Posts Tagged ‘Atonement

31
Jan
13

the glory of the cross

Est 6:6 (ESV) … the king said… , “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honour?” 

The story is set in Susa, the Persian capital, during the reign of King Ahasuerus, better known by his Greek name, Xerxes I (486–464 b.c.). Some Jews had returned to Jerusalem, where they enjoyed a reasonable amount of control over their own affairs as described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Others, like Esther and Mordecai, were still in exile. As a minority group, the Jews were viewed with suspicion and sometimes faced threats to their existence from people in a position to harm them. In this respect Esther and Mordecai’s situation was similar to that of Daniel and his friends a century or so earlier. (ESV Study Bible Intro to Esther).

Mordecai, by God’s providence, discovered and defused a plot to murder the king (Ahasuerus).  His loyalty provoked the king to bestow public honour on him.  The honour was gracious for the king was not legally obliged to honour Mordecai (no law said he must, nor was the reason for Mordecai’s devotion any law promising good to those who were loyal, for there was none, loyalty was their duty), however, he felt a moral obligation to honour someone who had honoured him in such an outstanding way; such honouring was an appropriate reward.  In this even a pagan king revealed the moral imprint of the divine image for God himself says, ‘he who honours me, I will honour'(1 Sam 2:20).  It is with this background informing us we read and reflect on the words of Jesus in John 13,

John 13:31-32 (ESV2011) When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.

now is the son of man glorified…

This text follows immediately from Judas leaving to initiate the betrayal.  The betrayal signals the beginning of humanity’s darkest hour, as John’s reference to ‘night’ suggests (13:30), which finds its culmination in the rejection of the cross.  Morally this is the world’s worst deed and its ultimate exposure.  The atrocities of the centuries (C20 holocaust included) are as nothing compared to the conspired murder of the Creator. The contrast could not be more vivid; the most depraved inglorious actions of men in counterpoint with the most devoted and glorious action of Jesus ‘the son of man’, for it is ‘the son of man’ who is glorified. Humanity may utterly shame itself in its defiance of God and indifference to his glory (Adam did, and his heirs are here merely demonstrating the same depravity, though more culpably so, for now defiance and rejection is not simply of a good Creator and Provider but of  the God of grace and truth revealed in Christ) but this backcloth of human depravity serves only to make more radiant the moral glory of the obedient ‘man’ on the cross.

It is the true glory of ‘man’ because human glory is ever founded upon obedience to God and here is obedience of the most exacting kind.  Man is a moral being, made in God’s image, created to obey God’s will and seek his glory.  He is glorious only when so doing.  The more demanding that will and the more obedience to it costs then the more man is glorified therein.  Just as a son is never more admirably son-like than when obeying a demanding instruction of his father, and a soldier is never more essentially soldier-like than when he obeys his commanding officer at the cost of losing everything, reputation and life itself, so too man, in Christ, is most glorious in the obedience extremity of the cross.  

The glory of man is perfectly displayed in Christ’s voluntary, God-honouring, self-sacrificing obedience to death; here is humanity at its most human. This is ‘man’ as he ought to be; surrounded by every conceivable reason to sidestep obedience and aware obedience will cost everything – the reputation of men to whom he is a worm and no man (Ps 22:6-8; Isa 53:3), the companionship of his own who forsake and flee (Ps 88:18; 38:11; 41:9), the sustaining of angelic beings who normally guard those who fear God yet here are absent (Matt 26:53,54), the fellowship and face of God in judicial abandonment (Ps 22), intolerable suffering in body and mind, so crushing he is unrecognisable as human (Isa 52:14; 53:10), the cruel feral hatred of his fellows seeking his blood like wild ravenous baying beasts (Ps 22), the unmasked fury of Satan whose hour has come (Lk 22:53),  and ultimately the ignominy and injustice of cross-death itself (Ps 69:4,19; 44:15)- yet he never wavers from the path of submission to the divine will, his food and delight remaining as ever, the will of him that sent him.

His supreme and unwavering desire is to bring glory to God in life or death.  He who knew no sin will willingly be made sin if this is God’s will and bring’s God glory.  He who is creation’s crown and rightful heir of all will gladly be cut off and have nothing if in this his God is obeyed and glorified.  The cup of unbearable aloneness (so contrary to nature… it is not good for man to be alone) will be freely borne if it’s God’s cup for him to drink.  He will be the kernel of wheat that falls into the ground and dies if this will be the means of much fruit to the glory of God (Jn 12:23,24).  He will submit to Satan’s worst if this is the only way he can be overthrown and he and his powers destroyed to the praise and glory of God and the blessing of man; he will be the serpent-crushing seed even if it means for him the bruising of death (Lk 22:53, Hebs 2:14).  The fulfilling and realising of God’s purposes is his consuming desire and delight and the cost of so doing he will despise (Hebs 12).

Here is man, under the severest test, the most adverse of circumstances, proving to be man as he essentially ought to be, as he was created to be – utterly devoted, utterly obedient, utterly submissive, utterly committed to God’s glory. The moral glory of man being what he ought to be to God is revealed fully in the cross.  This was indeed man’s glory, that God should be (as he was) glorified in Him.  Little wonder such a man will, when lifted up, draw all men (of faith) to himself. Here is a man for men to follow and revere, here is humanity at its most glorious and worthy, most intended, bringing perfect glory to God.

and god is glorified in him…

God is glorified in the first instance simply in the ‘son of man’s’ faith-obedience, obedience to death and that the death of the cross (Phil 2).  Man was not created for death but for privilege as the crown of creation.  The ‘son of man’, eschatologically expected to be crowned with glory and honour with all things subject to him (Ps 8; Dan 7:13)). Thus when Jesus submits to the cross and death and all that seems to contradict this destiny he does so believing he is the sin-bearer and will be saved out of death (Acts 2:24-28; Hebs 5:7)/  Such is the faith-affirmation of this very text. ‘If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once’.   Here is man trusting in God’s faithfulness and righteousness when trusting costs everything and everything conspires to defy such trust; he trusts even as his agonized uncomprehending ‘why’ of loss echoes in the silent heavens (Ps 22).  How can God be other than glorified ‘in him’?

Yet God is further glorified ‘in him’.  Glory is the outshining of an essential worth.  The greater the essential worth of an object (or person) the greater its glory.  The obedience of Christ in the cross provides the context, the only context, whereby God can reveal fully who he is.  God acts in various ways throughout history and in so doing always reveals something of who he is and therefore an aspect of his glory.  In the life of Christ, he reveals himself as never before (he that has seen me…) but even in Christ, full revelation is only complete at the cross.  At the cross, all that God is, is revealed, and revealed according to that which He is consciously to Himself.  His nature is seen as it really is with each attribute revealed in relation to the other as it truly is without any one attribute hiding, or obscuring, or contradicting another.   Thus God’s heart of grace and love shines fully but in such a way that his wisdom, truth, holiness, power, righteousness and majesty are seen too acting in perfect harmony with it.  God’s heart, a heart of love, is displayed as it really is and his attributes unite in expression of it. Of his heart of love we read,

1 John 4:9-10 (ESV2011) In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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.

Yet it is not a love that acts in conflict with his righteousness but in conjunction with it.

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV2011) But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his 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.

Likewise his holiness is harnessed to a saving purpose,

Isa 52:10 (ESV2011) ​The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Likewise his wisdom and power.

