Archive for the 'Doctrine' Category


jesus… the son of man (2)

We noted that the title ‘the Son of Man’ was Jesus’ favourite self-designation.  The expression ‘son of man’ was not unfamiliar it would seem in C1 Palestine.  It simply meant ‘human’ with the stress being on the weakness and humility of such a position.  In the words of Psalm 8, addressing God the psalmist asks, ‘ what is man that you have regard for him?‘  Perhaps the humble connotations of this title is why Jesus adopted it.  This, and other associations it carried which were not so up front but were nevertheless present in its OT use.

We saw last time that Jesus clearly meant more by the expression than merely a general idiom for ‘human’. He used it in a more prescribed way.  He was not merely  ‘a son of man’ he was ‘the Son of Man’.  The definite article implied uniqueness.  In fact, he used it as a messianic title.  When Jesus asks his disciples who they think he, the Son of Man, is, and Peter unambiguously replies that he is ‘Messiah, Son of the living God,’ Jesus approves his confession (Matt 16:13-20) and proceeds to teach that ‘the Son of Man’ must suffer many things… be rejected… be killed and after three days rise again‘ (Mk 8:31).  ‘The Son of Man’ is clearly code for Messiah.

Immediately after Peter identifies Jesus as Messiah, Jesus makes clear the career of this messianic ‘Son of Man’, contrary to the expectations of all, the disciples included, is first suffering then glory, humiliation precedes exaltation (cf. Mk 9:31; 10:34).  The Son of Man must be ‘lifted up‘ (Jn 3:14) where ‘lifted up’ refers to crucifixion (exaltation in an unexpected way).  The ‘must’ of suffering as a prelude to glory seems to be at least in part an imperative derived from the OT (Matt 26:24), no doubt largely from Isaiah’s suffering servant motif (Isa 53) but also from other threads of revelation such as the rejected stone (Ps 118:22).  Indeed, one of the most significant texts in the OT concerning the ‘son of man’ motif hints at such an order.

Daniel 7, in visions that reveal the conflict between the kingdoms of the world and the heavenly kingdom, records,

As I looked,

“thrones were set in place,

and the Ancient of Days took his seat.

His clothing was as white as snow;

the hair of his head was white like wool.

His throne was flaming with fire,

and its wheels were all ablaze.

A river of fire was flowing,

coming out from before him.

Thousands upon thousands attended him;

ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.

The court was seated,

and the books were opened.

“Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

“I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.

“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’

“Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws—the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell—the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.

“He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.

“‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’

“This is the end of the matter. I, Daniel, was deeply troubled by my thoughts, and my face turned pale, but I kept the matter to myself.”

This is a rather lengthy quotation but I have cited it in full for so much that Jesus invests in the messianic Son of Man motif is sourced here.

the son of man as a messianic title

It seems to be principally from this text that Jesus derives ‘the Son of Man’ as a messianic title.  This mysterious and august figure is given by God a kingdom that will last forever and never be destroyed; these are messianic announcements.

the son of man and his people are organically one

While the vision focuses on an individual, a son of man, the interpretation speaks of the kingdom being given to ‘the holy people‘.  It is tempting to identify the ‘son of man’ as merely the ‘holy people’ but this is unlikely for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the ‘son of man’ has divine characteristics and receives divine honours that no ordinary human beings possess (7:13,14).  More of this later.  Secondly, Jesus clearly sees this figure as messianic applying as he does his career to himself (cf Matt 24:30; Mk 13:26).  Thirdly, anyone familiar with the old and new Testaments recognises this dynamic between the individual and collective in messianic prophecy, the solidarity between messiah and his people (for example, OT sonship and servant motifs, NT body and building motifs).  Indeed, solidarity is not limited to the messianic, the various ‘beasts’ mentioned in Dan 7 were both actual kings and a nation.  Solidarity, organic unity, between a ruler and his subjects is a norm although it is taken to a higher level in the union between messiah and his people.  The reality and intimacy of this union is clear in the gospels.

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.

John 6:53-58

A more vivid sense of corporate identity and relationship is hard to imagine.

the son of man must first suffer before entering his glory

While the suffering motif is developed elsewhere more fully as we observed, nevertheless it is implicit in Dan 7.  It is clear that before the ‘holy people’ triumph they must suffer (Dan 7:19, 21, 23, 25).  Given the organic connection between the Son of Man and the holy people it is not unreasonable to see a hint too of messianic suffering, a hint amply developed in other OT images and texts.   The suffering Servant of Isaiah is a clear example of messianic suffering.  Jesus clearly links both strands of revelation (son of man and Isaianic servant) when he says, ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt 20:28).

Indeed, as ‘lifted up’ (cited earlier)suggests, the cross is not simply the prelude to glory but is in its own way the beginning of glory for in it ‘the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him’ (Jn 13:31).  The supreme self-disclosure of Messiah and God takes place at the cross (Jn 8:28).  That Messiah should die, and die the shameful death of a state execution as a criminal was unthinkable to the Jewish mind.  A messianic ‘son of Man’ such as Jesus depicts they cannot envisage… ‘who is the Son of man’ (Jn 12:34).  They did not grasp their need as sinners and that only through his death could a messianic community be born, a people organically one with ‘the Son of Man’ sharing in the identity of his new humanity.  He must be ‘lifted up’ that who he truly is be revealed (Jn 8:28), that ‘whoever believes in him may have life’ (Jn 3:14), and  that he might draw all to him (Jn 12:32).  The Son of Man had expressly come to seek and save the lost (Matt 19:10) and it is his death (as a corn of wheat) that accomplishes this (Jn 12:23,24).

the son of man will triumph and reign

While as a title ‘the Son of Man’ is self -effacing nevertheless Jesus invests it with unambiguous authority.  It is here Dan 7 comes into its own.  It speaks of a son of man coming into the immediate presence of God clothed in the clouds of heaven and receiving an everlasting kingdom, the kingdom of ‘the Most High’ himself.  Undoubtedly it is to this text that Jesus alludes when he says to the High Priest when questioned about his messianic entitlement,

Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”   “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’

Notice jesus does here what he often does, he conflates two texts.  The Son of man ‘coming on the clouds of heaven’ references Dan 7 while ‘sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One’ is drawn from Psalm 110, a psalm celebrating the triumph of messiah. Despite his rejection he affirms a day of vindication drawn from and confirmed by these OT texts. Indeed, there is a warning of judgement to those hostile to him to whom he speaks… ‘you will see‘.  This is one with other son of man statements he makes such as , ‘Whoever is ashamed of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels, (Mk 8:38).  The Son of Man among many other things has been given authority to judge (John 5:27).

It was always God’s plan to delegate to man ruling authority in creation (Gen 1:26-28; Ps 8:5-8).  The fall stalled but did not finally stymie this purpose.  Rather faith sees in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus that this purpose realised ( Hebs 2:5-8).  Christ is the first of a new humanity that will reign in ‘the world to come‘ (Hebs 2:5); Hebrews treats Ps 8 as messianic.  Christ was made a little lower than the angels that he may taste death (that which destroys all human flourishing) and through death, deliver his people.

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. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 

 Hebrews 2:14-16

Hebrews expresses this corporate unity between Christ (messiah) and his people that we have seen implied in Dan 7.  He destroys Satan and all evil, delivers his people, the new humanity, the new ‘holy people’ of Dan 7, the true offspring of Abraham and shares with them his victory.  Thus we read

 ‘Jesus said to them (his disciples), “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.’

Matt 19:28-30

If those who deny the Son of Man are banished from his everlasting kingdom and destroyed (Matt 12:8; 13:41; 24:30, 37-39; 25:31-40)  then those who acknowledge him, who receive his word, will receive eternal reward (Matt12:8;  13:37,38; 16:27; 25:31-40).  All this will be realised when the Son of Man returns.

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.  

