The Paradoxical Life of Christ and the Christian

Fall 2019

By Charlie McCall

The Bible is the Word of God. Every word is inspired by (breathed out from) Him As such, it does not contain false statements because God is truth. He cannot err, and He cannot lie. So when statements in the Bible seem to contradict, we emphasize the word “seem,” and we put those statements in the category of “paradox.” We might not understand how to harmonize those statements but we know that if God said it then there is no contradiction. The contradiction is apparent, not actual.

The book of Ecclesiastes says that with much wisdom comes much grief and pain (1:18). That is a true statement. Think about how the more you know a person, the more you realize how much is wrong about that person. With perfect knowledge of people, society, government, families and ministries comes awareness of all that is good and all that is bad. Perfect knowledge causes us to know that there is no perfection outside of God. Perfect knowledge brings grief and pain. That “perfect” spouse isn’t actually perfect after all! The result of that knowledge is sorrow. If not addressed, that sorrow can lead to all sorts of problems: despair, divorce, even suicide.
Ecclesiastes also says that wisdom causes the stern face to beam (8:1). So, wisdom causes sorrow, and wisdom causes the face to beam (presumably with hope and joy). We’ve entered the land of paradox! How can those apparently contradictory statements both be true at the same time?

I believe the answer is in the fact that for wisdom to be perfect wisdom it reckons not only on the realities of this fallen world but on the reality that there is a Redeemer and that this life is not all that there is.
Jesus is described as a man of sorrows (pains), acquainted with grief (Is. 53:3). He had to be. He has perfect, omniscient knowledge. He, as the Creator of this world, knew better than anyone how far the world falls short of what He created it to be. Every single person He encountered, every tree, landscape, sunset or animal that he saw was, because of sin, less than what He created it to be. And He knew that perfectly. Literally everything in his field of vision at every moment of every day was wrong. No wonder He was a man of sorrow and grief.

But He is also the Redeemer, and His plan stretches beyond the reality of this fallen world. People often speculate on whether or not Jesus ever laughed. There is no mention in the Bible that He did. This we do know, His face beamed! Why? Because wisdom does that to a person. And Jesus not only had wisdom, He is wisdom personified (I Cor. 1:24, 30) . So He was simultaneously sorrowful and beaming with hope and joy.

Are you by nature an optimist or a pessimist? Psychological categories don’t apply to Jesus. I’m inclined to think that they will apply less and less to us as we become more and more like Him. If by nature you are a pessimist, God wants to make your stern face beam in the full knowledge of who He is, what He has accomplished for us in Christ (redemption), and what He will yet do – we will stand in glory with Him and be made like Him! If you are an optimist by nature, God wants to open your eyes to how bad things are apart from Him so that your optimism is not based in your nature or personality but in the person of Jesus Christ and the promise of His eternal Word and divine power.

How do we categorize Jesus? Many look at Him and see an enigma because they see contradiction or paradox on every hand (grace yet truth, love yet justice, kindness yet severity). If we don’t see the apparent contradictions about Jesus and embrace both sides of what is revealed about Him, we don’t know Him. He is merely a Jesus of our own imagination. It is more than a bit unsettling to accept all that He is, especially when we can’t fully understand how the apparent contradictions are, in fact, only “apparent.” We must embrace all that He is or we are not only left with something other than Jesus, but we are left with a false view of reality that will either leave us with a sorrow that knows no limit or a joy that has no foundation. When we grow in the knowledge of Jesus through His Word, we will become like Him: a people of sorrow, acquainted with grief, whose stern faces beam!

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Grace and Life

Fall 2018

by Charlie McCall

Grace is a big deal. We are saved by the grace of God (Eph. 2:8-9). We are sustained by the grace of God (II Cor. 12:9). We stand in the grace of God (Rom. 5:2). It would be hard to overestimate the importance of the doctrine of grace. It is essential to the Gospel and all that we believe about salvation and the Christian life. But did you know that grace is not an end in itself? Romans 5:21 says that the purpose of grace is to lead us to eternal life. A person can know the grace of God without knowing eternal life.

Whenever sin is on the increase, grace abounds all the more (Rom. 5:20). God is gracious to everyone. He causes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. You don’t need to be a Christian to know the grace of God. You don’t need to be a good person to know God’s grace. All unbelievers, all who sin, experience God’s grace, although they may not acknowledge it. The more they sin, the more His grace abounds. You don’t need to be saved to know God’s grace. However, God’s grace is not the end goal. Eternal life is.

Paul asks in Romans 6:1, “Shall we continue in sin that grace might increase?” His answer: “May it never be!” Paul hates the question. He does not, though, reject the premise that he established in Romans 5:20 that with increased sin comes increased grace. What he rejects is the proposition that we should sin more in order to see more grace. His response to that proposition is in two parts.

First, Paul argues that the purpose of being saved is so that we would be delivered from sin, not so that we would continue in it. Some people believe that a person can’t be saved and continue in sin. In Romans 6:12-14 Paul exhorts Christians to not let sin reign in their mortal bodies, to stop presenting themselves to sin, and to stop living with sin as their master. Clearly, Paul is saying that people can be saved and yet have sin reigning in them and ruling over them. But that shouldn’t be the case! We weren’t saved simply to know the grace of God. We were saved so that we would be delivered from sin.

Second, we were saved to know life. Paul says that we were crucified with Christ, buried with Him, and raised to the newness of life (6:4). At the end of the chapter he says that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord (6:23).

Here’s what I believe Paul is saying: We haven’t been saved to simply experience God’s grace, we’ve been saved so that we can be set free from sin and so that we might experience His life, the newness of life.
God wants you to have life and experience life. He doesn’t just want you to know His grace. You can live in sin and experience God’s grace but you won’t experience His life because the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Keep in mind that Romans 6:23 is spoken to Christians, not unbelievers. It is the climax in Paul’s answer to the question why a Christian shouldn’t continue in sin.

Jump over to Romans 8:13 and Paul says to the Christian that the one who is living according to the flesh must die, but the one who is living according to the Spirit (“by the Spirit putting to death the deeds of the body”) will live. So Paul again says that a Christian, one who has eternal life, can live in such a way as to not experience the life that he received when he received Christ. That is because he is living from the flesh (his own resources, ability, humanity) rather than from the Spirit. Present yourselves to Christ and you will experience His life. Continue in sin and you will experience death, while also experiencing God’s grace.

People are great on preaching grace. That’s a good thing. We are saved by grace, stand in grace, and are sustained by grace — but grace was meant to lead us to eternal life. I personally want to know more than grace. I can know grace by simply continuing to sin. I want to know His life. I want others to know His life. We are offering people nothing if our grace-talk is not bringing people to eternal life in Christ – positionally (salvation) and experientially (sanctification).

Grace is a big deal. Life is an even bigger deal. Grace is meant to lead people to eternal life. May we each know God’s grace for leading people to life in Christ.

This article was originally published in our Fall 2018 Newsletter. To read and subscribe, visit