1Cor 1:23-24 (ESV2011) but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

All work in symphonic unison revealing the glory of his grace.

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV2011) For the grace of God has appeared… Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

At the cross the ‘grace of God in truth‘ is revealed (Col 1:6).  Indeed, at the cross the truth of God is revealed as nowhere else. Not only God but all else is revealed as it really is: man’s rebellious heart is exposed as the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain, the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”and Satan’s naked hatred of God is seen in his dragon-like desire to devour the man-child.

That God is glorified in Christ at the cross is beyond dispute.

In summary, God is glorified in ‘the son of man’ for the cross occasions the greatest conceivable demonstration of human devotion to God and God is glorified in this.  Furthermore, ‘the son of man’s cross-devotion uniquely enables God to display fully all the attributes of his being integrated in the one great purpose of his heart, that is, to accomplish in Christ the reconciliation of all things to the praise of his glorious grace.  Eternity will never unveil a way that reveals and thus glorifies God more fully than the cross.  This is why at the centre of heaven’s throne John sees a freshly slain lamb; the cross will never diminish or dim, it will always be as yesterday for it is the glory of God par excellence.

the son of man glorified in god

What is the outcome of God glorified in man?  Man is glorified in God.  If God is glorified in him then he will glorify him in himself, and glorify him immediately…  If unrighteous pagan kings such as Ahasuerus recognise a moral imperative to reward those who serve them in outstanding ways how much more the King Eternal.  What will God do for the man who in honouring the divine will accepted the brutality and hatred of all, entered the dragon’s den, accepted the cup of divine wrath, undertook responsibility  for sin, agreed to be the atoning sacrifice killed on the altar and the scapegoat banished to the wilderness that God’s honour may be vindicated, his purposes of grace realized, and his righteousness upheld in so doing?  

What will God do for one who has so glorified him?  He will in turn glorify this man.  Indeed so great has been the debasement to which the son of man has submitted that God may be glorified that God will glorify him ‘in himself’.  That is, he will not simply glorify him but will share with him his own glory, that glory that he does not give to another*.  He who humbled himself to death for the glory of God will be raised from the dead and exalted for God will not allow this Holy One to see corruption (it would be unjust) but will raise him and will seat him at his own right hand in heaven.  He will share God’s throne and God’s glory.  He who went to the deepest depths of shame to bring to God the highest glory shall be himself rewarded with the highest glory.  God is no man’s debtor.  Such will be the reward, the just reward, of the man whom the King delights to honour.

In this way the eschatological promise of Ps 8 will be fulfilled.

Heb 2:5-9 (ESV2011) For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honour, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Notice, he is crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death.   We have a similar conclusion in Isaiah 53,

Isa 53:10-12 (ESV2011) Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. ​Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Philippians 2 makes the same point; God glorifies Christ ‘in himself’.

Phil 2:5-11 (ESV2011) Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

He has been seated on God’s own throne and all things once subject to God have been made subject to him (Ps 2).  He has inherited a name (and so a dignity) above every name including all angelic beings (Hebs 1:4).  He reigns not only over earth but over all things.   Thomas Kelly’s hymn expresses it well,

Behold the Lamb with glory crowned!
To Him all power is given;
No place too high for Him is found,
No place too high in heaven..

He fills the throne—the throne above,
He fills it without wrong;
The object of His Father’s love,
The theme of angels’ song.

Though high, yet He accepts the praise
His people offer here;
The faintest, feeblest lay they raise
Will reach the Saviour’s ear.

This song be ours, and this alone,
That celebrates the Name
Of Him that sits upon the throne,
And that exalts the Lamb.

To Him whom men despise and slight,
To Him be glory given;
The crown is His, and His by right
The highest place in heaven. 

But is this glory and position his alone?  The hymn speaks of ‘his people’.  Isa 53 speaks of ‘his offspring’ and ‘the righteous making many righteous’ and  of him ‘dividing the spoil with the strong’.  The express purpose of his death was that it would multiply others like him.

John 12:23-24 (ESV2011) And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Thus in resurrection he says to God, ‘Behold I and the children you have given me‘ (Cf. Hebs 2:10:16).  He promises his disciples that if he goes away he will come again to receive them to himself so that where he is (the Father’s house) there they may be also (Jn 14:1-6).  He prays that his own (given to him by the Father) will with him where he is that they may see his glory (Jn 17:24).  Amazingly, while there is a glory that is entirely his own (his intrinsic glory as a divine person to which he is restored, and the glory that is uniquely his due as the sin-bearer for which he will be ever worshipped) and while he is always pre-eminent in glory, yet the glorious position that he has at the right hand of God’s majesty is one that we by grace, as his bride and his body, are called to share.  If God raised and exalted Jesus as an act of righteousness then he must also raise and exalt with him all those united to him – the offspring of Abraham, his brothers, for whom he died.  To do less than reward Christ’s obedience to death with the end it was undertaken to accomplish (the redeeming of his own) would be unjust such is the moral value and imperative of the cross. Thus we become ‘the righteousness of God in him‘. Christ’s exaltation and our exaltation with him (seated with him in heavenly places) is a demonstration that God is righteous.  In him has been won so much more than Adam lost**. We are accepted by God in the son he loves.  We are joint heirs along with Christ.   We with him are blessed with ever spiritual blessing in the heavenlies.  We, like him, are not simply justified but glorified.  We are the fulness of him who fills all in all (Eph 1:23).

By nature and by practice far, How very far from God!                                                                                  Yet now by grace brought nigh to Him Through faith in Jesus’ blood.

So nigh, so very nigh to God, I cannot nearer be;                                                                                          For in the person of His Son, I am as near as He.

So dear, so very dear to God, More dear I cannot be;                                                                               The love wherewith He loves the Son, Such is His love to me.

And so the complete mystery of God’s purposes  – suffering and glory – are revealed in these two pregnant verses from John’s gospel verses that we may wonder and worship.

GAZING on Thee, Lord, in glory,
While our hearts in worship bow,
There we read the wondrous story
Of the cross — its shame and woe.

Every mark of dark dishonour
Heaped upon Thy thorn-crowned brow,
All the depths of Thy heart’s sorrow
Told in answering glory now.

On that cross alone — forsaken — 
Where no pitying eye was found;
Now to God’s right hand exalted,
With Thy praise the heavens resound.

Did Thy God e’en then forsake Thee,
Hide His face from Thy deep need?
In Thy face, once marred and smitten,
All His glory now we read.

Gazing on it we adore Thee,
Blessed, precious, holy Lord;
Thou, the Lamb, alone art worthy,
This be earth’s and heaven’s accord.

Rise our hearts, and bless the Father,
Ceaseless song e’en here begun,
Endless praise and adoration
To the Father and the Son.

*  He can do so for the man with whom he shares it is himself the Son of God, a divine person (Jn 17:1-4)

**  It is sometimes claimed that had Adam continued in obedience he would have been rewarded with glorification.  This is sheer conjecture, and mistaken conjecture at that.  God’s intention was never glorification in Adam but glorification in Christ.  Furthermore, glorification was predicated on God being perfectly glorified in the cross.  What could Adam have done that equalled the cross?

