Who Acts in Our Salvation? Jesus!

When we’re initially saved, who makes it happen? If you’re not familiar with many aspects of the traditional Calvinist/Arminian debate, you may be wondering what quite this question is getting at. If you are, you may recognize the doctrinal point involved. The question at hand is the debate of monergism vs. synergism. If you don’t know what those mean, they are actually fairly simple to understand.

When we are first saved, how does it happen? Who does what? Obviously there are at minimum two persons in involved: God and you. But how do your roles relate? In the traditional forms of Calvinism and Arminianism, the answers are like this:

Calvinism affirms monergism, which means “one working.” In Calvinism, the only person who actually acts in bringing about your salvation (usually specified as regeneration) is God Himself. Your repentance and faith are altogether secondary and only happen because God first gives you a new birth which enables (and guarantees) your response to Him. God alone acts by the Holy Spirit to save you, and from this saved ground you can repent and believe in the Gospel. R. C. Sproul¬†put it this way:

We also believe that regeneration is monergistic. Now that‚Äôs a three-dollar word. It means essentially that the divine operation called rebirth or regeneration is the work of God alone. An erg is a unit of labor, a unit of work. The word energy comes from that idea. The prefix mono– means ‚Äúone.‚ÄĚ So monergism means ‚Äúone working.‚ÄĚ It means that the work of regeneration in the human heart is something that God does by His power alone‚ÄĒnot by 50 percent His power and 50 percent man‚Äôs power, or even 99 percent His power and 1 percent man‚Äôs power. It is 100 percent the work of God.

Arminianism, along with many Catholic view and Eastern Orthodoxy, counter with synergism, which essentially means “working together.” In synergism, God initiates and offers grace, and man must cooperate with his free will. Salvation essentiallly occurs by the acts of both parties, God in giving and man in receiving, with the idea of man’s reception being conceived of as an act of a human free will. In this view, repentance and faith are integral to the beginning of salvation, rather than a result of a beginning accomplished simpy by God alone. Some would characterize synergism as being a 50-50 view, although most synergists would disagree. In any case, synergism relies on man cooperating with God’s grace, so that God does part (certainly the superior part) and man does part (an inferior, receptive part). Eric Landstrom of the Society of Evangelical Arminians gives¬†this explanation:

So important is it that God monergistically works that Calvinists have effectively written out and forgotten that all relationships are in point of fact synergistic. If any ‚Äúrelationship‚ÄĚ isn‚Äôt synergistic, then it is said to be one-sided, and one-sided relationships are both sad and unhealthy.

But God is personable and so too are we also personable. As such, we should expect that, as a person, God interacts with us on a personal level and in a personal way…[W]hen God reaches out to us, we can respond‚ÄĒbut just like any healthy relationship, we needn‚Äôt respond to God by necessity. But if we respond to God‚Äôs reconciling ministry of grace, and our response is theocentric and sustained by continuously drawing upon the strength of grace received by God, then God continues to augment the process with more grace; and by augmenting the process the relationship between the creature and God grows.

Now, if you don’t already have a settled opinion on this matter, which view will ring true to you probably largely depends on the preaching you’ve heard and the reading you’ve done. But before you consider making any conclusions, I would like to present an alternative.

See, my problems with both monergism and syngerism in their traditional forms are two: (1) they assume a competitive relationship between divine and human agency, and (2) they don’t take Jesus into account.

What do I mean by these? For (1), the problem is that Scripture does not assume any view of the relationship between God’s will and man’s will which must simply add up to 100%. Traditional monergism and synergism do. For monergism, the 100% of action must belong entirely to God, leaving man with 0%. In synergism, the numbers must be divided up some way, perhaps 50-50 or 90-10, or even 99-1. But there is no Biblical evidence for this kind of zero-sum game. All of God does not mean none of man, and neither does God and man mean only some of each.

But to make my (1) make sense, I have to explain (2). Neither traditional monergism nor traditional synergism make any explicit use of Christology, the doctrine of Jesus, instead either talking of God generally or specifiying the Father or the Holy Spirit. And yet, if we are trying to understand the relationship between God and man, we can’t bypass the one place in all reality where God and man are truly and fully one, hypostatically united as a single person named Jesus.

I follow, then, the Evangelical Calvinist tradition in focusing on what is called the vicarious humanity of Christ¬†(posts related to this can be found¬†here, and Martin M. Davis has a good series on it beginning¬†here). Jesus did not simply die in our place; He was and is human in our place. Our true humanity is based in Him. Everything that needed to be done for our salvation, both on God’s part and on man’s part, has already been done in His own Person and work.

So how does this affect monergism and synergism? I look at it through Christ. Contrary to synergism, the only true cooperation between free human will and divine grace is found in Jesus, where He lived a whole human life in obedience to the Father, even unto death. If we are to respond to God at all, our reponse will have to begin with the human response of Jesus to His Father, not with our free will. Contrary to monergism, though, this does not somehow remove our response from the equation. On the contrary, our response plays a decisive role in our receiving salvation precisely because it is not our own response but rather the response of Jesus in which we participate by the Holy Spirit.

If you’re lost a bit, I’ll step back. For humanity to have a saving relationship to God, we need faithfulness and holiness. For sinful humanity to return to God, we need faith and repentance. We fallen men, however, could never offer God any of this. So Jesus offered it in our place. He gave God on our behalf perfect faithfulness, perfect holiness, perfect faith, and even perfect repentance.1 This perfect human response to God could only be given by Jesus who was Himself God. Jesus is both the Word of God who calls for repentance and faith as well as the true Human who responds to God’s word in repentance and faith.

With this in mind, perhaps I could call my view Christological monergism. In one sense, it is God alone who acts to bring us to salvation. The Father sent the Son, the Son gave the Father the necessary human response for salvaiton, and by the Holy Spirit we are brought into saving union with Jesus. The true actor in our salvation is Jesus for us, and He is God. But on the other hand, we are also involved. By our union with Christ through the Holy Spirit, we do truly and really repent and believe to be saved. I respond to God, yet it is not I but Christ in me, and the response I offer to the Father, I offer by the response of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.2 And God accepts this response, and me, because what He is really accepting in Jesus, who is in me, and I in Him, and His response.

So it is not simply 100% God and 0% man, nor is it part God and part man. In Jesus salvation comes as 100% God and, albeit in a secondary sense, 100% man. Yet even man’s part is not just man in and of himself, not any natural human free will, but the part of Jesus as a man for us. It is only through, in, and by Him‚ÄĒus united to Him by the Holy Spirit‚ÄĒthat we can be free for God, and in this freedom choose life by choosing what Jesus has already chosen for us and in our place.

I’ll conclude, then, with an editor’s summary of T. F. Torrance’s view in his book Incarnation:

[F]or Torrance, the Christian life is one of union with Christ in which in faith we live out of his faith and his righteousness. Having no righteousness in ourselves, we arc united to him so that we may live out of his. Our faith is the knowledge, given to us in the Spirit, that he has accomplished our salvation in his person and work and that we are saved purely by his unconditional grace.

This does not mean that we do nothing although it does mean that we do nothing for our salvation. For Torrance, there is an analogy here with the person of Christ. The fart that the humanity of Christ owes its being entirely to the action of God in the incarnation, does not mean It is not real. The fact that Christ is all of God, or that all of God is in Christ, does not mean that there is nothing of man in him, but the opposite, that all of man is in him. Torrance used to explain that in the logic of grace, ‘All of grace does not mean nothing of man. All of grace means all of man.’ The knowledge that forgiveness and salvation is all of grace liberates us out of ourselves into union with Christ, freeing on to live fully and freely out of him. All of grace means all of man, just as the action of God in Christ means all of man in Christ.

