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Category: Systematics

Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 11

See Part 1 for an explanation of this series. Last time we covered Redemption, Propitiation, and Reconciliation here.


This time we’ll cover three more big terms: Imputation, Justification, and Sanctification.

IMPUTATION
Basic meaning: to charge or credit an account (to lay, or to reckon it to someone’s account); it is a commercial transaction

It works in three directions;

1: Adam’s guilt was imputed to his descendants.

2: Our sins were charged against, or imputed to, Christ. Imputation explains how it is that Christ could be our substitute. Isaiah 53:4,5,11; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24

3: Christ’s righteousness was credited to us. Which raises the question: Was it his divine or human righteousness that was credited to us?

Active Obedience of Christ
Romans 2:5-11 is a favorite passage of Roman Catholic theologians because at first blush it seems like works salvation. How is it not teaching that? If you are the person that persists always in well doing, you don’t need to be saved. It’s not a description of someone who is saved by good works, it’s a description of a man who doesn’t need to be saved. How many men like that have ever lived? One. Jesus Christ. All others fall into category B: contentious, etc.

But suppose we got rid of your sins, category B person, would you now be qualified for eternal life? No. Now you’d just be zeroed out, and God isn’t in the business of admitting zeroes into Heaven. You’ve got to have something positive. Where are you going to get it? The answer is you get it from the only Man who ever did always and only what was good. This is why it’s important that Jesus actively obeyed His Father, so that His righteousness could be credited to your account. I am standing here dressed in the righteousness of Christ. The imputation of the active obedience of Christ is what saves you. And there’s no hope without it.

Paul goes on in verses 12-16 in this vein. Though we are not under the Law, there is an appropriate sense in which we can say that Christ kept the Law on our behalf, and it is His moral standing that is imputed to us. And you cannot argue that only Christ’s “passive” obedience on the cross is what saves us, because that act itself is the greatest example of the active obedience in history (Hebrews 5). And Heb. 5:8 isn’t just talking about His sufferings on the cross. I think that the Romans and Hebrews texts require us to view the righteousness imputed to us by Christ to be the righteousness He gained in His human nature. [Side note: The book of Hebrews is the book of Romans re-written to a different audience; it’s written by a rabbi. Who else could have written an entire NT book and not even bothered to sign his name?]

JUSTIFICATION
Justification is fundamental. It is foundational to all other benefits of salvation. Without it, you can’t have them. It’s not surprising then, that justification is the core of the book of Romans. Justification includes forgiveness, but it goes beyond forgiveness.

Definition: Not merely being cleared of wrongdoing, but hearing the judge say, “You did the right thing.” It is a declaration, a pronouncement. It is legal. It is forensic. It has to do with your standing, with your state.

As a righteous judge, God has to judge us guilty. He has to condemn us. When He justifies us, He’s declaring us to be righteous. How can God declare someone to be righteous who is a sinner? And here is where you have the defining difference between Protestant and Roman Catholic theology.

RCC: God can’t pronounce you righteous until you actually are righteous. Therefore, it’s all about getting you to a point where God can rightly declare you righteous. This starts with your baptism. But baptism can only take care of past sins. So as soon as you commit another sin, you’re in trouble. Grace, according to RCC theology, is God giving you the ability that you need to perform saving acts. He does not pronounce you righteous until you actually are righteous.

Gospel Theology: We acknowledge that God cannot just ignore sins, which would be a violation of His righteous character. And He cannot justify us on the basis of our own righteousness, which is actually something that condemns us, rather than commends us, according to Isaiah. The best things we do are all tainted by sin. So how can God declare us righteous? God’s pronouncement is based upon imputation. You can’t have justification before you have imputation. 2 Cor. 5:21 puts forward the two sides of imputation very clearly.

So how does justification work? See Romans 3:23-4:8.  We understand grace to mean “gift;” freely given. God sent Christ – not to make salvation possible so that we can earn it – God sent Christ to provide salvation for us. There is no cost to us, it has already been paid through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The only condition that God attaches to salvation is faith. Properly speaking, remember, faith is simply the occasion of our appropriation. We’re not doing anything, we’re simply receiving what God has done. We don’t trust in our faith to save us, we trust Christ to save us through faith. Faith is not a work. (Remember our compartments discussion). Any attempt to mix faith with works invalidates faith. In Eph. 2:8-9 the whole thing, all of salvation, is a gift. Even the faith is a gift. It’s not about works! God gets really upset when we try to add our works, because it is such an insult to Christ. It’s the most insulting thing we can do toward Him.

What’s the significance of justification?
It is the primary manward act of God in salvation. It’s the main thing that God does when He saves us. And it is foundational to all the other benefits of salvation. He couldn’t give us all the other benefits if He didn’t first declare us to be righteous in Christ. Also, justification includes forgiveness.