Further, we should not equate this rewarding of Christ with mere law-keeping (though he did of course keep the law).  This is much more than law-keeping.  No law demanded the cross.  In fact, according to the law, Jesus should have lived and not died.  This is obedience of a different order.  It was initiated in heaven (outside of law) and demanded of the son of man what no law did or could (that he take the curse of a broken law upon himself).  It was, in fact, this obedience beyond mere law-keeping (the death of the cross) that was the basis of glorification.

22
Jan
13

the righteousness of god in the gospel (2)

Our previous post argued that when Paul speaks of ‘the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel’ (Roms 1:17) he means precisely that; in the gospel God reveals himself acting righteously, that is, acting consistently with all he is in himself (Roms 3:21-26).  Among the ways God reveals himself acting righteously is in declaring righteous those who are ungodly; he passes a verdict of righteous (justifies) on people who are unrighteous.  How he does so righteously remains to be explored, however, what ‘justifying the ungodly‘ (Roms 4:4) does underline is that the righteous standing of sinners is not one they deserve but one God gifts.  Thus Paul speaks of ‘the gift of righteousness’ (Roms 5:17), in fact, lest there is any doubt he speaks of, ‘the free gift’ of righteousness (Roms 5:15,16,17), indeed ‘a free gift by grace’ (Roms 5:15,17; 3:24).  In this sense our righteousness is truly ‘of God’.  It finds its source, initiative, and quality or nature in God.  Paul writes,

Phil 3:9
…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith.

But how can a righteous God declare righteous the unrighteous?  How can he render a righteous verdict on lives that are unrighteous?  On the face of it, such an apparently false verdict does not glorify God’s righteousness but shames and disgraces it.  Where is God’s righteousness in imputing (reckoning or counting) righteous those who are ungodly?

Scripture tells us faith is imputed or reckoned as righteousness (Roms 4:4).  Does this mean that faith itself is the righteousness that God requires to declare us righteous?  No, for this would make righteousness ‘of man’ and not ‘of God.  Understood in this way faith becomes a form of works and the righteousness procured ‘my own’ (a righteousness which Paul repudiates) and not a righteous standing sourced in God. Besides faith itself does not deal with the problem of human unrighteousness; faith cannot cancel existing guilt and is not said to so do.  No, while faith is reckoned for righteousness it is not because faith is itself righteous. The reason faith counts as righteousness must be found elsewhere?

Is, as some say, the righteous life of Christ imputed to the believer as his righteousness?  Well, certainly Scripture does not say it is.  Scripture does not say that God takes the righteous life of Christ and reckons it to us as righteousness.  To be sure the righteous life of Christ gives value and worth to Christ’s death nevertheless the life of Christ it is not said to be imputed.  We must let Scripture speak and not our traditions. Again and again Scripture locates the basis of God’s justifying verdict in the death of Christ.  It is there and there only God finds a basis to declare the ungodly righteous.  The death of Jesus is God’s great initiative to establish a righteousness sourced in him and displaying his glory.

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his 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.

Notice, we are ‘justified by his grace as a gift‘.  Why?  How?  ‘Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation [mercy-seat, propitiatory] by his blood’.  Here, is God’s righteousness in the gospel.  Here is solved and unveiled the justifying verdict of the unrighteous. Here God finds an adequate moral motive to ‘justify the ungodly‘.  In sinners there is none, in the blood of Christ there is.

Redemption was necessary.  Sin had created a debt that must be paid. It is an offence that must be addressed.  Left unpunished sin impugns God’s righteousness.  God’s glory is at stake where sin is unjudged. The debt of sin must be met. The price must be paid.  It could of course have been paid by God simply wiping out humanity.  But such a way of displaying his righteousness is not where the heart of God truly lies.  He wishes to righteously bless not curse, save not destroy.  Thus the glorious wisdom of the cross. Here God’s heart of love and grace is displayed in all his righteousness in salvation.  Here the debt of man is paid in full and in such a way that God is perfectly glorified in who he essentially is.  

How is this redemptive debt paid?  By faith? No.  By Christ’s life imputed? No. It is paid by the value of the blood of Christ.  Christ’s blood is the ransom price (Rev 5:9).  In the words of Romans again, ‘ and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [mercy-seat, propitiatory] by his blood, to be received by faith.’

This language is alien to us unless we are familiar with the ceremonies of the OT law (intended as models of what would  be realized in Christ). To these we must turn if we are to understand the basis of our justification.

the mercy-seat

When Israel left Egypt they travelled through the desert living in tents.  God resided among them in his own tent (the tabernacle); it was his travelling palace and sanctuary.  In the innermost tent of this travelling palace was the ark of the covenant.  The ark was a box containing (among other things) the two tablets of the covenant, the law. Covering the box was a slab of pure gold called ‘the mercy-seat’ above which were cherubim (symbols of rule and authority). Although God could not be contained by heaven and earth, the ark was God’s designated throne in the world. From it he ruled Israel and in fact the nations. He ruled righteously, the tablets of law below the throne expressing what he required of man.  If they were flouted then God’s righteous anger would necessarily be aroused for he hates all unrighteousness.  It defies him and destroys all that is good and right.  His throne is dishonoured  and everything defiled by it.  Where sin erupts  under his rule (a defiance of all that God is) his glory (all that he is) must be upheld thus judgement and cleansing/purging must take place.  

And the reality, of course, is that Israel did sin and did arouse God’s anger.  Their sin both defied and defiled yet in grace God provided for sin.  Mercy was available from the very seat of his throne.  It was called, as we noted, ‘the mercy-seat’ or ‘covering’.  Its title hints at its function; although the seat of God’s throne from which he ruled it suggested that God’s rule in a sinful world, although righteous, would be merciful and would provide a covering for broken law.  But it could not be merciful per se.  The slab did not cover sin just by existing.  It functioned in mercy and became a covering for a broken law only when sprinkled with blood.  The blood of an animal sacrificed as a sin offering must be splattered on the mercy-seat and it was the value that God placed on the blood of the sacrifice that enabled him to forgive sins and cleanse from unrighteousness.

The blood meant the High Priest and people (both sinful) did not die, instead the judgement was borne by the sacrifice and God’s holy justice satisfied*.  The blood provided purification.  It cleansed. It made a sinful people clean before God (Lev 16:16, 30).  The blood of a slain goat apparently satisfied God’s moral nature enabling him to accept as righteous an unrighteous people; it (along with the scapegoat) made atonement (Lev 16:16). Blood enabled a throne that must otherwise, because of sin, be a throne of righteous judgement, become a throne of righteous mercy; God could justly justify.

