Thursday, January 31, 2013


I would like to draw a distinction between the goal and the reward of a thing. The goal is the purpose, the it serves. The reward is the "why," the reason we do it. They are usually looked at as the same thing, but they can be distinguished, at least, and separated.

First, what is the goal of missions? To change lives and cultures so that they image God's love. To bring lost people to Christ. Good things. We go to preach the gospel which justifies, sanctifies, and ultimately glorifies. No surprises here.

Second, what is the reward of missions? That is, why do it? If we do it for the sake of changing people's lives, bringing them to Christ, then what happens when it looks like no one is listening? You may never see the fruit of your labor. You may plant, but never know it. If God were to call you to serve, and told you that absolutely nothing would change on this world, how would you respond? Thus, the reward of missions must be separate from the simple aim of it. The reward of missions is the kingdom of God, that is, God's glory. Whatever we do, we do for the glory of God, that is the reward. If we ask merely to see the fruit of our labors, as great a reward as that may seem, it pales in significance compared to knowing God, my rock and my redeemer.

We might not reach the goal ourselves, for we are not in control of that. We may only step out in faith, knowing that our reward is in heaven. Thus we are invincible to the arrows of failure, for we are in Christ, and so, for us to fail with that finality would be for Christ to fail, yet he overcame all things, even death, that we might live in his resurrection. Thus, as Christ loses no one, so, as we are in Christ, we do not fail to save any. This is how we have a reward which is kept for us in heaven, whatever becomes of the goal: Christ is victorious over sin and death, thus there is nothing more for us to conquer.

Go and make disciples, and Christ is with us always.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Words, Revelation, and Humanity

"Words are inadequate," "Christ is God veiled in human flesh," "It is a mystery," these statements are often easy for Christians to agree with.


Who hasn't found words to be inadequate? I know how that feels, I've even said it, but what does that mean? Are the words really inadequate? God created the world by his word: he spoke and it was done. Words are powerful. Who can tame the tongue? Are the words inadequate, or do we just not know how to say what we want to say?

And what choice do we have? The Bible is written in words, we preach in human words, we counsel each other and get to know each other by exchanging human words.

Words are hard, yes, but we would not be frustrated by their inadequacy if they were truly inadequate. Words were made for communication. This is what they were made for, but we find it hard to use them. It is not that they are inadequate, but that we do not know how to use them. Perhaps our vocabulary is to small, now, but then we invent words, or talk around it. The trouble is not with the words, but with our ability to use this gift.

God does not condescend to use words, rather we, because we are made in his image, are above the beasts in that we can use these rich languages. Yes, we misuse it, we can be vague, but we can clarify. That words are inadequate is false, but I do appreciate this: we must be careful in how we say things, that we say what is true, and that we say it clearly.

Veiled in Human Flesh

This is a weird phrase. Christ came to reveal God to us! Yes, the glory is veiled so that all who saw did not immediately die from the overwhelming guilt, but that was the fullness of God in him. The veil was torn as Jesus hung upon the cross.

Why do we say that God veiled himself in human flesh? Was he not fully man? Is there something offensive about that? Our problem is not that we are human, but that we are not truly human, for humans were made in the image of God, and we were made to find our joy in the glory of God. It is not what we are that is the problem, but what we are not. Christ's humanness did not entail sin nature, for that is not essential to being human, rather, it is death in us. To the extent that we are sinful, we are not human.


I am comfortable with mystery. I am not comfortable with how we use the term. When people call something a "mystery of God" they often seem to be offering an excuse for why we do not know the answer to something. Excuse! Is that being comfortable with mystery? I am willing that some things may be unknowable, but I see no reason why that should stop us from trying, humbly and by the power of the Spirit, to look into them.

But, honestly, where does the idea of mystery as something unknowable come from? Is that really what the word means in the Bible? Certainly we cannot know all there is to know about God, for he is vast, but that does not mean we cannot try to understand more.


There is much talk of finding our identity in Christ. I would like to distinguish between two parts of identity. On the one hand, there is what we find value in, on the other, who we are at a more personal level.