Matt 16:27 (cf. Matt 24:27-31, 37-39).

There is an important application of all of this to our hearts but this must wait for the final post on this subject as I have already said more than enough in this one.  Note, however, how well suited the son of man motif is to bring together so many subtle strands of revelation.  We would expect nothing less than such wisdom from One who claims as the Son of Man to speak only those words which his Father had taught him (Jn 8:28).



the word became flesh

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. John 1:14-18 | ESV 

The Word became flesh’.   The Word who was with God and was God became man.  As Peter Lewis in his excellent book ‘The Glory of Christ’  writes, ‘the philosophically unthinkable became a fact’.   As is so often the case, God’s wisdom confounds the wisdom of the wise: while the philosophical world saw progress in terms of escape from the physical and material by contrast God’s salvation, the only and best possible progress for humanity, involves God becoming flesh.  Human aspiration (hubris!) is to become pure Spirit, like God: God, in the person of this Son, humbles himself to assume flesh that he may redeem it, and to do so forever.   God’s thoughts are not human thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways. We should remember,that while God becoming man established that there is nothing morally suspect about material creation itself (before the entrance of sin it is described by God as ‘very good’) yet nevertheless for God the Son to assume human nature was an act of immense grace and self-humbling (Phil 2:5-11). God, that he may reveal and redeem, would experience creation ‘from within’ (another Peter Lewis expression).

enfleshment to reveal

It is in the Word made flesh that God in history is finally and fully revealed.  God had spoken in the past in a variety of ways and he had truly revealed himself but only in Christ do we see God as he fully and completely is.  John says,

No one has ever seen God; the One and only, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (or fully revealed him). John 1:18 

John’s background to this statement in v18 and to the previous verses in this section (vv14-18) is Moses’ encounter with God on Sinai.  Moses had two Law-receiving visits to Sinai.  On the first visit it was to receive the covenant, the two tablets of stone containing the Ten Commandments (and various other aspects of the covenant). The context was law and the mountain was a terrifying place, full of thunderings and darkness.  Pure law and a sinful people is a terrifying combination.  Little wonder the atmosphere was terrifying.  In fact, the two tablets of the covenant given by God to Moses on Sinai never reached the Israelite camp  for when Moses saw their idolatrous revelry as he approached he threw the tablets down breaking them. Even while receiving the covenant commands on the mountain God informs him the nation are busy breaking it on a grand scale in the valley below.  Law, as a covenant, proved to be a failure, even before it had properly begun.  If the covenant terms are to be enacted then God’s judgement will consume the people (Exod 32:10) for covenant justice is outraged.  The covenant was pure law and offered no mercy.  All, if left to the covenant, was over for Israel. Moses, however, ascends Sinai a second time.  This time the meeting is more complex. Moses pleads with God on behalf of the people.  He asks for and receives a ‘seeing’ of God.  And he receives a second giving of the law.

It is this second visit to Sinai that lies behind John’s text (vv14-18). The covenant like the stones on which it was written is in broken and in pieces.  Fearful judgement is the justice the law demands.  Is this consuming justice the only way?  God finds the solution to the covenant demand for consuming wrath in the goodness of his own character (Ex 33:19).  More precisely, he finds it in his own determination to be merciful if he chooses. God’s heart is gracious and he wills to show mercy to whomsoever he chooses.  Israel’s salvation (both at that point and in future occasions) and ours rests solely on this determination in God’s part to bless and be merciful.  God will be gracious to whom he will be gracious and be merciful upon whom he will be merciful.  He loved Israel and that love would overcome all obstacles.  He is the Lord, the ‘I AM’, the Sovereign Self-Existing,  Self-Determining One, who chooses to bless (Exod 33:18). Moses, asks to see the glory of the ‘I AM’ but he is told he can only see God’s ‘back’.  He will see the glory but not fully.  He will not see God’s ‘front’.  He will not see his face where the full identity of the Lord will be known.  He will be placed in a rock-cleft and will see the trail of God’s glory after he has passed (Ex 33:20-23). Thus we read,

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. Exodus 34:5-8 | ESV

The full glory of the God who ‘abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness’ he will not see but a partial view of it he will.  Perhaps, in a sense, Moses experience on Sinai shapes the covenant experience of Israel. The covenant will include a sacrifice system for human failure (Leviticus).  The God of mercy provides for sin.  The ‘back’ of God’s glory as the Lord,  the merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ is revealed in this provision for sin in the covenant and in the many occasions in their history when God acts graciously even if the covenant people deserved otherwise.  However, the revealing of God’s ‘front’, of his ‘face’ and full glory must await another day. This day arrived in Jesus.  In Jesus, the full glory of the ‘I AM’ is revealed.  John says,

and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (1:14).

The words ‘grace and truth’ are the same words as those in Exodus, ‘steadfast love and faithfulness’.  That glory which was partially seen by yet partially hidden from Moses radiates in its fullness from Jesus Christ. To see him is to see the Father.  The full identity of ‘the Lord’ is revealed by the incarnate Word.  All that God is in himself is revealed in Christ.  God’s ‘face’ is shown and it is the face of a Father.  The ‘truth’ of who God is finally revealed.  The gracious heart of Yahweh is unveiled.  Unlike the OT tabernacle or tent where God lived among his people but remained hidden behind its veils, in Jesus, the tabernacle where he now dwells, his glory is not hidden but shines out in all its beauty.  In his character, his demeanour, his words, his actions, his life, death and resurrection, the divine shekinah radiates and God is fully seen.

John will brook no rival to Jesus.  He, like God on the mountain of transfiguration, is jealous for the unique glory of Christ.  Moses and Elijah may be there (representing the revelation in the law and the prophets) but they must disappear if Jesus’ unique glory is threatened.  He alone is the beloved Son to be heard (Mk 9).  Moses may at Sinai see the glory, however partially; Jesus is the glory.  He is the Lord, the ‘I AM’ who was before Abraham (Jn 8:58).  He and he alone is the Light of the world.  Not creation, not the covenant (of Sinai), but Christ is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), the radiance of the glory of God and exact imprint of his being (Hebs 1:3).

Do we wish to see God as he really is?  Does our heart wish to see the full beauty of the one living God? Look at Jesus.  Behold his glory.  The glory of God was (and is) revealed in Jesus but not all saw it.  It was then and is now perceived only by faith.  For those of faith the gospels are the Spirit-breathed portrait of Christ and so of the living God.  John tells us many more books could have been written, more books than the world could contain, but in God’s wisdom four have been written, enough for us to see the divine glory in the One and Only, enough for us to receive of his grace, believe in his name, look only here and nowhere else for glory, and adore.

enfleshed to redeem

The word must become flesh not only that God may be fully revealed but that man may be redeemed. In his Prologue John only hints at redemptive issues.  They are implicit in Christ as life and light and explicit, if undeveloped, in the promise of birth into the family of God.  John’s primary focus in his prologue is that Jesus reveals but it is sure that the revealing is to the end of redeeming.  The one who was in the form of God took up human nature for the death of the cross.  The glory of Christ will include, and especially be, the strange glory of the cross (Jn 12:22).  There his glory of grace and truth will transmit to the world for it is in being ‘lifted up’ he is fully disclosed for who he is and draws all men to him (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32). For unless a corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies it abides alone but if it dies it bears much fruit (Jn 12:24). Thus he assumed humanity that he may redeem humanity.

