Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Atonement – Part 2

The atonement is the work that Christ did in his death to earn our salvation. For the past two weeks my family and I have been considering it in our family Bible reading time, guided by Wayne Grudem’s discussion of it in Chapter 27, “The Atonement,” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). Here I’m sharing part of what we’ve considered in our family reading.

In my last post I identified two causes of the atonement–the love of God and the justice of God–and four aspects of Jesus’ suffering on the cross–physical pain and death, the pain of bearing sin, abandonment, and bearing the wrath of God. In this post, I’ll identify four aspects of the atonement–sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption–and four views of the atonement other than the one presented here–the ransom to Satan theory, the moral influence theory, the example theory, and the moral government theory.

Aspects of the Atonement

The New Testament uses different terms to describe different aspects of the atonement. Grudem identifies these four:

1. Sacrifice. “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26).

2. Propitiation. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). As I noted in my last post, propitiation is the removing of wrath by the offering of a gift.

3. Reconciliation. “God…through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconcilation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

4. Redemption. “for even the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; Jesus was speaking). A ransom is the price paid to redeem someone from bondage.

Theories of the Atonement

The view of the atonement presented here is generally known as the theory of penal substitution or the theory of vicarious atonement. “Penal” refers to Jesus’ bearing a penalty when he died and “substitution” refers to his being a substitute for us when he died. “Vicarious” refers to Jesus’ taking our place. Although it is the view most generally held, several other views of the atonement have been put forward in the history of the church, four of which Grudem describes and argues against. They are:

1. The Ransom to Satan Theory. It holds that the ransom which Jesus paid (see “Redemption” above) was paid to Satan.

2. The Moral Influence Theory. It holds that Jesus died on the cross to show us how much God loves us, enticing us to love Him and thus obtain salvation from Him.

3. The Example Theory. It holds that Jesus died on the cross to provide an example to us of how much we should love God if we are to obtain salvation from Him.

4. The Moral Government Theory. It holds that Jesus died on the cross to demonstrate to us that God requires a penalty to be paid when His laws are broken. Jesus’ dying on our behalf allows God to forgive us our sins while preserving the moral government of the universe.

Grudem’s main criticism of each of the four theories is that it doesn’t account satisfactorily for the many Bible passages which refer to Christ as a sacrifice and propitiation.

Other Considerations

God the Father required Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins. Isaiah prophesied, “The LORD has laid on him [the Lord’s servant] the iniquity of us all” (53:6, ESV; all Biblical quotations are taken from the ESV). Paul told the Corinthians, “For our sake he [God] made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The New Testament often refers to Christ’s blood in connection with our salvation. For example, Peter writes, “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). This shows the connection between Christ’s death and the sacrifices of the Old Testament, their pointing forward to his death.

Although Calvinists maintain a limited atonement in which Jesus’ death atones for the sins of only those chosen to follow God (see my November 17, 2012, “Calvinism and Arminianism” post), such passages as John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whosever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” clearly show that Jesus died on the cross with the intention of saving everyone. However that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to be saved, the same passage’s specifying that salvation is limited to “whoever believes in him [Jesus].”

As we conclude this chapter on the Atonement, we may have many feelings of amazement, thanksgiving, and joy for what God has done. We may well stand awed and amazed at a love and grace in Jesus Christ so immeasurable as to compel Him to suffer and die for a sinful world–for people like you and me. We can never be thankful enough that our Lord was willing to go all the way, even to bearing our condemnation, that we might be saved. Let us together rejoice with joy unspeakable that through His great act of reconcilation we will live eternally in His presence.” (Rodney J. Williams, Renewal Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996. Volume 1, page 370)


The Atonement – Part 1

The atonement is the work that Christ did in his death to earn our salvation. About a week ago my family and I began considering it in our family Bible reading time, guided by Wayne Grudem’s discussion of it in Chapter 27, “The Atonement,” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). Grudem defines “atonement” to include work that Jesus did in his life as well as in his death, but here I’ll consider it in the narrower sense in which it is generally used.

The Cause of the Atonement

Why did Christ come to earth and die for our sins? The Bible attributes his doing so to the love and justice of God.

The love of God as a cause of the atonement is expressed in the Bible’s most familiar passage, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are taken from the ESV).

