How the Cross of Christ Crucifies Sin

crossAs we prepare for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, consider this meditation from Alexander Watson, a 19th Century British curate in the Church of England. In the 1840s he preached a week-long series of sermons on  Christ’s seven words from the cross. And in his first sermon on Luke 23:34 (“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”), he closed with a powerful reflection on what Christ accomplished on the cross—namely, salvation from sin.

In other words, Christ’s death does more than grant clemency to guilty sinners. Christ’s death justifies guilty sinners and frees sinners to pursue a life of increasing holiness. In other words, Christ’s death does not just save us in our sin; it saves us from our sin. While awaiting the redemption of the body, the cross of Christ effectively saves us from the consequences, causes, and corruptions of sin so that we can flee from sin, crucify our flesh, and pursue good works.

Tragically, the life-giving message of holiness can be lost in a truncated message that only focuses on guilt removal. Therefore, we need to give attention to every aspect of the cross, including the hopeful message of holiness exemplified by Watson.

On the finished work of Christ that empowers Christians to pursue holiness, he writes,

The atonement for sin is a finished act. The application of that atonement is a continual work. That portion of our Lord’s priestly office which consisted in his giving himself a ransom for the sins of the world has been accomplished, and can be no more repeated. “By one offering he has for ever perfected them that are sanctified, and there remains no more sacrifice for sin’’ (Heb. 9:26). But this consecration of his redeemed by his one offer does not exclude—but rather it involves, and requires—the continued mediation and intercession of him who is our great high priest, the one who offers prayer for us continually. And since it is his death upon the cross which gives to Christ’s mediation its meritorious efficacy and acceptable savor in God’s sight, we may be well assured that it will not avail for those in whom it does not work the conquest of sin and the presence of penitent desires after holiness.  Continue reading

Pierced ‘That I Might’ Praise: The Worship Only Penal Substitution Creates

altar

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
— 2 Corinthians 5:21 —

For Christ also suffered once for sins,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God,
being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.
— 1 Peter 3:18 —

In and around the church, there has always been a group of theologians and pastors willing to question or deny penal substitution—the evangelical doctrine that affirms Christ’s death as a payment of penalty for sinners who trust in Jesus. Like Peter objecting to Christ’s prediction of suffering and death (Matthew 16:21–23), liberal theologians like Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albert Schweitzer, and Adolph Von Harnack, along with modern authors like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and William Paul Young (author of The Shack) have maligned the blood of the cross.

Unfortunately, such denial of penal substitution depends upon a denial of Scripture, a defamation of biblical authors, and twisting of biblical words. At the same time, making Christ a mere model, teacher, or prophet, follows the lie of Satan (Matthew 16:23); it effectively denies the deity of Christ and God’s plan of salvation, foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. But aside from the theological considerations—which are considerable—denying penal substitution  steals glory from God’s work and praise from the believer’s heart. Continue reading

Let Us Meditate On the Cross

crossThis morning I continue to teach The Work of Christ to a group of students at Indianapolis Theological Seminary. Few things are more delightful than spending hours meditating on the finished work of Christ and contemplating the way Scripture portrays Christ’s substitionary atonement on behalf of sinners.

To be sure, this is not an undisputed view today. But it is vitally important truth and one worth defending and declaring boldly: Christ’s death is not one of many options for reconciliation with God; it is God’s eternal plan and necessary means for justifying sinners, reuniting image-bearers with their Maker, and putting all things under his feet so that in the age to come.

For our consideration of this glorious hope, consider five quotes from Emil Brunner, Martin Luther, and John Stott.