Our identity in the sense of what about us we look to to say "I am valuable" should be answered by Christ. He is our righteousness, and all that we do, apart from him, are as worthless rags. If we find value in some aspect of ourselves in and of ourselves then we are not getting to the source of the value. If I "have not love, I am nothing" 1 Corinthians 13:2, and "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God." 1 John 4:7. More than this, it is his righteousness which we have, and it is not our own doing, rather, we have this treasure in fragile jars of clay. This is the way that I hear identity most often spoken of in sermons and the circles in which I read (See here).


The second sort of identity, which I want to distinguish from the first, is how the person is personality-wise. Not what their character is like, nor what they do, but who they are deep down. This may be exhibited in their character and actions, but it won't necessarily be.

This identity we also, in a sense, find in Christ. In him we are redeemed to live as we were meant to live. Not only does this mean that we get to be who we were meant to be as humans: to glorify God and enjoy him forever, but also that we get to be who we were meant to be as ourselves.

However, it is not as though this identity is not there apart from Christ, rather, we deny it. This kind of identity does not involve our sin nature, but because of our sin nature it doe snot come out as it ought, for it depends on the general human nature as a being who is made to glorify and enjoy God forever. Thus we cannot be our true selves apart from being true humans, i.e., glorifying and enjoying God. This is who we ought to be, who we are in Christ, who we will be in heaven, and who we would have been apart from the fall. It is not the self we deny, nor the life we lose, for the self we deny and the life we lose are neither a true self nor a true life, but a life and self twisted by sin. The self does not change, but the one who owns and rules it does.

This self, however, is not where we find our value, for it has value only insofar as it displays the glory of God, that is, its value is Christ. It does, however, have value, though that value is the same in all people, and, though defiled by sin to varying degrees, all which are sanctified will be equally God displaying when they are sanctified. This self will most be itself in worship of God, but various selves may do this in various ways, for the Church is a body with many members, and not all members have the same function.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

If We Are Wrong, Does It Matter?

Christianity is made up of claims about the ultimate nature of reality, and about the nature of humanity. In some forms, however, the religion would work just as well whether or not it is true. If God stopped existing, would you notice? Or do merely depend on the belief that there is a good and loving God, and not on the good and loving God himself? Do you live the way you live because it is what your logical construction of belief says it makes sense to do, or because the Spirit of God empowers you to?

A God who would work just as well for you if he did not exist, so long as you thought he did, is basically a deistic god. The deist god is safe and comfortable, but it is also useless and impersonal. Does God love you simply as the result of a syllogism? All Christians are loved by God, I am a Christian, therefore I am loved by God. Fine, but do you believe it? Yes, God loves all his creation, but he loves each part in particular by itself.

This is one of the things that I have seen in worldbuilding: when I create something, even if I don't like how it turned out, there is a sort of love which I have for it. Even if I scrap it, there is a sort of love which I feel for what I make. God is the creator of the world. That does not mean he is far off. It does not mean that he is so much greater than us that we are unimportant. The fact that he made us is enough to know that he loves us each individually as who we are. He is the potter, we are the clay. He has his hands in us, whether to save us or no, but for his glory. If we are cogs in a machine, we are cogs in a very special machine, and God loves each cog, for he fashioned us each. If God is playing chess with the universe, he loves each piece and hates to lose any. These are true metaphors, but the way they come out when we see the love of a creator is such that they are somewhat misleading. We are cogs in a machine. We are cogs, in a machine, and God loves us each personally. The machine was not made on an assembly line, but by the hand of God. The machine is not as it ought to be, rather, God made it perfectly, in his love, and it was corrupted, and now, that God might receive glory, he is making all things right.

When there is some mechanical thingamabob that has broken, and I am trying to fix it, I have to go down to the level of the thingamabob. I have to love it, in a way. And it does not make me any less of a human to reach down into the brokenness of a thing to fix it. We are all broken, and God is a great repairman. He does not repair us mechanically, merely following directions. He knows us better than that. He repairs us lovingly, perfectly. He reaches down into the messiness of our lives, and loves us, and takes our brokenness and makes it to his glory.