Theosis: Does Christmas Make Men Gods?

Sometimes you’re reading an old Church Father or something along those lines when you suddenly feel the need to stop in your tracks because you hit a quote like this one from St. Athanasius:

For the Son of God became man so that we might become god.

If you’re not from an Eastern tradition of Christianity, you might think that sounds heretical.Then there are other statements like of Irenaeus: “If the Word became a man, It was so men may become gods,” or of Augustine: “But he himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying he makes sons of God. ‘For he has given them power to become the sons of God.’ If then we have been made sons of god, we have also been made gods.”¬†

So what does this all mean? Were the Church Fathers just raving heretics who missed important doctrines like monotheism and the Creator/creature distinction? Were they basically the predeccessors of New Age charlatans? I’m going to say “No,” and if that seems indefensible I will go on to explain why, and what the line of thought they’re talking about has to offer us today, specifically from a more Reformed perspective.

The doctrine we are specifically dealing with here is called theosis (also deification or divinization). Broadly speaking, the term just refers to a creature somehow becoming more like a god. For Christian theology in particular it is about a way of looking at salvation focused on our union with God. So what exactly does theosis mean in that context?

First, I should point out that despite the strong language in those quotes I just provided, none of these people thought that humans were somehow going to become equal to God, members of the Trinity, secondary deities, or anything along those lines. What they actually meant is more nuanced. They all believed that there is and can be only one true God, and that humans can’t just become another one, or something just like Him. So we can ignore the initial fear and try to find the reality that the writers were pointing toward by using deification language. Specifically, I will look at this from a Reformed perspective, through the lens of union with Christ.

In Reformed and Lutheran circles, doctrines of theosis are sometimes called Christification to emphasize that we are not dealing with some generic turing of men into gods but that what is happening in theosis is the transformation of humanity into the pure image of Christ, who is the image of God. Theosis means that through Jesus we participate in the life and glory of God, and that is where we find salvation.

What does this mean more specifically? I’ll break it down a little more clearly. Man by his mere flesh, his nature without God, has no true life or glory. He is little more than a smart and emotionally complex monkey. He will pass away after a brief, absurd, and often miserable existence filled with sin. His life and glory can come only from God, only from His ability and call to display the image of God. The glory of God is the true life of man. But because of sin, man is separated from the glory of God. This leaves him with only death and misery.

Jesus came in to resolve this problem. Being Himself God, He took upon human nature so that in His person there could be a humanity who is truly the image of the invisible God. Jesus, being that image unstained, lived a human life which was completely filled with the glory of God both in His power and in His holy character. Unlike Adam, He carried out that union of man’s life and God’s glory all the way to the grave and even back. Upon returning in a victorious resurrection, He was glorified as a renovated human being. His resurrected humanity far surpassed the old, mortal kind. It was and remains filled to the brim with God’s life and glory. Jesus is therefore what God looks like as a man. Jesus’ glory as the resurrected Lord is the human version of the glory of God. He is the image of the invisible God, and the only person in whom human nature has been able to align perfectly with divine nature (though without the two being mixed up together). To reiterate in one more way, in Jesus God’s glory has been translated into a human glory, a glory owned by the risen Christ.

The result with Jesus, then, is this: in Him there exists a form of humanity that far surpasses our fallen, sinful state, and even surpasses Adam’s state in Eden. It is filled with more life, glory, and power than man has ever known because of His union with God the Father through the Holy Spirit.This is humanity grown up, perfected, and exalted as God’s partner in love. This is not by any power inherent in mere humanity, but by grace alone, the free grace of the Son in choosing to become man, the free grace of the Father in resurrecting and glorifying His Son, and the grace of the Holy Spirit in binding this all together by His sovereign power. And by this grace Jesus has formed a kind of humanity which, compared to us in our current state, is so exalted and like-God to possibly justify calling it deified humanity, man become god.

Now, because of this new kind of human existence which Jesus alone possesses by nature, a special union between God and man, the rest of us are invited to join in. But we are called by grace alone through a union of faith with Jesus in the Spirit. And in this union we are transformed. We get to participate in the new, glorious humanity of Christ. We are conformed to the image of Christ (thus Christification), who is the image of God. So by the Spirit we become like the Son who is the exact expression of the Father. In this way we also come to be filled with and to express God’s life and glory. The glory of God became the glory of the man Jesus, and by our union with Him it becomes our glory as well. This is, in the end, our salvation. By our union with Christ through the Holy Spirit, we commune with God so much as to become like Him in a supernatural way which transcends the natural possibilities of anything else in creation. As Peter put it, we “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), not to become literal equals to God or sub-gods but to become in our human existence what Jesus is in His human existence, an existence which is created and animated by His divine nature.

The focus, then, is all about union with Christ. Theosis, in a Reformed key, is a way of saying, on the basis of Scripture alone, that by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone we are radically transformed and exalted from our totally depraved human existence to a state which lives by and expresses the glory of God alone. By the Spirit and word we know Christ, by Christ we know God, and by knowing God in Christ we are conformed to His image to His glory unto eternal life (2 Cor. 3:18, 1 Jn. 3:2, John 17:3).

This naturally makes for a great Christmas meditation. In theosis, everything has to go back to Christmas. If Jesus did not incarnate, if He did not enter our human existence as an infant in Bethlehem, then there would be no union between God and man, no restoration of human nature by the glory of God. It all began with the Son of God becoming a Son of Man, so that we might become sons of God. On Christmas, we find that by Jesus’ grace He partook in our nature, so that by the same grace we could partake in His.

Or, perhaps as Clement of Alexandria put it, “The Word of God became man, that thou mayest learn from man how man may become god.” Merry Christmas, children of God!

What’s So Calvinist about Evangelical Calvinism?

If you’ve followed some of my posts about Evangelical Calvinism, you might have to wonder what exactly¬†makes it deserve the label “Calvinism.” After all, we reject¬†the defining U, L, and I of TULIP. Without the meaty bulk of the Calvinist system, what¬†substance is left for the¬†title “Calvinist?”

Without getting into too much detail either theologically or historically, here are a few basic ways that EC identifies itself with wider Calvinist tradition.

  • EC was born of Calvinist descent.¬†The major influences which led to EC’s development were¬†Calvinists or their students. EC draws from Calvin himself, John Knox, and the Scottish Reformation, for example. Karl Barth, a very important EC forerunner, studied extensively from the Reformed tradition, including especially Calvin. T. F. Torrance¬†was a student of Barth and a Scottish Presbyterian. It likewise appeals to the Scots Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism not dogmatically but as helpful touchstones. This is in contrast with Arminianism, which may have begun within a Reformed context with Arminius but quickly morphed into a radically non-Reformed system, hardly similar or sympathetic to any of the Reformers, under the influence of people like Wesley.
  • EC stresses the absolute priority of God’s action in salvation. Both classical and Evangelical Calvinists agree that God’s active decision to reveal Christ to someone through the Spirit is the necessary condition for the event of salvation, not merely a generic “prevenient grace” enabling a “free will.” The Spirit who moves as He wills must choose to personally appear and present Jesus as Lord and Savior to us before we can respond to Him. It is only in this encounter that we become freed for faith in Christ. We simply differ as to whether our response is inevitable when¬†this revelation takes place. EC actually takes the divine initiative a step further by holding that even our response when it does take place was originally created in the human faith of¬†Jesus Christ, and only imparted to us by the Spirit, rather than awakened¬†simply in ourselves.
  • EC emphasizes¬†God’s free choice of election before anything else in salvation. While¬†we do not agree about who the elect are or what exactly election entails, both of us agree that God’s decision to elect, to choose¬†a people for Himself,¬†plays a vital role in the history and cause of our salvation. While most Arminians tend to make election into a pretty pointless formality (“I know that Bob will believe, thus I will save him.”), Calvinists both classical and Evangelical agree that¬†God’s decision of election plays an active and causative role in¬†our salvation. We also agree that God’s election¬†is unconditional, again in contrast to the conditional element of common Arminianism. ¬†Even the corporate election of¬†more modern Arminians is conditioned on the Fall, whereas some classical Calvinists and all EC agree on a supralapsarian election, a kind of election which comes before and apart from even God’s decision to allow the Fall.
  • EC makes good use of John Calvin.¬†All Calvinists like Calvin, right? While EC doesn’t take up Calvin’s actual doctrine of predestination,¬†EC does implement Calvin’s¬†concept of the¬†duplex gratia, double grace, of justification and sanctification flowing from union with Christ. This is key to¬†the EC understanding of how salvation works and begins, using a framing that is more personal than legal. EC also makes use of Calvin’s¬†work involving assurance and many¬†similar themes.

I could perhaps address some other deep theological and historical connections between Evangelical Calvinism and classical Calvinism, but this should be a pretty good start. I also realize that most, if not all, of these points probably raise a handful of questions, so if you have them feel free to comment and ask.

In Christ, Out of Christ? For Eternal Security, from a Union with Christ Perspective

[For the second of these two essays, I will be arguing a defense of eternal security, after having written in opposition, again from a union with Christ perspective. You readers can judge between the two.]

For Eternal Security: Born Anew in Christ to a Faithful Father

In his first epistle, John explains the existence of false teachers in the church in this way: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, because if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But they went out from us to demonstrate that all of them do not belong to us.”1 While one verse should never be the end-all be-all of any theology, there is much reason to believe that this verse should be understood¬†not only as an explanation of false teachers, but for all who might appear to have “lost their salvation.” The grounds for this:¬†Biblically, those who have truly been born again into union with Christ find that their union is firm and unchangeable, protected by their gracious new Father, unlike the apostates who embed themselves like cancer cells into Christ’s body on earth. The blessings of¬†union with Christ should be understood as¬†permanent,¬†beginning with the¬†moment of regeneration, the new birth.

At what point is someone to be understood as “saved?” In the Biblical order, this¬†can first be said after regeneration, what John¬†records Jesus as also calling¬†being born again (or born from above, depending on¬†the translation).2 This is the work of God, by which one enters into union with Christ, from whom all saving blessings flow.3¬†Scripture teaches that everyone who believes in Jesus as the Christ has been born¬†of God,4 and that everyone who believes in Jesus and comes to Him will¬†never be cast out, but in fact will be raised from the dead on the last day.5 Therefore the new birth is accompanied with the promise of resurrection, which is just that: a promise. In fact, there is good Biblical reason to believe that the new birth is nothing other¬†than the¬†personal beginning of the resurrection, though arguing¬†that¬†point is beyond the scope of this essay. Once born again into union with Christ, then, resurrection is assured. As brothers of Christ6 and children of God, there is no plausible¬†alternative. Paul says in simple terms on this, “For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection.”7¬†To be born again at all is to be born into a firm¬†and secure union with¬†the faithful Son of a faithful Father, which ends in resurrection.

The security of the believer’s union with Christ is not magic or automatic, though, but the result of the kindness of the Father. He is the one who has promised to finish the good work which He began through Christ,8¬†to strengthen His children to the end so that they will be blameless on the last Day.9 Jesus explains that His work¬†is not only to save, but to save all the way to the resurrection, those whom the Father has entrusted into His care, because this is the Father’s will.10 This is indeed the entire point of Romans 8:28-39. God works all things for good for His children, carrying them through the whole timeline of salvation from beginning to end, and allows nothing in heaven and earth to undo what He has accomplished. To suggest that salvation might somehow end is to¬†say that there are¬†things in heaven or earth¬†which for some reason the Father will fail to work out for the good of His children. Yet there is no reason to suspect that¬†the human heart’s weaknesses and sinfulness is¬†exempt from¬†the endless¬†dangers God promises to carry His people through. God is able to save His people to the uttermost, for “nothing is impossible with God,”11 and He will do so, for He “does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”12 Ultimately, the Father will save all who are born of God, because¬†they are brothers in union with His only-begotten Son, to whom He will ever be¬†faithful.13

If, though,¬†the Father does graciously preserve all who are born again into union with Christ, how should those who appear to¬†be united to Christ by faith but¬†later fall away be understood?¬†To understand this, the previously cited text from 1 John is key. The false teachers only broke fellowship with the true Church because they¬†never truly shared the same union with the Head of the Church. This is, to be sure, not only true of false teachers, but everyone who apostatizes (leaves the faith). There is ample evidence for this. For example, 2 Peter 2:20-22, which so often is cited to say that salvation can be lost,¬†ends with two proverbs that make essentially the opposite point. “A dog returns to its own vomit” and “A sow, after washing herself, wallows in the mire” both indicate that the nature of¬†apostates never changed. They were dogs and pigs¬†in the beginning, and remained dogs and pigs until the end. They never experienced the transformation of new birth into sanctifying union with Christ, or else how would they still be dogs and pigs?¬†Jesus likewise, in His parable of the soils, indicates that there was always¬†a difference between those who believe to the end and those who fall away: they were different kinds of soil all along.14 This all is consistent with the view of the new birth presented above: those who truly believe are united to Christ in a transforming new birth, initiating them into the resurrection life which will not fail or perish.¬†If someone¬†falls away, this is evidence that they never¬†were part of Christ. Rather, they are like a cancer:¬†destructive cells of different DNA that may embed themselves in the body for a time, but¬†a good surgeon will eventually expose and remove them.

All of this comes together in a coherent and Biblical picture. For a person to be¬†united with Jesus in His death and resurrection through the new birth brings a permanent transformation in nature and relationship. Because of the careful concern and by the omnipotent power of the Father, all whom He has redeemed will remain redeemed. To be “in Christ” is permanent, for¬†no one who comes to Him will ever be cast out. Those who do leave the faith are false converts, cancerous insertions into the body of Christ which do not belong. Ultimately, Christians¬†can have confidence that they will are secure in Christ,¬†born into a new, imperishable resurrection life, sustained by grace through faith.

Brief Response against Eternal Security

This is, no doubt, a good case, and¬†the new birth was certainly not given a full place¬†in my other essay. Nonetheless, some problems remain in this case. For one, the last point, that apostates were never really born again, is itself not particularly strong. If you take it as the logical outworking of the first two paragraphs, it makes sense, but¬†the Scriptural case isn’t very tight. Using possible implications of two proverbial phrases to overturn the natural reading of 2 Peter 2:20-22 is, for example, at best questionable. Likewise, all of the verses cited are¬†in their contexts specifically about false teachers. That doesn’t prove they don’t also apply to all people who fall away, but it nonetheless raises something of a red flag.

I also think it was a mistake not to address John 15 at all, given that it is one of the major texts for the other side and the pro-eternal security interpretation is not obvious. It seems to make the exact opposite point as the second paragraph of this essay. Does the Father guarantee unconditional perseverance? That text is relevant to the question.

Finally, it seems¬†that the argument establishing the new birth as creating a permanent situation overstates the Scriptural case. Most of the promises cited in the first paragraph still make perfect sense with¬†the conception of union with Christ in my other essay, as applying to whoever is a believer, without assuming that all believers will stay believers. On the flip side, the warning passages do not make obvious sense¬†using this essay’s approach.

In Christ, Out of Christ? Against Eternal Security, from a Union with Christ Perspective

[For the first of my two “union with Christ”-focused eternal security essays, I will argue that salvation can be lost. In the next post I will argue that it cannot, and leave you readers to judge.]

Against Eternal Security: Union with Christ, Tended by the Father

“You have fallen away from grace!”1¬†declared Paul to the Galatians who followed the Judaizers.¬†There are many more statements like this one, and warnings along the same lines, in the New Testament. Paul, the author of Hebrews, John, and even Jesus all make¬†similar remarks. Taken at face value, they¬†seem to teach that one you are in God’s grace, a state most would call “saved,” there is still a possibility that you can¬†walk¬†(or perhaps, as in the Galatians’¬†case, fall) away. This essay will argue that the face value, one might say “literal,” reading is correct. In particular, three points must be made: that salvation is Christ’s possession alone in which believers share by spiritual union, that this union is maintained at the discretion of the Father and may be cut off¬†in His judgment, and that these two factors nonetheless allow for a believer to be secure in his place and encourage a godly lifestyle. This whole¬†appears to be the clear teaching of Scripture. The Biblical nature of this model is clear from the first point, that¬†“Salvation belongs to the Lord.”2

That salvation is first and foremost the possession of Jesus Himself rather than that of individual believers is key to understanding why people can¬†forfeit grace.¬†Christians do not “have” salvation like one “has” a car. Rather, if the car analogy is continued, Christians share in salvation much like a child shares in the use of his parents’ vehicles.¬†This continued sharing is sustained by union with Christ through His Spirit.¬†Many lines of Biblical evidence support this view.¬†In Revelation, the saints cry out that “salvation belongs to our God!”3 The apostle John defines eternal life not as something Christians get, but as the Lord Jesus Himself and knowing Him.4 Paul likewise¬†explains that God¬†gives eternal life as a gift which is located¬†“in Christ Jesus our Lord,”5 and that there is no condemnation specifically for people who are “in Christ Jesus.”6¬†Believers are not sons of God in and of themselves, but by virtue of their union with Christ.7 This “in Christ” language is not mere¬†fluff, decoration designed to remind the reader that Jesus¬†saves. Rather, to say people are saved in Christ is to say that their salvation is altogether¬†experienced through personal union with Him, who Himself is “wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”8¬†None should forget: what¬†a person has by sharing with the owner, he may lose if he ruins the relationship.

If salvation is enjoyed exclusively as Christ’s possession by union with Him, then¬†the possibility presents itself that one could lose what is not¬†properly his own.¬†There is evidence in Scripture that this can and indeed does happen at the discretion of the Father. The primary evidence for this can be found John 15. Jesus says that He is the Vine, and His Father is the Gardener. The Gardener removes every branch in Him which does not bear fruit.9 These removed branches are thrown into the fire and burned up.10 While various attempts have been made to argue that Jesus is speaking here of¬†people who only appear to be united to Him, or perhaps are only united to Him “externally” through the “visible church,” nothing in the passage indicates this, and such an interpretation smacks of eisegesis. Jesus commands His disciples to remain in Him, quite directly implying that¬†they might not do so, instead to¬†be pruned by the Father. The¬†most straightforward reading of the text is¬†as follows: people who believe in Christ are united to Him like branches on a vine. If they do not remain in Him (presumably through faith), and thus they do¬†not produce fruit, and the Father will cut them off and cast them into fire. Outside of this text, there is other evidence that judgment awaits those who once believed in Christ but depart from the faith.11 While people often argue that this temporary faith is not a “true” faith, a “saving” faith, this seems to be a cop-out. Of course faith without works is dead,12 but this does not imply that people who live active Christian lives for years¬†before apostatizing (of whom there are very many) never had real faith. All of this evidence, on the other hand, makes straightforward sense if union with Christ through faith is the controlling concept. Those who trust in Christ are¬†in Christ and enjoy salvation so long as they believe, but if they lose faith, if they stop trusting and abiding in Jesus, they are cut off from the only source of salvation.

None of this is to say that there is no security for the believer, or that his salvation becomes dependent upon himself. That would contradict the entire first point of this argument, that salvation is of Christ from first to last, and is entirely His work and possession. As mentioned earlier, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”13 Jesus will never cast out anyone who comes to Him.14 God promises to work in His children¬†and sanctify them¬†continually until the day of¬†Christ.[Philippians 1:9] Yet the error of one-sidedness must be avoided. The Lord may be faithful, and He will not break His promises¬†to those who are in Christ, but there is no promise that everyone who is in Christ will automatically remain in Christ.¬†Even though¬†the faith through¬†which one is united to Christ¬†is¬†a¬†gift from God,15 faith¬†is a gift which can wither away¬†through neglect and disobedience, leading to judgment.16 This is not a works-salvation, requiring continued obedience to stay justified before God. Rather, this is union-with-Christ-salvation, which requires¬†only that the union not be broken through¬†abandonment. For those who¬†believe but wish to believe more,17 there is¬†always grace.¬†Whoever trusts in Christ, and only ever comes to Him alone¬†in faith seeking His acceptance,¬†he will find rest and security. This could even be called a kind of “eternal security:” everyone who is united to Christ through faith can be assured that his eternity is secure¬†in Christ.¬†Yet no one should think that he¬†will enjoy¬†permanent blessings if he stops trusting in the Son who is Himself eternal life. The Father loves the Son too much to allow¬†such an offense to go unchallenged.

The conclusion, then, is not difficult to follow. Salvation is enjoyed¬†by union with Christ, but union with Christ is through faith, and¬†if faith departs the salvation in Christ is no longer accessible. Yet from the position of being in Christ, salvation is fully secure, as¬†Jesus has full possession of it. Each of these points makes sense¬†both from what Scripture says and what¬†is theologically consistent. The doctrine of eternal security must deny the¬†Father’s pruning of the¬†faith-less branches, or change the vine from¬†Jesus Himself into¬†a visible representation of Him (e.g. the¬†outward church), or redefine the nature of the relationship between vine and branch.¬†Yet Christ is the true Vine, all who¬†trust in Him, even for a time, are His true branches, and those who cease to believe in Him are cast into the fire, just as the Scriptures teach.

Brief Response for Eternal Security

Naturally, being myself the writer of this essay, I think it makes sense and the points are fairly good.¬†But I can represent both sides easily, so from the other side I have a few criticisms. First off, the “take the Bible at face value” setup in the beginning is, as almost always, unnecessary. Proponents of eternal security will only take¬†the¬†verses used here as¬†something besides¬†face value because they¬†want to take certain other verses at face value (e.g. Romans 8:28-39).

This essay also seems to neglect the role of the new birth¬†which occurs when people are first united to Christ. While one can easily grant that salvation is exclusively Jesus’ own possession, in which we share simply by faith,¬†is it unreasonable to¬†think that, once united to Jesus and born again, certain permanent changes occur which¬†prevent falling away? The Apostle John, cited so much in this essay, seems to give that impression throughout¬†his first epistle. Likewise, John 6, which is also cited here at one point, seems to state quite strongly that¬†those who come to Christ will certainly be raised at the last day, unless an alternative interpretation can be set forth (which, if possible, is at least not attempted in this essay).

It should also be noted that on both sides, we agree that unfaithful people, even if they used to act like good Christians, will not be saved. Yet is it really as implausible as this essay dismissively states that those who fall away like this were never really united to Christ to begin with? There is some Biblical reason to think so (1 Jn. 2:19, 2 Pet. 2:22).

In the end, while there are some good points here, there still seem to be some important unanswered questions and concerns which may warrant backing away from this approach. A fatal blow to the doctrine of eternal security this is not.

In Christ, Out of Christ? Two Essays on “Losing” Salvation

The question of whether or not people can “lose” their salvation, to the extent that this language even makes sense, has been traditionally controversial. In the time in between the completion of the New Testament and, say, St. Augustine, competing¬†views on how salvation works, who will enjoy it, and¬†how we truly receive it proliferated. Augustine¬†wrote of many positions he had heard of, everything from “only persevering, faithful, orthodox, baptized Christians will be saved” to “everyone will be eventually saved.” It would be hard to pick out one as the most common for a long time.

Augustine himself is notable for his belief that, while only certain Christians¬†were predestined to persevere and¬†finally be saved,¬†other Christians could still be Christians but not persevere and so not be saved. This position¬†seems to have set the basic tone for the Catholic Church for the next 1000 years or so. With the Reformation, views began to multiply yet again, with most of the¬†Calvinist/Reformed holding to perseverance of the saints (specifically,¬†the true Christians, who are God’s elect, will persevere in the faith by the work of the Spirit, and they will be saved), Lutherans coming to¬†believe that salvation, given at baptism, could be lost through unbelief, and Arminians believing pretty much either way (though eventually the position that you can lose salvation became the¬†standard for them).

Today,¬†views are nearly as diverse as the early church, though in evangelical Protestantism¬†a few of the early views (like universalism and baptism as absolutely required)¬†are mostly absent. In the really basic, everyday¬†evangelical/Baptist/Pentecostal/nondenominational world I’ve¬†always lived in,¬†you can identify two basic, common views. They are:

(1) that once you truly believe in Jesus with authentic, saving faith, you are presently saved and assured final salvation with no possibility of loss, and the Holy Spirit will keep you from falling away permanently, and

(2) that once you truly believe in Jesus with authentic, saving faith, you are presently saved but only assured final salvation inasmuch as you continue to trust in Christ, which you might cease doing if you choose.

Both of these have their own ways of interpreting the Biblical evidence, but obviously both cannot be true. Either one is right, the other is right, or, perhaps, both are wrong and another conception of how salvation works might be true (e.g. some people believe that any belief in Jesus, even obviously dead faith which immediately changes its mind, guarantees final salvation, and some people would require a host of other things).

I write because I am going to write two essays, one representing each side of this debate, from a very specific vantage point.¬†Given that Jesus is the center and source of our salvation, and our¬†connection to Him by the Holy Spirit is essential to the whole question, I¬†think it makes sense to approach this issue from the angle of¬†union with Christ.¬†Salvation consists of us being “in Christ,” to borrow a phrase from Paul (Rom. 8:1, 1 Cor. 15:18, 2 Cor. 5:19, Gal. 3:28, Eph. 1:3, 4:23, Phil. 4:19, Col. 3:11, 1 Thess. 5:18, etc.). As such, I want to¬†present unbiased arguments for both views using¬†union with Christ as the controlling concept. Hopefully, this will be helpful and enlightening, and perhaps help each side converse more clearly and charitably.

Wait, How Is That Prophecy about Jesus?

The New Testament frequently cites Old Testament prophecy¬†about Jesus. A quick glance, even just through Matthew, shows¬†just how much this was emphasized. Core to the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus fulfills the prophetic word of God in the Old Testament.¬†The ancient Nicene Creed says Jesus “suffered death and was buried,¬†and rose again on the third day¬†in accordance with the Scriptures.”1

Yet another quick glance can make this whole concept confusing. If you try to peek at the¬†Old Testament references for these prophecies, you¬†usually don’t see what they have to do with Jesus. Take, for example, Matthew 2:15. It says:

He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called My Son.

The reference for this quote is Hosea 11:1. So you go back and take a look at Hosea 11:1, and what do you find?

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.

The verse that was cited as a prophecy about Jesus was originally quite specifically about Israel. So how does that work? Was Matthew wrong? Did he misuse Hosea 11:1 and take it out of context?

I’ve heard a lot of people respond to this basically like this: “Well, maybe the verse was mainly talking about Israel, but it was also secretly a prophecy about Jesus. Then God revealed¬†this¬†to Matthew in the New Testament.” You get the impression from answers like this that the Old Testament is just sprinkled with random references to Jesus, almost like inspired Easter eggs, unnoticeable until the Holy Spirit points them out.

I don’t think this is the right way to understand these prophecies.¬†There is no Easter egg hunt, nor are hidden meanings in play, at least in most cases. What we’re missing is that the prophecies for Christ aren’t a connect-the-dots game.¬†People assume that these prophecies¬†are¬†a strict progression of prediction¬†to fulfillment, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, they’re¬†more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff. Oh, wait, that’s¬†Doctor Who.2

What I mean to say is that these prophecies are a lot more about major themes in the relationship, covenant, and history of God and man than they are about checkboxes for Jesus’ life. The story of God, creation,¬†mankind, and Israel all comes together in Christ’s own life, death, and resurrection.¬†So Jesus fulfills, as it were,¬†all of the destinies of election. The promises to David, Moses, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Noah, and even Adam all¬†reach their goals¬†in Jesus, the only human who could, being Himself God, work out the right relationship in covenant between God and man.3

What does this mean for¬†Old Testament prophecies about Christ? Their main point is not to make a list of criteria for the Messiah to fulfill. In fact, they can’t really be used that way. (Some people who invented¬†statistical apologetics may be unhappy, but ah, well.) Instead, the primary links are about ongoing themes in the God/world/Israel relationship. So applying that to Hosea 11:1, it’s clear what is going on. Israel was essentially born out of Egypt, before wandering in the wilderness and finally claiming the Promised Land. Jesus now stands to reinvent Israel’s history in His own life,¬†representing His people and undoing all of their mistakes. So He too was called out of Egypt in His youth, and before long spent 40 days in the wilderness before invading the Promised Land with the kingdom of God.4

This same idea can apply to stuff in the Psalms. For example, today I was reading Psalm 34 and ran across verse 20, which was cited in the Gospels about Jesus’ bones not being broken on the cross. Yet in context, this hardly appears to be about the coming Messiah. Here is the last paragraph5 of the psalm, which includes verse 20:

Many adversities come to the one who is righteous,
but the Lord delivers him from them all.
He protects all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
Evil brings death to the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
The Lord redeems the life of His servants,
and all who take refuge in Him will not be punished.