Emil Brunner

The whole struggle of the Reformation for the sola fide, the sola deo Gloria, was simply the struggle for the right interpretation of the Cross. He who understands the Cross aright—this is the opinion of the Reformers—understands the Bible, he understands Jesus Christ. (Emil Brunner, The Mediator, 435)

Martin Luther

Because and eternal, unchangeable sentence of condemnation has passed upon sin—god cannot and will not regard sin with favor, but his wrath abides upon it eternally and irrevocably—redemption was not possible with a ransom of such precious worth as to atone for sin. This no creature was able to do. There was no remedy except for God’s only Son to step into our distress and himself become a man, to take upon himself the load of awful and eternal wrath and make his own body and blood a sacrifice for sin. And so he did, out of the immeasurably great mercy and love towards us, giving himself up and bearing the sentence of unending wrath and death. (Martin Luther, “Epistle Sermon: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity,” cited in John N. Lenker, ed., The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, 9:43­–45)

John Stott

Christianity is Christ, and the crucial fact about Christ is his passion on the cross… Scripture portrays the Savior’s death as the basis of every spiritual blessing (Rom 8:31–32), as the source of true Christian living (Rom 6:1­–11; 8:3–4), and as the foundation of the church’s sacraments (Rom 6:1-4; 1 Cor 11:26). John tells us that throughout eternity the inhabitants of heaven will sing the glorious praises of the Lamb who was slain (Rev 5:9–14)” (John Stott, The Cross and Salvation, 167–68).

All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and man. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God, and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely ‘hell-deserving sinners,’ then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we astonished we never saw it before. (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 109)

Substitution is not a ‘theory of the atonement.’ Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others.  It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself.  None of the images could stand without it. (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 202–03).

Let us not be ashamed of the cross of Christ, for it is the power and wisdom of God. And may these reflections help us marvel at God’s great gift, the voluntary sacrifice of his Son in the place of sinners. There is no other way of salvation, and no more glorious truth to contemplate.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

*This is the Day* That the Lord Has Made: A Good Friday Reflection

cross2This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
– Psalm 118:24 –

Like many, I learned this verse not from reading it in the Bible but singing it in church.  Les Garrett’s chorus, “This is the Day,” is a popular praise song that sets this verse to music.  My wife and I have taught this song to our kids, and it is not unusual to find myself singing this little song.

However, as with every verse in the Bible, context determines meaning.  And left to itself, Psalm 118:24 and Les Garrett’s modern rendition can make it seem that we are giving thanks to God for the day in which we stand—‘this day”—and not the day that is actually foretold in Psalm 118.

When Psalm 118 is read in its entirety, however, it becomes apparent that the day mentioned in verse 24 is the Day of the Lord.  How do we know?

Well, two verses earlier stands another well-known verse, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22).  Picked up in the New Testament (Mark 12:10–11; 1 Pet 2:4–7), it refers to Jesus Christ and his death.  Thus, set in the historical context of the work of Christ, the “day that the Lord has made” is not just the day in which we stand—it is the day that God’s Son fell!

In Mark 14:26, the Bible says, “When they sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”  Previously, Mark records the Lord’s Supper where Jesus broke bread and drank wine, both representing the death he would die on the next day (14:22–25).  Thus, the hymn they sang is probably Psalm 118, the closing hymn of the Jewish Seder—the meal commemorating the Passover.

How marvelous it is to consider the placement of this verse in the events around Jesus’ death. As the disciples of Christ concluded their Passover meal, which Jesus transformed into his own Lord’s Supper, this song would be sung to prepare for “the day.” As Psalm 118:23 puts it: “This is the Lord’s doing, how marvelous it is in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

For us, two thousand years removed, the context makes all the difference in how we join in the chorus praising God. Do we rejoice in our day, the one in which we stand?  Or do we rejoice in that day when Christ died so that we could stand?  Hedonists easily rejoice in the pleasures of a good day, and stoics can convince themselves in the midst of difficulty that something good will come in this day.

But only gospel-loving Christians have a secure reason for rejoicing in any day and everyday.  If the physical resurrection of Jesus did not happen, then Christians are to deluded and damned.  But because the eye witnesses account for Christ’s empty tomb, we call the Friday that Jesus died “good.”  We do not sing songs saying that every day is good; we rejoice everyday because God is good.

good dayIt needs to be said that the God of the Bible is not the God of Ned Flanders, who might pedantically praise Jesus for even the worst days. God does not call his followers to mindlessly call bad days “good,” to comfort themselves meaningless platitudes affixed to coffees cups, or  and to reinforce their joy by songs that grate against reality.

Rather, the message of the Bible, the message of Good Friday, and the message of Psalm 118:24 is this: We can rejoice in any day because the worst day in the history of the world—the day on which the Son of God died—became the best day in the history of the world. Because of this day and the ensuing resurrection of Christ we can rejoice in any day.

As we celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, let us sing with all our might that “This is the Day that the Lord has made,” but remember what day we are singing about.  The reason why we rejoice in this today is because of that day when the sky grew black, the earth quaked, the temple veil tore, and the Son died.

This was the Day of the Lord, when Christ Jesus laid down his life, so that sinners could be reconciled to their Maker.  This is the good news, and this is the reason why we rejoice and sing!

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

 

 

 

Looking at the Old Testament on Good Friday

 

isaacAlthough the centerpiece of the Bible—Christ’s cross—is revealed in the New Testament, we cannot understand its meaning without the Old Testament. Indeed, Paul says Christ’s death and resurrection happened “according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4), which means according to the Old Testament Scriptures. Similarly, Peter says the prophets were led by the Spirit of Christ to “predict the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” He writes more fully,

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.  It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10–12)

Peter says something even more radical about the cross of Christ a few verses later:

With the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you. (v. 20)

The cross wasn’t the tragic conclusion of a series of unexpected events. It was God’s predestined plan to put Jesus to death. Continue reading

The Wisdom of the Cross: Paul’s Use of Isaiah in 1 Corinthians 1

crossFor it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
— 1 Corinthians 1:19 —

In 1 Corinthians 1:19 Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14 to make a case that the cross has destroyed and is destroying the wisdom of the wise. This verse sets the trajectory of this pericope (vv. 18–25), and with a second quotation from Jeremiah 9:23 in 1 Corinthians 1:31 (“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord”), it frames Paul’s double argument: the cross of Christ humbles the wise (vv. 18–25) and the call of God is for those who see how humble they are (vv. 26–31).

In the context of 1 Corinthians, this is the first of “at least fourteen clear quotations from the Old Testament.”[1]  And as is typical with New Testament quotations of the Old Testament, the verses supply conceptual and linguistic material for the apostles. In Paul’s case,

The backbone of the discussion in 1:18–3:23 is a series of six OT quotations (1:19; 1:31; 2:9; 2:16; 3:19; 3:20), all taken from passages that depict God as one who acts to judge and save his people in ways that defy human imagination. Paul thus links his gospel of the cross to the older message of judgment and grace proclaimed in Israel’s Scripture, and he challenges the boastful pretensions of his readers.[2]

Therefore, to understand the full import of 1 Corinthians 1:19, we must return to Isaiah 29 (and Isaiah 25) to see how that ancient prophet anticipates what Paul says to the Corinthians. In the process, we will learn a few things about how Paul reads the Bible, with an eye to the cross. Continue reading

The Cross of Christ Shapes Every Area of Life

obc-1 corinthiansYesterday, I preached on “The Wisdom of the Cross” from 1 Corinthians 1:18–25. While most of the message concentrated on the doctrinal message of the cross and its radical contrast to way the world approaches life (i.e., man’s wisdom), I closed the sermon with a handful of quick applications, listed below.

For the church, the cross must be our shared story that shapes our communion.

For individuals, the cross must be the wisdom that shapes every area of our lives.

  • In your hour of decision, let the self-sacrifice of Christ crucify your false desires; let the promise of resurrection embolden you to take God-honoring risks. (Luke 9:23–27)
  • In your hour of temptation, remember you are already dead to sin; sin no longer has dominion over you. (Romans 6)
  • In your hour of faith, praise Christ for purchasing your belief and obedience. (Ezekiel 36:26–27; Ephesians 2:8–9)
  • In your hour of failure, look again to the cross for your pardon and acceptance. (1 John 1:9–2:2)
  • In your hour of prayer, come boldly before God because of Christ’s blood. (Hebrews 4:14–16)

As we go into the week, may we give praise to God for Christ’s work on the cross. And may we continue to center our lives on Christ and his cross. As Paul teaches he is not an additive to our already full lives; he is the wisdom of God to bring our lives in conformity to God’s will.

