Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 9
by Jonathan Hamilton
See Part 1 for an explanation of this series. See what we covered last time here. In order to complete our sin and salvation series, we have three or four articles remaining. As a reminder, italics in the main body of each article in this series typically represents my input, while standard text is directly attributable to class notes taken from Dr. Kevin Bauder at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Any mistakes or omissions are mine alone.
All the way back in Part 2 of this series, we discussed three categories related to the sinner’s condition: redemption, propitiation, and reconciliation. We stated the following sets of three principles each:
The Sinner’s Condition
- Sin separates us from God
- God’s back is turned on the sinner in wrath.
- The sinner’s back is turned on God in revolution, or rebellion.
All three need to be dealt with:
- Redemption deals with the sin. 2 Peter 2:1 (takes care of original sin for all men; see also Rom. 5:12-21)
- Propitiation (satisfaction) is the Godward aspect that turns God toward the sinner. 1 John 2:2
- Reconciliation is the manward aspect of the work of Christ, turning humanity as a whole back toward God, 2 Cor. 5:19-20. Just as with sanctification, there are past, present, and future aspects of reconciliation. (NOTE: Theologically, God is never the One who is reconciled. It’s always the party in the wrong who needs to be reconciled. Keep this in mind in counseling. If you are speaking to an injured and an injuring party and you say “I want you two to be reconciled to each other,” what you are saying is “You’re both wrong.” That may not actually be the case so be careful how you say it. Properly speaking, only the offending party needs to be reconciled.)
We are now adding a fourth category: Sacrifice. But first, let’s define some terms useful to the discussion.
Subjective guilt: a sense of opprobrium attaching to my conduct (guilt feelings). There’s an incorrect tendency to think if you’ve eliminated the feeling, you’ve eliminated the guilt. Those feelings can be further subdivided into two categories: True and False.
False guilt is a complex subject. In general, if you feel guilty you are guilty (See Romans, Paul’s discussion of conscience). If you think something is wrong, then it is wrong for you. But I think there are exceptions. It is normal in our experience to attach guilt feelings to things that are virtuous and required of us, but we feel guilty when we do it. For example, a hyper-Calvinist who was raised to think that all witnessing is wrong, may struggle with this because he knows objectively that it is right and required. The same can be said for folks who always feel guilty about confrontation or standing up for truth.
The Bible teaches that we are objectively guilty before God. The atonement primarily deals with objective guilt. The substitute suffers as a sacrifice in the sinner’s place and the result is expiation, or removal of guilt. Properly speaking, sin or guilt is expiated, God is propitiated (to help distinguish these terms). The essential emblem in accomplishing expiation is the shed blood of the sacrifice, giving its life in place of the sinner.
Rom 3:25, 5:9 Col 1:20 Eph 2:13 Heb 9:13-14 1 Pe 1:18-19
Two erroneous theories arise here:
1: The material blood of Christ was not at all necessary to the expiation of our sins (R.B. Thiem). If Christ had died by drowning it would have been just as well. The blood of Christ was just a metonymy for the life of Christ.
Response: This is a rather counter-intuitive reading of Scripture. There are so many passages that speak of the blood of Christ as actually accomplishing something for us, it is hard to read them without seeing this. You have to come to the text with a theological a priori to avoid it. A bloody death was necessary. Christ could not have been strangled to death for our sins. His suffering was bound up with the shedding of blood from beginning to end.
2: The material blood of Christ is somehow intrinsically valuable (Bob Jones, Jr.; Rod Bell; D.A. Waite; Kent Brandenburg; many KJV-only proponents). The blood possesses some kind of magical or mystical properties, so that by the offering of the material blood, it’s the blood itself that propitiated God. Some say Jesus had to carry His physical blood to Heaven into the heavenly tabernacle where it continues expiating our sins and propitiating God throughout all eternity. They justify at least part of this view from Acts 20:28. The argument goes that God has blood, therefore the blood of Jesus must not have been human blood, but it must have been divine blood.
Response: This theory poses enormous Christological problems. Christ was:
|ONE PERSON, with:|
|HUMAN NATURE||DIVINE NATURE|
The properties of each nature can never communicate to the other, but they each communicate with the person.
Sometimes in Scripture, when you are looking at the Person, you are looking at the Person in view of one nature or the other. And you can be doing that by looking at one nature while talking about, or thinking of the other (incorrectly confusing the two).
This phenomenon is what we’re looking at in Acts 20:28. Does God have blood? No. But in the sense that this verse is talking, in the Person of Christ (Who has a human nature, and human body), He does.
To speak of magical properties in the blood of Christ, you have to say that Christ’s divine nature overwhelms His human nature. We have a name for that: Eutychianism, an ancient heresy.
This theory also poses soteriological problems. In the moment of His death, immediately before He commended His spirit to His Father, Jesus cried out, “It is going to be finished in a little while!” No. That’s not what He said. He said, “It is finished!” The complete work of redemption had been accomplished. He couldn’t have meant it was finished if it wasn’t. The price for this theory is way too high to pay.
So if we’re rejecting both of those, what are we going to say about the blood of Christ?
His blood was necessary. It had to be shed. Not because of its intrinsic properties, it was valuable because it was a symbol of the value of the life which it sustained. What God demanded was the life of the substitute. But that life had to be given in a specific way and it had to involve the shedding of blood.
I’m going to suggest the concept of “medium of exchange.” Here I have a piece of paper (Kleenex) and here I have a piece of paper ($10 bill). Which piece of paper is worth more? Neither is actually worth very much. But if I were to offer one to you, I can safely predict which one you would take. Why would you choose one piece of paper over against the other? Not because of anything intrinsic to the paper, but because the paper has been invested with value from outside itself. What makes it valuable is the wealth it represents, and the backing and authority of the government it represents.
The blood of Christ is invested with its value by the life of Christ. It represents the sinless life of Christ which is being offered. It represents the legal tender that God required for the trespass of our sins. Why? I don’t know. Apparently, the blood of Christ is connected in its meaning with millennia of sacrifices that were offered before that. There’s a single picture that’s being established all the way through Scripture. Why God chose that picture, I don’t know.
The final paragraph above explains one of the many reasons that I firmly adhere to the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ, which insists that the righteousness that Christ transfers to believers (alien, or imputed righteousness) is the righteousness that he earned by living a perfect life on earth. There are several other biblical reasons for holding to this doctrine. This represents one piece of that puzzle.