Justified

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,  whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)

imageOur exploration of atonement began as a Lenten devotion moving us steadily closer to Calvary on that Friday afternoon. Leading up to this post we have examined two images—propitiation and redemption—that illustrate facets of salvation, but not the entire picture. To these we add a third, justification.

Redemption locates us in the slave market, in bondage to sin with no hope of escape. One who has the will and the means to enable our freedom pays the price to loose our shackles and to walk free. The cost, often dismissed on the 51 weeks away from Resurrection Sunday, was the blood of Christ.

Free, we are still held to account for our sin. Redemption did not enable us to avoid the consequence. That requires a judicial decision: guilty or not guilty. The concept of justification serves this purpose. It stands us before The Judge who declares us not guilty. The verdict comes vicariously, the guilt being assigned to an Innocent.

We must also be cautious to not confuse justification with amnesty. Amnesty means that we overlook guilt or innocence, it is simply put aside without rendering a verdict. The holiness of God does not provide for this option. Holiness requires that only the not guilty stand in His presence. This requires the courtroom and the gavel of God to pronounce humanity’s status. Without it we have the ability to walk free, all the while walking toward the eternal consequences of our fallen nature. The removal of guilt enables us to, at a minimum, stand in the presence of God.

Grace and peace to you…

image Tim Ellis

Facing Calvary Ocho : Ransomed or Redeemed

Lenten Reflections Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi 2012

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For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

The word redeemed has become favored in church vernacular as we talk of our salvation. It speaks of the marketplace, a milieu of which we are familiar. Use and time have softened the edges and made it safe like the carpenter does with hard corner of a table apron. We are a redeemed people, a part of a transaction on which many of us fail to reflect these days. Redemption gives us a sense of payment changing hands, but from what and from whom we have little recollection.

It is also what we do with grocery-store discount coupons.

Ransom, on the other hand, conjures up images of zip-ties, blindfolds, panel vans and grimy, artificially darkened rooms. Sweat and fear permeate the air and the transaction forms the balance between life and death. Since that fateful day in the Garden, humanity has been held in the grips of this tableau, this shadowy existence of bondage. We feel free but our soul groans each time we bump into the boundaries of our prison, our hands unable to break free and find a way out. Trapped.

The sin that holds us in bondage is not of our making, but it is our reality. Like captives who begin to identify with their captors, we rationalize and find the sin not so difficult to abide. Many times, we like it, mistaking it for true freedom. We are tempted to try to make our own deal for release, to try to barter with our captor only to discover the price, life itself. Blood must pay the price.

Blood did pay the price.

Ransom is an ugly word but it is our reality, brothers and sisters. We were bound and headed to death until the only One who could pay the ransom did so. The price cannot be measured in dollars and cents like other transactions. The price was life for life. He give His so that you might have yours. Don’t cheapen it. Live it.

Grace and peace to you.

image ian sane

Facing Cavalry Six : Substitute

Lenten Reflections Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi 2012

imageWe all, like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. Isaiah 53:6-7

Of the array of forensic categories for understanding the atonement, it is the substitutionary idea that draws our attention. Facing Golgatha, we ask why in seeking to understand the necessity of the Savior  hanging upon the cross. The answer, it seems, is quite simple; He alone was able to do what we could never do. Jesus alone was able to take the sins of all humanity on His scourged shoulders, bearing up the weight unto death and assuaging the righteous God.

The application is more complex. As Cranfield writes in his commentary on Romans:

God, because in his mercy he willed to forgive sinful men, and, being truly merciful, willed to forgive them righteously, that is, without in any way condoning their sin, purposed to direct against his own very self in the person of his Son the full weight of that righteous wrath which they deserved.

The wrath that we deserve for our heinous sins. The wrath that we deserve for our lack of love for others. The wrath we deserve for the slightest transgression that we dismiss without a thought. The wrath demanded by the perfect holiness of the God we serve. The wrath expressed in love; the great paradox of God placing himself in our position. The love we are challenged to understand;

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Grace and peace to you in the Name of the One who is over all and through all and in all.

image Maurice Koop

Atonement – Under Attack.

imageThis slim collection of essays is rooted in the proposition that the doctrine of atonement is under attack. While I agree that there are a number of views about the nature of atonement and what it accomplished, I dispute the idea that the doctrine itself is under attack. Given the publisher (P & R Publishing) and the group who assembled the project, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, I believe the perceived challenge is to the application of the the Penal Substitution theory. It is not clear as to why this distinction isn’t made clear other than the possible notion that any other theory is so far outside of the range of discussion that it can simply be dismissed.

The essays, assembled by editor Gabriel Fluhrer, come from presentations given at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. Bringing the best Reformed minds to bear on a topic of importance to Christ’s Church, this collection of discussions on atonement from the Conference is almost universally excellent. Heavyweight pastors and theologians J.I. Packer, James Boice, R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, Sinclair Ferguson, John R. DeWitt, and Alistair Begg each repeat the truth and application of the atonement brought about on the cross at Calvary from a variety of perspectives.

Packer and Boice are at their usual best offering clarity in defining atonement drawing the important distinction between propitiation and expiation. Boice’s essay on the language of the marketplace and his exposition of the grace in Hosea bridges God’s wrath and His redemptive love and bear repeated reading. Gerstner’s emphasis on centering atonement only within the narrow stem of the TULIP is out of place among the winsomeness of the other authors. Perhaps I misread his intentions but it appears that atonement, in his view, can only be seen in its limited form, something the other authors avoided emphasizing.

Atonement is a fine addition to the literature on this doctrine but it remains to be seen where it fits in the library. It is an excellent introduction to the admittedly narrow definition of the doctrine of Atonement but it doesn’t offer anything new in the way of ideas.

The Multi-Faceted View of Atonement

We have looked at three of the major views that Christians have adopted to understand atonement, Christus Victor, Healing, and Penal Substitution. At one time or another during the history of the Church, each of these theories has held the majority position among theologians. The Penal Substitution view is the dominant view now, among the American churches at least.image It’s important to recognize the historical shifts in acceptance of the various theories and to question why one would lose favor to another in the minds of Christian thinkers and teachers. Does the Bible change over time? Has the Holy Ghost made contradictory revelations at different moments in time that initiated the shift? What about all of the other atonement views that are subsumed within the larger categories?

Is it possible that the atonement brought about by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ is much too expansive to be understood under the banner of a single, narrow category?

Atonement is Too Large for a Single Theory

Theologians who stand apart from the dominant views of atonement will answer this question by saying yes, there is no model or metaphor that is sufficient to explain the significance of of His sacrifice. The crucifixion and its result are tightly woven into God’s eternal purpose and as spirit-opened eyes continue to pore over the scriptures in the hours remaining until the end of this time, we may never run out of the countless ways of understanding its meaning for our salvation. It should not be alarming to find a number of images that lend themselves to understanding this momentous act. As centuries of eyes search out the truths of God’s word, each with a slightly different perspective on the greatest human need, it is inevitable that a number of categories would arise.

Single Views and the Bible

The New Testament authors generated a number of images in the Gospels and Epistles in order to help readers comprehend the monumental shift in God-Human relationship brought about by crucifixion of Jesus. If the primary rule of hermeneutics is applied—context,context, context—the modern reader places the writing in first century and recognizes the societal influences that are inherent in the texts. Five areas of public life dominate: the court of law (justification), the world of commerce (redemption), personal relationships (reconciliation), worship (sacrifice), and the battleground (triumph over evil).

This plethora of imagery could be differentiated by the loci of the individual authors, their use of language and metaphor and missiological interest. A more effective tool for seeing the wide span of atonement images is to survey the corpus of a single author to see if there is variety or consistency. With his dominant contributions, Paul and his works provides such a platform. The Apostle employs two main themes in discussing the significance of the atonement, the ‘giving up’ of Jesus for human salvation (cf. Rom 8:32, Gal 1:4) and ‘Christ died for our sins’ (cf. 1 Cor 15:3, 1 Thes 5:10). These themes emphasize the saving nature of Jesus’ death but they do so without linking it explicitly to a single methodological theory. With this point established, Paul then utilizes a variety of imagery applicable to particular concerns of his epistle audiences. Reading Paul exposes us to language about substitution, representation, sacrifice, justification, forgiveness, reconciliation, victory over the powers, and redemption.