This passage is talking about how God treats His righteous followers. He protects them, saves them, and vindicates them. This ideal of a righteous servant suffering for God¬†is prominent both in the Psalms and in the prophets, and in both cases Israel is often treated as just such a servant. God’s people suffer unjustly as they try to follow Him, but He promises to protect them and ultimately save them from all harm and give them triumph and glory over their enemies.

Jesus, as we see, becomes the ultimate embodiment of this ideal. He fulfills by Himself perfectly the role of the suffering, righteous servant present in this psalm, and in other places like Isaiah 53. The role that Israel was meant to play, Jesus performed perfectly. He lived and died as the Righteous One, the true Israel, and so God fulfilled His promises. He protected His bones from being broken, and indeed raised Him back to life in glory and honor.

I hope by now you can start to see what I’m talking about. Very few of the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus are fulfilled in a straightforward, literal detail. But that doesn’t mean they’re random or hidden. The whole story of God and His people is wrapped up in Christ and His fulfillment of all God’s purposes. If you just study the Scriptures, you can see how His story shines brightly.

Jesus Lived for Us: The Vicarious Humanity of Christ

Another sermon manuscript, one that I preached this morning. This was actually meant to lead into Communion, which you will see that it does.


His Whole Life Matters

This morning, I want to start by asking a simple question. In fact, it’s a good little church question which a bunch of church people should have a pretty easy time answering. So here’s the question: what are some things that Jesus did for us?

One thing which I did not hear anyone say: that Jesus lived for us. And the fact that I didn’t hear this, and didn’t really expect to, is exactly why I want to preach about this topic. Jesus did not only die for us, but lived for us as well, and this is what I want to look at today.

See, I know two great short slogans which can summarize the Gospel. One of them is “Jesus in our place.” That is pretty great, isn’t it? The other is “God in Christ for us.” Both of these are, I think, very good ways to sum up the Gospel in only a couple words. But what’s something they both have in common? Neither one is only about Jesus’ death. The whole Jesus‚ÄĒlife, death, and resurrection‚ÄĒis in our place, and God is and was in the whole Christ for us.

Now, the specific way that Jesus lived for us which I want to talk about today is a doctrine with a ridiculously technical sounding name, but it’s not as crazy as it sounds. It’s called the vicarious humanity of Christ. I realize it sounds a bit much, but it’s pretty straightforward. The Christ part is obviously just Jesus, the humanity is of course His being human, and we know as well what vicarious means. It’s one person or thing in place of someone else. In this case it is Jesus, as a human, being a human in our place.

How Jesus Lived for Us

But what exactly does that mean? And what impact should it have on our lives? I want to look at the whole thing in two parts, and so I don’t get carried away I’ll only mention them one at a time. The first part is, as I just mentioned, that Jesus lived for us. From the beginning to the end, from Christmas to Easter, every moment of Jesus’ life was something He did to save us. It didn’t just start counting when He got baptized and began His ministry. It didn’t wait to be meaningful for Him to ride on a donkey into Jerusalem. And it didn’t just start when He was led to the Cross. What Jesus was doing as a human being to save us started when the virgin conceived, and it’s still going.

But how does that work? What does everything Jesus did besides the Cross do for us? To answer this question, I want to look into the concept of the covenant. The basic idea here is that God created a covenant relationship with mankind, where God promised to be our God and He called us to be His people. But from Adam onward, humans have consistently failed to keep up our end. But God is faithful, and He is not willing to let us go so easily. Since we couldn’t seem to manage a right response to God, God Himself became one of us in Jesus Christ, and as a human being fulfilled the human side of the covenant. He gave a saving call to us, and then He answered that call as one of us for all of us. By doing this He created an actual, reconciled relationship between God and man. And that is eternal life.

Now, I’ve said all of this without referencing too much straight from the Bible, so I want to dive in a bit deeper. First, we can see the pattern of God calling us into a relationship with Himself, especially a covenant relationship, throughout Scripture. Some people see this in the Garden of Eden, though not everyone agrees with that. But after that, it just keeps coming. God makes a covenant with Noah in Genesis 9 to never destroy the world with a flood and kill everything in it again, which hints at more grace in the future. Next God makes a covenant with Abraham, promising both to bless his descendants and to bless the entire world through them. Then from Exodus through Deuteronomy we see God making a covenant with Israel, a people which Deuteronomy 9:4-5 tell us were no better than anyone else, to be their God, give them a land, and save them from all their enemies. And of course, after this King David receives a covenant from God for an eternal dynasty.

But the problem is that there’s another theme running right alongside this. God keeps making covenants to bless us and bring us to Himself, but we’ve been resisting and breaking them since day one. In Genesis 3, there’s the Fall as the first instance of man just resisting God’s grace to do his own thing. Then in Genesis 9, right after God makes a covenant with Noah and blesses him, Noah gets drunk and passes out naked, leading to a curse on a whole body of his descendants. Then Abraham is given a promise for a son and for a land, but in both cases he takes serious missteps, relying on human help like maidservants and Egyptian surpluses when in need. And of course, once we get to Israel we are all too familiar with their repeated history of God showing mercy, and them falling right back into the same sins. And David, well, we all know how far he fell and how this ultimately led to his kingdom divided two generations later. This whole pattern gets worse and worse until eventually God’s people lost it all in exile.

But what’s great is that right at this point, when it is clear that Israel is a failure and God’s plan to bless the world looks doomed, Jesus shows us. He appears at the center of all these circles and covenants. And at this point we have to combine the idea of representation with substitution. Jesus, by being in the center of all this, represented as soon as He came on the scene all the world in Himself. How does this work?

Let’s go back and trace these lines. God created everything, and then He made man at the top, the pinnacle of creation. So man, by being steward over creation, also stands as the representative at the top of creation. Then comes Israel. They were, as I mentioned before, just one nation out of many. Deuteronomy 9:4-6 says:

When the Lord your God thrusts them out before you, do not say to yourself, “It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to occupy this land”; it is rather because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you are going in to occupy their land; but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is dispossessing them before you, in order to fulfill the promise that the Lord made on oath to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, then, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness; for you are a stubborn people.

They were just like everyone else, but were called to bless the world. So now there’s another layer of Israel standing before God as a microcosm of all humanity. But next come the priests and the kings. The priests minister before God constantly on Israel’s behalf, and once a year the High Priest himself represents all Israel when he goes to make atonement in the Holy of Holies. Same goes for the kings, who God treated as a representative of the whole nation, something you can see among other places in how God handled David’s sinful census at the end of Numbers.

Now Jesus sits right in the middle of each of these circles and layers. He is our High Priest, as Hebrews tells us, and the King of Israel, as the Gospels tell us. He is the Son of Man, a man born of a woman. He is, as Colossians 1:15 says, the firstborn over all creation. Basically, as the King and Priest He represents and substitutes for all Israel. As Israel He represents and substitutes for all the rest of humanity, who are no different. And as humanity, He represents and substitutes for all creation. This one man, Jesus of Nazareth, lived as the center of all creation, as the representative and substitute of everyone everywhere. So He lived in our place and for us. He gave God the perfect response of human faith and obedience which He called us to give, and since He was doing that in our place, He won salvation for us all. Saint Irenaeus, who was actually a disciple of a disciple of John, said this:

He [Jesus]¬†fought and conquered…He was the man who struggled for his fathers and through his obedience cancelled their disobedience.