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, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:14-18 | ESV

The logos became flesh. God did not merely live in a human body, he became human.  Jesus is the seed of the woman.  He had a biological, not adopted, human mother (though her sinful nature was not transmitted).  He had human physiology and human psychology.  He is truly Abraham’s seed and has true birthrights to David’s throne.  He is our brother in every respect, except sin. He has experienced our experiences and known our emotions.  His heart has praised yet cried out ‘why’. He has enjoyed a meal yet known hunger, drank wine and felt thirst, worked all day and experienced weariness.  He knew friendship, isolation, betrayal, and abandonment.  He experienced the extremes of being lionised and demonised.  He loved and hated.  He knew compassion and anger.  He obeyed and trusted.  He prayed and hid the Scriptures in his heart.  He anticipated, sometimes with joy and sometimes with dread.  He knew satisfaction and shame.  He loved and lost (Judas).  He learned what obedience meant by experiencing all obedience cost.  As Peter Lewis says, ‘he laughed and cried, hoped and feared, knew delight and disappointment… was tempted as man and perfected as Mediator’. This is God manifest in flesh (1 Tim 3:16).  He assumed flesh that the divine glory may be revealed not least in redeeming it, sanctifying it, and that it may, like him and in him, be received up in glory.

Let Peter Lewis have the last word.

Go to the spiritual heart of the created universe, and you will find a man!  Go to the place where angels bow who never fell, and you will find a man!  Go to the very centre of the manifested glory of the invisible God, and you will find a man: true human nature, one of our own race, mediating the glory of God!


arius, and the roots of heresy

Historians are pretty clear that the Christian Church in the first three centuries was firmly Trinitarian.  Whatever difficulties there were in understanding the Trinity and relations within it that there was one God who was in some sense three seems to have been established orthodoxy; God, who was One, was God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.   It is all the more remarkable that a presbyter from Alexandria, called Arius, began to teach that in fact Jesus was not God.  God the Son he insisted was a created being, he had a beginning, there was a time when he ‘was not’.

What made Arius veer so radically from already established beliefs of Trinitarianism?  What led him to adopt beliefs that resulted in him being branded as a heretic and excommunicated as such?  And can we learn from him how to avoid heresy ourselves?

Arius made three cardinal errors.

  • He was too readily influenced by the cultural assumptions of his age.

Alexandria lay in the East of the Roman Empire (in Egypt).  The East was heavily influenced by Greek culture.  The prevailing paradigm of the culture was platonic.  That is, it viewed God as too far above the material and created world to be involved in it.  The created world of matter was inferior and evil.  For professing Christians beguiled by this cultural assumption this meant one of two things, either Jesus was not truly human or he was not truly God.  Gnostics of the C2 decided he was not truly human, while Arius, at the end of the C2 decided he was not truly divine.

The point for us to note is that a strongly established cultural belief trumped for many the established teaching of the Bible and the early church that Jesus was both human and divine.  The lesson for us to learn is that in  any given age the accepted cultural values of the age are often a threat to faith.  In our own age we need only consider our culture’s strong commitment to pluralism and egalitarianism and the strain these put on orthodox belief to see how cultural orthodoxy when adopted by Christians leads to Church heresy.  It is worth observing that the cultural orthodoxy of Arius’ world (that matter is evil) seems bizarre in our world today.  Arius and the gnostics are a lesson in the folly of marrying your beliefs to cultural norms… these norms eventually change and seem foolish.

  • He placed too much confidence in human logic.

Arius reasoned that if Christ was the Son of God there was a time when he did not exist.  If he was the ‘only-begotten’ he must have had a beginning, an origin and so he could not be God.  Any biblical revelation that suggested he was the Son of God and himself God must be re-interpreted for it failed at the bar of reason: if he is a Son he had a beginning and was therefore created.

For our purposes just now it is not important to explore in detail the faults in Arius’ logic.  Sufficient to say Arius was assuming that what is true of human Father/Son relationships that exist in time must be the same for the divine Father/Son relationship that existed outside of time.  He did not see that Father/Son in God is to do with relationship not the chronology that belongs to time.

Over and over again heresy in the church can be sourced to placing the power of human reason above the plain teaching of biblical revelation.   Christian truth is based on revelation and where revelation and apparent logic come into conflict the Christian submits to revelation.  Revelation is reliable but logic is not.

In every age this is a problem for those professing Christians intoxicated by the power of autonomous reason.  For them their trust in the potency of reason is likely to lead to heresy.  And the greater the mind the more subtle and dangerous the heresy.  Christians need to remember that the human mind is fallen.  They need to grasp that at the cross independent human reasoning is crucified and that in resurrection and new life the reborn mind and reason is one that submits to what God has revealed.  A man in his right minds hears God in Christ, God’s revealed Word (logos) or reason and accepts him as true wisdom and knowledge.

Arius lived in a Greek culture that treated human reasoning and logic more or less idolatrously.  Greek culture prided itself on the power of reason.  Since the Enlightenment, Europe and the West has had the same idolatrous confidence in the power of the mind and reason.  When Christians buy into this intellectual hubris, heresy is the result.

  • He used Scripture selectively

Arianism would not have found a foothold had Arius not been able to cite Scripture to apparently support his position.  Christians are not silly.  Heresy only gets a grip because it is plausible.  It is able to appeal to Scripture and persuade the unwary that it has the support of Scripture.  Arius could point to texts such as ‘the Father is greater than I’ (Jn 14:28) or Colossians where we read theat Christ is ‘the firstborn over all creation’ (Col 1:15).  Texts such as these, and his trust in his own logic, and the assumptions of his culture enabled him to dismiss or reinterpret a myriad of other texts that pointed to Christ’s deity.  In such ways heresy is born.

Heresy always is the result of a few Scriptures privileged in such a way as discounts the weight of others.  It inevitably means the selective use of Scripture to beguile the credulous.


We need only look at the way the powerful cultural force of egalitarianism coupled with human logic and a smattering of de-contextualized verses in Scripture enables many to disregard a biblical patriarchy that is crystal clear, and to unabashedly assert a biblical egalitarianism as gospel despite indisputable evidence to the contrary, to see just how stupefying a cocktail, culture, logic and a few Scriptures can be.  The same cocktail in cultural resistance to physical punishment, faulty logic about violence, and a sleight of hand with Scripture, and voilà, the cross is no longer a substitutionary penal sacrifice.  The list can go on.

Arius is a lesson to us.  We can either do what many did then and embrace the trendy new ideas that added a spice of controversy and fed the lust for ‘some new thing’.  Or we can do what others did and try to find a compromise, a fudge that all could subscribe to and would mean different things to different people.   Or  we can decide that its fine for all to believe whatever they wish for truth is not really so important anyway; you can have ‘your truth’ and I can have mine and the bible is so vague we can all believe what we like.  Or we can take the unpopular route; the route that says there are non-negotiable beliefs which if denied label the denier a heretic and demand his excommunication.

This latter view is considered the ultimate heresy by many today.  It is, however, the most basic and clearest of biblical truths and if we evangelicals do not learn to apply it when appropriate, then evangelicalism will simply slide into whole scale apostasy.  It will become a devilish parody of its former self.

How susceptible are you to cultural values?  Is autonomous reason or revelation your ultimate authority?  Are you tempted to use Scripture selectively to justify your predilections?  If you are inclined in these directions you may be open to heresy.


imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (10)

The Bible and IAO.  My intention in the next few posts is to demonstrate that the Bible locates justification in the infinitely valuable death of Christ and his subsequent resurrection without reference to IAO.  Indeed, I hope to show that IAO is not only absent but does not fit as presented into the biblical contours of redemption accomplished.  For me, as I hope for all, the deciding authority in matters of faith is Scripture.  To quote J R W Stott once more,

‘I take it for granted that we will have a text. For we are not speculators but expositors’

And so to the text…


The OT is God’s picture book for the NT.   What God achieves in Christ in the NT is modelled in OT typology and prophecy long before it happens.  God, in the OT, is preparing his people for the Coming of Christ by giving them categories for thinking that will help them make sense of Christ’s person and work.  As we study the OT we discover:

  • IAO creates a distinction missing from the Mosaic juridical system.  IAO assumes the possibility of being acquitted of guilt or innocent without being simultaneously righteous.  The Mosaic Law knows no such distinction.  In the Law, the person who is condemned is guilty (or wicked) while the person acquitted is innocent (or righteous).

Thus we read in Exodus,

Exod 23:6-7 (ESV)
“You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.

Innocence and righteousness are interchangeable.  Different translations use either word.

Deut 25:1 (ESV)

If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent (some translations say, righteous) and condemning the guilty (some translations say, wicked)

The regular categories before the Law (viewed either in terms of a local Court or in terms of covenantal status Cf. Mal 3:18) are simply ‘righteous’ and ‘wicked’.  Proverbs uses these categories 45 times and the Psalms 13.  For example,

Prov 17:15 (ESV)
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.  (Cf Prov 18:5)

As George Eldon Ladd notes,  “he is righteous who is judged to be in the right” (Ex. 23:7; Deut. 25:1).

Because Paul works within an OT schema and not that of IAO theologies he has no hesitation in asserting that the person (David in Ps 32) whose sin is forgiven, whose guilt is covered, and against whom the Lord does not count sin, is not simply free of guilt, but is justified, is righteous.

Rom 4:5-8 (ESV)
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:  ​​​​​​​​“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;  ​​​​​​​​blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

To reiterate, the idea that before the Law one may be acquitted of guilt but not  righteous is foreign to OT discourse.  Such ‘distinctions’, the inventions of IAO theologies, are simply that, inventions.   If the Law acquits, the acquitted is righteous.

  • IAO argues the law-keeping obedience of one may be transferred to another.  The OT Law knows nothing of such a concept.

The Law demanded obedience, however, law-keeping obedience was non-transferable.   The law-keeping of one could not cover, replace, outweigh, balance, cancel, or be imputed against the law-breaking of another.  The Law is clear – the one who does it shall live…if a man does them he shall live by them (Lev 18:5; Ezek 18: 5-9; 20:11,13, 20; Gals 3:11; Roms 10:5).   Law-keeping counted only for the individual law-keeper.  In Ezekiel we read,

Ezek 14:13-14 (ESV)

“Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God.

We look in vain ifor OT vicarious law-keeping.    There is no paradigm for IAO in the Mosaic Covenant.

  • In OT Law, a blood sacrifice, and only a blood sacrifice, could atone for sin, avert judgement, cleanse, bring forgiveness and establish a right relationship with God.

Though a law-keeping life could not act vicariously for another, a death could and did.  The animal sacrificial system educated Israel that atonement for sin lay in blood-sacrifice.  There were five major kinds of offerings in the OC.   Two were non-blood offerings and they could not atone for sin.  Three were blood sacrifices, the burnt offering, sin offering and guilt offering, and these could atone for sin  and establish forgiveness (Lev 1-7).  Atonement for the nation on the annual Day of Atonement involved two goats, one of which had to die.  Atonement, cleansing and acceptance with God depended on a sacrificial death; blood must be shed.  Indeed even inanimate objects, the holy things of the tabernacle, were cleansed by blood.

Lev 16:16 (ESV)
Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.

Thus we read in Hebrews,

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.

It is hardly surprising that the Hebrew writer when considering the fulfilment of these OT types (especially the Day of Atonement) writes,

Heb 9:23-28 (ESV)
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.

The Hebrews commentary is highly relevant to the present discussion.  Note, there is no hint of law-keeping on behalf of another.  It is the sacrificial death that is important.  Certainly, the animal that died had to be ‘without blemish’ (Lev 1:3; Ex 12:5).  It must be without defect to be suitable for sacrifice.  In this it foreshadowed the purity and perfection of Christ.  Christ is an efficient sacrifice because of his life of total obedience; ‘he offered himself without blemish to God‘ (Hebs 9:14).  His life gives value to his death – thus his blood is ‘precious’, the blood of ‘a lamb without blemish or spot’ (1 Pet 1:18-19).  But it is the death that atones.  Indeed, it is the death-obedience of Christ that brings supreme glory to God and to Christ (Jn 13:31).  Thus, it is the blood shed that atones; it cleanses impurity (meets a  holy God’s requirement for definitive sanctification, cultic or sanctuary imagery  Lev 16:16,30) and clears guilt (meets a righteous God’s requirement for justification, legal or law-court imagery   Lev 4:17; 6:13; 10:17; 16:16).  God made crystal clear to Israel that blood atones.

Lev 17:10-14 (ESV)
“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. 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 [many translations say, ‘for the soul’]. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood… For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.  (Cf Lev 4:26, 31, 35; Matt 26:28; Hebs 13:12; Roms 3:25; 5:9; Acts 20:28; Rev 1:5; 17:14)

Of course, the animal sacrifices offered under Law couldn’t really satisfy God’s holiness in the face of sin.  The sin offering couldn’t really atone for sin.  It couldn’t cleanse or bring forgiveness and righteous acceptance.  Nor could the national sacrifice on the Day of Atonement purify and make the people righteous (Hebs 10:1-4).  The offerer of the sin offering was ‘righteous’ only until his next sin.  The annual Day of Atonement must happen ‘annually’ for each year fresh sin accumulated requiring fresh atonement.  The OT sacrifices could not bring lasting righteousness.  They could not bring ‘perfection‘.  They were, after all, only the involuntary sacrifices of dumb animals.  Only human flesh could atone for human flesh.  Only a voluntary sacrifice by a sinless ‘seed of Abraham’ could atone for ‘Abraham’s seed’ (Hebs 2:9:19; Hebs 10:1-9).  Only Christ’s sacrifice could bring real, complete, lasting forgiveness and acceptance.  His sacrifice alone could perfectly atone.   In the language of Hebrews,

Heb 10:11-14 (ESV)
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.

Note the argument well, and that of the Hebrews’ quotation above  (9:23:28).  No mention of IAO.  No hint of  a life transferred through divine book-keeping.  Hebrews simply says by  ‘a single sacrifice for sins he has perfected forever‘ his people.  Observe, they are ‘perfected‘ by this sacrifice.  There is no ‘back to probation’ or ‘forgiven but not righteous’, the brain-child of theological systems which treat the sacrifice of Christ as if it were no more effective than the OT sacrifices (revealing the essentially  legalistic thinking of the system). Scripture declares the sacrifice of Christ ‘perfects‘ those who are sanctified by it.  ‘Perfected‘ in Hebrews means, at the very least, already fully suited to live in the direct presence of God (Hebs 10:19) anticipating ‘the good things to come‘ (Hebs 9:12) in the ‘age to come‘ (Hebs 6:5).

The powerful efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice is repeatedly emphasized.  Christ has, ‘ put away sin by the sacrifice of himself‘.  By this ‘once-for-all‘ new covenant sacrifice ‘sins and iniquities will be remembered no more forever’ (Hebs 8:12; 10:17) and ‘where there is forgiveness of these no further offering for sin is required‘ (Hebs 10:17).  Christ has ‘secured eternal redemption‘ by means of ‘his own blood’ (Hebs 9:12). Redemption secured, note again, not by a life transferred but by blood shed; ‘the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God.‘  Hebrews could scarcely be clearer,

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.

To argue that without IAO the death of Christ simply puts us back at Adam stacking up fresh sins that will need atoned all over again is to gravely undermine the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ.  It fails culpably to grasp its infinite worth.  This kind of almost blasphemous misjudgment Paul emphatically did not make.  He bases our righteousness and other blessings we have through the gospel squarely on this sacrifice (Roms 3:21-26).

Rom 5:6-9 (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…

Rom 5:1-2 (ESV)
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

And so, in the Mosaic Covenant, there was only one way to be ‘right with God’ and that was by blood-sacrifice.  The NT makes clear this sacrifice was ultimately the sacrifice of Christ.  In so claiming, the NT was once more simply building on OT revelation.  Isaiah sees that animal sacrifices  anticipate an ultimate sacrifice, an ultimate ‘sin offering’ for the people; a human sacrifice by God’s ‘servant’.  Isaiah has no doubt that peace with God, healing, forgiveness, and righteousness flow from this vicarious-sin-and-judgement-bearing-sacrificial-death.

