The Glory of God in the Cross

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The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

A series of preceding posts looked at the work accomplished by the Savior on the Cross. Each focused on the salvific work and the categories of understanding that theologians have applied: propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation. Limiting our descriptive language to this taxonomy leaves us questioning; we see what God accomplishes on the Cross but we are deficit in hearing the complete message that He wants to communicate via this moment in history.

The first revelatory facet that we note is God’s glory revealed in the Cross. The same glory that filled the Temple in Old Testament revelation is also seen in Jesus, who dwelled among us for a little while (Jn 1:14). In addition to satisfying God’s righteousness requirements, in fulfilling His demands for justice, Jesus proclaims how the Father’s glory is seen in his humiliation and sacrifice (John 17:1). As Stott points out “the glory that radiates from the cross is that same combination of divine qualities which God revealed to Moses as mercy and justice, and which we have seen in the Word made flesh as ‘grace and truth (Ex 34:6).”

Grace and peace to you…

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Reconciling to Himself All Things

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For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

(Col 1:19-20)

Reconciliation is the last of four images that man has commonly used to portray the atonement of Christ. It is also the most popular as it is the most personal. Reconciliation is something we can grasp, something we can understand and apply to our lives. The key aspect of reconciliation often eludes us though.

To reconcile one to another means that there was a preexisting relationship to be breeched.

So removed from the falter in the Garden are we that more often than not forget to reflect upon the original design for relationship between God and humanity. We were created for constant communion with the Creator, the introduction of sin building the un-crossable chasm between us. As Christ became sin to atone for the intergenerational sin, He also become the bridge that renewed the possibility for the repair of the rift.

Be reconciled…

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.