Conclusion

Rather than being confined within a single theory, the atonement is better viewed as encompassing the fullness of God’s design for the world. The image which finds favor with a theologian will more often than not be a product of his definition of the greatest human need. If people are seen as in bondage to sin, they need liberation. If humanity is spiritually blind, the desperate need is for illumination. If lost, they need to be found. Taking a kaleidoscopic view of atonement provides the freedom necessary to locate all of these needs within a view of the crucifixion.

The Atonement as Divine Healing

image The Suffering and Glory of the Servant

See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

Just as there were many who were appalled at him— his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness— so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him.

For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12)

The Healing view of Atonement roots itself in this passage from Isaiah and the scriptures that orbit around it that see the atoning work of Christ in terms of the restoration of Shalom to the whole of God’s people. God the Healer is not satisfied to only redeem humankind from their sinful separation from His holiness, He also intended the atonement to restore the physical ailments that result from our corruption of the world. Shalom, the well being, wholeness, and peace that were characteristic of the newborn world is what God envisions for His redeemed. Jesus models the Physician through His healing and teaching ministry and initiates our restoration to Shalom through His sacrifice.

The Healing paradigm is a minority view that is often subsumed under other more dominant theological positions. Many are able to accept atonement for sin but demur at the idea of including physical ailments. Proponents say that the other views are too narrow in their scope; God had a much more comprehensive restoration in mind in reconciling humanity to Himself. They embrace a holistic view of the predicament of mankind that describes us as sin-sick and the sickness is comprised of both a spiritual and a physical component and this dual-corruption infects our economic, political, social and environment systems. Restoration is needed: Have you rejected Judah completely? Do you despise Zion? Why have you afflicted us so that we cannot be healed? W hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there is only terror. O Lord we acknowledge our wickedness and the guilt of our fathers, we have indeed sinned against you. (Jer 14:19-20). Holistic healing of body and soul is in view in light of the biblical affirmation of the connection between sin, sickness, and well-being.

The theology of this view can be examined by a systematic approach to the Scriptures but the outline of this school of thought is most easily understood by outlining the Suffering Servant passage. I won’t approach this line by line but rather, thought by thought.

  • 52:13 The Savior/Healer will be lifted up and exalted. Jesus as the Physician was lifted up on the Cross and exalted in His resurrection.
  • 52:15 He will cleanse the nation and His mission and atoning actions will be seen by all.
  • 53:3 The Savior will be despised of men and will be a man of sorrows. Note that the Hebrew word used for sorrows includes physical and mental pain.
  • 53:4 The Savior took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. In view is the recognition that disease is often a result of sinful living as a consequence of Original Sin.
  • 53:5 The Savior was pierced for our transgressions (sin) and crushed for our iniquities (evil). The punishment visited upon Him resulted in our Shalom and healed our infirmities. Note the impression of holistic redemption inferred from this verse.
  • 53:10 The guilt offering was the Lord himself; substitution is in view here.
  • 53:11 This singular sacrifice of the the Savior brought the satisfaction that so many animal, etc. sacrifices had not in the past.
  • 53:12 The Savior bore the sin on behalf of many and now He stands as the intercessor for transgressors.

We can refer to Malachi for a summary:

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. (Mal 4:2)

Conclusion

The healing view of the atonement attracts adherents on two fronts. First, the believer can be assured of the forgiveness of their sin and that they can reconciled in their relationship with God. Second, with holistic healing in view, humankind can be certain that God desires good for us; He desires Shalom. Though the believer’s life will be fraught with travail and struggle, the notion that ultimately there will be Shalom provides the necessary encouragement to persevere. Though the outline in this article was developed around an outline in Isaiah, the healing ministry of Jesus is found throughout the Gospels (note that fully one third of Mark is devoted to healing). The atonement brought by Christ solves our most fundamental plight as the corrupted children of the Garden. We are reconciled (Rom 5:10-11), our sins are forgiven never to be held against us (2 Cor 5:18-19) and we have an intercessor (Rom 8:34). The additional benefit that must not be overlooked is the satisfaction of our holistic need for physical and mental healing by this same act. Much like the paralytic man in Matthew 9, humanity is forgiven and given a hand up from our ailments. 