And of course, this obedience had to lead to the Cross, too. If Jesus was going to identify Himself as this representative, He had to face our doomed fate and die with our weakness. But even then, He rose from the dead. So while being our representative and substitute, He came back from death. This was the how the whole thing was completed. He came out victorious, and He came out in our place. All this added up to giving us eternal life, which Jesus Himself defined as a fellowship between God and man when He said in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Finally, before I move on to my next point, I just want to read Hebrews 5:7-10 and then quote Gregory of Nazianzus. Hebrews 5:7-10 says:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

And here’s what Saint Gregory has to say about all this:

For that which he has not assumed [that is, taken on Himself as a human] he has not healed; but that which is united to his Godhead is also saved.

How We Live from Jesus

Wow. As far as I’m concerned, this stuff alone is awesome enough, and is probably worth at least a year’s worth of preaching. But, I want to go ahead and move on to my second part. As if it weren’t enough that Jesus lived for us in such an awesome way, I want to add a second, following point. Jesus lived for us, and now we live from Him. What’s that mean? It means that none of our human faith and obedience started in us. It all started in Him.

The key passage for this is Galatians 2:19b-20. Unlike what I usually do, I’m going to read this one in the KJV, and I’ll explain why in a minute.

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

What I especially want to point out is the phrase, “the faith of the Son of God.” If you don’t have a KJV, it probably says “faith in the Son of God.” This is because of the funny Greek behind it, which could in theory be translated in four major possible ways:

“faith of the Son of God”

“faithfulness of the Son of God”

“faith in the Son of God”

“faithfulness to the Son of God”

Now, obviously the biggest difference is that the first two are about something Jesus has, whereas the second two are about something we have towards Jesus. What is interesting to note is that while most translations since the KJV have picked “faith in the Son of God,” many modern scholars have been moving back to agree with the KJV on one of the first two options, the faith or faithfulness of the Son of God. This fits what the rest of the passage is saying. Yes, we believe. Yes, we obey. But even though it is us, it’s also not really us but Jesus living in us. It’s not just our faith, but faith rooted in Jesus’ careful trust of the Father during His earthly life. It’s not our faithfulness, but Jesus’ faithful obedience to His Father. We only share in these because we are, like Paul, in Christ. We died with Him to sin, and have been raised with Him to a new life, His own life.

Possibly, though, some of you may be wondering what I mean by Jesus’ faith, and how for that matter we can live from it. So I’ll go back a bit. Jesus, as I said before, lived the perfect human life in relation to God as our substitute and representative. He did everything for us that God wants us to do. He had faith in His Father, as Hebrews 12:2 says that He is the author and perfecter of our faith who pushed forward faithfully to obey God. And if “faith of Christ” is the correct reading from before, then in Scripture we have several good references to Jesus’ faith and its role in saving us, such as Romans 3:22, Galatians 3:22, and Philippians 3:9.

Jesus also repented for us. Now I realize that sounds weird. How can Jesus repent from sin if He didn’t have any sin? See, the basic point of “repent” is to turn away from something. So Jesus never sinned, but He was constantly turning away from sin when it reared its ugly head to tempt Him. We can see a great example of Jesus doing that in both Matthew and Luke 4, where He resisted all the temptations Satan put before Him and came out victorious. This vicarious repentance is exactly what makes it possible for us to repent, even when we’ve already sinned.

Another thing Jesus did for us was good works. I would give some Scripture to prove that, except for the fact that it is probably pretty obvious. Jesus healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, forgave poor sinners, fed the hungry, and throughout His whole ministry did act after act of compassion and mercy. These good works of Jesus are, again, the source of our good works. Whenever we do mercy or show love to people who need it, we’re participating in what Jesus Himself did, connected to Him by the Spirit.

Finally, of course, Jesus died for us. This is another one that is too obvious to need any specific verses references. In our place, as our representative and substitute, Jesus faced the death due to us sinners. By doing this He killed our old man, the flesh, and then rose again and created for us the new man.

Now, all of this that Jesus did is the ground for our Christian life. When we, as Paul says, walk according to the Spirit, what is happening is that the Holy Spirit is pouring into us the very faith, repentance, good works, death, and resurrection of Jesus Himself from His human life. Because He was man, the sanctified, set-apart life that He lived has become the source of our sanctified lives, something that again ties into Hebrews 5:9.

So because of all this, everything that we do as a Christian, not our fleshly works but our spiritual ones, comes straight from Jesus. It is us, but not us, but Christ living in us. We live by the faith of the Son of God, and the end result of this transformation worked out by the Holy Spirit is fellowship with God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son. And that, in my humble opinion, is altogether wonderful.

Abiding in Christ

So what is the application here? How should this truth, the vicarious humanity of Christ, the fact that Jesus lived for us and we live from Him, impact us? I can think of two major things.

The first is that this doctrine should give us more assurance than ever. Our salvation in every last part is of Christ, not of ourselves. And if it is not of ourselves, our own weaknesses and failures can’t hurt it. There is nothing left to trust in ourselves for. If we believe, that’s from Jesus, who believed perfectly. Even if we don’t believe enough, Jesus did for us. If we do good works, that’s from Jesus, who did the most good of anyone ever. If we don’t do enough good works, Jesus did for us. Like Romans 8:1 says, there is no condemnation because we are in Christ Jesus. We are secure in His arms.

This ties into the second application, though. If every part of our new life comes from Jesus, then we have no choice but to abide in Him if we want to live. John 15:4-5 says it well:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

These verses show that we have to rely on Jesus for everything. We have to stay connected with Him to live. So how do we do that? How can we abide in Christ and stay connected? I’ll finish with just a few examples.

Prayer is the first key. In prayer we communicate with God Himself, mediated by Christ our High Priest, with the help of the Spirit’s intercession. This keeps us connected to Christ and gives us His strength.

Scripture is also vital. When we read Scripture with the help of the Spirit, we see Jesus more and more clearly. He said Himself that all the Scriptures testify of Him, so when we read them we grow to know Him even more.

Another important part of abiding in Christ is being a part of His church. The church is His body, a called out community of people bound by His Spirit to each other for service and worship. We cannot abide in Christ without abiding in His body.

Then there’s what most call sacraments, but Baptists usually call ordinances. The first of course is baptism. Anyone not baptized ought to be, because in baptism the Holy Spirit grips us with the visible act and says, “Look! You have died and risen with Christ! You are a new creation!” We can think back on baptism and just remember what a perfect picture it is of what Jesus has done for and with us.

Finally, though, there’s also Communion, which we’ll be practicing today. Baptism is the one time sign of our union with Jesus, but Communion is the ongoing one. When we have Communion, we get to experience a spiritual reminder of how we depend on Christ for our life. Just as we need food and drink, the bread and the cup, to survive physically, so spiritually we rely completely on the life of Jesus which was given for us. Having Communion pushes our hearts towards that reality and remind us that our life comes only from Christ, because He chose to live for us. I’ll finish with a quote from T. F. Torrance and then turn it over:

As one summoned to the Holy Table [the Christian] is commanded by the Word of God to live only in such a way that he feeds upon Christ, not in such a way that he feeds upon his own activities or lives out of his own capital of alleged spirituality. He lives from week to week, by drawing his life and strength from the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, nourished by the body and blood of Christ, and in the strength of that communion he must live and work until Christ comes again. As often as he partakes of the Eucharist he partakes of the self-consecration of Jesus Christ who sanctified Himself for our sakes that we might be sanctified in reality and be presented to the Father as those whom He has redeemed and perfected (or consecrated) together with Himself in one. Here He is called to lift up his heart to the ascended Lord, and to look forward to the day when the full reality of his new being in Christ will be unveiled, making Scripture and Sacrament no longer necessary.

