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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.

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 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.)

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.


Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 8

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



There’s a technical meaning of “atonement” related to the OT sacrificial system, and the “covering” of sin until that sin could be taken away by the sacrifice of the Messiah. In that sense, it would be wrong to speak of the death of Christ as the atonement, because His death doesn’t just cover our sins.

Nevertheless, there is a more general sense. We are using it in the broader sense.

There has been significant historical debate on what the atonement of Christ actually accomplishes. None of these is necessarily true to the exclusion of the others, there may be elements of truth in each of them.

RECAPITULATION THEORY: shows up very early in church history (Irenaeus). Christ is the second Adam, He assumes the role of the first Adam. But He succeeds where the first Adam failed. Recently revived and called Christus Victor. (N.T. Wright; Brian McLaren; Rob Bell; Dallas Willard)

RANSOM THEORY: Origen and others. The death of Christ is a ransom payment. In the Fall, Adam sold himself to Satan, who gained ownership of the human race. Christ had to pay a ransom price to get the human race back from Satan.

SATISFACTION THEORY: Anselm expressed this in his work, Why the God Man? The death of Christ is a satisfaction, or propitiation, rendered to God’s justice (though this is not the way Anselm phrased it). This is very similar to Calvin’s later theory, though they didn’t do the same thing with it. (Anselm viewed God as a medieval monarch and sin as an insult to his honor. We tweak this to deal with God’s justice instead.)

MORAL INFLUENCE THEORY: Abelard held this position. Christ’s sacrificial death functions primarily as an exhibition of the love of God. Christ dies on the cross so we can see how overwhelmingly God loves us. As we perceive this, it awakens within us an answering love. The whole point of the atonement is to get us to love God, because loving God is what ultimately brings us to Him. (Picked up by Protestant liberals and became dominant theory of atonement within liberalism; denies total depravity)

EXAMPLE THEORY: Socinus (post-Reformation heretic in Europe; rationalist trying to re-cast Christianity in his contemporary terms). The teachings and death of Jesus provide us with a pattern or example. Following his pattern will bring us to redemption. Sometimes combined with the moral influence theory. Also becomes wildly popular with theological liberals. Best exemplified in modern times by Charles Sheldon (a theological liberal) in the little work, In His Steps, from whence we get the “WWJD” craze.

GOVERNMENTAL THEORY: Hugo Grotius, in the wake of The Remonstrans: The death of Christ is an exhibition of divine justice and displeasure with sin. In principle, God could just overlook sin. He doesn’t have to have a sacrifice in order to forgive sin. But if God had simply overlooked sin people wouldn’t understand what a bad thing sin was. So God did want some kind of example, and the death of Christ served that purpose. After Edwards (not because of Edwards), this view begins to creep into New England theology.

PENAL SUBSTITUTION THEORY: God as a moral lawgiver and judge cannot simply overlook the transgression of His justice. Guilt produces effects. A just person recoils form guilt. Guilt produces pollution, it alters the moral balance of the universe, and the only way it can be corrected (fixing what guilt breaks) is through retribution. God has an obligation to visit guilt with retribution. He can by no means clear the guilty. He cannot simply overlook guilt. Even as humans, we expect that a judge is going to deliver justice, and justice means retribution. Reformation is not justice. Reparation is not justice. Retribution is justice. Our guilt called for retribution. Christ became our substitute and absorbed the penalty that we deserved.

How do we evaluate these theories? There are two theological issues that help bring these theories into focus. We can ask two questions here.

1: Upon whom does the atonement terminate? In other words, who changes because of the atonement, or who is the focus of the atonement? Toward whom is it directed? Uncertain? The devil? Humanity? God? If it is God, this puts penal substitution in an entirely different class than all the others. It is the only one that can really speak of God being propitiated.