Isa 53:5-10 (ESV)
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  ​​​​​​​​All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned-every one-to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  ​​​​​​​​He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.  ​​​​​​​​By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?  ​​​​​​​​And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.  ​​​​​​​​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.

The ‘servant’s’ death is viewed as a sacrificial sin-offering that atones for the people bringing healing.  The focus is clearly his obedience in death.  He is ‘led as a lamb to the slaughter… sheep…dumb…mouth‘.    It is his suffering in death that occasions his triumph in resurrection (53:10-12).  Right relationship with God (in resurrection) is established by his death, not his life.

Note too the text, ‘by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.‘   What ‘knowledge’ is referred to that ‘makes many righteous’ (‘accounted’ may be right by is more of an interpretation than translation).  If justification is in view it is hard to see how it can be any other than his ‘knowledge’ of the cross.  The ‘knowledge’ of ‘anguish of soul’ and being ‘acquainted (knowing) with grief’ (v4).  However, at the risk of muddying the waters, it is at least possible that what is being referred to here is not justification but sanctification.  ‘Accounted righteous’ is an interpretation not translation.  It is possible that ‘make righteous’ here means ‘by his knowledge shall my righteous servant instruct many in righteousness’.  That is, the ‘servant‘ who knew the way (and cost) of righteous living experientially would teach it to his followers, those whose iniquities he bore.  This would parallel with Dan 12.

Dan 12:3 (ESV)
And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Whatever the precise meaning of v11 the thrust of the chapter seems inescapable; it is from the sacrificial death of the servant that all benefits flow.  It is because of his death that the servant lives and has an ‘offspring’ who are ‘the strong‘ with whom he ‘divides the spoils.’  IAO is again conspicuous by its absence.

An aside…

Perhaps, while reflecting on the OT, this is the moment to briefly discuss the ‘clothes change’ of the High Priest in Zechariah 3, for this is often used to support IAO.

Zech 3:1-5 (ESV)
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.

We are told that the ‘taking-off’ is being cleared of guilt by Christ bearing our sins in death and the ‘putting-on’ is being made righteous by being clothed in the active obedience of Christ.  Now, if this model were present in Scripture then possibly this sequence may illustrate it.  However, the sequence by itself certainly does not establish it.  Indeed, the interpretation itself is wooden and makes the symbolism run on all fours.  The evident meaning is simply that God radically changes the standing of the High Priest from being unrighteous to righteous.  No more is required of the symbolism.  Indeed, if we are going to be pedantic and stress the symbolism further then the clothes Joshua is clothed in are new High Priestly clothes ‘of glory and beauty’.  These are robes of glorification.  In the Day of Atonement the High Priest only put on his robes of Glory when atonement was accomplished and he returned to the people bringing salvation (Cf Hebs 9:28).  But I am unsure if this full symbolism is intended.  The main point, I repeat, is simply that God changes the status of Joshua from unclean to clean, unrighteous to righteous; no two stage process is implied.

And so, by this brief glance at the OT, we can see the contours of the ‘type’ prepare us for a Deliverer who will save his people by an atoning blood sacrifice.   There is no suggestion of vicarious law-keeping.  It simply was not an OT category of atonement.


imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (8)

We saw in the previous blog that both Methodists (C18) and Plymouth Brethren (C19) raised dissenting voices at IAO.  The initial teaching of J N Darby and W Kelly (that justification is located in the death and resurrection of Christ, not IAO) prevailed in Brethren theology well into the C20.  W E Vine (1873-1949), a Brethren Bible Scholar whose influence spread far beyond the boundaries of Brethren chiefly through his celebrated dictionary ‘Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words‘ published 1940, along with C F Hogg another Brethren commentator, writes,

Neither the incarnation of the Son of God, nor His keeping of the law in the days of His flesh availed, in whole or in part, for the redemption of men…. His redemptive work proper began and ended on the cross; …Hence it is nowhere said in the New Testament that Christ kept the law for us. Only His death is vicarious, or substitutionary. He is not said to have borne sin during any part of His life; it was at the cross that He became the sin-bearer  [C. F. Hogg , W. E. Vine , The Epistle of the Galatians, (London; GB: Pickering and Inglis, LTD.), 1959, p.186].

A contemporary of Hogg and Vine, Open Brethren writer John Ritchie (1853-1930) commenting on Romans writes,

The theological phrase, “The righteousness of Christ,” so much used, is not a scriptural term. The meaning usually read into it is, that the sinner having failed to keep the law, Christ has kept it for him, that His obedience is counted mans’ righteousness, and put on all that believe as a “robe.” But this would not be “righteousness apart from law” (Rom. 3:21). If God reckons the sinner to have kept the law because Christ kept the law for him, then righteousness surely comes by law, and the death of Christ was “in vain” (Gal. 2:21). In all this, justification by grace through redemption, has no place. The gospel is not that a sinner is made righteous by the imputation of Christ’s legal obedience on earth, and saved by His death, but rather that “being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” [John Ritchie, Romans, (Charlotte, NC : The Serious Christian, 1987), p. 161].

More recently, William McDonald (1917-2007), former President of Emmaus Bible College, and Brethren writer, commenting on Romans 5:18 writes,

The righteousness of Christ mentioned in Romans 5: 18 does not mean His righteousness as a Man on earth or His perfect keeping of the law. These are never said to be imputed to us. If they were, then it would not have been necessary for Christ to die. The New American Standard Bible is on target when it translates: “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.” The “one act of righteousness” was not the Savior’s life or His keeping of the law, but rather His substitutionary death on Calvary’s cross  [William MacDonald, Justification by Faith (Romans), (Kansas City, KS: Walterick Publishers, 1981), p. 62].

Clearly IAO has been resisted by mainstream representatives of Plymouth Brethren theology in the C20.

In the early C20 Brethren influence was quite wide in evangelicalism.  Many reformed churches (in the UK and USA and further afield) had collapsed under the weight of German theology with its Biblical criticism and liberalism.  Evangelical life was nourished in the (now considered) more fundamentalist enclaves influenced by Darby’s dispensationalism.  I am not for a moment saying there was no evangelical life outside of dispensational circles, clearly there was, however, these ‘fundamentalist’ strongholds of the gospel were a significant force in the evangelicalism of the first 50 years of C20. And they were, as I say, influenced by Brethren theology.

For example, in the States, William Newell, Congregational Church pastor, famed preacher, and Assistant Superintendent of the Moody Bible Institute (under R A Torrey) writes in his commentary on Romans,

Jesus’ “was always obedient to His Father, but it cannot be too strongly emphasized that His life before the cross – His ‘active obedience’ … is not in any sense counted to us for righteousness.” (W. Newell Romans, Kregel (2004) Romans 5:19)

Arno C Gaebelein (1861-1945) a prominent and influential Methodist dispensationalist upon whom Wheaton College conferred an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1922 writes,

“The term “Righteousness of God” is much misunderstood. Not a few think it is the righteousness of Christ (a term nowhere used in Scripture) which is attributed to the believing sinner. They teach that Christ fulfilled the law, lived a perfect life on earth and that this righteousness is given to the sinner. All this is unscriptural. Righteousness cannot be bestowed by the law in any sense of the word. If the holy life of the Son of God, lived on earth in perfect righteousness could have saved man and given him righteousness, there was no need for Him to die. “If righteousness came by the law then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:21). It is God’s righteousness which is now on the side of the believing sinner; the same righteousness which condemns the sinner, covers all who believe. And this righteousness is revealed in the Gospel. God’s righteousness has been fully met and maintained in the atoning work of Christ on the Cross. By that wonderful work God is now enabled to save sinners and to save them righteously. The righteousness of God is therefore first of all revealed in the Gospel of Christ. Apart then from the law, righteousness of God is manifested, the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ. And this righteousness now revealed was also witnessed to by the law and the prophets. The law of the different sacrifices, insufficient in themselves to take away sins, pointed to the great sacrifice, in which God would be fully glorified as well as His righteousness satisfied. There were many types and shadows. Now since the righteousness of God is fully made known in the Gospel we can trace God’s wonderful thoughts and purposes in the types and histories of the Old Testament.  (Isaiah 41:10; 46:13; 51:5, 6, 8; 56:8).”