The justice of God as a cause of the atonement is expressed in Romans 3:25-26, “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood…to show God’s righteousness, because in divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Jesus’ Suffering on the Cross

Although Jesus’ whole life on earth involved suffering, it reached its climax on the cross. Grudem identifies four aspects of the pain that Jesus experienced on the cross:

1. Physical Pain and Death. Crucifixion was one of the most horrible forms of execution, as can be seen by reading descriptions of it in Bible encyclopedias and on the Internet.

2. The Pain of Bearing Sin. He who was perfectly holy and hated sin with all his being “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).

3. Abandonment. Jesus’ crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) shows that he felt abandoned by even his Father while on the cross.

4. Bearing the Wrath of God. Romans 3:25, quoted above, says that God put forward Jesus as a propitiation. Propitiation is the removing of wrath by the offering of a gift. Jesus’ bearing our sins on the cross allowed God to pour out His wrath against our accumulated sin on him and forgive us those sins.

I understand the darkness that covered the land for three hours to be part of God’s display of wrath against the sin born by Jesus and to contribute to Jesus’ feeling of being abandoned by Him. Finally the darkness ended, letting Jesus know that God’s display of wrath and apparent abandonment of him was over. He proclaimed, “It is finished” (John 19:30); called out, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 19:46); and breathed his last.

Thus, as Isaiah had prophesied, Jesus “poured out his soul to death [and] bore the sin of many” (53:12), enabling us to become “at one with” God.

How To Respond to Our Suffering

Yesterday (Thursday) evening Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of our church’s Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. Nine attended the meeting, and we considered these sections of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010):
– “What’s the Right Way to Respond to Our Suffering?”
– “Jesus–The Only Answer Bigger Than the Questions”
As usual the study was preceded and followed by singing and prayer.

Actually we began by returning to this paragraph in a section that we’d read in our previous meeting: “It [Suffering] can also increase our effectiveness in talking to others about Christ. People hear the gospel best when it comes from those who have known difficulty” (booklet, page 66). I illustrated it by reading the story of Graham and Gladys Staines, missionaries to India, from Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2009); pages 436-37). The story also appears in Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspectives Ministries blog at The World Was Not Worthy of Them: Martyrs for Christ.

We then discussed the four suggestions in “What’s the Right Way to Respond to Our Suffering?”:
1. Look to God’s promises in the Bible for comfort. Alcorn quotes 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).
2. Anticipate God’s rewards. Alcorn quotes Luke 6:23, “Rejoice…and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.”
3. Lighten the load through prayer. Alcorn quotes Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
4. Share your life with others who suffer.
In connection with 1 and 2 I read and commented on Psalm 73, and in connection with 3 I read a quotation about prayer from Joni Eareckson Tada given in If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (pages 464-65).

I closed our study of If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? by reading its closing section, “Jesus–The Only Answer Bigger Than the Questions.” It concludes, “When it comes to goodness and evil, present suffering, and eternal joy…the first Word, and the last, is Jesus (page 75).

In the next six weeks our Life group will be discussing our pastors’ Easter sermons. I won’t be reporting on them here, and so there won’t be any Friday posts here for the next six weeks.

The Incarnation

How is Jesus fully God and fully man, yet one person? For the past three weeks my family and I have been considering this question in our family Bible reading time, guided by Wayne Grudem’s discussion of it in Chapter 26, “The Person of Christ,” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). In previous posts I’ve shared from what we read in the chapter about Jesus’ virgin birth, his humanity, and his deity. In this post I’ll share from what we read about his incarnation, the combining of deity and humanity in one person.

The full deity of Christ and the full humanity of Christ have been accepted since the beginning of church history. However how they could be combined together in one person was formulated slowly and didn’t reach final form until the Chalcedonian Creed of 451 A.D. Before then several other views were proposed and rejected, some of which I’ll describe briefly before giving and commenting on the Chalcedonian Creed. I’ve always found this topic interesting and used my writing of this post as an excuse to reread these two accounts of it:
– Gregg R. Allison. Historical Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2011. “Views of Jesus Christ in the Early Church” in Chapter 17 (pages 366-377).
– J. N. D. Kelly. Early Christian Doctrines. Fourth Edition. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1968 (First Edition, 1958). Chapters IV-VI and IX-XII (pages 83-162 and 223-343).