Then is it brokenness? It is a beautiful brokenness unto the glory of God, and therefore I love that I am broken that it might result to the glory of God, for that is where I find my joy. So I rejoice in all things, for in all things God receives the glory. If I have reason to be glad, then it is God who grants it. If I have reason to mourn, then it is God who sustains me through it. So whether I laugh or weep, I have joy that it is all to the glory of God. Praise God that I am broken, for in my brokenness, I am fixed. For I was made to glorify God, and in my brokenness I do that, and so do what I was made to do.

And if God is not? Well, that is absurd. For who is it who has given me words to say which I could not have thought of on my own? Who has opened my eyes to see what I could not otherwise have seen? I depend on him every day to make me able to do his will. If he is not the one who made me, and all creation with me, then how is it that I love anyone else? If he were not, then I would not have the power to love, nor the wisdom to see and speak the truth in love, nor the care to live, nor the courage to weep, nor the safety to laugh. And I would be nothing--a stone cold heart arguing against all that is, a crafty and evil man.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Read the Bible to Change?

There is a new saying which I have heard in a few places which goes, "We don't read the Bible to finish, we read the Bible to change." While I agree with the sentiment, I do not think it is quite accurate to say that the goal is change anymore than it is finishing. Sure, we read it to change, but why do we change?

The point of the first part, "we don't read the Bible to finish," is that reading through the Bible is not an end in itself, which is partly true, and partly false. Yes, we do not read the Bible as an end in itself, but neither do we read the Bible for any end outside of itself. We ought to be hungry to read the Bible because in the Bible we see Christ, and then we change in order to show that beauty to those around us and because we see that it is good for us. But it is good for us because it is to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, and we have been made in the image of God and therefore to be like Christ, who is God, is to be like we were made to be.

The second part, "we read the Bible to change," is the part I question most. Yes, when we read the Bible it ought to change us, but that is not quite why we read the Bible. To change up a relatively common question, if you got to heaven, and God was there but you were unchanged, what would it matter? If you are in it for the change itself, you won't get it, if you are in it for God himself, then you will be "changed from one degree of glory to another" because of your love for he who is most glorious. The reason it would matter, is that to be in the presence of the holy God and still fallen would result in a crushing sense of how unholy we are.

This logic works for all sorts of spiritual disciplines. We don't fast to finish, nor for self-improvement, but out of a desire for more of God. We do not pray to pray, nor to get anything, but to seek God's will and his aid, to gain more of God in our lives. To pray that God do something for us, then, is to ask that he show us himself more in us. The goal of preaching, likewise, is to show forth God, and thereby glorify him.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Arguments for Calvinism

I have often thought that one of, if not the, greatest way to find consensus in the Calvinism/Arminianism debate would be to have all those involved listen to the preaching of the rest. Calvinism, it seems to me, provides better grounds for depending on God, and therefore allows an exhibition of his glory farther, than Arminianism does.

I am beginning to wonder about my college's theology for this reason: both of the chapels since classes started have included encouragement that God is guiding us for a good purpose, whether or not it is visibly good from where we stand, and whether or not it involves goods to us. This has been preached without any noticeable caveats about people needing to be sure to follow the Spirit's leading, rather we were encouraged to stop worrying about that. On what foundation can the president and dean of chapel at a Wesleyan, and therefore Arminian, school preach these things?

I would not be surprised if, should the concepts of free will and determinism be totally forgotten for a time, and then recovered during a time of great revival, we should find a great consensus regarding the topic. Indeed, I think we have a good deal more of a consensus than we think, as many Arminians accidentally preach what can best, if not only, be fueled by a Calvinist theology.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Work: Responsibility, Boasting, and Salvation

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. --Ephesians 2:8-9
Often, we (Calvinists) tend to use the use of the word "work" here to support our conception of "grace alone," charging Arminians with making salvation based on works. While I think this is a supportable position, it will be easier to shift the focus a bit.

Why "not a result of works"? The text answers, "so that no one may boast." Thus, "works" covers all those things that would allow us to boast. I take boast here to mean "boast in or of themselves," since Paul elsewhere speaks of boasting in Christ. So, then, what would allow us to boast in or of ourselves? If we are all at the same level in and of ourselves, then we cannot look at another and call ourselves better, thus, we would not in that case be able to boast in or of ourselves. At the same time, if we were in an identical condition, then there would be no reason to call any particularly "saved." Thus, in order that we not be able to boast in or of ourselves, and for some to be saved, those who are saved must not be saved on account of any way in which that they, in or of themselves, are different from others.