The highly influential Scofield Reference Bible, to which Gaebelein had input, avers substantially the same. In Romans 3 Scofield comments,

21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

[1] righteousness of God

The righteousness of God is neither an attribute of God, not the changed character of the believer, but Christ Himself, who fully met in our stead and behalf every demand of the law, and who is, but the act of God called imputation Lev 25:50 Jas 2:23, “made unto us . . righteousness” 1Cor 1:30.

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Sin originated with Satan Isa 14:12-14, entered the world through Adam Rom 5:12, was, and is, universal, Christ alone excepted Rom 3:23 1Pet 2:22, incurs the penalties of spiritual and physical death Gen 2:17 3:19 Ezek 18:4,20 Rom 6:23 and has no remedy but in the sacrificial death of Christ Heb 9:26 Acts 4:12 availed of by faith Acts 13:38,39.

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

[1] Redemption

(1) agorazo, “to purchase in the market.” The underlying thought is of a slave-market. The subjects of redemption are “sold under sin” Rom 7:14 but are, moreover, under sentence of death Ezek 18:4, Jn 3:18,19 Rom 3:19 Gal 3:10, and the purchase price is the blood of the Redeemer who dies in their stead Gal 3:13 2Cor 5:21 Mt 20:28, Mk 10:45 1Tim 2:6 1Pet 1:18…

(3) lutroo, “to loose,” “to set free by paying a price” Jn 8:32 Gal 4:4,5,31 5:13 Rom 8:21. Redemption is by sacrifice and by power See Scofield Note: “Ex 14:30” Christ paid the price, the Holy Spirit makes deliverance actual in experience Rom 8:2…

25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

[2] propitiation

Lit. a propitiatory [sacrifice], through faith by his blood; Gr. hilasterion, “place of propitiation.” The word occurs, 1Jn 2:2 4:10 as the trans. of hilasmos, “that which propitiates,” “a propitiatory sacrifice.” Hilasterion is used by the Septuagint, and Heb 9:5 for “mercy-seat.” The mercy-seat was sprinkled with atoning blood in the day of atonement Lev 16:14 in token that the righteous sentence of the law had been (typically) carried out, So that what must else have been a judgment-seat could righteously be a mercy-seat Heb 9:11-15 4:14-16, a place of communion Ex 25:21,22.

In fulfilment of the type, Christ is Himself the hilasmos, “that which propitiates,” and the hilasterion, “the place of propitiation” –the mercy-seat sprinkled with His own blood–the token that in our stead He So honoured the law by enduring its righteous sentence that God, who ever foresaw the cross, is vindicated in having “passed over” sins from Adam to Moses Rom 5:13 and the sins of believers under the old covenant See Scofield Note: “Ex 29:33” and just in justifying sinners under the covenant. There is no thought in propitiation of placating a vengeful God, but of doing right by His holy law and so making it possible for Him righteously to show mercy.

26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

[3] righteousness

His righteousness” here is God’s consistency with His own law and holiness in freely justifying a sinner who believes in Christ; that is, one in whose behalf Christ has met every demand of the law Rom 10:4.

28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

[4] Justification

Justification, Summary: Justification and righteousness are inseparably united in Scripture by the fact that the same word (dikaios, “righteous”; dikaioo, “to justify”) is used for both. The believing sinner is justified because Christ, having borne his sins on the cross, has been “made unto him righteousness” 1Cor 1:30. Justification originates in grace Rom 3:24 Ti 3:4,5 is through the redemptive and propitiatory work of Christ, who has vindicated the law Rom 3:24,25 5:9 is by faith, not works Rom 3:28-30 4:5 5:1 Gal 2:16 3:8,24 and may be defined as the judicial act of God whereby He justly declares righteous one who believes on Jesus Christ. It is the Judge Himself Rom 8:31-34 who thus declares. The justified believer has been in court, only to learn that nothing is laid to his charge. Rom 8:1,33,34...

31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

[5] Do we then

The sinner establishes the law in its right use and honour by confessing his guilt, and acknowledging that by it he is justly condemned. Christ, on the sinner’s behalf, establishes the law by enduring its penalty, death. Cf. Mt 5:17,18.

Imputation is the act of God whereby He accounts righteousness to the believer in Christ, who has borne the believer’s sins in vindication of the law” (C. I. Scofield, Scofield Study Bible, p. 1308).

It should be obvious from the above that for Scofield (both a Congregationalist and Presbyterian in his career) the demand of the law for a sinner (death) was met in Christ’s death.  In his death the law is vindicated and upheld.  There is no mention here of IAO. Again, it is worth underlining that the Scofield Bible notes were the source of much popular evangelical theology throughout the greater part of the C20.

Robert P. Lightner, Amyraldian Baptist and previous Professor of Systematic theology at Dallas Seminary  In 1970, commenting on IAO and the supposed vicariously atoning life sufferings of Christ, he wrote:

First, the view fails to take into account that before the fall, Adam did not have a sin nature. Instead, it assumes that to be rightly related to God, Adam and his posterity were required to render perfect obedience to the commands of God. . . .It is not too much to say that the whole concept of the vicarious nature of Christ’s active obedience rests primarily upon the idea of the covenant of works. Since the supposed covenant promised eternal life for obedience and since Adam disobeyed and all his posterity in him, Christ, the Last Adam, came to accomplish what the first Adam failed to do. The fact that Adam came from the hands of the Creator, sinlessly perfect must not be overlooked. Thus the command of God to obey Him was not designed to produce eternal life in him or to relate him rightly to God. He already enjoyed a state of sinlessness and a proper relation to and right standing before his Creator. Contrary to the contention of covenant theologians, Scripture does not say that Adam would have inherited eternal life had he obeyed God. Human effort is never presented as a condition of salvation in Scripture for any dispensation; rather, the command of God to Adam was designed to demonstrate his submission to the authority of God.Second, the view amounts to a minimizing of the cross work of Christ. . . . Thus, according to this view, the death of Christ on the cross was not the sole basis upon which God provided redemption and everlasting life for man. If the life sufferings be viewed as substitutionary and vicarious, then the Savior’s passive obedience in the shedding of His blood on the cross must be viewed as less than the total or complete means by which God through His Son atoned for sin. The blood shed at Calvary would then constitute only part of the payment for sin.