The basic principle of the OT is that it is blood that atones and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebs 9:18-22).   However, these OT sacrifices were of mere dumb animals, in reality they had no atoning worth.  It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebs 10:4). These sacrifices were not pleasing (of moral value) to God (Hebs 9:8).  Their fragrance was merely sensory and not spiritual. Their value was symbolic and not substantial.  They had no intrinsic moral virtue that could deal with the problem of sin.  They but pointed forward to blood of a different value; the blood of Christ.  When Scripture speaks of the blood of animals it simply speaks of ‘blood’ but when it speaks of the blood of Christ it is always identified distinctly with him; it is ‘his blood’ (Roms 3:25), ‘the blood of Christ’ (1 Cor 10:16), ‘the blood of the Lord’ (1 Cor 11:27); ‘his own blood’ (Acts 20:28), ‘Jesus blood’ (Hebs 10:19), for it is ‘precious (valuable) blood’ (1 Pet 1:19)

It is the value of this blood, his blood, that enables righteous mercy.  Here was not the blood of an uncomprehending animal but the blood of a Son who voluntarily came to do the will of he who sent him. Animal sacrifices though chosen carefully by men were worthless, Christ’s body, fashioned by God for the express purpose of sacrifice, would be the sacrifice to fulfil and finish all sacrifice (Hebs 10:5).  Every aspect of his full and selfless obedience in life prepared him to be the perfect flawless sacrifice for sin. Every step in life was one of intentional consecrated obedience in the direction of the cross where he would be the sin-bearer.  The cross with all its awful implications of sin-bearing and divine judgement was willingly embraced because it was the will of God.  Here was immeasurable obedience.  Here was a righteous act of surpassing moral worth – the Holy One willing to be made sin and become a curse, bearing our sin in his own body on the tree, the one who had life in himself entering death and dismissing from his body, his spirit.  Here in this conscious and deliberate act of self-immolation, intended that God may act in and through it and be perfectly glorified in all that he is – his truth, wisdom, power, holy wrath, grace, love and righteousness – a ransom was found that redeemed.  The debt of sin was cancelled and indeed so great was the glory that this bloody selfless sacrifice bought to God, God was in turn indebted.  If Christ in an intentionally sin-bearing death (ordained by God and undertaken by his Son) brought such glory to God then God was in righteousness obligated to honour this intent.  He must show mercy for mercy is that for which this righteous blood cries.  Mercy is God’s only righteous response.  And, of course, he does, for the mercy which this blood demands is the same mercy that the throne upon which it lies splattered delights.   Blood, the blood of Christ, is the great basis of justification (Roms 5:9). Hear once more the words of Romans 3

Rom 3:25-26 (HCSB)
God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.

Here then, is the basis of the justifying righteousness of God, apart from law-keeping, though both law and prophets bore witness to it. It is as simple and plain as it is sublime.  The infinite value of Christ’s atoning blood is reckoned to us, and reckoned for righteousness by faith.   When God sees Christ in death he sees a mercy-seat covered in blood, the blood of sacrifice for sin, blood that pays debt and cleanses and thus he can be righteous and declare righteous those who have faith in Jesus.  This is the righteousness ‘of God'; he who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Thus with Horatius Bonar we say

I hear the words of love,
I gaze upon the blood,
I see the mighty sacrifice,
And I have peace with God

’Tis everlasting peace,
Sure as Jehovah’s Name;
’Tis stable as His steadfast throne,
For evermore the same.

And with Isaac Watts

Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.

But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.

 

 *  Controversy rages as to whether atonement simply expiates (removes sin) or also propitiates (removes wrath).  It appears to do both.  Wrath after all is simply the divine reaction to sin.  Thus, if the blood does not atone the High Priest and nation die. Death here, as always, is punishment, it is judicial wrath.  In fact, the institution of the Day of Atonement is a direct result of God’s wrath erupting in fiery judgement, a symbol of consuming wrath, because of disobedience (Lev 16:1).

Lev 10:1-7 (ESV)
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.

And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come near; carry your brothers away from the front of the sanctuary and out of the camp.” So they came near and carried them in their coats out of the camp, as Moses had said. And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons, “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation; but let your brothers, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning that the Lord has kindled. And do not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses.

Fire consuming is a symbol of purifying judgement.

Exod 15:6-7 (ESV)
​​​​​​​​Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, ​​​​​​​your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries; ​​​​​​​you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble. ​​​

Deut 4:23-24 (ESV2011)
Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Lam 2:3 (ESV2011)
He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn from them his right hand in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around.

Thus the fire that consumes the sacrifice implies righteous wrath and judgement, propitiation.

Lev 6:8-13 (ESV)
​The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall be on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it. And the priest shall put on his linen garment and put his linen undergarment on his body, and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and put them beside the altar. Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.

Lev 6:24-30 (ESV)
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the Lord; it is most holy. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. In a holy place it shall be eaten, in the court of the tent of meeting. Whatever touches its flesh shall be holy, and when any of its blood is splashed on a garment, you shall wash that on which it was splashed in a holy place. And the earthenware vessel in which it is boiled shall be broken. But if it is boiled in a bronze vessel, that shall be scoured and rinsed in water. Every male among the priests may eat of it; it is most holy. But no sin offering shall be eaten from which any blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the Holy Place; it shall be burned up with fire.

 

25
Oct
11

the obedient life of christ was not vicarious

I know we should not use the weakest expression of a position to criticise it.  I know it is easy to knock straw men.  The following example is both.  However, it is a view that I hear echoed regularly online; it may be a weak expression of a belief but it is certainly a prevalent one.  Here’s the quotation:

‘The believer is lukewarm, his/her Saviour was consumed by zeal. The believer is prayerless, but Christ continued all night in prayer to God. The believer is sluggish in obedience, but Christ delighted to do the will of the Father. All this and more – he is our peace, he is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption – when the law comes asking for obedience, believers can point to the Substitute in their law place.’

This is a belief founded on the view that the life of Christ is vicariously ours.  We are told that Christ’s active obedience to the law is our righteousness before God.  His death is not enough to declare us righteous, we also need an ‘active’ righteousness, a life lived.  I have tackled some of the better expressions of this position elsewhere in detail, here I am simply observing the absurdity of a popular expression of ‘imputed active obedience’.

I hope the absurdity of the quotation is obvious to all.  A Christian woman fails to dress modestly but Jesus dressed modestly on her behalf!  Is the corollary true?  I am not a good father and as Christ was never married he cannot have kept the law for me in this area.   The whole line of reasoning is monstrously inappropriate.  Christ’s life does not cover every situation believers over the ages have found themselves in an provide a corresponding ‘law-keeping’ for our ‘law-breaking’.  Yes indeed, Christ has glorified God in a life lived entirely in obedience.  Yes this life was necessary for our justification for the justifying death of Christ required a perfect sacrifice; the value of the death is in the life.  But it is not his life that atones but his death.  In the law the sacrifices that atoned were blood sacrifices.  Scripture could not be clearer:

Lev 17:11 (ESV)
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.  Substitution lay in a death died not a life lived.  Consequently, we are said to be justified by Christ’s blood but never by his life (other than his life in resurrection which is something different).  The Law demands death for the law-breaker.  No amount of law-keeping by another can make a guilty man righteous.  Christ is my substitute by taking that death upon himself.  He took the curse of a broken law and so redeemed me from the law.  If I live now, I live on the other side of death in a resurrected Christ.  I stand in his righteous position before the Father.  It is a position that is beyond law and not answerable to law.

The great tragedy of this emphasis on IAO is that it takes atonement away from the cross and places it at the incarnation.  Notice how the writer finds his peace in Christ’s life rather than his death: ‘when the law comes asking for obedience, believers can point to the Substitute in their law place.’  The glory of the cross is occluded.  Yet in heaven the song of the redeemed is to the lamb, the one who has purchased men to God by his blood’.  It is at the cross that substitution takes place (Isa 53).  There redemption is accomplished (Roms 3).  It is Christ lifted up who draws all men to him.  The cross is the place of propitiation and where God’s righteousness in salvation is displayed (Roms 3).  It is in being justified by his blood we have peace with God (Roms 5:1).  We are reconciled to God through the death of his son (Roms 5:10; Col 1:10).  It is on the cross he suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he may bring us to God.  In the words of an old hymn concerning the cross:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood
Sealed my pardon with his blood
Hallelujah, what a Saviour.
 