Now, on the Arminian view, so far as I understand it, the grace by which we are saved is a grace which makes it possible that any individual have the possibility of salvation, and not a grace which accomplishes anyone's salvation for them. This view of grace would place all people at the same level to begin with, supposing free will to make the difference between one individual who is saved and another who is not saved. Yet, in that case, either such an act of free will does not differentiate one person from another, or is not done in or of that person's self who is freely willing to do such a thing, or, which seems contrary to the verses at hand, one's free choice to believe does differentiate one from others in or of oneself, and thus one's salvation is a cause of boasting. Yet the first two seem contrary to the purpose of free will, for it is by those that free will is supposed to allow for personal responsibility.

Now, one might argue that, if the Arminian view of grace is right, then, since only that grace actually given to us must be impossible to boast of, we must only be unable to boast of receiving that grace which opens a door to salvation. Yet, verse 5 "even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved," this salvation by grace is spoken of as a making us alive together with Christ when we were dead in our trespasses, and, further, it is said, verse 6, "and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus," which is the hope of eternal life, and verse 7, giving the point of this salvation, says, "so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." Now, if all this may be said of each and every individual, then I am lost as to how we are to keep from a doctrine which says that all shall be saved unto eternal life, and hell empty, both of which are contrary to scripture.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


What is this thing called "revival"? Surely, the Spirit of God has been sent, and has not departed. Why do we accept that revivals are rare occurrences? I will certainly grant that they are miraculous, but isn't all preaching to be bathed in prayer, depending upon the Spirit that it might touch the hearts of those listening? When did the first revival end? When the Jewish Christians were dispersed? No! That was no end to that revival, but a spreading of it into many regions.

Where the Church lacks a revival, there she is sick. Why does the world ignore us? We who ought to have a joy which surpasses understanding, and a love so much greater than that which the world is capable of. Should those in the world not either be repulsed by seeing in us such an image of the Most High God, or else drawn to him by that beauty which we, though fallibly, ought to be displaying in that manner?

Church, come out. I pray that you would come out as Lazarus, and be unbound from worldly things and let go to make disciples.

Look away from whether it is, in fact, normal for the Church to have revivals. The question is rather, whether we ought to always be seeking such? Well, do we not desire that the whole world should be full of the glory of Christ? And does the filling of the world with his glory not increase during periods of revival? Where, then, is the question? Of course we ought to desire that we should have more and longer and more intense periods of revival, for that is what shall bring it to pass most quickly that the whole earth be filled with the glory of God.

We ought, indeed, even in times of great revival, desire that God would reveal his righteousness by his Spirit more than he is, and desire that he should sanctify his saints wherever they are found, so that in them he might be seen, and not ignored, but either reviled or clung to. Cling is, indeed, the right word, for we have no hope apart from Christ. Do you think you have enough to last you? Then you are still thinking in the wrong terms, for our Christ is not one to be gotten enough of. Are you satisfied by what you have of Christ? Then you do not yet see his beauty and majesty and glory, for it is impossible to realize how much of Christ there is to be had, and not to desire to know and to have all of him. "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:32. But what more could we want? "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." Romans 11:36.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


There is a tendency in our day, though I expect it is not new, to be against what is often referred to as "organized religion." While it is likely that the "organized religion" we are against and the religion which James commends to us are very different, something went wrong if the Christian religion is counted as an "organized religion." Some have made this point by saying that "Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship," and, while it is true that Christianity has a once-broken-but-fixed relationship at its root--the relationship between a sinner and God--this does not necessarily make it a non-religion.

If religion were defined as a system of rules to allow us to approach God, and many of what are commonly referred to as religions do fit that definition, then it would be easy to imagine a religion that had a relationship at its core, yet that relationship be set up around various rules which the inferior human would have to keep to stay in the gods' good graces. The Greeks could have described their religion as a relationship! Yet this is not what our God tells us religion is supposed to be, rather, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." James 1:27.