 

Image wolfsoul

The Christus Victor View of Atonement

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“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45)

It will surprise many readers to discover that the Penal Substitution theory of atonement is a more recent development in the history of the Church and her doctrine. The theory that lays claim to being the standard view for many centuries prior to the Protestant Reformation was the Christus Victor (Christ the Victor) theory in which the atonement was seen as victory over Satan and the forces of evil. The central theme of this classic view is that Christ—Christus Victor—fought against and triumphed over the evil powers of the world to which humankind was in bondage. His demise overcame the hostile spiritual powers and, as a result of His sacrifice and victory, captive sinners were freed and given eternal life. This interpretation (known variously as the Classic, dramatic, or ransom theory) was the dominant church view for 1,000 years and remains the view of some contemporary theologians.

Christus Victor is a complex theory as viewed through the Scriptures. The reader must first see the motif of spiritual warfare that winds its way throughout the Bible. If this motif is placed in a primary position, the entire narrative of the Bible is viewed as the story of God’s ongoing battle with spiritual and human agents who oppose Him and threaten harm to His creation and His ultimate victory. The OT view that what occurred in the spiritual realm affected human history is encapsulated in Job 1-2 (Ps 82; Daniel 10). Yahweh is portrayed as continually at war with these forces and it is through his strength alone that chaos is held at bay. There is an acute awareness that the earth is held hostage to these evil forces such that only a radical move by God would be able to overcome them. Jesus spoke to the belief that Satan was the ruler of this world (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). [This should not be understood as Satan higher in order than Jesus. Instead, he is to be viewed as the functional lord of this world.] Satan is portrayed as possessing ‘the kingdoms of the world’ (Luke 4:5-6; 1 John 5:19) and as having authority over them. Paul attributed the fundamental evil of the world’s systems (Gal 1:4) to this rule. Viewing the atonement through this prism logically sees Jesus as overcoming this rule and restoring control to the Trinity.

Ireaneus interpreted this motif by seeing Adam’s disobedience as placing humanity under the dominion of Satan. Rising from the dead, Christ conquered Satan releasing sinners from his control. This victory was foreseen in the great proto-evangelism of Genesis 3:15: …he will crush your head. Ireaneus wrote “Redeeming us with his blood, Christ gave himself as a ransom for those who had been led into captivity.” (Ireaneus, Against Heresies) Origen followed suit in this belief maintaining that because of sin, human beings were bound by Satan. He said that as a ransom payment for these souls, Satan demanded the blood of Christ. As God handed over Christ, Satan released his hostages. Later patristic writers such as John of Damascus took umbrage with the trade of the precious blood of Christ to Satan suggesting that what the devil received was an empty shell of Christ, tricking him.

The Theological Advantage of the Christus Victor View

Proponents of this view of atonement suggest that it is the superior theory because all of the other views are encompassed within its framework. It further offers that there is no temptation for people to suppose that they are participating in the kingdom when there is no evidence of the kingdom in their lives in contrast to the individual outlook of the western Church. Its focus is on the demonic dimension of fallen social structures. Theologically, the advantage proposed of the Christus Victor view is that it solves multiple problems simultaneously. Through the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the All-Wise God was able to:

  • Defeat Satan and his cohort (Heb 2:14; 1 Jn 3:8)
  • Reconcile all things to Himself (2 Cor 5:18-19; Col 1:20-22)
  • Forgive our sins (Acts 13:38; Eph 1:7)
  • Healed our sin-corrupted nature (1 Pet 2:24)
  • Poured His Spirit on us and empowered us to live in relation to Himself (Rom 8:2-16)
  • Gave us an example to follow (Eph 5:1-2; 1 Pet 2:21)

Those who apply this theory of atonement see that it encompasses the variety of atonement views under a single theory where the others tend to emphasize one or two of the above points but not all of them.

Conclusion

Christ releasing humanity from the bondage of sin and Satan lies through His sacrifice is core of the Christus Victor view of atonement. It is a theory that spans the whole of the Bible from Genesis 3 to Revelation 20 and it was the dominant view of the early church. This theory is most often proposed as the framework into which the other narrower views can be organized because it covers such a wide range of theological issues. It also encourages the Christian to take seriously the devil, an idea which has fallen from favor in the modern Church.

Image by Leonard Matthews