2: What does this theory assume about human nature and the nature of sin? Any view of the atonement that leaves out propitiation has to assume that sin is a mere imperfection that’s either excusable or reformable. In other words, they all assume that either the atonement doesn’t really have anything to do with our sins, or God is capable of overlooking our sins, because sin really doesn’t get dealt with (except in the governmental theory, where it is death with as an object lesson….but that’s still not really dealing with it). Only in penal substitution do you see human beings as genuinely lost and under condemnation because of their sin. Though each theory contains some kernel of truth, if you don’t have penal substitution, satisfaction, propitiation, then you really don’t have atonement. If you stop with any of them, or all of them together, you don’t have a complete, correct view of the atonement. It’s the same as asking “What is marriage?” and replying, “Marriage is a joint banking account.” That may be part of it, but it’s not near the complete picture.

Isaiah 53:4-6 is as clear a statement of penal substitution as could possibly be formulated. (Please look these passages up, and do so slowly and reverently. These are precious and sobering words. After reading them, it would be entirely appropriate to pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God for our great salvation.)

Mark 10:45 states substitution in two different ways. Christ gave the ransom standing in our place.

2 Cor. 5:15           Rom. 5:6-8          1 Cor. 15:3           Matt. 20:28         1 Pet. 2:21-24

At this point let’s drop the “theory” and simply state that penal substitution is the atonement.

Penal substitution does not mean that Christ had to suffer the exact penalty that we would have had to pay. Christ did not have to spend eternity in hell to pay for our sins (or our sins would have never been paid for!). He had to pay an equivalent penalty, and that depends on the sin-bearer.

Why does God get so upset about even my little sins? What’s the big deal? Can’t He let us off for the little stuff? The reason sin is so heinous is because it is judged not by the value of the sin, but by the value of the one whom it was committed against. Even our pagan society recognizes the differences between someone stomping on a mosquito versus a yippy dog versus a baby. The object (or person) sinned against is increasingly greater.

The least offense committed against God is of infinitely greater consequence than the worst thing you can do to another human being. This is why David, who committed adultery and murdered Uriah, could pray Psalm 51:4 to God. It’s not that he didn’t sin at all against anyone else, but David’s offense against God was so great that his offenses against these others paled in comparison.

This is why God is justly outraged by even what we perceive as the smallest violations of His moral law. Incidentally, even in human courts, when a human is convicted, do we leave it up to the criminal to decide how serious the offense is and what the penalty should be? Of course not! We want the person who judges the offense to be someone who has never done it. This person sees it in a very different light from the person who has. We’re the offenders! We’re the sinners! We don’t get to sit back and accuse God of being a celestial grump, or killjoy, because He gets upset about the “littlest” stuff.

The only way we, as finite persons, could pay an infinite penalty would be to suffer it over an infinite period of time. But an infinite person can suffer an infinite penalty over a limited period of time. Which is why it’s so important that our sin be paid for by an infinite person. That’s why the deity of Christ is so important. And to bear our guilt, He has to be one of us. That’s why His humanity is so important. What we would be required to suffer extensively, Christ suffered intensively. It was not infinite in duration but in degree. So we speak of Christ suffering an equivalent penalty, not an identical penalty.

Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 6

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


Puzzle Pieces on the Table So Far

  1. All human beings are totally depraved.
  2. Christ in grace has provided a free salvation for all human beings. And He extends an invitation to all who will believe it. The problem is, in their natural state they never will. God has to restore our moral ability to choose Him.
  3. Does God restore this moral ability to all men as part of common grace, or only to the elect as part of saving grace?
  4. If God restores this moral ability to everybody, then election is conditioned upon God’s foresight of who will receive it (rather than His foresight being equivalent to His active choosing).
  5. The distinction between conditional and unconditional election hangs upon the definition of foreknowledge (Is it active or passive?).
  6. Acts 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:20 clearly class God’s foreknowledge as active and causative. It makes things happen. It’s not mere passive foresight, but it somehow involves God in the execution of His plan. Therefore, election is unconditional. And therefore, moral ability is restored only to the elect as part of saving grace.
  7. Given unconditional election, the salvation of the elect is certain. Everyone who has chosen will freely choose to trust Christ for salvation.

Discussion of John 6:14-45

John 6:37 is a bare statement of irresistible grace. The salvation of the elect is whose choice? It is the Father’s choice. The elect are given. The given will come. The given will be raised (39). The believers will be raised (40). No one comes except the ones who are drawn (44). All who come are those who are raised at the last day (44). All who are drawn are those who are raised at the last day (44).