What, then, is religion generally? It is not, necessarily, a system of rules to get us to God, rather I would suggest that it is the outworking of beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality (i.e., the existence and nature of God or god's or what-have-you, what our possible relationships to such are, etc.) as we live. Thus, many religions have beliefs about what the ultimate nature of reality is that leads them to try to be as good as they can be, in order that their god might have favor on them and allow them into a heaven or some such. We, however, hold beliefs that cause us not to do things out of fear, but from a desire to be like the God we serve, for we see the beauty of what he does, and so desire that others might also see that beauty, and in so seeing, that they might glorify God. Thus, as Christ visited us--widows and orphans all, in that we had no one who might help us in our distress--so we visit those in like position, that we might recognize what need we likewise had for a savior from sin. For our savior, having much greater power than we, not only became God with us, but even became our sacrificial lamb, saving us from that death which we deserved since "the wages of sin is death," and thereby gaining for us that free gift of eternal life. In this way he made the church no longer a widow, for she is the bride of Christ, and in this way he made each of us who believe no longer orphans, but each adopted as heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Perseverence of the Saints and the Cause of Faith

John 17:11-12, 15, "And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled...I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one." Romans 8:35-39, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Ephesians 1:13-14 "In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."

The question is made clear when we approach Colossians 1:21-23, "And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister." Does the phrase "if indeed you continue in the faith" refer to our being reconciled, or to our being presented holy and blameless? It seems straightforward that, since our being presented holy and blameless is the purpose for which we have been reconciled, then to remove one is to remove the other. Thus, if we continue in the faith, then we have been reconciled in Christ's body of flesh by his death. Yet Paul also says in Romans 5:10-11, "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." Thus our present state is one which exists: we either are reconciled or not. Now, I take it that "if you continue in the faith" does not stand alone, but that, since, speaking of Jesus, "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.'" Acts 4:12, and thus it is only if we continue in faith, and thus, if, and only if, we continue in faith, then we have been reconciled in Christ's body of flesh by his death. But then, if one is true, that is, if we are reconciled, then the other is also true, that is, we continue in faith.

Or are some reconciled who do not continue in the faith? Then must they not be saved? For Christ died for their sins, and thus to damn them would be to say that Christ's reconciling them had no effect. It is to say that, though they were reconciled to God, God shall cast them out. What kind of reconciliation is this? It is not a reconciliation, but, at best, the making possible a reconciliation, yet Paul says that "while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" Romans 5:10. Does an enemy participate in his own reconciliation? One does, the one who did not seek the war. Yet we were the ones who sought to overthrow our God, and he is the one who accomplishes this reconciliation. We sought war, yet in Christ we are made at peace with God. Or Romans 5:8 "but God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." And, again, Romans 5:11 speaks of us as ones who "have now received reconciliation." It has been given us, and we had no part in accomplishing it. We received it, though we despised the gift as, in our unrighteousness, we sought the crucifixion of Christ.

It is true that it is received by faith, for, Romans 3:23-25, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins." But, then, how does this faith come to be? Galatians 3:22-23 "But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith." and, Romans 4:16 "That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all," Now, how can it be guaranteed to anyone, if it depends on the freedom their will choosing in some way? Indeed, Hebrew 12:2 tells us that it is Jesus who made our faith, for it says, "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Thus neither our righteousness, nor our faith, by which we receive the propitiation by the blood of Christ such that we are justified by God's grace as a gift through that redemption, are made with human hands, but are imperishable, being wrought by God.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.  --1 Peter 1:3-9
Thus, the Father has caused us to be born again, that is, we "who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." verse 5, although our faith is tested so that it might "be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." verse 7.

Against Open Theism

 Our salvation rests in our being united to Christ as he died, and therefore raised with him into his life. If we are not united to Christ, then he did not bear our sins, and that punishment is yet to be payed. This is a uniting of each individual Christian to Christ. If this were a union of every individual human, then all of the sins of every individual human would have been born by Christ on the cross, and thus the punishment would have been payed already, and hell would be empty.

