To sin is to use a gift that God provided for the purpose of pointing to his glory in a way that the Creator never intended. That’s how God’s good gift of relaxation degenerates into vacations that end in frustration because they fall short of our self-centered expectations. That’s how God’s gifts of food and drink are perverted into pathways to gluttony and addiction; it’s how the gift of sex becomes twisted into lust and pornography and homosexuality, it’s how the natural world is distorted into an economic resource to be exploited without regard for human communities or the beauty of God’s creation, and on and on it goes. Each of these acts pursues the same false promise that our primeval parents swallowed in the shadow of the tree of knowledge: “You shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5). We all want to be God.
“I Just Wanna Be God”
Each time we misuse one of these gifts from God, we declare that we are the lords of the universe and God is not. This is a form of cosmic treason, a collective thumbing of our noses at the Lord and Ruler of all. And the one thing God cannot do in response to this treason is nothing. Alice Cooper clearly described what each sin declares when he sang:
“I’m in control, I got a bulletproof soul,
and I’m full of self-esteem.
“I invented myself with no one’s help
I’m a prototype supreme.
“I never learned to bow, bend or crawl
To any known authority.
“I really want to build my statue tall
“Ain’t gonna spend my life being no one’s fool.
I was born to rock and I was born to rule.
I really want to build my statue tall.
That’s all. …
I just wanna be God.”
The metal band Helloween makes much the same point in one of their songs:
“I don’t wanna be an angel,
I wanna be God.
Mine the key to hell and heaven,
I wanna be God.”
That’s not just what these lyrical characters want. Deep inside, it’s what we all want—to be our own god. In the words of one pastor,
The longing of Adam and Eve to be the light [was] a distortion of a legitimate longing, namely, to reflect the light. … We come into the world longing to be God.
The penalty for this treason is death (Genesis 2:17; Ezekiel 20:21-26; Romans 6:23)—and not just the death of our bodies. The rightful penalty for our rebellion is the infinite agony of spiritual death (Revelation 20:13-15). “God’s righteousness requires that the sins we have committed against his infinite mercy be punished with both temporal and eternal punishments, of soul as well as body,” the pastors at the seventeenth-century Synod of Dort declared. “We cannot escape these punishments unless satisfaction is given to God’s righteousness.”
The Substitute We Know We Need
The only way to satisfy God’s righteousness is if someone who does not deserve death dies our death in our place (Romans 6:4-10; 2 Corinthians 5:14; Colossians 2:20; 3:3). This need for a substitute is wired deeply into each one of us. It threads its way not only through the storyline of Scripture but also through our favorite novels and films and comic books.
Before the hideous beast becomes a handsome prince in Beauty and the Beast, he must sacrifice his life on his beloved’s behalf. Before Lord Voldemort can be defeated, Harry Potter must offer his life in exchange for the lives of his friends. For Gotham City to be redeemed in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, the Batman must take the blame for murders he didn’t commit and become the scapegoat for the sins of his city. At the deepest level of our souls, we know that a substitute is needed to take our sins away, and this knowledge shapes every part of human existence—even the tales we tell.
The problem we have is that none of us deserves the substitute that God’s righteousness demands—and that’s what makes God’s “amazing” grace so amazing! On the cross, God did the unimaginable: the Law-Maker took the penalty that lawbreakers deserve. The divine Son became both the sacrifice and the substitute for sinners who did nothing to merit such mercy. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
As the sacrifice for sins, Jesus satisfied God’s wrath against every believer by drinking down the dregs of death and hell in our place (Romans 3:25; Ephesians 2:3; Hebrews 2:17). As the substitute for sinners, Jesus wiped out the penalty that every believing sinner deserves (Acts 3:19; Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 10:14-18)—and every detail of this exchange was part of God’s plan before the beginning began.
To learn more about this topic, take a look at PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace.
Discuss in the Comments:
In what ways do we, in our daily lives, declare our desire to be God? How do we continue to do so after becoming believers in Jesus Christ? What specific spiritual disciplines can help us to combat this tendency in our hearts?