Forgiveness: God entirely remits the penalty for sin. God separates the sinner from the sin in His own mind. He takes the guilt of the sin away from the sinner so that He never again sees the sinner in connection with his sin. If you have been justified, God never sees your sin. The basis of forgiveness is the blood of Christ. God doesn’t merely overlook our sins, He couldn’t. But He has already judged our sins on the cross in the Person of Christ. How does God forgive? Ephesians 4:32 says He forgives for Christ’s sake. God forgave me freely and this is how I’m supposed to forgive others. He also forgives completely. He does not just forgive the sins we committed prior to Christ. Let’s look at Hebrews 10:

Verse 1: The Law isn’t the reality, the law is an image. The sacrifices were offered year after year after year, continually. But because they are only pictures and not reality, those sacrifices could never make the people who offered them perfect (the complete forgiveness of sins). And there’s a reason:

Verse 2: Suppose you’re going up to the tabernacle or temple one year and the priest offers your sacrifice and you discover that with this sacrifice all of my sins have been wiped out (past, present, future). Would you still need to offer a sacrifice next year? Of course not.

Verse 3: In fact, that never happened in the OT. It served as an object lesson that your sins hadn’t been taken away. I’m going to have to come back next year and sacrifice again. All of this was never intended to save, it was intended to remind you of your need for a savior.

Verse 4: It was impossible for animal blood to take away your sins.

Verse 5: On the one hand God didn’t desire more OT sacrifices. The function of Messiah coming into the world was not to perpetuate the sacrificial system of the OT. On the other hand, what God did want mandated special requirements for His Messiah. He had to add to His deity a full human nature.

Verses 6-9: In 9, he’s distinguishing a first and a second. The question is, what is the first and what is the second? The first is the burnt offering system. The second is God’s will. He takes away the first to establish the second.

Verse 10: The will of God was that we should be set apart through the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Verse 11: Think of the Tabernacle. Imagine you’re coming in through the opening in the curtain at the end of the Tabernacle. You’re walking in, there’s rock and sand under your feet, and you come through the barrier. What do you meet first as you come in the Tabernacle? There’s a laver there. And then there’s a brazen altar. And then as you pass the altar, you’re going to come to the Holy Place. It’s closed off. If you could go through, what would you find there? On one side the table of the Bread of the Presence, on the other the menorah. In front of you is the altar of incense. And behind that, another curtain. And what’s in there? The Ark of the Covenant. And what does it look like? A box, covered in gold, with a cherub on each end. And what’s between the cherubs? The Shekinah. Suppose you lift the lid, what would you find inside? The tablets, the rod that budded, and a pot of manna.

Where are the chairs?

There aren’t any. Why? The priest’s work is never done. While the priest is there he’s not resting, he’s working. He’s not allowed to sit down because he’s actively engaged in the ministry that God’s appointed for him. So he goes in every day, and stands there, and offers sacrifices over and over and over and none of them could ever take away sin.

Verse 12: But, THIS MAN, the Messiah, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down. That’s one of the most important expressions anywhere in Scripture. He sat down. The work was complete. It was over. There was nothing else to do. That means that the sacrifice had been offered once for all. And if that’s what it is, then there’s no other sacrifice to be offered.

Verse 13-14: God’s will has occurred perfectly. We are made perfect forever. Nothing else needs to be added. Nothing else could ever possibly be added. Do we need a separate priesthood? Yes! What is our separate priesthood? It is Christ! If His sacrifice only remits sins up to a point, then I’m in trouble because there’s no other sacrifice that can be offered. That’s bad news. The good news is that there’s no other sacrifice that needs to be offered. It’s over. It’s done. It is finished!

(This would be a good place to pause and offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God through Christ.)

SANCTIFICATION
Three senses:

1: There is an eternal aspect to sanctification (prospective).

2: There is also a sense in which, if I have been saved, I have been set apart from the penalty of sin. This looks a lot like justification. And in this sense, sanctification is a forensic act (positional sanctification). In the order of salvation it is subsequent to justification, and it builds upon sanctification. It describes my standing (position), not my state (practice).

3: Usually when we use the word sanctification, we are talking about a present ongoing work in which we are being set apart from sin in the power of holiness (progressive sanctification). Christ’s work is the basis for this as well, so it is grounded in the Gospel. It is not that we become sinless, but that we do sin less. The problem with this term is that there is no clear NT passage that uses the word sanctification in this sense. Interesting, isn’t it? John 17:17 is the closest thing we have to a possible description of progressive sanctification. The concept is there in the NT, it’s just never labeled sanctification when we see it talked about this way. It really is growth.

Perfect sanctification is future, when we will be delivered from the presence of sin. This is one aspect of our glorification.

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Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 10

See Part 1 for an explanation of this series. See what we covered last time here.


