Archive for the ‘atonement’ Category

Christ’s Death and Sanctification

Romans 6:15-23

John Owen says that Christ’s death effects our sanctification.  So what is “sanctification”?  Wayne Grudem‘s definition of sanctification – “a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.”  Now, how does Christ’s death effect the progressive work of God and man making us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives?  To see how Christ’s death effects our reconciliation and justification is obvious.  However, it is not immediately obvious how Christ’s death effects our sanctification.  Spending some time in Romans 6 is helpful in trying to understand this connection though.

As I had been struggling with this for a few days, the Lord providentially brought it together for me on Sunday morning as I listened to the preacher.  He spoke of an individual’s perpetual state of enslavement – the preacher said, “We never stop being slaves.”  This thought does not occur to many Christians.  Yet this is the word picture Paul uses in Romans 6.  Either you are a slave to sin or to righteousness but you never stop being a slave.  It seems that many “Christians” love to speak of the freedom we have in Christ and, as a result, conveniently forget that when we were granted freedom from sin we became slaves of righteousness.  That is the key here to understanding why John Owen says that Christ’s death effects our sanctification.

Though I’m not at all familiar with the details, I’m aware that some believe a Christian to be sinless once they are regenerate.  From what I understand of the false-teaching is that when someone is saved from their sins, they no longer sin.  That kind of theology doesn’t fly when you consider what Paul writes in Romans 6 and 7.

Yes, the Christian is set free from sin by Christ’s death.  But the Christian doesn’t get set free from sin so that he/she can be in a state of spiritual anarchy.  We are set free from sin so that we can be free to obey God.  Christ’s death purchased our freedom from sin and made us slaves to righteousness when, by faith, we trust in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as sufficient to pay the penalty for our sins.  Without this freedom from slavery to sin, the process of sanctification can never start.  I used to serve sin but God saved me from that fruitless way of life so that I could serve Him, as I was created to do, for all eternity.  So once we are saved from sin, we spend the rest of our lives proving it by living according to the Spirit and His sanctifying power at work in our lives.  Verse 22 sums it up for us – “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”  Christ’s death effects our sanctification.

Christ’s Death Effects Our Reconciliation to God

Romans 5:6-11

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Paul writes in this text about the ungodly…about sinners…about those who need to be saved from the wrath of God…about enemies of God.  He is talking about me and he is talking about you.  Many may say, “But I don’t feel as though I’m ungodly, or a sinner, or under his wrath, or his enemy.”  But the issue is not about how you feel toward God.  The issue is how does God feel toward you.  Now we think naturally that God will love us no matter what because God is love.  However, the fact that God is love is the reason why he hates what is wrong and he hates sin and he judges sinners and pours out his wrath on the ungodly.  But this is completely foreign to our concept of God.  However, our concept of God centers around us and our good and not on God and his glory.  Our concept of God is devoid of God’s revelation and is filled with this world’s philosophy.

We always take pleasure in seeing God as good and that is fine, however, the problem is that we deny reality and also take pleasure in seeing ourselves as good.  If God is good and we are good then who needs reconciliation?  If we don’t need reconciliation then we certainly don’t need God to come in the flesh and die on the cross in our place.  So eat drink and be merry, right?

But consider your heart for a moment…if we brought the evidence of your life into the courtroom would you be proven godly or ungodly?  Would you be proven righteous or a sinner?  Would you be proven justified or guilty?  Would you be under the wrath of God or would you be a friend of God?  The reality is that if you have spent a second of your life as ungodly – then it proves you to be ungodly.  If you have spent a second in disobedience to the Creator God – then it proves you are a sinner, you are guilty, you are under the just wrath of God and you are his enemy.  The Bible says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it (James 2:10).”  The point of the law is not for you to keep it, but to demonstrate to you like a teacher, that you cannot keep it and so need to be reconciled to God.

I am ungodly.  I am guilty.  I spend most of my waking moments actively living with no regard for God and his glory.  And most of the time my life would not be considered “sinful” according to this world’s categories.  This is the essence of ungodliness.  If I drive home and do it in a way that gives no regard to God and his glory, or I watch a football game on TV and do it in a way that gives no regard to God and his glory – then I have been ungodly.  Now you may think – no big deal.  Does God really care about how we drive and how we watch TV?  But consider how many of us have done far worse – intentionally seeking worldly pleasures because it made us feel good and we had absolutely no regard for God and his glory in the process.  Really what is the difference – whether we actively sought base things or not we were still ungodly.  God says it like this in Isaiah 48:10 – “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?  My glory I will not give to another.”  Sorry, you may think that you don’t need to be reconciled with God – but you would be wrong.  Jesus died for every single one of our ungodly moments – and there are too many for us to count, which makes us guilty before God and deserving of his just wrath.  And if you aren’t reconciled to God then you will stay in that condition for all eternity.  That is why Jesus died on the cross – 1 Peter 3:10, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…”

Be reconciled to God.  Let’s admit our ungodliness…our disobedience to God…our disregard for his glory.  And then let’s turn away from those things to trust in Christ’s death on the cross to bring us, reconciled, to God.