The lesson for us all is – let the Bible speak and not theological constructs.  When we adopt constructs and then extrapolate on them, we end up with positions that are risible.  Moreover, it seems to be a rule that the construct eventually supplants the truth.

23
Mar
11

romans, and the righteousness of god (2)

Rom 1:16-17 (ESV)
I am not ashamed of the gospel… for in it the righteousness of God is revealed…

A world that is right is what is needed.  Creation groans eager to birth a world right in every way,  a new world suffused with righteousness where righteousness is the plumb-line (Isa 28:17),  flows like the waves of the sea (Isa 48:18), ​​​​​​​and like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).   The yearning of the righteous is for a creation where the clouds rain down righteousness (Isa 45:8) and righteousness sprouts from the ground like a fruit (Isa 45:8), and where all the people are oaks of righteousness before the Lord (Isa 61:3).

But…  the reality is far from this.

Unrighteousness is the reigning paradigm.  Creation’s steward has despoiled it with unrighteousness and its fruits.  This anatomy of human unrighteousness Paul lays bare in Roms 1:18-3:20: absurd idolatry (1:18-22); unnatural sexuality (1:24-27); brutish behaviour (1: 28-31); permissive morality (1:32); and, perhaps worst of all, moral and religious hypocrisy, epitomised most clearly in the Jewish nation, God’s chosen people (2;1-29).

The Jewish nation believed themselves a cut above all other nations, and they were.  They were God’s chosen people.  They alone had been given God’s Law.  They were God’s chosen mouthpiece to the nations (2:17-20).  Yet Paul is unambiguous – they too have failed and failed abysmally (2:21,22).  The Law was of little value if they did not keep it; the unrighteousness of the supposedly righteous, is the greatest unrighteousness of all (2:23).

The conclusion is as inevitable as it is chilling; if  the most privileged nation on earth (Israel) was pervasively and incorrigibly unrighteous what hope had any other – every mouth is stopped and the whole world is guilty before God (3:20). Because of wilful unrighteousness, the wrath of God is announced from heaven and is inevitably coming (1:18, 2:5-11).  What humanity need fear is not its destructive self, nor even on-going tsunamis, earthquakes and famines awful though they may be, but the final, dreadful, terrifying cataclysmic judgement of a God whose patience has finally ended and who is determined to purge his creation of its moral filth, consigning the unrighteous to Gehenna, the eternal burnings.  Such righteous judgement is the only righteous way for a righteous God to act.

Or is it?  Is a vision of a righteous universe where all the people are ‘oaks of righteousness’ and ‘justice flows like rivers and righteousness like an ever-ending stream’ no more than a prophetic pipe dream?  Is it merely a Seer’s romantic fancy? Is God’s righteousness something we must inevitably fear for it means we must perish?  Thankfully, it is not.

The glory of the gospel is its declaration that God has found a way to be merciful in righteousness, a way to righteously declare the unrighteous, righteous,  a way to establish righteousness by saving not destroying.

The  previous post noted four points about this gospel righteousness implicit in Roms 1:17.  It is… eschatological righteousness … God’s righteousness… saving righteousness… and righteousness received by faith.  In Roms 3;21-26 Paul expands all four aspects.  In five key verses of compressed theology Paul explains the central elements of the saving righteousness of God.  Any attempt to understand what the Bible means by ‘righteousness of God’ must grapple with this text.  I shall comment on a number of its expressions hoping to unpack some of its meaning.

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his 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.

But now…

Paul’s ‘But now‘ signals a contrast.  The contrast is not simply a change in his exposition but more particularly a change in eras –  a change in God’s working in history.  The previous era of Law which condemned by exposing human unrighteousness  has given way to a new era of gospel which saves by exhibiting God’s righteousness.  The eschatological age of salvation-righteousness predicted by the OT prophets has now arrived.  As J R W Stott writes,

The ‘Now seems to have a threefold reference – logical (the developing argument), chronological (the present time), and eschatological (the new age has arrived).

Israel believed that its salvation and that of the world lay in the Law of God (2:17-20); in law-keeping lay righteousness and life.  It was a profound mistake.  The Law, even before it had properly embedded, was exposed as inadequate to establish righteousness.  Even as the tablets of the covenant were being given by God to Moses on Sinai, they were being broken on the plains below as the people worshipped an idolatrous golden calf (Ex 32).  This incident portended the future.  The Law would not keep the people from being just as depraved as the surrounding nations who had no such Law.  It was clear that the Law could not deliver righteousness or deliver from wrath, all it could do was expose sin.  As Paul writes,

Rom 3:19-20 (ESV)
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

If righteousness (and so life) was to be established then it would need to be from another source than humanity.  And so the prophetic voice, informed by the Lord, announced a righteousness sourced not in man but in God (3:21).  It anticipated a time when God himself would act in salvation and righteousness and establish both.  It spoke of the ‘good news’ of God’s coming saving righteousness, this saving righteousness Paul says has now arrived, or ‘been manifested‘.  (Of course, God’s saving righteousness always existed.  From Adam sinners were always justified by God’s righteousness received by faith, but now this righteousness is ‘revealed’, that is, the death of Christ has accomplished and exhibited it.  The gospel, once anticipated, has now been realised and fully revealed.)

righteousness of God apart from law (without law)…

We should reflect deeply on this expression.

  • Paul does not say the Law is one example of God’s righteousness and the Gospel is another.  For Paul, the Law never reveals God’s righteousness, what it reveals (if kept) is man’s righteousness.  It is only and always the gospel that reveals ‘righteousness of God’.  We create a non-Pauline paradigm and so confusion when we speak of the Law as revealing God’s righteousness.  I repeat, for Paul, only the gospel does this.
  • Paul does not say, ‘In the gospel righteousness is established not by you keeping the Law but by Jesus keeping the Law in your place and on your behalf’.  If this is what gospel righteousness is then here would have been the ideal and obvious place for Paul to have said so.  But he doesn’t.  Instead he insists on the opposite.  He states unequivocally, that the ‘righteousness of God’ has nothing to do with law-keeping.  Indeed, it has nothing to do with the Law.   It is righteousness ‘apart from law’ or ‘without law’, that is, it is righteousness different in premise and principle, and in fact belonging to a different period of redemptive history altogether.   This is a critical point to grasp for failure to appreciate this contributes to mistaken ideas in justification that plague much Evangelical thinking, particularly Reformed Evangelical thinking.  Gospel righteousness is not simply law-righteousness gained for me by another (IAO). It is not merely law-righteousness by another route, by the back door.   It is righteousness of a different kind, of a different epoch, and of a different source altogether.  This is precisely why Paul emphatically refers to this righteousness as... ‘righteousness of God apart from law’
  • The old era of Law put the emphasis on human responsibility; it looked for righteousness in man.  The righteousness of Law was predicated on ‘do this and live’.  It promised life for righteous living.  Yet, though this was its promise it was not its intent.  God did not give the Law hoping to establish righteousness through fallen human beings but to prove conclusively the futility of such a route to righteousness; he gave it to expose sin (3:20).  Only when all human attempts at righteousness have been exposed as the abysmal and abject failure they are, establishing beyond doubt humanity’s incorrigible unrighteousness and moral bankruptcy (Roms 3:9-20), does God reveal the glory and grace of his own saving righteousness.  Only when it is  established in history that humanity cannot be the architect of its own salvation will God’s salvation-righteousness be revealed.  God will have it crystal clear that if there is to be a saving righteousness then it will be and must be his and not man’s, and that the only ‘righteousness’ celebrated and boasted eternally will be God’s; boasting and glorying in any other is anathema (2:23, 3:27, 4:1,2; 1 Cor 1:28-30).  The gospel reveals God’s righteousness and in it he is glorified and no other.