 

Let’s dig into these terms a bit deeper: Redemption  |  Propitiation  |  Reconciliation

REDEMPTION
Hebrews 9:23-28       Romans 7:14       Ephesians 2:1-3

The idea of redemption with the particular Greek word, “agorazō, is purchasing a slave from a slave market, a common NT picture of redemption. In order to redeem, the redeemer has to take the place of the slave and the ransom price is blood (1 Tim 2:5-6 and Rev. 5:9).

We are redeemed, purchased, by the blood of Christ. Not only are we purchased in the market, we are purchased out of the market, exagorazō (Gal 3:13). He has not only purchased us, He has taken us off the market. We cannot be purchased again. Christ is no slave trader.

Titus 2:14 uses “lytroō,” a different Greek word translated as “redeem.” Christ has not purchased us to perpetuate our slavery. Why does a person usually buy a slave? So he can have a slave. That is not what Christ did. He purchased us to set us free. Christ is no slave master.

Redemption also means release from the judicial debt of sin. We are no longer slaves to sin. We are dead to sin. You can beat a dead slave but he doesn’t have to serve you anymore. Redemption also sets us free for holy purposes. If the flesh lusts against the spirit, the spirit also lusts against the flesh (Gal 5:17). We can serve God meaningfully. We are free to do that now. An unsaved person can’t do that in any way. But we can.

The extent of redemption
Christ was given as a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:6). This means all humans.

PROPITIATION

Why do we need propitiation?
1: We’ve all sinned and failed to meet God’s standard of righteousness. Romans 3:23

[By the way, God not only hates the sin, he also hates the sinner. I know this is not what you’ve heard. Yes, God hates sin. And yes, God loves sinners. But God also hates sinners. And if God were altogether such an one as I, He couldn’t do that. Psalm 5:4-5, 11:4-5; Hosea 9:15]

2: The sinner becomes the object of God’s wrath: John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Eph. 5:6

God is in the business of executing justice. And only when justice has been served can we be restored. It is a satisfaction of justice that is required, and that satisfaction is rendered by Christ. When Christ took our guilt through imputation (impute: charge or credit) He became the object of God’s wrath. God exhausted His anger for sin, His wrath, His retribution, on His own Son. These have now been satisfied. Since this is true, we never, ever, ever have to fear the wrath of God. It has been dealt with once for all at the cross.

[NOTE: Sometimes, the innocent get caught in the crossfire of God’s retributive justice; think Daniel, Hanani, Mishael, and Azariah. Think of Tribulation saints. When the water is turned to blood, the saints won’t have anything to drink either. This is one way in which the Church receives more than other peoples of God throughout history, since we will not have to go through the Tribulation (1 Thess 5:1-11). Unlike other peoples of God throughout history, we have been delivered, as Church saints, from every manifestation of the retributive wrath of God. How? By Jesus Christ.]

What’s the source of propitiation?
Ultimately, it is sourced in the love of God (directive source). The effective source is the blood of Christ.

RECONCILIATION
The reason we have to be reconciled to God is because of our hostility toward God, and His toward us. Not only does our sin place us away from God, but additionally, we are rebels who have joined an opposing force (Romans 3:9-18). We don’t care how much damage we do to God in our natural state, in fact, we kind of like the idea of doing so.

What has to happen for us to be reconciled?
1: Christ has to take away sin through redemption, eliminating the cause of hostility.

2: God has to be propitiated through the blood of Christ.

3: God can now put the sinner in a place of nearness where He can offer salvation to him.

All sinners (not just believers) have been reconciled in the sense that God has done something so that He doesn’t have to judge them all right here and now for their sins. 2 Cor. 5:19 speaks to this, and it is clearly talking of unbelievers. (Remember the provision side of salvation. It is provided to all men, but only applied to believers, i.e. the elect.)

4: The sinner who trusts Christ for salvation discovers that his enmity toward God no longer exists.

Remember: It is always the sinning party that must be reconciled, and it is always God who does the reconciling.

In the long run, God is going to reconcile all things that have been broken by sin (internal, social, environmental, etc). This is not the mission of the Church. The mission of the Church is to preach the Gospel, and in fact, the whole counsel of God, and Christians can then take their Christian worldview and live life in light of the Gospel.

When we believe, we experience reconciliation with God (2 Cor. 5:20).

Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 9

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

  1. Sin separates us from God
  2. God’s back is turned on the sinner in wrath.
  3. The sinner’s back is turned on God in revolution, or rebellion.

All three need to be dealt with:

  1. Redemption deals with the sin. 2 Peter 2:1 (takes care of original sin for all men; see also Rom. 5:12-21)
  2. Propitiation (satisfaction) is the Godward aspect that turns God toward the sinner. 1 John 2:2
  3. 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
Local

Limited

Learning

Omnipresent

Omnipotent

Omniscient

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.

Why?
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.

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