As a result of this, either our present actions, as coming to believe, have an effect on who was united to Christ as he died on the cross and as he rose, or Christ's bearing the sins of certain people effectually cause those certain people to eventually come to faith. For the purposes of this post, I won't argue for one or the other of these, although I believe that the second is the case. My point here is that both options entail the existence of two times, i.e., the coming to faith of a person and Christ's death, such that they are both "there" so to speak, such that when the Holy Spirit unites me to Christ, he is not uniting me to something that no longer exists for me to be united to, nor does he find that I do not yet exist to be united to Christ's death and resurrection. Thus Christ's death on the cross is as present for the Holy Spirit to unite me to as I am, and my sins are as present for God to lay on Christ, as Christ's death on the cross is for Christ to bear those iniquities on, and thus to pay for them on.

Open theism does not allow for this, since that part of the future which is dependent upon free willed actions does not exist until those actions are done, and so God does not know those parts of the future which are dependent upon the free will actions of others since they do not yet exist. If a person were united to Christ, then that would mean that the person's salvation was known by God while Christ hung upon the cross, but this cannot be if, while Christ hung upon the cross, our future acts of free will were unknown by God. Granted, many of those who believe in free will do not hold to the model of the atonement which this argument depends on, and my argument in that respect depends on the previous post.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Atonement

The atonement which Christ wrought for us he did through his life, death, and resurrection. The question, then, is: What is the nature of this atonement? In order to draw this out, first: What is the purpose of the atonement? i.e., What problem did Christ set out to fix by means of coming to live, die, and by raised? Second: What does the nature of the purpose of the atonement, i.e., the nature of the problem to be fixed, require that the atonement involve?

The Problem

The problem is sin. Genesis 2:16-17 "And the LORD God said to the man, saying, 'You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.'" Then, when Adam and Eve do eat of that fruit, God gives the first pointer to Christ when he curses the serpent, 3:15 "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." Even clearer, Genesis 6:5-7 "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, 'I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.'" Here we see clearly God's hatred of sin such that he desires that it be destroyed, this is his righteousness. This can be seen again in Genesis 18 and 19, where God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah because "their sin is very grave" Genesis 18:20. Isaiah 1:27-28 "Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed." Yet we cannot of ourselves be righteous, "As it is written: 'none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.'" Romans 3:10-12, and, verse 20, "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin" Further, we cannot bear this ourselves, "For the wages of sin is death," Romans 6:23.

So, the problem is that we carry the weight of sin, and God is righteous and cannot, therefore, bear to allow sin to remain in his sight. The purpose of the atonement, then, is to remove that sin apart from blotting out all of humanity, which he would be justified in doing. Thus John the baptist calls Jesus "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" when he sees him, John 1:29.

Requirements of the Atonement

From the problem, we can see certain requirements which God has implied are required of any solution to the problem of sin. First: there must be a sacrifice, as the old testament has sacrifices for sins. "But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God" Hebrews 10:12.

Second, the sins must be removed from us, and placed on this sacrifice, who is Christ. If the sin remains on us, then we still must bear it. This is the same as it was when animal sacrifices were offered, for "And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness." Leviticus 16:21-22. But, rather, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'" and, 1 Peter 2:24 "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." And, similarly, Romans 6:5- "For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." This is how God may forgive us, because in Christ's death, the suffering due sin has been paid, so that the wrath of God against our sin has been satisfied. It is not as though there is some well from which to draw for forgiveness of sins, but rather the sins themselves were laid upon Christ such that he bore the punishment due to each of them. It is by Christ's death that we are reconciled, Romans 5:10, so that there is nothing we need to do to gain that reconciliation, but if we had to go and ask for that forgiveness, then we would be utterly lost, since there would be no reconciliation by which we might draw near to ask for that forgiveness we so desperately need. It is sin that keeps us apart from God, so that if we had to ask that he remove our sin, he would not hear us, for he does not hear the prayers of the wicked, which we certainly are if we are still in sin, which is precisely why we need this reconciliation.

Third, the atonement is the defeat of Satan, that is, it destroys Satan's power over those it is effectual for, since it was promised that "he shall bruise your head." Thus Romans 6:17 "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed." From which flows, Colossians 2:6, "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him," that is, since Christ not only bore the penalty for our sin but bruised the head of the enemy, and since we, in him, die to sin, and as sin is thus dead to us, walk in that life which you have as one who is risen with Christ and therefore not under the power of sin, just as you are no longer under the guilt of sin.