Of course humanity refuses to learn the lesson of Israel and the Law.  It still seeks to establish its own righteousness.  But it does so against the damning evidence of history.  If Israel failed under Law all have failed (3:20).  Humanity post-cross is pronounced ‘dead’ in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1)  There is no hope in human righteousness; hope of averting God’s wrath (1:18) lies only in the gospel, in ‘righteousness of God’.

I would add one further comment here.  We should not confuse ‘God’s righteousness‘ and ‘Christ’s righteousness’.  When Romans speaks of ‘God’s righteousness‘ it means just that, ‘God’s‘ righteousness.  It does not mean the righteousness of Christ.  God’s saving righteousness of course intimately involves Christ as the text we are considering shows but we confuse Paul’s thought if we conflate Christ’s righteousness and God’s righteousness.  They are distinct and should be kept distinct.  That Paul means ‘God’s‘ righteousness is emphatic in the text.  Three times in five verses we read of  ‘God’s righteousness‘  (3: 21,22, 25. Cf. 1:17, 10:3; Phil 3:9; 2 Cor 5:21) and once of  ‘his righteousness’ , meaning God’s (3:26).

The text could hardly be more emphatic; in the gospel the eschatological age of salvation has dawned.  It is an age where God’s righteousness is the focus and no other (Cf 3:27).  When we have established that Paul’s focus is God’s righteousness, not man’s, not even Christ’s, we have established something profoundly important and we are thinking across the synapses of the gospel.

witnessed by the Law and prophets

I have already alluded to this expression above.  If there is discontinuity between the Law and the gospel (both different epochs based on different sources of righteousness) then there is also continuity.  The continuity lies in the predictive element of both the Law and the prophets (often a term that covers the whole of the OT).

How did the Law predict the gospel?  Principally and specifically, the gospel is predicted in the sacrificial system of the Law.   Thus the following verses speak of redemption, sacrifice and the mercy-seat as the means by which God’s righteousness is revealed and administered (22-25).  The prophets, as we have already seen, regularly anticipated the Age of Salvation when the righteousness of the Lord would be revealed (  E.g. Isa 46:13; 51:5,6,8).

And so, in 3:21 Paul begins to put in context the ‘righteousness of God‘.  In the verses which follow he unpacks the meaning of the expression.  We shall consider these verses in a further blog.  For now let me re-assert we have understood nothing of the rationale of the gospel if we have not grasped this fundamental truth – the gospel is nothing if it is not ‘righteousness of God’.

15
Feb
11

imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (12)

The intention of the last couple of posts (here and here) on this topic has been to demonstrate that the Bible does not support the reformed construct of IAO.  We have seen that the OT  knows nothing of a law-keeping life lived on behalf of another.  In the OT, when the law is broken only a blood sacrifice can atone (Hebs 9:22).  The gospels tell the same story.  Jesus indeed keeps the Law, but his obedience to Law is not the emphasize of the gospels.  The gospels’ gospel’ is Christ introducing the Kingdom of God (eternal life in John’s gospel) through his saving mission demonstrated in liberating works and words, his ransoming death, and his subsequent resurrection. There is simply no hint in the gospels that integral to the ‘good news’ is a life of law-keeping obedience conferred on others.

What of the rest of the NT?

The emphasis thus far is entirely consistent.  In unison the music of the NT celebrates  the death (not the life) of Christ as the basis of atonement.  Justification, redemption, reconciliation and acceptance with God are always on the basis of death.  Below are most of the NT texts that unpack the basis of acceptance with God.  I ask simply that you scan these verses and with honesty and integrity judge whether what they unpack is acceptance with God based on a law-keeping life imputed to others.  I recommend you read through the whole of the NT with the express purpose of inquiring whether such a theory is evidently one the NT champions.  I submit any such honest inquiry, free of presuppositions, will leave the dogma of IAO dead in the water.  I believe you will find, as the following texts reveal, that acceptance is never based on the merit of Christ’s life  imputed (that is his life lived on earth) and always on the value of his vicarious death and our union with him in his death and his subsequent resurrection.

Acts

What do the early apostles preach?  They did not preach in Acts a developed theology of atonement but they did focus on the mission, death and resurrection of Christ.  Peter’s message is typical:

Acts 2:22-24,28 (ESV)
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know- this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it… “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Notice, there is not a hint of vicarious law-keeping obedience, even to a Jewish audience.  The focus is squarely on messianic credentials of mighty works, the  designed death of Christ, his rejection by the people, and his subsequent resurrection.  Essentially the same message repeats itself in the early Acts (3:11-26; 4:7-12, 23-31; 5:29-31; 8:51-53).  In Ch 9 Philip meets a gentile (the Ethiopian eunuch) who is reading Isa 53 (the death of Christ) from which Peter preaches to him ‘the good news about Jesus’.  In Ch 10 the message Peter taught in Acts 2 is substantially repeated to Cornelius a gentile God-fearer (10:34-42).  The same message is taught by Paul (13:26-42).

Acts presents for belief a Messiah who has revealed his credentials in wonders and signs, who has died and risen again.  But what is entirely absent is a gospel of vicarious law-keeping righteousness.  The church of God has been purchased by blood (Acts 20:34-42) not law-works, even law-works by Christ.

Romans

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his 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.

I intend to consider this text in detail in a future post.  At the moment I want simply to note that God’s saving righteousness (and this is the key text in Romans and indeed the whole of Scripture on the topic) is located firmly in the redemptive and propitiatory death of Christ.  Of all places for Paul to have developed IAO this would be it, but there is not a scent; it is conspicuously absent. Note too, that the ‘righteousness’ discussed is specifically ‘God’s’ and not ‘Christ’s’.

Rom 4:24-25 (ESV)
…. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Note again the focus on death.  Where justification is concerned in Romans, we are justified by grace (3:24), Christ’s blood (5:9), Christ’s resurrection (4:25), and our faith (5:1).  Never by his law-keeping life.

Rom 5:6-11 (ESV)
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.

The death of Christ is again the focus of justification.  Notice ‘we shall be saved through his life‘.  On more than one occasion past reformed exegetes have employed this text in support of IAO (John Owen, defending IAO, interpreted it,  ‘we are saved by that perfect Obedience which in his life he yielded to the Law of God’).  It shows something of their desperation (or poor exegetical skills) for the expression clearly refers to Christ’s present life in resurrection not his life on earth.  Notice it is those already reconciled by his death who are saved by his life.  The expression is an evident allusion to ‘raised for our justification’ (4:25) and Christ’s present King-priest intercession at the right hand of God for his own (Roms 8:33,34)

Rom 5:18-19 (ESV)
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Perhaps the favourite text used to ‘justify’ IAO.  Again, I hope to consider it more fully in a later post.  Note: a) the text must be considered in the context of all that has gone before and all that has gone before has located the death of Christ as the place of justification b) it is ‘one act of righteousness’ paralleling Adam’s ‘one trespass’.  The whole section parallels two acts not two lives c) one man’s ‘disobedience’ refers back to the ‘one trespass’ and ‘one man’ obedience’ refers back to the ‘one act of obedience’.  Whether your context is immediate or the whole of Romans the conclusion is the same; the propitiatory death of Christ is the place of ‘justification and life’.