Jesus is not making a statement on their natural ability, but on their moral ability. They can’t come because they won’t come. Only if the Father draws them will they come. The Father’s drawing always works. This passage has irresistible grace all over it.


REPENTANCE: the relevant term for this discussion (the Bible uses several for this word) is the Greek word metanoia or metanoeo. The idea is a change of mind.

Repentance is an attitude, not necessarily an emotion or an action. It’s not just feeling sorry for our sins. Repentance doesn’t mean that we stop sinning (or none of us have ever repented). It doesn’t even mean that we purpose to stop sinning (that would be a silly purpose). It means we change our minds.

A big question today: Is repentance necessary for salvation?
Matthew 3:2 (John), 4:17 (Jesus)
Acts 2:38 (Peter)
Acts 17:30 (Paul)
Luke 13:3-5 (Jesus links repentance with salvation)

What is the repentance that is a necessary condition of salvation? Different answers have been given:
1: Feel sorry for your sin
2: Turn your back on your sin
3: Charles Finney said you had to stop sinning!
4: None of the above or you risk a works salvation

At minimum, biblical repentance involves a change in mind about whether sin is worthwhile and about whether Christ is trustworthy. On the larger scale, it involves a change in mind about God, whether God is desirable. At minimum, it involves turning from sin to God although the turn, properly speaking, isn’t the repentance.

Faith and repentance are related. They are two sides of the same coin. Repentance is the mirror image of faith. Traditionally, faith has been defined as having three components: knowledge (in truth), assent (to truth), and trust (relying on truth). Saving faith includes the element of trust. This is the distinction that James has in mind in Chapter 2 verse 14. It’s not that you are saved through your works, but you are saved through a faith that produces works. If your faith produces no works you have no reason to believe you have saving faith.

How much do people actually have to believe in order to be saved?
Acts 16:31
Romans 10:9-10

Saving faith has as its object Christ, in view of His finished work. Exactly how much about His finished work does someone have to grasp in order to be saved? I don’t know. But what God expects is trust in Christ and His finished work.

What about faith and the sacraments?

We tend to avoid the term “sacrament” in Baptist circles because it has been so badly defined. The problem is most people understand a sacrament as some conveyance of divine grace and that’s where we don’t want to go.

SACRAMENTALISTS: the sacraments actually communicate some kind of spiritual power; more than a teaching tool; in and of themselves they nourish you spiritually, they build your faith, they impart grace to you

SACRAMENTARIANS: the sacraments are only symbols; participation in the sacraments may create subjective impressions that may be good for you, but there is no actual conveyance of grace

I believe that sacramentalism runs the risk of violating sola fide, whereas sacramentarianism does not run that risk. It’s not as if nothing happens at the Lord’s Table for sacramentarians, but what happens is at the subjective level not the objective level. It’s not that the sacraments themselves impart grace, but through the communion service, you may be strengthened and nourished as you meditate on the meaning of the elements.

Faith and Salvation

Faith is the sole condition of salvation. Wait a minute, isn’t repentance a part of this? My understanding is that you cannot have saving faith without repentance. Having said that, you can’t add anything to faith in salvation, otherwise you eviscerate faith. Remember, you’ve got airtight compartments.

This logically also excludes trusting in the faith, rather than in Christ, for your salvation. If your trust is in your faith you are on hazardous ground. I encounter this somewhat frequently, in one of two ways:

1: “Experience in Time” salvation
“I remember when I prayed the prayer so I know I’m saved.” Faith is in the symbol, or the act, rather than in Christ.

2: “I Don’t Believe Enough” salvation
This person is placing his confidence in his faith rather than in Christ. It’s legitimate to say “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” But it is Christ that saves you, not your belief or your faith. It’s not about believing harder or better.

What is “Conversion” in Scripture?
Acts 9:34-5, 14:15, 15:9, 26:18
1 Thess. 1:9

Mere rejection of sin does not constitute conversion. Conversion requires turning to Christ in faith. So when you’re repenting, you’re turning from sin, when you’re believing you’re turning to God. When you’re doing both, you’re being converted. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. The coin is conversion.

In Part 7, we will discuss the debate regarding “Lordship Salvation.”

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