Fourth, the atonement was costly. That is, we had a debt which Christ payed, or again, Christ ransomed us. This does not seem to me to flow quite so neatly from the above problem, however, Numbers 18:15 "Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or beast, which they offer to the LORD, shall be yours. Nevertheless, the firstborn of man you shall redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem." Here is a redeeming, i.e., a lamb is put in the place of a man. Psalm 111:9 "He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!" And yet, Psalm 49:7-9 "Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit." Thus the necessity of a man who is without blemish to be the ransom, and verse 15 "But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me." 1 Peter 1:18-19 "knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." Thus we have the picture of Christ being the lamb who comes as the ransom who takes our place as the perfect sacrifice.


Some have argued that Christ's being punished in our place is inconsistent with saying that our sins have been forgiven. At the same time, I find it hard to say, "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 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." Isaiah 53:4-5 if he was not truly wounded for our transgressions, etc., rather it would appear that he was wounded so that God could forgive our transgressions. This is a strange use of the word "for" in English, and I would expect better of translators than to use a word with such different connotations, and so regularly, and to have so few commentaries note it! Have a look:


A further two brief notes against other views. First, the governmental theory of the atonement denies that Christ was made a curse for us, in that it denies that Christ literally bore our sins on the cross so that there was guilt on him such that the Father would be just to literally punish him. Second, there is a ransom theory which holds that Christ's death acted as a ransom payed to Satan to free us from his domain, however, this implies that Satan has some kind of power such that he could demand something from God, but it is plain that Christ died not to pay a price to Satan, but to defeat and to bind Satan, which makes paying a price unnecessary.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


We can be very odd.

We feel incompetent, for whatever reason. Pastors feel incompetent because they feel like their sheep aren't listening, parents because their kids don't come out right, students because they get bad grades, or don't understand the material, all of us at various times have probably felt like incompetent Christians because we haven't read the Bible much, or haven't been praying, or for various other reasons, all of which boil down to: I should be better than this. Which is true. We all have places where we ought to be doing better. And all these feelings of incompetence are quite normal.

Those are also all covered by Romans 3:23 "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Yes, there are things we ought to be doing, look at the law! Yet we are continually falling short of that law, and even the lower laws we set for ourselves, those which we feel more comfortable with, we still break them so often. But Romans 3:23 is followed by verse 24, which tells us that those who we just read about: those who have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, "are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."

Where things get strange is a certain Christian response. We feel incompetent, then we feel guilty because we know that God loves us even as we are, and we shouldn't be worrying about this because he has it all under control.

Well, we don't need to feel guilty about that either. I realize most of us who react in that way already know that, which probably results in something like an infinite regression of guilt (feeling guilty for feeling guilty for feeling guilty...). So let's look at why we should not feel guilty. It is the same promise that make us feel guilty for feeling incompetent in the first place, but we have misunderstood them.

God has everything under control. This does not just mean that he has ordained everything according to his good pleasure. What it means that he has even ordained everything according to his good pleasure in which we stand. When we fail, which we will so long as we are in this world, we can no longer call ourselves failures if we are in Christ, for Christ succeeded ultimately. Yes, we should grow in godliness. But we should not be frustrated by the slowness of our growth, but rather excited by the fact that we should grow at all. Apart from Christ, we deserve to be burned, but because of his free gift of grace we are granted life in Christ Jesus, that we might grow into the likeness of Christ Jesus. And God has ordained that we should each grow at the rate and in the ways that we do and will and have, and he has ordained this for our good and his glory.

Our growth in godliness ought not, then, be fueled by a law-like list of rules, rather, it must be fueled by the Spirit of God working to reveal Christ in us, and by our desire to be like Christ. His goodness is contagious, and beautiful, and sweet, so that we should love to seek him and to be like him. And we ought not feel guilty when we find that we do not love him as we ought, but rather pray that God would grant us a greater vision of himself by his Spirit that we might love him more as he deserves.