The new edition of the Themelios Journal (edited by D.A. Carson) is now available online. The article by Carson is particularly good and, as always, there are lots of book reviews.
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Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (1 Tim. 3:16)The word here for vindicated is the same word as justification. So we have to ask what it means for Christ to have been justified by the Spirit. Now we know that Jesus was not sinful and so he never needed salvation as we do. Yet we also know that he bore our sins in his body in his death. So in his death he suffered the penalty for our sins even though he did not have any sin of his own. In his resurrection by the Spirit, the Father declares that he accepts Jesus as righteous. In other words it is the sign that the Father accepts the obedience of the Son on behalf of his people and declares him to be righteous. So as Jesus was truly condemned in his death because he bore our sins he is also truly justified in his resurrection as he is our righteousness.
We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. (Rom. 6:9-10)So in Christ’s death he came under the power of sin because death is the consequence of sin (although this never ever means that Jesus became a sinner). In his resurrection Jesus is delivered from this power and dominion. So this is a reference to the definitive aspect of sanctification where the power of sin is broken and removed. So the power of sin in our mortal bodies is destroyed in Christ’s resurrection as we are raised with him to new life in the Spirit.
concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 1:3-4)Again, this is a declaration of what happened regarding Christ in history. He was descended from David according to the flesh. But according to his resurrection he was declared to be powerful Son of God. As the Second Person of the Trinity he was Son of God from all eternity. However in his human nature he was descended from David as we see in the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 4. Here Paul refers to an economic reality about Christ. As the eternal divine Second Person of the Trinity he was always Son of God even in his humiliation but now in his human nature and body he was declared to be Son of God in his glorification and resurrection.
We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him.” If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. . . . If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain and from no other. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.16.19)
What good does it do me to tell me that the type of religion presented in the Bible is a very fine type of religion and that the thing for me to do is to just start practicing that type of religion now? I will tell you, my friend. It does not one tiniest bit of good! What I need first of all is not exhortation but a gospel, nor directions for saving myself, but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news for me? That is the question I ask of you. I know your exhortations will not help me. But if anything has been done to save me, will you tell me the facts?Christianity is not a religion about what we have to do but rather the proclamation of what has already been done. The very word "gospel" means "good news." The gospel is all about how sinners are made righteous before God and Good Friday is a time to remember that Christ's atonement means the salvation of sinners.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Gal. 3:10-14)Now it is important for us to clarify here that we are not redeemed from the law. That would be to say that we are redeemed from not having any God’s before the one true God of the covenant or to say we were redeemed from the requirement to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor. This would obviously be nonsense. Instead the Bible does say that we are redeemed from the curse of the law. The curse of the law is its penal sanction for those who disobey it. Because of our disobedience to God’s law we are under a curse and must be redeemed from that curse. Christ has redeemed us by becoming a curse for us in hanging on the tree. He paid the penal sanction that we owed.
and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:24-26)
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Tit. 2:11-14)Here we see that redemption from the power of sin does not just mean its guilt but also its controlling influence. Christ gave himself so that we might be redeemed from all lawlessness and might be purified and zealous for good works. The grace of God in Christ’s atoning work is not a grace that takes place in a vacuum but is instead a grace that is tied to teaching us to renounce all ungodliness and worldly passions and to live in a manner that is please to God. So redemption is not in anyway limited to penal sanctions or to guilt but is closely related to holiness and presenting us before God as actually redeemed from sin’s power.