Rom 8:3-4 (ESV)
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Condemned sin ‘in the flesh’.  Commentators agree ‘in the flesh’ is a reference to the condemnation of sin (not sins) in the death of Christ.  Christ’s death was the end of sin (as it was the end of Satan, death, and Law).

Rom 8:33-34 (ESV)
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died-more than that, who was raised-who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Notice the key twin focus of death and resurrection in the matter of justification.  Accusation and condemnation cannot stand before these and a God who has determined to justify in the light of these.  But no mention of a law-keeping life.

Corinthians

Paul begins and ends 1 Corinthians with a statement about his gospel.  In neither case is the focus the law-keeping life of Christ but his death and resurrection.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1Cor 15:3-6,11 (ESV)
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep… Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

In the Second letter we read

2Cor 5:18-21 (ESV)
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This text is of course one that some believe teaches Christ’s righteous life is imputed to us.  Now I intend to examine the four or five verses that it is said teach IAO in a later post but I simply point out two things at the moment.  One, the text says nothing about Christ being our righteousness rather it says we are in some sense, through Christ, God’s righteousness.  More of this later.  Two, and this is important, the focus of the text is the clearly the death of Christ.  It is his ‘made sin’ death, nothing more and nothing less that enables us to become ‘the righteousness of God in him’.  There is absolutely nothing here about imputed active law-keeping obedience.  It is a foreign idea that has to be imported into the text.

Galatians

Gal 1:3-5 (ESV)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Gal 3:1 (ESV)
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

Gal 3:13-14 (ESV)
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Gal 4:4-5 (ESV)
But 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.

Notice that the redemptive gospel focus is once again the cross and Christ’s death.  Note too how Jews (for Paul’s ‘we’ refers to Jewish believers) under the law are ‘redeemed’.  It is not by Christ’s keeping of the Law but by him bearing the curse of the Law.  Here again, in the very context of redemption from law, was a perfect opportunity for Paul to tell us that Christ lived a law-keeping life for us and it is necessary to our justification.  But there is no suggestion of such a thing; we are redeemed not through him keeping its commands but through him bearing its curse.  It is through cancelling the curse of the law in his sin-bearing death and redeeming us from law that the blessings of justification by faith promised to Abraham may be realized. Language could scarcely be clearer.

Ephesians

Eph 1:7 (ESV)
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

Eph 2:12-16 (ESV)
remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

The comments made about many a text above could equally be said here.  Forgiveness, redemption, acceptance, reconciliation and peace are all through the blood of the cross.

Colossians

Col 1:19-22 (ESV)
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

Col 2:13-15 (ESV)
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Reconciliation and forgiveness of trespasses (broken laws) at the cross.  The ‘legal demands’ are met in full at the cross.  There is no life of law-keeping obedience simply a debt cancelled at the cross.

Pastorals

1Tim 2:5-7 (ESV)
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Titus 2:13-14 (ESV)
waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Hebrews

Heb 2:14-15 (ESV)
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

Heb 9:11-15 (ESV)
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.  Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

Purification (cultic image tantamount to legal image of justification) is through blood-sacrifice.  Consciences are completely cleansed by Christ’s blood sacrifice.  Note carefully the final words: since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. Death redeems from all transgressions.  No ‘added’ life of law-keeping is required.

Heb 9:22-28 (ESV)
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.  Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Heb 10:10-14 (ESV)
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Heb 10:19-20 (ESV)
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,

Heb 13:10-12 (ESV)
We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.

The message of Hebrews is clear purification, definitive sanctification, perfection, acceptance are all accomplished in toto at the cross.

Peter

1Pet 1:18-20 (ESV)
knowing that 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. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you

1Pet 2:24 (ESV)
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1Pet 3:18 (ESV)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

John

1John 1:7 (ESV)
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1John 2:1-2 (ESV)
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Revelation

Rev 5:9-10 (ESV)
And they sang a new song, saying, ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​“Worthy are you to take the scroll ​​​​​​​and to open its seals, ​​​​​​​for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God ​​​​​​​from every tribe and language and people and nation, ​​​ ​​​​​​​​and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, ​​​​​​​and they shall reign on the earth.”

Rev 7:13-14 (ESV)
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Where are robes washed?  In the blood of the lamb.  What is the eternal song of heaven?  Worthy… for you were slain and by your blood you ransomed.  Of course we will consider eternally every aspect of what God in Christ has accomplished but the emphasis of the song of heaven is the worth of the ‘blood of the lamb’.

Machen’s dying note to John Murray is often lauded. ‘I am so thankful for the active obedience of Christ.  There is no hope without it’.  Formally of course Machen was right.  The obedience of Christ along with his incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, present session, second coming etc are all vital for salvation.  But that was not Machen’s point.  Machen in his dying moments was placing his trust in a life lived more than a death died.  In this light, these words of Machen so saluted are appalling.  He misses completely the thrust of the NT hope.  It is a hope unambiguously centred in the death and resurrection of Christ.

The doxology of Revelation is far more biblically balanced:

Rev 1:5-6 (ESV)

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood ​​​ and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

20
Jan
11

imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (11)

I return after a few weeks gap to the topic of IAO.   NT Wright has a gripe with conservative evangelicals (among whom I firmly place myself).   His gripe is that too often we approach theology through thought categories of the C16,17 reformation rather than through those of the Bible.  Now I don’t always agree with Wright, but when it comes to the matter of justification and IAO, I believe he hits the nail on the head; IAO is a construct of the C16,17 more than it is a construct of the Bible.

Those who support the idea that the active obedience of Christ (his law-righteousness) is imputed to believers as their righteousness before God face a difficulty.  The difficulty is that the Bible (in my view) nowhere construes salvation righteousness in terms of IAO.  In the last post on this topic we argued that IAO is not part of the OT gospel paradigm.  We search the OT in vain for a principle, or a developing idea, or a framework, that teaches the righteous life of one person can be imputed to another.   Indeed the opposite is true; the basis for forgiveness lay in blood-sacrifice; a death died rather than a life lived is the OT basis of forgiveness and righteousness.   The NT commentary on the OT is this:

Heb 9:22 (ESV)
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

In this post. I wish simply to observe that the IAO  paradigm is also absent from the gospels.  Unfortunately, when disproving IAO it is necessary to keep pointing to its absence.   This is the case with the gospels.  If IAO is integral to the gospel then it is missing from the gospels themselves.

Let me say, there is no question that Jesus was born as a Jew under the Law, nor that he kept the Law.  The Law revealed the life of righteousness and God’s Servant would not rest until he brought righteousness, not only to Israel but to the ends of the earth (Isa 42:1-4).  In his life, God’s Servant, the true Israel, would ‘magnify the Law and make it honourable (Isa 42:21) where the nation had brought only shame upon it.  Thus in his life Jesus undoubtedly displayed the glory of a life that fulfilled the law.  He jealously upholds the Law in his teaching.  No aspect however small of the law could be ignored until all it required was accomplished (Matt 5:17-20).