Third, the most serious weakness of all is the stark fact that no Scripture assigns substitution to the life sufferings of Christ. On the contrary, Scripture abounds with evidence that through His substitutionary death on the cross, and through that alone, He took the sinner’s place and died in the sinner’s stead (Isa 53:6–7; Rom 3:18, 3:24–25 , 5:7–9 ; 2 Cor 5:14–21; 1 Peter 2:24). The defense of the vicarious nature of Christ’s active obedience for His suffering in life is voluminous, but scriptural proof is conspicuous by its absence.8 Lightner, Robert P., “The Savior’s Suffering in Life,” Bibliotheca Sacra 127:505 (1970) 33-34

In 1986, he made a similar argument specifically against the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to the believer while critiquing Theonomy:

A basic premise in the theological structure of theonomy, along with covenant Reformed theology, is the belief that Christ’s active obedience to the Law during His life was as substitutionary as His passive obedience in death. . . . That Christ obeyed perfectly the Law and suffered greatly during His life is not denied or even disputed by dispensationalists. The crucial question, however, is, Why did He suffer in life? What was accomplished by His obedience to the Law? Scripture simply does not teach that the life sufferings of Christ were vicarious. Rather it stresses His death alone as a substitution for sin and sinners. To be sure, the Savior’s sinless life demonstrated that He was qualified to be the sinner’s Substitute, but He atoned for sin only on the cross, where He became a curse (Gal 3:13). Viewing Christ’s active obedience in His life as substitutionary is the natural result of believing that God promised Adam and his posterity eternal life if he would obey God’s command not to eat of the forbidden fruit. Since Adam did not obey God’s command or law, Christ, the last Adam came and did in His life what the first Adam failed to do—to earn righteousness for His own. In this view the death of Christ was not the only basis on which God made substitution for man’s sin. Theonomy and Reformed theology in general believe that through His active obedience the Savior carried His people beyond the point where Adam was before he fell to give them a claim to eternal life. Dispensationalists do not view the theological covenant of works as promising Adam and his posterity eternal life for obedience. God promised Adam death for disobedience, not eternal life for obedience. Furthermore did not Adam possess creaturely perfection as he came from the creative hand of God? Was not all that God made “very good” (Gen 1:31), including man? Theonomy teaches that the way of salvation before the Fall differed from the way of salvation after the Fall. That is a strange doctrine coming from those who falsely accuse dispensationalists of believing in more than one way of salvation. 9 Lightner, Robert P., “A Dispensational Response to Theonomy,” Bibliotheca Sacra 143:571 (1986) 233-

Although a good number of dispensationalists did teach IAO, many were reluctant to do so and tended to emphasize simply the death of Christ.

Alva McClain, founder and first President of Grace Theological Seminary (Brethren by background) typically writes

Justification: “… deals with the guilt of sin. When a man sins, he is guilty and therefore deserves to be punished. In justification, God declares a man righteous, by virtue of the death of Christ on his behalf. … Thus justification is a declarative act of God. Justification does not make a man righteous. …. It means that God declares him to be righteous” (Alva McClain, Romans p. 140)

Thomas Constable, currently DTS Senior Professor of Bible Exposition observes,

“The obedience of Christ is a reference to His death as the ultimate act of obedience rather than to His life of obedience since it is His death that saves us.” (Notes on Romans 5:19 Pg 60)

Even George Eldon Ladd, who accepts IAO concedes in his NT Theology,

“Paul never states explicitly that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers.” (George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament p.491)

Actually, I think it is fair to say that in the popular American fundamentalist/evangelicalism of the main part of C20, IAO, for most, was something unknown.  It was not part of the gospel as commonly preached.  The following  sermon, attributed online to Billy Graham but more probably that of Wil Pounds (since his name is injected), himself a Southerner,  a graduate of William Carey College and  New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, prolific writer, preacher and missionary, seems fairly typical of American fundamentalist/evangelical  preaching even yet,

We have been saved by grace through faith. The apostle Paul emphatically states, “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16).

Justification is a legal standing with God based upon Christ’s death and resurrection and our faith in Him. The word Paul uses (dikaioo), comes from Roman legal courts meaning to declare to be righteous, or to pronounce righteous. Therefore, justification is the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God who is Judge. It is the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s suppose for a moment that I died tonight and stood before the Lord God who is the Supreme Judge of the Universe. No doubt He would ask me, “Wil Pounds, why should I let you into my heaven? You are a guilty sinner. How do you plead?”

My response would be, “I plead guilty, Your Honor.”

My advocate, Jesus Christ, who is standing there beside me speaks up for me. He says, “Your Honor. It is true that Wil Pounds is a grievous sinner. He is guilty. However, Father, I died for him on the cross and rose from the dead. Wil Pounds has put his faith and trust in Me and all that I have done for Him on the Cross. He is a believer. I died for him, and he has accepted Me as his substitute.”

The Lord God turns to me and says, “Is that true?”

I will respond to Him, “Yes sir! That is the truth. I am claiming the shed blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse me of all my sins. I have put my faith in Jesus to save me for all eternity. This is what You have promised in Your Word. Jesus said, ‘For God so loved the world (and this includes Wil Pounds), that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'”

The Lord God responds: “Acquitted! By order of this court I demand that you be set free. The price has been paid by My Son.”

Furthermore, I get to go home and live with the Judge!

Justification means that at the moment of salvation God sovereignly declares the believing sinner righteous in His sight. The believing sinner is declared to be righteous in His standing before God. From that moment on throughout life, through death, that sinner who has believed is now and forever right before God. God accepts him, and he stands acquitted of his sins.

A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified (Galatians 2:16). (Find here.)

I submit that in the States it is only the ascendency in recent years of a more confessionally reformed evangelicalism that has once again raised the profile of IAO.

The UK story of C20 evangelicalism is somewhat different to the States.  Dispensationalism never gained the hold in the UK to the extent it did in the States.  However, like the States, in the first half of the C20 mainline reformed churches were deeply compromised by liberalism.  I am unsure just how widespread Brethren theological influence was, some say significantly so.  What is clear is that there were attempts by various writers to tone down the rhetoric of IAO.

H C G Moule, Anglican Bishop of Durham from 1901, convinced and influential evangelical, in his ‘Outlines of Christian Doctrines’ he writes,

A few words may come in here on the Imputed Righteousness of Christ. This phrase, once widely accepted, and not least by such Anglicans as Andrewes and Beveridge (cent. xvii.), is now much disputed, and even repudiated. But it rests securely upon Rom iv. 6, with its context. There has been a tendency to over-refinement upon it; a too elaborate distinction between our Lord’s active keeping of the moral law and His awful suffering beneath the penalty of our sins; the one considered as supplying our defects, the other as meeting our violations. But this is not the essential view of the phrase; and we see this all the more as we remember (above, p. 83) the profound connexion between the obedience of our Lord’s life and the merit of His Passion. The essential of the phrase is just this, that the Son of God, as the supremely meritorious One, as infinitely satisfactory to law, is, before the law, and for the purposes of law, accepted, reckoned as the believing sinner’s substitute. The man, incorporated in Him, is counted, reputed, as involved in His whole merit, as the Lord was counted, reputed, as involved in the man’s sin. His merit is thus imputed, that is to say, set down, to the man.  H C G Moule  Outlines of Christian doctrine 1889  Pg 188

Moule seems anxious to step back apace from a bald IAO.  James Denney, Free Church minister and Professor of Systematics at the Free Church College from 1897  until his death in 1917 seems to feel the same.  He writes in his book ‘The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation’,

But in proportion as men rose above the conception of sin and satisfaction, as mere things or abstract ideas, and had their faith and attention concentrated on the personal Saviour by whom they were reconciled to God, this position became intolerable. It left no significance for salvation to anything in Jesus except His death. It almost prompts us to ask again, as Athanasius did, why He did not die whenever He was born, and make the satisfaction in the most direct way.

The Christian soul felt instinctively that the life of Jesus must come into His work somehow as well as His death; wherever we see Jesus, in whatever attitude, however engaged, reconciling virtue goes out of Him. This was recognised when the life of Christ was dragged in, so to speak, side by side with His death, and, though it had not the significance of satisfaction for sin assigned to it, was nevertheless invested with another significance equally necessary to salvation. The life was the active obedience and the death the passive obedience, and though they were alike in respect that both were obedience, each fulfilled its separate and independent function.

Thus the Westminster Confession, in c. Xi. , repeatedly distinguishes in this way the “obedience and satisfaction” of Christ, or His ”obedience and death, ” the satisfaction or death being the ground on which we are cleared from sin, while the obedience constitutes a righteousness of Christ which is imputed to believers.

The utmost refinements or discriminations in this mode of thought were probably to be found in the Puritan theologians of America.

