Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Benefits

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).

What do we gain in Christ? What does it mean to “be saved?”

The immediate benefit of salvation is union with Christ. We are connected to Christ. We draw life from him; he is the vine, and we are the branches (John 15:4-5). Rankin Wilbourne talks about the difference between Batman and Spider-Man. Batman is a superhero because of his magnificent brain and incredible discipline — not to mention his fabulous wealth. Spider-Man is a superhero because he was bitten by a radioactive spider. We’re like Spider-Man: “Something alien to you, from outside of you, has entered into you and changed your nature. You now have power that you did not have before.”1

This union produces “a new spiritual vitality within the human.”2 Again, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2Cor 5:17). We are given a new heart, a new nature that can desire God’s will (Rom 7-8). And “[s]ince we are united to Christ, we must eventually be like him. Since we can never be separated from him, we will always be with him (1 Jn 3:2).”3 Because we are united with him, everything he has is also ours, and we are already seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6).

As a result of our union with Christ, we receive forgiveness of sins. Because of what Christ did on the cross, the penalty for our sins can be counted as paid (2Cor 5:21). And this is not a grudging forgiveness. God does not simply say, “I’ll try not to mention this again.” No! “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). It’s always struck me that it doesn’t say “as far as the north is from the south.” David may not have known, but the Holy Spirit did — the north is 12,430 miles from the south. East and west, however, are infinitely far apart. God has removed our sins from us completely and hurled them “into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Our debt is paid; it will not burden us again. And God no longer sees us as sinners.

Because of this, we are redeemed. Redemption is the terminology of setting slaves free. We have been bought by the blood of the Lamb. We were captives to sin and the dark powers, but God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). According to Tony Evans, “we have been redeemed in such a way that nobody can ever enslave us again. It means we are redeemed completely and permanently.”4 We are now free from bondage to sin. It has no power over us that we do not give it.

Finally, because we are united to Christ and the forgiveness that brings, we are reconciled to God. “Reconciliation is that work of God made possible through the death of Christ, by which sinners are brought from hostility toward God into a state of spiritual fellowship and harmony with Him. It is a movement from alienation to restoration.”4 We were in a state of enmity against God, but now “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). We can lay down our arms; the war can be over. We were going to lose anyway.

Because we have been reconciled to God, good things are in store for us. “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom 5:10). Evans says the idea is that “if you put your trust in Christ’s death to save you, now that He’s risen from the dead you haven’t seen anything yet.” Read the rest in Tony’s yelling voice:

“If Christ can save you and reconcile you to God by His blood, wait until you see what He has in store for you now that He is alive forevermore. If He can take you from hell to heaven by dying, what more can He do for you by rising from the dead? If He can forgive you for all your sins and deliver you from judgment by His death, imagine the power that is at work on your behalf now that He lives!”4

Being united to Christ gives us more than we ever could have imagined. The Father’s love for his Son now envelops us. We are not second-class citizens of heaven. We are loved like the Son because we are in him.

Do you approach God like a beggar with your hat in your hand? Do you approach him like an employee asking a volatile boss for a raise? Live like you are in Christ: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16).

I encourage you to read Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne!

1 Rankin Wilbourne, Union with Christ
2 Millard Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine
3 James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith
4 Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On, emphasis in original

Part of Christianity 101

Part of Christianity 101

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Exchange


God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. ... [H]e did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:25-26).

Due to our rebellion, humans were in an apparently hopeless state. So how did God rescue us?

“God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood....” The “sacrifice of atonement” was how human sins were forgiven by God under the old covenant. Human sin was placed on an animal, which was killed because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22).

Is that petty? “Why can’t God just forgive sin?” Why can’t the president just pardon everyone? It would send the message that crime was not that big a deal. God’s “just forgiving” would mean that sin is not that bad. And it is. “If you understand a surgeon’s ‘wrath’ against contamination in a hospital operating room, you understand God’s wrath against sin.”1 Sin is a big deal. It had to be dealt with, not winked at. So at the cross, God made Jesus the final sacrifice for human sin. How did that happen?

“God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor 5:21). On the cross, God placed the guilt of human sin on the sinless Son. Therefore, when the Son suffered, he suffered as a guilty person. He suffered through all of the wrath humanity deserves all at once (cf, Is 53:5-6). Then he died, his death paying our debt (Heb 9:12). Now, because of his sacrifice, God places on the believer the righteousness of Christ. Our guilt was exchanged with his righteousness.

We are said to be “justified” (Rom 3:26) 
 that is, our sins have been paid for. Our balance sheet is all assets because Christ took all of our debts and gave us his righteousness. “Here we must distinguish between two senses of the word righteous. One could be righteous by virtue of never having violated the law. Such a person would be innocent, having totally fulfilled the law. But even if we have violated the law, we can be deemed righteous once the prescribed penalty has been paid. ... I am righteous not in the former sense but the latter.”2

Who is justified? God “justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” Does that mean people only need to believe? That depends on what you mean by “believe.” The words rendered “believe” pack a lot more of a punch in the biblical languages than we get in English. It means more than believing that Jesus existed, that Jesus died on a cross, or even than he rose from the dead. Yes, you have to “believe that,” but there’s more to it. “Trust” is a better word, but I think it still falls short. It’s more of a “confident resting or leaning upon someone or something.”2 I prefer “hang all your hopes on.” “Believing in Jesus” in the biblical sense means to place all your hope on his death and resurrection.