Rejected Views

Arius held that God the Son didn’t always exist but was created by God the Father at a point in time. Thus, although the Son was created before and was greater than the rest of creation and could be even described as like the Father, he was not of the same substance as the Father. Arians focused on Bible passages which called Jesus Christ the “only begotten” Son of God, reasoning that if Jesus Christ were “begotten” by God the Father he must have been brought into existence by Him. Their views were condemned at the Council of Nicea in 325, which affirmed that Jesus Christ was “begotten, not made” and insisted that he was “of one substance with the Father.” For more on Arianism see my November 2, 2013, post, “The Trinity – Arianism – Part 1.”

Apollinarius taught that Christ had a human body and a divine mind and spirit. However church leaders realized that our minds and spirits as well as our bodies need salvation and thus that Christ had to have a human mind and spirit as well as a human body to save us. Hebrews 2:17 says, “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect.” Thus Apollinarius’ views were rejected by several church councils from the Council of Alexandria of 361 to the Council of Constantinople of 381.

Nestorianism is the doctrine that there are two separate persons in Christ, a human person and a divine person. Although Nestorius himself probably didn’t teach the doctrine, he was removed from his position as a bishop and his teachings were condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431. The church could not accept the doctrine because there is no indication in the Bible of Christ’s human and divine natures being independent. Instead it portrays Jesus as a single person acting in wholeness.

Eutyches taught that Christ had only one nature, his human nature being taken up and absorbed by his divine nature resulting in a single new nature. Eutychianism or monophysitism (monos, “one,” and physis, “nature”) concerned the church because by it Christ was neither truly God nor truly man.

The Chalcedonian Creed

A council was held at Chalcedon in 451 to deal with the controversy over the person of Christ. It issued the following statement, which is accepted by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches as expressing the Bible’s teaching on the person of Christ:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has passed down to us.

Clearly rejecting Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, and Eutychianism, the Chalcedonian Creed teaches that Christ has two natures, a divine nature the same as that of the Father and a human nature the same as ours (yet without sin), united together in one person.

Distinction Between Jesus’ Divine and Human Natures

Following Grudem’s discussion of the rejected views and of the Chalcedonian Creed, he considers various related topics under the heading “Combining Specific Texts on Christ’s Deity and Humanity.” I’ll refer to just a two of them here.

In my February 25 “The Humanity of Christ” post I noted that in Grudem’s discussion of whether or not Jesus could sin he suggested that although Jesus’ divine nature could not be tempted his human nature could be. Here he refers to several Bible passages that are understandable only by similarly distinguishing between Jesus’ divine and human natures. I’ll cite just one, one which Grudem describes as “particularly striking” (page 558), the incident on the Sea of Galilee in which Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat, presumably because he was tired, and when awakened by the disciples calmed the wind and the sea (Mark 4:35-41). Jesus’ being tired points to his human nature, and his calming the storm points to his divine nature.

Jesus’ having two distinct natures implies that he had two wills and two centers of consciousness or intelligence. Grudem suggests that this helps us understand how Jesus could learn things and yet know all things. With his human nature he had limited knowledge (Mark 13:32; Luke 2:52), but with his divine nature he knew all things (John 16:30; 21:17). Although we can’t understand how Jesus could have two wills and two centers of consciousness and yet be a single person, “to adopt any other solution could create a far greater problem,” claims Grudem, explaining, “it would require that we give up either the full deity or the full humanity of Christ. And that we cannot do” (page 561).

Grudem concludes his discussion of the person of Christ by observing that God’s uniting with man in a single person is “the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe” (page 563). I agree.

Our Life Group Schedule

Yesterday evening Leonora and I attended a meeting of our church’s Life group group leaders. Pastor Darryl Drover presented a short devotional, led a discussion of leaders’ questions and suggestions, and announced a series of Easter sermons by the pastors which they want the Life groups to follow up on.

The series of Easter sermons will begin March 16, leaving our Life group just one meeting to complete our current study of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet. In it we’ll discuss the section that in our last meeting I asked the group to read, “What’s the Right Way to Respond to Our Suffering?”, and I’ll read the booklet’s closing section, “Jesus–The Only Answer Bigger Than the Questions.”