The Effects of the Death of Death (introduction)

I got John Owen‘s, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, for Christmas.  I spent many hours in J.I. Packer‘s introduction to the book and Owen’s note “To The Reader” (where Owen says, “If thou art, as many in this pretending age, a sign or title gazer, and comest into books as Cato into the theatre, to go out again, -thou hast had thy entertainment; farewell!”).  Packer’s intro is very instructive and if you get this book you should definitely get the one that has Packer’s introduction.  I’ll post more from Packer’s intro at at another time, although you can get a taste of it here.

After reading the first couple of chapters – and believe me…it is slow reading, I was just struck by this notion:  If you walked into your local Christian bookstore and went to the best seller rack you would not find as many scripture references in all the books on that shelf combined as there are in Owen’s first couple of chapters.  Every other sentence is straight out of the Bible.  It is remarkable.  What kind of Christianity is being sold to us on the best sellers rack in the Christian bookstore?  You could possibly make a case that it is not a biblical Christianity.

Anyways, back to Owen and his book…In the first chapter he talks about the end and the effect of Christ’s death.  Here are the effects that he lists:  Reconciliation, Justification, Sanctification, Adoption, and Glorification (though Owen does not use the word.  Instead he says it like this: “Neither do the effects of the death of Christ rest here; they leave us not until we are settled in heaven, in glory and immortality for ever.”)

God’s anger and atonement

Throughout history people have questioned whether or not God is really angry about sin?  And Bible-believing people question what it means that God’s wrath is revealed against sin.  Some say that when Paul talks about the wrath of God being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Romans 1:18), he isn’t talking about a personal, divine wrath.  God is love, right?  He is a forgiving God, right?  He is supposed to be good, isn’t He?  If God is not angry about sin then he is anything but good.  If God does not judge unrighteousness then call Him anything but loving.  God is infinitely angry about sin because He is infinitely good and infinitely loving and infinitely righteous and just.  It is only because God is love that he judges unrighteousness and ungodliness.  It is only because God is good that he is personally and actively angry about sin.  Many speak of a gospel that removes any language of God’s wrath or gives any sense that He is personally hostile against evil or that He punishes sin.  Instead, if His wrath is even mentioned, it is said that when the Bible speaks of God’s wrath it is referring to a natural principle of cause and effect that is built into the universe.  Does sin have natural consequences?  Yes – no one can deny that fact.   But is that all the Bible means when it talks about God’s wrath upon sinful mankind?  C.H. Dodd was one of the leading proponents of this particular view on God’s wrath that says it is just a natural outworking of sin’s consequences.  He wrote that God’s wrath refers not to ‘a certain feeling or attitude of God towards us, but some process or effect in the realm of objective facts.’  What he was saying in essence was that God has no personal response to sin.  I don’t see how anyone could read the Bible and think that God’s wrath is merely a natural process or effect.

Take Exodus 12 for example…to say that God has no personal wrath against sin is not a very good explanation for what happens in Exodus 12.  Do you think the Egyptians thought that God’s wrath was just some type of impersonal consequence to their sin or some natural outworking of a principle of cause and effect built into the universe?  I wonder if you can imagine tucking your children into bed tonight and then being startled awake sometime around midnight.  You get this feeling that something just isn’t right and so you go and check on the kids only to find your firstborn is dead.  Then you hear the commotion out in the streets and find out that the same terror has fallen upon your neighbors.  Then, as the commotion becomes greater, you realize that the entire community has been affected by this.  Then you find out that the entire country has been affected.  Can you really tell me it would occur to you that this is just an outworking of a natural principle of cause and effect that is built into the universe?

I’m sorry, but God went to great lengths on the night of Passover to make it very clear to the people of Egypt and their Pharaoh that He was NOT happy with them.

You see the reason the Gospel is good news is because there is first some very bad news – The wrath of God is coming (Colossians 3:6).  And we are all by nature children of wrath – deserving of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3).  If God is not angry about sin, then who needs atonement.  Is it any wonder that in a day where the bad news of God’s wrath against sinners has been stripped from the good news of the gospel so many have seen fit to ignore the necessity of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ.

Christianity…just another pointless therapy? (part 3)

I returned from T4G with the goal of bringing clarity to the gospel for every person under my teaching, especially in terms of the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement.  The meaning of the gospel has become so muddled.  And this is not merely the fault of Christian liberalism preaching the message of “a God without wrath [bringing] men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross” but because of a church culture in American evangelicalism that propagates a message of “a God without wrath [bringing] men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.”  Many believe and teach that there is a problem outside of us (family or money or society or our childhood or whatever) and the solution to this problem can only be found within the individual.  In Osteen‘s word, many would have you believe that, “You are not a sick person trying to get well.  You are a well person fighting off sickness.”  When in fact the Bible teaches the opposite of this…The problem is in the individual.  It is within each of us – it is sin.  And the solution to this problem can only come from outside of us.  It is an objective reality outside of the individual that resolves the problem, not a subjective reality within each individual.