It has been likened to believing a man can fly a plane. Believing a man knows how to fly a plane while you’re on the ground is very different from getting in his plane. You are now totally dependent on his ability to fly. On the ground you can believe that he can fly; in the air you trust in his ability to fly. When you are willing to be totally dependent on Christ’s death for your righteousness, you get the benefits of it.

And the immediate result is a new nature. “[I]f anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2Cor 5:17). God gives us “a new heart and put[s] a new spirit in you;” he removes “your heart of stone and give[s] you a heart of flesh” (Ez 36:26). The heart that hates God is replaced with a heart that wants to please him (Rom 8:7-11).

It’s a good gut-check moment. Do you “believe that” or do you “put your hope in” Jesus?

James says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (2:19). “Believing that” is not enough. In a culture that has watered down the meaning of the word “faith” until it’s barely recognizable, we need to be able to commend real biblical faith in Jesus to the lost world around us as we tell them the story of the price that was paid.

To go into more depth on this topic, see “Justification” in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

1 Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On
2 Millard Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine

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Part of Christianity 101

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Need

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matt 25:41).

Fallen humans are, without God’s help, in a very precarious state, literally a heartbeat away from hell — the punishment created for the treasonous angels whose rebellion we joined. But that knowledge does not really explain the sinner’s condition, so to begin our look at the doctrine of salvation, let’s examine five pictures the scriptures use to describe the unsaved person.

Lost: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4).

Jesus talked about lost coins and lost sons, but most often he talked about lost sheep. Unlike a lost coin, a lost sheep hasn’t been misplaced; it has wandered off. We are like that sheep. When you get lost, you’re lost before you realize that you’re lost. And when you’re lost, you pretty much stay lost until something outside of you changes that — be it a street sign or a helpful stranger.

Like lost sheep, humans have wandered away from God, many not even realizing they are lost, not realizing the danger they are now in, and we have no hope unless someone comes to find us.

Sick: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matt 9:12).

“Sin is the sickness of the soul; sinners are spiritually sick.”1 Like being lost, people can be sick without knowing it; generally it seems the worse the disease, the more likely you are to be unaware until it’s serious. And when you are sick with a serious disease, you must have a doctor. This is not going to get better on its own; you need help. Sin is just such a disease. Those who realize they are sick go to the doctor. Those who realize they are poor in spirit turn to the Savior.

Slave: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34).

“All humanity serves under one of two slaveries—either ‘sin, which leads to death’ or ‘obedience, which leads to righteousness.’ [Rom 6:16] There is no middle ground.”2 In our natural state, humans are not free. Sins owns us, and we obey our master. There is no escape from this slavery, nor is there any way to free yourself. The only hope is that someone would come and redeem us.

Dead: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Eph 2:1).

Once mankind joined the rebellious angels, their judgment fell on us, so “whoever does not believe stands condemned already” (John 3:18). We are spiritually already dead. “The human predicament is absolute; there is no escape. There is no way for people already condemned to avoid condemnation. Only from the outside can any effective solution come.”3 The dead have no hope except in the one who can raise the dead.

Child: “In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Gal 4:3).

Paul uses the picture of a wealthy child who is nevertheless under the control of guardians. This child might as well be a slave for all the control he has over his affairs. In the same way, the “elementary principles of this world” have absolute control over the unsaved person. “For an unbeliever there is potential salvation and fulfillment of the promise given to all the world through Abraham (Gen. 12:3). But unless and until he spiritually ‘comes of age’ through saving trust in Jesus Christ, every unbeliever is a kind of slave and is imprisoned under the elemental things of the world.”4

Whatever metaphor the scriptures use, the picture is the same. People in their natural state are powerless, helpless, hopeless. The whole human race was on a path to that eternal fire. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). So now we will turn to how that redemption was accomplished and what that adoption entails.

1 Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible on Matt 9:12
2 R Kent Hughes, Romans — Righteousness from Heaven
3 Walter Elwell ed, Evangelical Commentary on the Bible on Eph 2:1
4 John MacArthur, Galatians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary

Image via Pexels

Part of Christianity 101

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Introduction to Soteriology

If you, LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
That you may be feared
” (Psalm 130:3-4).

With all the players in place, we may now continue the story that is the doctrine of salvation. And it is a story. A good God created a good world and created humans in his image to manage and govern their new home. He gave them everything they needed, but they rebelled against him.

So God became a man for the purpose of putting right what they had broken. He made a way for rebellious humans to be forgiven and reconciled to God.

How does that work? How can God put it all behind him? How can humans be healed? How does that fix our brokenness?

That is the topic of this next section, the Doctrine of Salvation.

Part of Christianity 101