Here is our schedule for the next couple months:
March 13 – “What’s the Right Way to Respond to Our Suffering?” and “Jesus–The Only Answer Bigger Than the Questions” from Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet
March 20 – “The Entrance to the Holy City” based on Pastor Parsons’ March 16 sermon on Mark 11:1 ff
March 27 – “The Passover” based on Pastor Parsons’ March 23 sermon on Mark 14:12 ff
April 3 – “The Garden” based on Pastor Noble’s March 30 sermon on Mark 14:32 ff
April 10 – “The Trial” based on the Intern’s April 6 sermon on Mark 14:53 ff
April 17 – “The Cross” based on Pastor Drover’s April 13 sermon on Mark 15:16 ff
April 24 – “The Resurrection” based on Pastor Noble’s April 20 sermon on Mark 16
May 1 – “Prayer in Daniel,” the first in our forthcoming study of prayer

The Deity of Christ

How is Jesus fully God and fully man, yet one person? A couple weeks ago my family and I began considering this question in our family Bible reading time, guided by Wayne Grudem’s discussion of it in Chapter 26, “The Person of Christ,” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). Since then we’ve considered Jesus’ virgin birth, his humanity, and his deity, and this week we’re considering how his deity and humanity are united in the one person of Christ.

“God” Used of Jesus

Although in the New Testament “God” (<i>theos</i>) usually refers to God the Father, in several passages it refers to Jesus. Some of them are:
– “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV except where otherwise noted).
– “Thomas answered him [Jesus], ‘My Lord and my God!'” (John 20:28).
– “From their race [the Jews], according to the flesh, is Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Romans 9:5).
– “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
– “But of the Son he [God] says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever'” (Hebrews 1:8, quoting from Psalm 45:6).
– “Simon Peter…to those who have received a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1).

“Lord” Used of Jesus

Sometimes the word “Lord” (<i>kyrios</i>) just refers to a person who has power over others, but in the Greek Old Testament it also translates one of the words used in the Hebrew Old Testament for God, “Yahweh.” Thus a Greek-speaking person in New Testament times would have recognized “Lord” in appropriate contexts to refer to God. In many New Testament passages it is used in such a way of Jesus. Some of them are:
– “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ, the Lord” (Luke 2:11; the angel of the Lord to shepherds about Jesus).
– “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight'” (Matthew 3:3; quoted from Isaiah 40:3 as referring to John the Baptist in preparing the way for Jesus).
– “There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6).
– “You, Lord, laid the foundations of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (Hebrews 1:10; quoted from Psalm 102:25 as referring to Jesus).
– “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16; describing Jesus in his second coming).

Other Claims to Jesus’ Deity

Besides using “God” and “Lord” of Jesus, the New Testament contains other passages that claim deity for him. A few of the ones discussed by Grudem are:
– When Jesus told some Jews that Abraham had seen his day, they asked him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” (John 8:57). He replied, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), claiming for himself the name “I AM” that God gave as His name in Exodus 3:14.
– In the closing of the book of Revelation Jesus asserts, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13). In light of God the Father’s declaration in the opening of the book, “I am the Alpha and Omega” (1:8), Jesus’ assertion constitutes a claim to deity.
– Although “son of God” can refer to all Christians (Romans 8:14, 19, 23), there are several passages in which it refers to Jesus as the unique Son of God, especially in the Gospel of John, including the ever-popular John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosover believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV, the version from which I memorized it as a child).

Jesus’ Possession of Divine Attributes

Besides containing passages that claim deity for Jesus, the New testament contains passages that describe actions done by Jesus that point to his being divine. A few of the ones referred to by Grudem are:
– Jesus showed his omnipotence when he calmed a storm (Mark 4:39), multiplied bread and fish (Mark 6:41), and changed water into wine (John 2:6-10).
– Jesus showed his omniscience when he knew the thoughts of some scribes (Mark 2:8), saw Nathaniel under the fig tree from afar (John 1:48), and knew “from the beginning…who it was who would betray him” (John 6:64).
– Jesus showed his sovereignty when he forgave a paralytic’s sins (Mark 2:5), his demonstrating his power to do so by healing the man (Mark 2:8-12).
– Jesus showed his immortality by taking up his life (John 2:19-22; 10:17-18).

Grudem discusses the “kenotic” theory that Philippians 2:5-7 teaches that Jesus gave up some of his attributes while on earth, concluding that what Jesus gave up was his heavenly status and privilege rather than divine attributes (pages 549-552).

The Necessity of Jesus’ Deity

Grudem suggests and explains briefly three reasons, besides that it is taught in the Bible, why Jesus had to be fully divine:
1. Only someone who is infinite (God) could bear the full penalty for all the sins of all who believe in him.
2. “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Jonah 2:9).
3. Only someone who was fully God could mediate between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5).
He also observes that throughout history groups which have given up belief in the full deity of Jesus have soon drifted out of the Christian faith.