May Jesus receive all praise and glory, as we live with ever-deepening dependence on the wisdom and power of the cross.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

May We Boast in the Cross

The apostle Paul writes in Galatians 6:14, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  The apostle’s earnest desire is to make his life a living ‘boast’ in the cross of Christ.

We ought to do the same.  Any and all things that deny the cross should be confessed and crucified—for that is why Christ died, to atone for our cross-denying sins.  Yet, the sins which may deny Christ most may not be the easiest to spot.

Today, Scotty Smith points out five ways that we deny Christ in his prayer for fresh grace.  He writes,

When I mute my heart to the insult of grace—minimizing my need of the gospel, I deny your cross.

When I think, even for one moment, that my obedience merits anything, or makes you love me more than you already do, I deny your cross.

When I put others under the microscope and measure of performance-based living—copping a critical spirit and judgmental attitude, I deny your cross.

When I wallow in self-contempt and shame—disbelieving and dismissing your great love lavished upon us in the gospel, I deny your cross.

When I’d rather do penance than repent and collapse upon the riches of grace, once again, I deny your cross. 

May we learn to spot our cross-denying tendencies and run back to the hill where grace flows freely–the hill of Calvary.  In this way, the cross itself empowers us to deny our denials, and it reminds us of the sinfulness of our ever present self-sufficiency.

May we boast in the cross today by confessing our denials.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Moving Beyond a ‘Plain’ Reading of Scripture

In theological debate, a plain and straightforward reading of Scripture is often adduced as a compelling “biblical” argument.  However, a straightforward reading of Scripture is often in danger of reading the Bible out of context, by truncating or removing texts from their original contexts.  In this way, many “biblical” arguments turn out to be exercises in theological redaction and atomistic hermeneutics.

This is the point that Lee Gattis makes in his recent book on the extent of the atonement.  He writes,

Continue reading

God’s Love: Particular in Its Design, Infinite in Its Offer

When considering the love of God towards fallen humanity, one of the greatest challenges is rightly discerning how his particular love for his children (1 John 3:1-2) is distinguished from his universal love towards all people (Matthew 5:45).  On that subject Charles Hodge has provided a couple helpful illustrations in his Systematic Theology.  Listen to what he says, and tell me what you think.  I’d love to know if you think these illustration are helpful or not.

If a ship containing the wife and children of a man standing on the shore is wrecked, he may seize a boat and hasten to their rescue. His motive is love to his family; his purpose is to save them. But the boat which he has provided may be large enough to receive the whole of the ship’s company. Would there be any inconsistency in his offering them the opportunity to escape? Or, would this offer prove that he had no special love to his own family and no special design to secure their safety. And if any or all of those to whom the offer was made, should refuse to accept it, some from one reason, some from another; some because they did not duly appreciate their danger; some because they thought they could save themselves; and some from enmity to the man from whom the offer came, their guilt and folly would be just as great as though the man had no special regard to his own family, and no special purpose to effect their deliverance.

Or, if a man’s family were with others held in captivity, and from love to them and with the purpose of their redemption, a ransom should be offered sufficient for the delivery of the whole body of captives, it is plain that the offer of deliverance might be extended to all on the ground of that ransom, although specially intended only for a part of their number.

Or, a man may make a feast for his own friends, and the provision be so abundant that he may throw open his doors to all who are willing to come. This is precisely what God, according to the Augustinian doctrine, has actually done. Out of special love to his people, and with the design of securing their salvation, He has sent his Son to do what justifies the offer of salvation to all who choose to accept of it. Christ, therefore, did not die equally for all men. He laid down his life for his sheep; He gave Himself for his Church. But in perfect consistency with all this, He did all that was necessary, so far as a satisfaction to justice is concerned, all that is required for the salvation of all men. So that all Augustinians can join with the Synod of Dort in saying, ‘No man perishes for want of an atonement.'” (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:556).

For more quotes on this subject, click on Atonement (Extent).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss