For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.
–Hebrews 4:15-16 NET
Puritan Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680), hailed as “the greatest pulpit exegete of Paul that ever lived,” wrote a striking book entitled, The Heart of Christ in Heaven Toward Sinners on Earth. It’s quite a fascinating and soul-stirring read. It doesn’t take long to get his point: Christ has compassion for both our afflictions and our sin (Hebrews 4:14-16). It’s precisely because we have a High Priest who sympathizes with us that we can approach the throne boldly (no fear or shame).
Unfortunately, we may often assume God is upset with us when we sin, which (at least for me and others I know) kicks into gear a legalistic “try harder to please God” self. There’s a deep tendency to appease God even though our theology would say different. Yet, Goodwin points out that our sins actually move Christ to pity, not anger.
Christ takes part with you, and is so far from being provoked against you, as all his anger is turned upon your sin to ruin it. Yes, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that has some loathsome disease, or as one is to a member of his body that has the leprosy, he hates not the member, for it is his flesh, but the disease, and that provokes him to pity the part affected the more.* [See Ephesians 5:29-30]
We are no longer under condemnation, which Goodwin illustrates (like Paul) by emphasizing the fact that we are the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, a friend of God, and in God’s family. So, why the overstatement? He didn’t want us to miss that we are now defined by Christ, not our sin and brokenness. Our sin is a disease that brings out our Lord’s compassion, not His anger against us.
Jesus wants us to taste the same joy He has in His Father’s love (John 15:9-11). It’s His loving compassion that draws us back to Christ away from sin. Who would ever want to embrace a raging God who stood aloof from one’s battles with the world, the flesh, and the devil every time they fail? Maybe God’s goodness really does bring mankind to repentance (Romans 2:4).
So, yes, we are given a new purity. We are given a new identity. We’ve been given new desires that want God more than any other desirable thing. And finally, we have been given a new power with the indwelling Spirit of God. And because our sin no longer defines us, and we have a high priest who sympathizes with us in our struggles, we need not fear our sin and His response to it.
ACTION: Take time to sit with the scriptures cited above. Envision God deeply delighted in you as you stand before Him in His Son. Journal your response to Him. Maybe take a spiritual friend to coffee and tell them about this news worth celebrating.
*Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ in Heaven Toward Sinners on Earth, p. 34 PDF version.