  • “Though the Redeemer obeyed in suffering and suffered in obeying, and His highest and most meritorious obedience was acted out in His voluntary suffering unto death, and in this greatest instance of His suffering the atonement which He made chiefly consisted; yet His obedience and suffering are two perfectly distinct things, and answered different ends, and must be considered so, and the distinction and difference carefully and with clearness kept up in the mind, in order to have a proper understanding of this very important subject. The sufferings of Christ, as such, made atonement for sin, as He suffered the penalty of the law or the curse of it, the evil threatened to transgression, and which is the desert of it, in the sinner’s stead, by which He opened the way for sinners being delivered from the curse, and laid the foundation for reconciliation between God and the transgressors, by His not imputing but pardoning their sins who believe in the Redeemer and approve of His character and conduct.  By the obedience of Christ, all the positive good, all those favours and blessings are united and obtained, which sinners need in order to enjoy complete and eternal redemption or everlasting life in the kingdom of God. ” *

More important, however, than any such refinements was the persistence of the idea that the whole work of Christ, His active and passive obedience, constituted in some sense a merit or merits, in virtue of which men could be reconciled to God. It is to God, in the first instance, that the life and death of Christ have value; and it is out of regard to  their value, jointly or separately in other words, it is propter Christum that God admits men to His peace, or that men are justified or reconciled to God. Theologians, from the greatest to the least, are at one here. (James Denney: The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation   Hodder and Stoughton : Cunningham Lectures 1917: Pg 94-96)

Denney holds to the importance of active and passive obedience (as do all believers) but refuses to insist on the refinements that advocates of IAO say is vital to evangelical orthodoxy.

A more recent British theologian like I Howard Marshall (an evangelical Methodist) seeks to put the dogma of Christ’s imputed righteousness in perspective when he says, the imputed

‘righteousness of Christ may be a fair inference . . . but it goes beyond what Paul actually says” (p. 312 n. 10).

Given this diversity within evangelical orthodoxy over many centuries it is hardly surprising that the same differences regarding what is meant by imputation exist today.  The views expressed on imputation by Federal Visionists, N T Wright, Robert Gundry and Mark Seifrid are hardly novel, they simply are in line with evangelicals throughout the centuries who have baulked at the classical expression of imputation in covenant theology.  They baulked because they doubted its biblical validity. It is the same today.  Michael Bird observes,

‘It is no accident, then, that in New Testament theologians’ recent and current treatments of justification, you would be hard-pressed to find any discussion of an imputation of Christ’s righteousness . . . The notion is passe, neither because of Roman Catholic influence nor because of theological liberalism, but because of fidelity to the relevant biblical texts. (M Bird, Incorporated Righteousness).

Whatever may be said of how Federal Vision, Mark Seifrid, Robert Gundry or N T Wright understand other aspects of justification, on this aspect it seems crystal clear they are well within any reasonable definition of evangelical orthodoxy.  More importantly, they stand comfortably within biblical orthodoxy, that is, their view on imputed righteousness is not simply consonant with historical evangelical belief but with biblical teaching.

The litmus test for any belief must be Scripture.  It is Scripture that must test the veracity of IAO and any other theological construct.  In my view, the biblical case for IAO is less than compelling.

In summary, the case for IAO being integral to evangelical orthodoxy is found wanting.  I hope to demonstrate in future blogs that  the case for it being biblically cogent is weak.


imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (1)

(Over the next few weeks or so I intend to blog intermittently on this topic.)

Justification has again become a controversial topic in recent years in protestant and scholarly circles.  Traditional views have crossed sword with contemporary views, the ‘old perspective’ with ‘the new perspective’.  This is no trivial discussion for Luther is surely right when he defined justification as, ‘The article of a standing or falling Church’ Calvin called justification, “the main hinge on which religion turns’. If we get justification seriously wrong then we lose the gospel.  However, if Christians find themselves through controversy pressed back to the Bible to find out what it teaches about justification rather than resting on tradition them the debate can have a positive outcome for if justification really is so important then it is important to get it right.

However, this thread of blogs is not an attempt to grapple with the bigger (and more serious) questions of this debate.  Here the ambition is more modest, namely, to explore a question that has caused intramural debate even among conservative evangelicals who are on the same page regarding the bigger questions, and that is, the role of the personal righteous life of Christ in justification.  Some evangelicals, particularly those from a confessionally reformed background, argue robustly that in justification Christ’s righteous law-keeping life lived on earth is imputed to all who trust in him, and necessarily so.  That is, believers cannot be counted as righteous by God simply because of the death and resurrection of Christ.  They need more than this; they need his imputed life as a covering. Louis Berkof expresses this view succinctly:

“…if He (Christ) had merely paid the penalty (for the believer), without meeting the original demands of the law (for the believer), He would have left man in the position of Adam before the fall, still confronted with the task of obtaining eternal life in the way of obedience. By His active obedience, however, He carried His people beyond that point and gave them a claim to everlasting life.”

Reformers such as clearly Berkof believe we need for justification not only what they term ‘the passive righteousness of Christ’, that is, his sin-bearing death, but also the active righteousness of Christ, that is his law-keeping life. In Wayne Grudem’s words:

“Christ had to live a life of perfect obedience to God in order to earn righteousness for us. He had to obey the law for his whole life on our behalf so that the positive merits of his perfect obedience would be counted for us. Sometimes this is called Christ’s ‘active obedience,’ while his suffering and dying for our sins is called his ‘passive obedience.’ … It is not just moral neutrality that Paul knows he needs from Christ (that is, a clean slate with sins forgiven), but a positive moral righteousness.”

Other evangelicals demur. They believe that justification is located in our faith-union with Christ in his death and resurrection.  They believe that while the righteous life of Christ was what gave value and glory to his death, yet it is his death that justifies and his resurrection is God’s vindicating verdict of that death.  They do not think that eternal life must in some sense be ‘earned’ through law-obedience, even that of the Redeemer, but is gifted by grace, through his death and resurrection.

My own sympathies lie with this latter group.

You may ask: does it matter?  Well, it matters because truth always matters.  The weightier matters of the law are of foremost importance but that does not give licence to ignore or despise the ‘jot and tittle’.  We want to be faithful in our understanding of Scripture and so we should aim for accuracy.  Nevertheless, we should remember the lesser matters are just that, lesser matters. And so while we should discuss whether IAO is part of justification, we should not, in my estimation, regard differences over IAO as ‘de fide’, of the essence of the faith.  Differences are of a secondary nature and are surely not a test of orthodoxy.  IAO should be treated as ‘adiaphora’.

Yet, tragically, a test of orthodoxy is precisely what some well-intentioned (but in my view badly misguided) leaders in modern evangelicalism wish to make views on IAO.  For these, to deny IAO as intrinsic to justification, is to deny the gospel; it is heresy. Brian Vickers in his book Jesus Blood and Righteousness writes:

‘The argument over imputation is not a mere academic debate.  The discussion strikes at the heart of what it means to be right with God.’

He is referring here to disagreements over IAO.  Clearly those who deny IAO are suspect in orthodoxy if not entirely beyond the pale.

It is principally because of the ground swell that IAO should be a vital hallmark of orthodoxy that I have decided to write this series of blogs as one more dissenting voice countering the stridency of those who insist on IAO and hopefully causing some to pause and consider.  I say ‘pause and consider’ because in my view there are powerful arguments that militate against any attempts to make IAO a matter of evangelical orthodoxy.  In future blogs I hope to outline these arguments.  I hope to demonstrate why the view that IAO is intrinsic to gospel orthodoxy is:

  • historically weak
  • biblically wanting
  • theologically wayward

Though in the next couple of blogs I will try to show why in recent times, a view that for most of the C20 was probably in the minority, has enjoyed a resurgence in conservative evangelical circles.


singing while studying Scripture

In his introduction to Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, C.S. Lewis writes,

“I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion,  would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

Pipe aside, this resonates with me.

the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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