For Now, I Am Sinner and Saint (Simul Justus et Peccator)

The Christian life is a complex one. On one hand, we are righteous, and truly so, as I explained in a recent post. But on the other hand, we clearly continue to sin and get tangled up in the problems of this age. As John tells us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us” 1. So we find ourselves in this awkward place, caught between the past and the future in a muddled present.

We often have a difficult time making sense of this, too. “Am I righteous? Am I a sinner? What exactly am I and why do I act the way that I do?”¬†We hear different things from different preachers about exactly how these two things balance and function in our lives. But¬†of course it’s not the theological theory itself that we want; we want out. What we need is a way forward. However our sin and righteousness interact, we want to know how to put¬†the sin¬†further and further down.

This is especially relevant if you think like I do. See, my mental processes when it comes to sin have two defining traits: big picture thought and introspection. First, my brain functions on the big picture. What makes it easier to do theology makes my flaws and failures all the more frustrating: with every little detail I see how it connects to and blends with a larger picture. So when I do wrong, what I see is not merely the stain on the wall but the entire growth of mold throughout the house. This is compounded by my obsessive introspection: I cannot stop looking in and examining myself over everything I do. The result of this blend is often a frustrated pessimism about myself. One mistake focuses me on the cracks running through my entire character and conduct, which seem too big to be repaired. 

But¬†when I find out that everything about me, running down to my least conscious everyday motivations, is polluted by sin, what am I to do? If even my best actions seem to, upon closer inspection, be tainted by selfishness or pride, how can I advance? What can I do to truly serve my God, or love my neighbor? What’s the point of even trying if all my tries will even be sinful? Will not my every sacrifice be,¬†in the end, of blemished lambs?

This is where I found help from Martin Luther (and Karl Barth). Luther¬†made¬†a famous statement¬†regarding our life as Christians: simul justus et peccator. We are “simultaneously justified and sinner.”¬†Every moment¬†we live in tension between the old man, the sinner who is dead through the Cross2, and the new, the saint created by the Resurrection3. God’s “Yes” and His “No” sound¬†to us all at all times.

I don’t mean to say that God sees¬†us as half-righteous, or that the old man still counts for anything. Far from it! Everyone in Christ is a new creation, and that’s all that matters to God4.¬†But we live in¬†what the Bible calls the “last days,” the time between the times¬†when the old things are still hanging around but fading, and the new things are working their way in. Jesus has won and redeemed us, but He is away and in the mean time while we wait for Him to return we experience both the old reality and the new one, both sin and salvation.

So what is my point, exactly?¬†I’ve learned from Luther and Barth that we have to accept the¬†peccator side of the equation, the “No” of God which will hang over us until death. We are sinners still. That is the old reality, which though it is dying and defeated still exists. And we have to live with that. I have to live with that. Though by grace I am being renewed each day and march on towards the day of resurrection and restoration, until¬†I reach this goal I cannot escape the condemned part of my existence.

This is the frustration which I must subdue. I¬†want to be whole. I want to be¬†good and righteous and innocent. But for now I’m not. Which means I am in the wrong. I sin.¬†I have actually mixed and polluted motivations. Even when I think I’m being good, I’m still sinning. There are cracks, moral faults, running all the way through my life. Nothing I touch or do is totally pure. Even my best love has selfish distortion. And all of these things fall under the judgment of God. All of them incur His wrath and disapproval for good reason. And I must accept that. I’m not yet who God has recreated me to be, and until that day I’m still never innocent.

Yet there is the other side of the equation. So I am messed up. I may be a sinner in too many ways, the old and fallen creation wielding far too much power. But that can’t keep me from following God. My motives may not always be pure, but they’re not altogether rotten. Help my unbelief, Lord, but I do believe. For even in my weakness, I don’t have to rely on my own merits, anyway.¬†As I just posted, I’m relying 100% on Jesus’ faithfulness, not my own.

So this is the key to keep moving: I must accept the two-pronged death blow to pride. I am so messed up, but I’m not relying on myself anyway so I might as well keep fighting the good fight. When my motives are mixed, so what?¬†I stand by Jesus, whose motives were never impure, so I should just keep pressing on. If I wished to¬†sing on stage to glorify God, but I¬†suspected pride may be involved in my wish as well, I should sing anyway for Him, knowing that my pride is crucified with Christ either way. Even if I know my obedience will be fraught with mistakes and sinful failings, I should offer it anyway, because my living sacrifice is not made pure by my own goodness but by my High Priest before the Father.

So in sum, I¬†can only suggest this: We’re sinful. Deal with it. Keep obeying and never give up in despair at your unworthiness, because our Savior is worthy. Accept God’s judgment on your wrongdoing, and strive for righteousness anyway. You know in the end there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.

Christ Alone: Absolutely Wonderful!

‚ÄúJesus paid it all / all to Him I owe.‚ÄĚ Some hymns have the most wonderful truths, don’t they? Jesus paid it all. We are saved by Christ alone.

In practice, we don’t always believe this. We think that the strength of our faith, the degree of our obedience, or the purity of our motives are bear some of the responsibility for our salvation. When we see stuff really wrong in ourselves, we worry that we haven’t done enough. We fear we don’t believe enough. We know the sin in our hearts and suspect we’re disqualified because of it.

And of course, these self-criticisms are all completely correct. Our faith isn’t strong enough to be saved, our obedience isn’t complete enough to be saved, and we don’t love God enough in our hearts to be saved. In and of ourselves, we have nothing good, and even with the Holy Spirit living in us we resist and quench Him far too much, following the desires of the flesh.

How then can we be saved? If we are saved by faith, but even our faith is shaped with unbelief, what grounds are there for God to save us?

We are saved by Jesus Christ alone.

Not our faith. Not our obedience. Not our love for God or for people. Jesus alone saves us. This is the Gospel: Jesus Himself is our salvation. For it is written:

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed ‚Äď namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:21-24

We are justified by God’s free grace, namely Jesus who redeemed humanity by His faithfulness. Jesus by Himself makes our salvation. Our faith has no power simply because it is faith, but because it is in Jesus and from the Spirit. Indeed, the faith which saves us is our own, but not our own, for Paul confesses this:

I am crucified with Christ. Even so I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. The life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20b

It is Jesus, from beginning to end. He is the Author and Finisher, the Source and Perfecter, of our faith (Heb. 12:2). He accomplished salvation once for all (Heb. 9:12) on behalf of all (2 Cor. 5:14) even while we were still worthless sinners and enemies to God (Rom. 5:6, 8, 10). Because of this, there is absolutely no space left for us to be condemned if we are in Christ (Rom. 8:1).

What does this all add up to? Christ alone. He saves us by His grace, through His faith, with His faithfulness. There is nothing good in me, that is, in my flesh. On my own I am filled with selfishness, lust, anger, apathy, and greed. Unbelief and disobedience work behind the scenes even in my best righteousness, even when I am most in tune with the Spirit of God. But praise be to God that He has done away with all of these things, making them the old and fading reality. Through Jesus Christ, His beloved Son, He has overcome all of my sinful contradiction, all of my frailty and weakness of the flesh. By Christ alone we are saved. Even at our worst, Jesus saves us at His best. How amazing! How astounding! Hallelujah! Amen.