and there was no room for the hero to waver to the right or left; otherwise the lions chained on either side of the road would devour him. For the Church, we must not be so wary of the lion on one side of the road, that we veer off into the loving paws of the lion on the other side of the road. The lion on one side is the lion of cute, Christian clichés, catchphrases, and cheap slogans. Many of us are so fed up with this lion, that we are in grave danger of being caressed by the jowls of the other lion. When Christian thought and theology is baked down to mere rhetorical phrases that sound nice; or when we treat the name of Jesus more like a magical incantation to send shivers up our spine than as the name of a Person who is the Savior of mankind, we shall find that our congregants are more swayed by the philosophy of talk show hosts and celebrities than by the Word of God.
Thus, in order to be faithful teachers of the Word, we must not assume that because a child has grown up around “Christian-ese” that they somehow understand what we mean when we say, “be born again,” “be spirit-filled,” or “let’s worship.” An instance of this is that I recently gave a message on worship, and a young woman afterward told Elsje, “I never realized that worship was about God; I thought it was about expressing myself!” In light of this, it is a sad reality that Richard Dawkins is happily waiting for most of our high school seniors to graduate from youth group and head off to college. He and the like are ready with “answers” as our young people are confronted with the “tough questions.” So, if all we have given them is a handful of nice phrases, we are feeding them to the lion of godless humanism, by exasperating them with the lion of cliché.
Hence, repetition must be mingled with frequent explanation. The Bible itself tells us to “remember,” as well as to “forget not.” Simply serving our disciples broth does not mean that they are getting enough nourishment. Sure they’re getting something, but, oh, may it be substance. After all, New Testament theology is all about a Word becoming flesh, shadow becoming substance!
All that to say, recently, I have been freshly awed by the meditating upon what Christ purchased upon the cross. I’ve heard of Christ’s purchase for years, but recently, I have come to a deeper and sweeter understanding of what Christ has purchased for me! We often hear of this purchase in terms of God loving us so much that He paid an infinite cost, “just for you!” Well, I won’t dispute that, but simply put, there are two things Christ purchased upon the cross. First, by His suffering He paid our debt. Meaning, the debt of sin, which we owed, and must be paid in order to satisfy God’s justice, has been purchased by Christ. Paying a debt is a kind of purchase, and the debt which we owed was satisfied by the suffering and death of Christ.
Secondly, the merit of Christ’s perfections procures for the believing soul a great good. It purchases for us the life of Christ, His outpoured Spirit, and the joy of eternal life. This truth must be frequently impressed upon us as believers. If we think ourselves so valuable that, “well, why wouldn’t God want to purchase me,” we are making the Gospel man-centered rather than Christ-centered. In and of ourselves, we neither had the means nor the merit to either pay our debt, nor procure the joy of heaven. In fact, we shook our fists at God and deliberately decided to continue to rack up our debts against His holy law! It should bring wonder to our heart that out of God’s sheer kindness to us, He would even shed one drop of His Son’s most precious blood to pay our penalty against Him, and make a way for the riches of His grace to be rained down upon us!
Jonathan Edwards, not surprisingly, puts it quite well: “All is done by the price that Christ lays down, which does two things: it pays our debt, and so it satisfies; it procures our title to happiness, and so it merits. The satisfaction of Christ is to free us from misery, and the merit of Christ is to purchase happiness for us. [. . .] He who lays down a price to pay a debt, does in some sense make a purchase: he purchases liberty from the obligation. And he who lays down a price to purchase a good, does as it were make satisfaction: he satisfies the conditional demands of him to whom he pays it.”
So, although speaking of Christ’s purchase can easily slip into the realm of trite, Christian phraseology, freshly treasure the fact the God has purchased you from the obligation of your debt of sin, and purchased for you eternal life in Christ Jesus. And remember, may the phrases often used in Christianity not become a lion of shallow slogans which drives you to the lion of worldly opinion. Rather, may these precious truths, no matter how often repeated provide fresh impetus to treasure some fresh glory of the work of Christ and His Cross.
And as fathers, parents, pastors, teachers, and leaders, may we not fail in our responsibility to point towards Ebenezer stones (1 Sam 7:12) and say, “This is what the Lord hath done.” Even if we pass by that stone a hundred times a day, may we instruct our children and disciples by exemplifying to them a life of treasuring the new mercies of the Lord every morning (Lam. 3:22-23)! In this way, we will keep ourselves and our flock in the middle of the straight and narrow, and we can cheerfully grin at the chained lions, on either side of us!