However, the relationship between Jesus and the Law (the new covenant and the old covenant) is a complex one.  While we note that Jesus at the fulness of time was born as a Jew under the Law, honoured it and insisted that others honour it (Matt 15:3,6; 22:38), yet, even in fulfilling it, he dismantled it.  There are questions about this that need not concern us here but they are incipient in the gospel records; for example, we are told that Jesus, contrary to the teaching of the Law, declared all foods clean (Mk 7:19) and when asked regarding divorce he pointed behind Law to creation itself juxtaposing ‘Moses said’ with ‘but I say’ (Matt 19: 8,9; Cf.  Matt 5-7).  The sabbath was the sign of the old covenant (Ezek 20:12-20) yet Jesus declared himself Lord of the sabbath (Matt 12:28).  By implication he is superior to the Law itself.  He is indicating his right to bring to an end the whole period of Law.  The temple (another symbol of the old covenant) will be replaced by the temple of his body for one greater than the temple had arrived (Matt 12:6).  New wine requires new wine-skins (Lk 5:33-38).  The Law comes through Moses but grace and truth through Jesus Christ (Jn 1:17).  In other words, the thrust of the gospels is not that Christ came to keep the old covenant but rather that he came to introduce the new covenant (Matt 26:28), not to focus on Law but  preach the gospel of the Kingdom (Mk 1:14,15).  I note this to obviate simplistic notions about Jesus and the Law that often intrude into discussions about IAO.

Our question is twofold:

  • do the gospels emphasize the law-obedience of Jesus
  • do the gospels teach that Christ’s obedience was vicarious

The answer to both questions is negative.

The gospels (particularly the gospel of John) emphasize the obedience of Jesus but it is rarely (if ever) construed in terms of law-obedience.  Jesus’ obedience is based on a higher obedience than merely law-obedience.  His obedience is the obedience of a Son to a Father.  He had come to do all that his Father had sent him to do.  His food was to do the will and accomplish the work of he who sent him (Jn 4:34).   As an obedient son the things he saw his Father do he emulated (Jn 5:19, 36).  The commandments he followed were not sourced in the Law but his Father… ‘For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment-what to say and what to speak.‘ (John 12:49).

The Law was a covenant of works.  It offered life to those who kept it (Lk 10: 25-28).  When his Jewish contemporaries ask him how they may earn eternal life they are thinking in terms of humanly achieved righteousness by law-keeping and he answers them on their own assumptions agreeing that life, at least theoretically, may be gained by perfect law-keeping  (Lk 18:18-20; 10:25-28).  Jesus however never speaks of ‘life’ as something he hopes to earn’ or achieve.  He comes with ‘life’ already his, granted from his Father (Jn 5: 26).  He had no need to gain life or ‘earn’ life, he had life in himself (Jn 5: 25,26).  He was the giver of life (Jn 1-4).  His obedience did not gain life it gained his father’s approval and kept him in the centre of his Father’s love (Jn 15:10).  His Father’s command was not that he obey so that he may gain life but that he obey in giving his life.  His charge was a charge to die, not live…

John 10:17-18 (ESV)
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

Unlike the command of the Law the commandment of the Father results in eternal life (Jn 12:49,50).  Jesus’ obedience in John’s gospel is described in terms of  life-giving ‘words’ and ‘works’ (miraculous signs  Jn 5:20).  These words and works that belong to the Father he has given to his Son (Jn 14:10).  These ‘salvation’ words and works are not what the Law demanded they are what the Father through the Son in grace supplies.  The Law did not reveal the Father’s glory (indeed it hid God’s glory behind a veil), it is Jesus who does this (Jn 1:14-18, 14:8-10).  And so in Jesus we find one who pleases the Father (Jn 8:28, 29), reveals the Father (Matt 11:27; Jn 1;14-18), and brings glory to the Father (Jn 12:28).  All of this he does, not through the power of the flesh by which Adam obeyed and which Law addressed (Roms 7:1-6), but by the power of the Spirit the hallmark of new covenant (Jn 1:32,33).  He did not keep the old covenant that he may win new covenant status.  He was ‘new covenant’.  He lived as ‘new covenant’ and died that we may share in his new covenant life and receive forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:28).   As Hebrews points out,

Heb 9:15 (ESV)
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

The gospels reveal many gospel threads.  Jesus is the King, the Son of David, who will inaugurate Kingdom of God (Matt 1).  By his life-giving liberating words and accompanying works he will overthrow the Kingdom of Satan (Lk 11:14-23; Jn 12:31).  He is Isaiah’s Servant who comes with new covenant power in salvation with “The Spirit of the Lord upon him, anointed to proclaim liberty to captives and oppressed, good news to the poor, and sight for the blind (Lk 4:18 etc).  He is the Son of Man who sows the good seed of God’s word (Matt 13:37) and has authority on earth to forgive sins (Matt 9:6).  Jesus is the true Vine, the one true Son, who would bring pleasure and joy to the heart of God (Jn 15).  We could go on. Yet, wherever we read in the gospels, and however carefully we scrutinize them, we will not find a hint  that the life of Christ or the obedience of Christ earns a righteousness that will be imputed to others. Not a trace of such a notion is to be found.  It is conspicuously absent.

On the one occasion when Jesus’ speaks plainly about the way a man may be righteous it is to make a stark contrast.  Righteousness he insists is not to be found in trusting one’s own works  (we may even say law-works) but in casting oneself entirely as a sinner on the mercy of God (Lk 18:9-14).

No, the salvation hope presented in the gospels is not in law-keeping, not even the law-keeping life of Christ; it is in the sacrificial death of Christ.  He had come to give his life a ransom for the many (Mk 10:45).  He is the good shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheep (Jn 10); the living bread whose ‘flesh’ is given for the world at the cross (Jn 6:48); the Son of Man lifted up that those who look may live (Jn 3:14); the seed that unless it dies abides alone but if it dies it produces much fruit (Jn 12:48); the sacrificial lamb of God who bears away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29); the temple who would be destroyed and in three days rebuilt (Jn 2:19); the one man who should die for the people (Jn 11:50-52); the stone the builders reject (Mk 12:10); the prophet who must perish at Jerusalem (Lk 13:33-35); the obedient Son who says, ‘the cup that the Father has given me to drink shall I not drink it’ (Jn 18:11); and the ‘new covenant’ mediator whose  poured out blood would bring forgiveness of sins (Lk 22:20; Matt 26:28)

He is all this and more… but he is not the law-keeping Israelite earning life to be imputed to others.  In the gospels as in the OT there is not a whiff of IAO.  The whole thrust of the gospels is opposed to it; Christ comes not to keep the old but introduce the new, and through death establish new and end the old.  Gospel is not Law achieved, it is something entirely new in power and nature, namely Christ.  Christ is not life merited by obedience but the life of the Father revealed and remitted (given) by grace.

IAO, as N T Wright says, is the brainchild of systematics not of Scripture.

24
Dec
10

trueman on nietzsche on christianity

It was Nietzsche who declared that what is now decisive against Christianity is our taste, no longer our reasons.   What he did not realise was that he was prophetically speaking about Christians at least as much as atheists.

Found here.




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