Christianity is NOT just another pointless therapy that tells you to look inside yourself for a solution that is not there.  Christianity presents the only real solution to the problem – the gospel.  The gospel is based on objective facts and historical acts of God.  The whole reason we celebrate this time of year is due to the fact that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-5).”

So let’s clarify the gospel by looking at that three word phrase that became such a theme at T4G and has become such a theme in my reading and study: Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

Penal – meaning penalty.  There is a penalty that you and I deserve because of our sin.  The Bible’s testimony about mankind, and this is proven true in every one of our lives, is that we have all fallen short of the standard that God has put into place.  We have actually rebelled against this divine and objective standard.  We are, in our natural state, hostile toward that standard.  So we are all deserving of punishment.

Substitutionary – God sent his son Jesus Christ, as a substitute, to face the penalty of sin that we all deserve.  God made provision for our sin in the provision of His Son, Christ Jesus – dying on the cross in our place..

Atonement – What is it that makes anyone acceptable to God?  It is that they have trusted in Christ as an acceptable sacrifice in their place, becoming their substitute on the cross to absorb the wrath of God and remove the wrath of God which was upon them.  Christ reconciles us to God by bearing our penalty on the cross in our place to atone for our sin.

2 Cor. 5:19 – …in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them..

Christianity…just another pointless therapy? (part 2)

Is Christianity just another pointless therapy? Surely the church doesn’t think so…but consider a sample of what you would hear on Sunday morning if you went to Lakewood Church in Houston, TX:

“We have a right to live in total victory. Not partial victory, to where we have a good family, we have good health, but we constantly struggle in our finances. That’s not total victory. If God did it for ya in one area, He can do it for ya in another area. Get a vision for it. Don’t get stagnant…You see, too often we just accept things; defeat, mediocrity, addictions. People tell me, ‘Joel, that’s just who I am.’ But with all due respect, that’s not who you really are. You are a child of the most high God and he has paid the price so that we may be totally free. That means free from bad habits and addictions. Free from fear and worry. Free from discouragement and depression. Free from poverty and lack. Free from low self-esteem. God wants us to be totally free. The scripture tells us to take hold of all Christ died and rose again for. It all starts right here (pointing to his head). You’ve got to know that you not only have a right to be free, but God has already empowered you with everything you need to overcome. You need to start seeing yourself the right way. You are not a sick person trying to get well. You are a well person fighting off sickness.”

Doesn’t that just make you feel good? I don’t know where Joel Osteen got that stuff from, but I can tell you where he didn’t get it from – it didn’t come from the Bible. Do you hear what he is selling? He’s selling “a God without wrath [bringing] men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.” (Neibuhr)

I have to agree with one statement that Osteen makes – God has paid the price that we may be totally free. The Bible does in fact teach that. But the Bible’s definition of “totally free” is much different than the muddled gospel message that Osteen and many others are preaching today. You need to be set free. That is for sure. But set free from what? Did Christ die on the cross so that you could be healthy and wealthy? Is this the message that Christ commands us to preach to the nations? You and I need a savior, but what do we need saving from? – bad habits and addictions? Fear and worry? Discouragement and depression? Poverty and lack? Low self-esteem? What was it that God was saving us from by sending his son to die on the cross? Did Christ come to prescribe just another pointless therapy for us? No. This brings us back to the Biblical concept of penal substitutionary atonement. In my next post we’ll break down that three word concept.

Christianity…just another pointless therapy? (part 1)

Back in April, I was privileged enough to get to attend Together for the Gospel where I received many books. We would find 3 or 4 books sitting on our chairs when we entered the conference center for each session. Many of those books were about the concept of penal substitutionary atonement. In particular: The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul, Pierced for Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, In My Place Condemned He Stood by Mark Dever and J.I. Packer, and The Future of Justification by John Piper. I’ve read some of each of these books and some of these books I’ve read in their entirety. I would strongly recommend Sproul’s book for the less theologically minded person. I would recommend all of these books to pastors, elders, teachers, and lay church leaders. One in particular, Pierced for Our Transgressions – Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution, by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach is especially helpful. There is a section in that book especially dedicated to the biblical foundations of the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. In that section they walk through the major texts that deal with the teaching of Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross.

Why do they do this? Why did the T4G folks pay so much attention to this issue with the books they gave out and the talks that were given? In the halls of scholarship the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement has been under attack. Men, whom most of us have never heard of, have written books, which most of us will never read, attacking this doctrine. Most of this would fall into the category of Christian liberalism. H. Richard Neibuhr summarized the liberal position like this, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.” Outside of the halls of Christian liberalism, there is an even more subtle yet sinister attack upon the doctrine. Dr. Michael Horton makes this commentary on Neibuhr’s statement –

“Doesn’t this seem to be at least the working assumption of a lot of American Christianity across the board today. Is Christ and His saving work central in your church and its ministry? Is your faith regularly redirected back to Christ or is the church itself distracting you from Christ and Him crucified. More than anything else, the reformation of the church that we so desperately need, depends on the recovery of this message in our churches. Without Christ and his cross front and center, every week, Christianity is just another pointless therapy rather than the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.”