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Rom. 5:8-11)Paul does not have subjective human feelings, in the sense of our feeling alienated from God, in sight here but the divine attitude toward us because of the work of Christ. So first we see that Paul’s focus is on what was accomplished once-for-all in history by the work of Christ. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We were reconciled to God through the death of his Son. Along with this idea of reconciliation we see that Paul also says that we were justified by his blood. We know that justification is a forensic and legal declaration of our standing before God. Therefore we can say that reconciliation has a similar forensic force in declaring that God’s grounds for alienation from us have been removed. So now we rejoice that we do not suffer alienation from God any longer but instead enjoy his favor and blessings upon us as we are in right relationship with him.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:18-21)Here we can make several observations. (1) We see that as God was reconciling us and the world to himself in and through Christ that this reconciliation is not our work but is the monergistic (one worker) activity of God. He alone accomplishes the reconciliation in Christ. (2) This is a completed work of God. There is no further work of reconciliation that needs to be done. In Christ God has accomplished his work of reconciliation. It is finished and applied to each believer at the very beginning of their Christian life. (3) Again we see that this reconciliation is forensic. It is done as our sins are not counted against us but against Christ and that in turn his righteous is counted to us. So the reconciliation is a legal declaration that the grounds for God’s alienation from us have been removed and that in Christ we now stand righteous before a just and holy God. (4) This message of reconciliation is now the Gospel message that is proclaimed. Murray writes:
The accomplished work of reconciliation is the message committed to the messengers of the gospel (ver. 19). It constitutes the content of the message. But the message is that which is declared to be a fact. Conversion, it ought to be remembered, is not the gospel. It is the demand of the gospel message and the proper response to it. Any transformation which occurs in us is the effect in us of that which is proclaimed to have been accomplished by God. The change in our hearts and minds presupposes the reconciliation. (John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's, 1955, 41).
Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure. Very simply stated the doctrine of propitiation means that Christ propitiated the wrath of God and rendered God propitious to his people. (John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's, 1955, 30).We can see this in Paul’s letter to the Romans.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:21-26)Here Paul is trying to explain how God can justify sinners without becoming a liar through declaring what is unrighteous to be righteous. So the question has to be how sinners are actually made to be righteous in the sight of God. It cannot be by their own obedience to the law as no one perfectly obeys God’s law. Instead all are sinners when judged by God law. But the Gospel says that a righteousness that is from God apart from the law has now appeared. So we are all justified by God’s grace through Christ who is our propitiation. So God remains righteous because as we are redeemed in Christ we are found to be just in his sight, not by any lie or deceit on God’s part, but because we are covered by Christ’s righteousness. By this we see that God is able to be consistent with his own character in justifying sinners. Again, John Murray writes:
It is one thing to say that the wrathful God is made loving. That would be entirely false. It is another thing to say the wrathful God is loving. That is profoundly true. But it is also true that the wrath by which he is wrathful is propitiated through the cross. This propitiation is the fruit of the love that provided it. . . . God appeases his own holy wrath in the cross of Christ in order that the purpose of his love to lost men may be accomplished in accordance with and to the vindication of all the perfections that constitute his glory. (Murray, Redemption, 31-2).
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.Here the author of the epistle shows us that Christ’s death is a sacrifice or an expiation . It is a payment for our sins. The whole of the Levitical system pointed to the need for expiation where our sins are not imputed to our account and instead are paid for by blood. In this the blood of Christ is efficacious as it is the perfect and final payment for all of our sins. The payment in his blood purifies us so that we are fit to serve God. Forgiveness of sins is only won through Christ’s vicarious death. Our sins involve guilt and that guilt is transferred to the sin-bearer. This was shown in the Old Testament as hands were laid on the head of the animal to symbolize that the guilt of the sin was transferred away from the supplicant. This is seen as Christ takes our nature and pays the penalty of it so that the guilt is removed and we are forgiven. This one time sacrifice was perfect as he was made incarnate at God's appointed time to put away the sins of his people once-for-all by virture of his sacrificial death.
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Heb. 9:11-28)
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:17-18)Here we see that Christ’s work in providing atonement for his people was that he obeyed the charge given to him by the Father. This is out of obedience and exercising his authority in the way that the Father directs. This appears elsewhere as Jesus says that he came down from heaven not to do his own will but the will of the Father who sent him (John 6:38). Isaiah’s prophecies of the Messiah’s atoning death treat him first of all as the servant of the Lord (Is. 52-53). In announcing the fulfillment of this prophecy Paul says that Jesus, though being God, took the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7-8; Gal. 4:4). In his epistle to the church in Rome Paul writes that it is through the obedience of Christ that the many are made righteous (Rom. 5:19).
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 5:7-10)Here we can see several things about Christ’s obedience: