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Posts Tagged ‘atonement’

I will never forget the first time I sat down with my great uncle to “talk theology.”  My uncle was a Methodist pastor for many years, the only time I got to see him was at family reunions, but I always had a great deal of respect for him—he was a kind and patient man.  So when he asked me if I would like to talk theology with him at a family reunion not long after I had decided to go to seminary, I was very excited. 

We were in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico, it was a beautiful sunny day, and we sat down on the porch of the cabin that my family had rented to do one of my favorite things—talk about the Lord, but in an instant, my joy turned to remorse and deep concern.  The first thing my uncle said was “Drew, I don’t believe in the atonement.” 

I wasn’t sure if I heard him right because I was pretty young in my faith, but I thought surely he couldn’t be a pastor and not believe in the atonement of Christ!  So I asked, “What did you say?”  My uncle responded, “I don’t believe in the atonement, I don’t believe that Jesus had to die to pay the penalty for my sins.”  Perhaps my response was a little lacking in tact but looking back on it, I don’t regret what I said to him.  I said, “if you don’t believe in the atonement you aren’t saved.”  I was young in my faith but I firmly believed that Jesus died for my sins and that whoever believed in Him would not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).  I believed that Christ redeemed me from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for me (Gal. 3:13).  I believed the gospel that proclaims while I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me and whoever would believe in Him will be saved (Rom. 5:8; Acts 16:31).

My uncle went on to tell me about how he went to a seminary in north Texas when he was close to my age and while there his whole foundation for theology was shaken.  He had professors who questioned the authority and inerrancy of Scripture which led him to follow a group of scholars who would later come together as “The Jesus Seminar” (Tyler wrote on this group a long time ago).  They were hoping to “rediscover” the historical Jesus and behind this attempt at rediscovery was the assumption that the Jesus of the Bible couldn’t possibly be the real Jesus.  This group claims to love Jesus and to believe in Him, just not everything he said and did.  In order to determine what Jesus really said and did, these scholars got together and read portions of the four gospels and then voted on how Jesus-like the passage was (I am not making this up).  They voted using colored marbles, as follows:

  1. Red marbles – Jesus actually said or did it.
  2. Pink – Jesus probably said or did something similar.
  3. Grey – Jesus didn’t do or say it, but the saying or action lines up with his ideals.
  4. Black – Jesus did not do or say it –the passage was added by translators years after Jesus’ death.

The Jesus Seminar even followed this meeting up with a color coded Bible, based on the votes cast.  Do you see what this does?  This makes man the ultimate determiner of who Jesus is and what he said.  Furthermore, it should be noted the all Scripture makes the claim of itself that it is divine and authoritative—Scripture is from God not from man (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). 

Charles Spurgeon said this of some of the more “liberal” Bible scholars of his day, “The new religion practically sets ‘thought’ above revelation, and constitutes man the supreme judge of what ought to be true.”  This is the perpetual sin of man—to exalt himself over and against the Lord or at least make yourself the final arbiter of His truth . . . a god in our own image.

The Jesus Seminar was not taking the Bible seriously, but not only that, they were setting themselves above it.  If Scripture claims to be divine and authoritative and you immediately claim to have the authority and power to deem some of it human—you are contradicting yourself. 

If you follow the logic of The Jesus Seminar, you can see how my uncle ended up saying that he didn’t believe in the atonement, because if it is up to man to determine truth, man is immediately going to eliminate anything that makes him even the slightest bit uncomfortable.  The first to go are the portions that deal with issues of sin, judgment, and punishment.  Thus Jesus Seminar essentially landed itself in universalism and under their influence, folks like my uncle began preaching “another gospel” altogether (Gal. 1:6-8).  Though my uncle knew the gospel, by his own theology I feared that he did not know Jesus as Lord.  I told my uncle that I feared for his soul, I preached the gospel to him that day and plead with him to come to Christ and live—to me that was the only loving thing to do.

Read the Bible on its own terms before you fall to the temptation to exalt yourself over it.  The gospel and consequently the salvation of souls is at stake if you don’t.

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The gospel is the Good News that Jesus Christ came to earth in history, lived the perfect sinless life that we should have lived, and died a perfect sacrifice on the cross, all on our behalf, so that we might have life in his name. Jesus was dead and buried for three days, and then he was resurrected, and he ascended into heaven where he is with the Father, as an advocate before the Father for all who believe.

The gospel includes the biblical truth of the atonement (blood sacrifice, pointing back to the OT), which involves redemption of sinners who were enslaved to sin, propitiation of the wrath of God, and true justification because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Romans 3:21-26 explains this and teaches that what Jesus did for us is a gift from God to be received by faith. Those who believe are justified before God, who is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Christ Jesus.

The gospel would not be Good News if we had nothing to be saved from. But the Scriptures are clear that all have sinned, and all fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). We were created to worship and obey God, but we have all turned in sin to idolatry and have rebelled against God. That is our fallen condition, which shows our great need for salvation.

It is also appropriate to add that, because of the depravity of sinners (including me), no man or woman will turn in saving faith to Christ without the Spirit first drawing them into the light. So, the gospel begins with theology, not anthropology.

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This is the third and final post by guest blogger Joe Blackmon on the characteristics of genuine saving faith in Philippians 3:3.  Joe has done a great job on these posts and I am glad he has given them to me to post here!

The Mentality of Genuine Saving Faith

The reason Jesus is such a touchy subject to non-Christians is because of what He represents.  Most people who have been blinded to the truth of the Gospel by the Devil regard salvation and heaven as something they can earn through their own goodness.  They believe either they are capable of attaining righteousness on their own or that they are already righteous.  However, Christ’s death on the Cross destroys that theory.  By His death, He affirmed that sin demanded a penalty.  He also demonstrated that sin’s penalty was death.  Therefore, if I recognize that He paid my debt by His death and His resurrection is true, then I must conclude that He is God and I have to stop doing things my way and submit to Him.  To do so, I would have to acknowledge my sin and my inability to make myself right with God.  People want to create their own righteousness and earn their way to heaven so they don’t have to submit to God.  However, we who are Christians, have “no confidence in the flesh”.  We do not believe that our flesh has any power to save us.  In fact, we have come to Christ and trusted in Him for just that reason.  In Romans 7:18-25, Paul says “18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25I thank God-through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”  We submit to God and trust Christ when we have come to the conclusion that we are incapable of producing righteousness.

A true, saving faith is characterized by our mindset and our actions.  Ultimately, those who trust Christ for their salvation rather than trusting themselves and those who serve the Lord are the ones who are spiritually circumcised.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version.  Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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For those of you who don’t know, I go to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. We don’t get a Spring Break here. Well that is and is not true. We get what the administration here calls ‘Spring Reading Days.’ I think it is their hope that we will use the break to read and catch up on class work and so forth. Well, I would love to be able to tell you that I rebelled against THE MAN and went and did something adventurous and fun during ‘Spring Reading Days,’ but I guess I am not as cool as I thought, and yes, pretty much all I have done over the break is read and write papers!

So Tony Kummer, that cool cat over at Said at Southern, is asking SBTS bloggers to share what they are reading over the break (e.g. what we would like to read over the break, what we aren’t reading over the break, etc., etc.). Then you are supposed to tag some other people to tell you what they are reading. In order to rebel against the system just a little, I have decided to comply to Mr. Kummer’s requests in my own unique way!

I should also mention that I was tagged by Rich Clark at Christ and Pop Culture. If you haven’t checked out this blog yet, do it now. It is excellent! I was also tagged by good ole Southern gospel-lovin’, Brother Hank. Hank’s blog is a must-read for those of you who are interested in Christian ethics!

OK, so here is my very own Spring Reading Days List!

  1. What I am reading?: I have been reading an interesting book on preaching the cross called Cross Talk by Sally A. Brown. Dr. Brown is a professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and has produced one doosy of a heretical book on preaching! Basically she claims that we should stop preaching theories of the atonement (none of which she claims is carried throughout the entire NT) and preach the metaphors of the cross as we see them in Scripture. Her hope is that such preaching will help to relieve much of the suffering that the preaching of penal substitutionary atonement has caused. Actually there are many metaphors that she is unwilling to preach–like the one where Christ is scourged for our iniquities and wounded for our transgressions and the one where Christ drinks the cup of God’s wrath on our behalf. Needless to say I disagree on many many levels with Dr. Brown, which has made this an interesting read.
  2. I am also reading lots of commentaries on Philippians for my exegesis paper on Phil. 3:1-11. Peter T. O’Brien’s commentary is by far the best I have found but its quite heavy, especially if you are relatively new to NT study and haven’t studied Greek. If that is you, I highly recommend Moises Silva’s commentary–it is lighter but the content is good.
  3. What I wish I was reading . . . : I really wanted to read Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalists Journey With the New Calvinists by Colin Hansen, this is a book that likely resonates with many young evangelicals who, I think, in many ways could potentially do much good for the kingdom through commitment to a high view of God, clear teaching on conversion, and commitment to expository preaching. The book is essentially about how many young evangelicals today are turning to reformed theology. There is an entire chapter about my school, so I hope to get to this one soon!
  4. What I am listening to during ‘The Reading Days’?: If you haven’t checked out Pandora.com, you really should. It’s this really cool website where you can set up free internet radio stations based on artists or songs you like. For instance, I have been listening to a “Explosions in the Sky” station this week while working on my papers and reading, so Pandora plays songs by Explosions in the Sky as well as songs by artists with similar tonality or musical style etc. as Explosions! I have also set up a Thomas Newman station that I have been enjoying (Newman wrote the music for some really great films such as The Shawshank Redemption and The Road to Perdition).
  5. I have also been listening to several sermons on 1 Thessalonians by Nate MagLoughlin. Nate is the pastor of my former church back in Texas, a church that Kevin and I have both served at. I wanted to point out a particular sermon on 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, titled Repentance, Reorientation, and Nature of Conversion, because Nate articulates the nature of true conversion well and does an excellent job of emphasizing repentance in gospel preaching. Since I have been blogging on these issues, I thought this would be a good time to highlight some good gospel preaching that properly emphasizes repentance and the nature of true conversion.
  6. An interesting tidbit on divorce and remarriage: Since this is something I have been blogging about as of late, I thought I would pass on to you an interesting tid-bit about the issue. Did you know that the early church fathers almost categorically did not understand the Scriptures to allow for remarriage after divorce? That doesn’t seal the deal on this controversial issue, but its worth noting, because the early church fathers got a lot of things right and were much closer grammatically and historically to the writers of the NT than you and I. There is much much more to be said here, just wanted to throw out that interesting tidbit!
  7. Why am I blogging while I should be reading? Well if it isn’t obvious to you already, it is so I can tell you about awesome things like Pandora and Thomas Newman! In all honesty, I think I speak for all here at EE when I say that I hope to point people to Christ in all his glory in the way that I blog here. We live in a world that is all about the internet. So I simply hope to do my best to make much of Christ and the good news on the blogosphere and the wider world wide web!

So many people have already been tagged! But here goes-I tag: Danny, Brandon, Paul Cable, Paul Roberts, and R. Albert Mohler Jr.. Yes that is right . . . I tag President of Southern Seminary. If I tagged you, obviously I won’t be disappointed if you don’t tell me what you are reading, you should be spending your time reading rather than telling people what you are reading anyway!

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Christ’s passion for the glory of the Father and the salvation of his beloved is what Easter is about. In Mark 10:45, Jesus explains why he was born:

“For even the Son of Man came not to serve, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The gospel is proclaimed in this verse . . . how? How is this good news? In this post, I aim to answer that question. The following are expanded notes with commentaries from a sermon I heard Steve Lawson preach at the Cross of Christ regional Ligonier Conference in Ft. Worth last November, titled ‘Christ, Our Ransom.’ Though I remember Lawson’s brilliant exposition of the text fairly well, my notes were brief, so most of the following is my commentary on Lawson’s exposition.

What is a ransom (Gk. lupron)? In pop culture today, a ransom nearly exclusively refers to a payment rendered to a kidnapper in order to secure the redemption of the person kidnapped. However, the Bible’s reference to a ransom typically refers either to payment under the Law made for sin or a price paid to redeem a slave (e.g. Ex. 21:30, 30:12; Lev. 19:20). In fact, the connection of a ransom paid for redemption with slavery is an important parallel to make for every Christian who has been bought and redeemed from their slavery to sin into adoption as slaves of Christ, who is an infinitely glorious and benevolent Master.

Why was a ransom necessary? After Peter and John healed a lame begger and preached the gospel at Solomon’s Portico, they were arrested for preaching the resurrection. The next day, Peter preached to the Council of Sadducees and elders, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is not other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The very fact that salvation in Christ is needed should make the idea of redemption in order to be saved necessary. So why? Peter proclaims Christ alone has given his life as a ransom for those chosen by God’s sovereign grace in Christ before the foundation of the world, and the ransom required was necessary because we were 1) slaves to our sin (Rom. 6:20), and 2) to Satan (John 8:44, 2 Tim. 2:26) and 3) we were held captive to the world that is hostile toward God, while in bondage to the curse of the law. In order to fully comprehend Mk. 10:45, it is absolutely necessary to place the third reason at the top of the list. Ultimately, a ransom was necessary for our salvation because we are cursed for not keeping the Law. This curse is rendered by God who declares “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, Gal. 3:10b says, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

Who paid the ransom? Paul unlocks the answer to this question in one beautiful sentence about the great exchange of Christ’s righteousness for our sin. “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. 5:21). Who paid the ransom? Jesus did. The Judge of heaven and earth paid the price for our ransom. Our precious resurrected Savior paid the punitive substitutionary atonement for all who are legally declared righteous by faith before the Father. I have said this in several posts now: that is why imputation is so important to justification. Christ lived the perfect live that we should have lived and are condemned for not doing, and he died the sinless sacrifice on our behalf, our ransom, imputing his righteousness to us and taking our sins from us and taking them on himself on the cross. Therefore, Christ has paid the ransom price by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13).

How was the ransom paid? “. . . to give his life” (Mk. 10:45). Jesus Christ paid the ransom price necessary for our redemption by offering his life on our behalf. The high price to pay for our redemption was not easy, either. Jesus had to die. Rom. 3:24-26 teaches, “We are justified by his grace as a gift, through redemption that is in Jesus Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation . . .” Propitiation is a heavily loaded word in the New Testament, but it is a beautiful word in light of the gospel. It, first, carries the meaning of the kind of atonement necessary to pay our ransom. In fact, we can be sure by this verse that the cross satisfied the necessary atonement for our sin by exhausting the cup of God’s wrath forever by his blood. If that were not enough, the Greek word for propitiation also carries with it the idea of expiation. In the Old Testament, the cover of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies was sprinkled with the blood of the expiatory victim on the annual day of atonement (this rite signifying that the life of the people, the loss of which they had merited by their sins, was offered to God in the blood as the life of the victim, and that God by this ceremony was appeased and their sins expiated). Why does the gospel hinge on this? When the hope of the gospel is proclaimed, it also celebrates the righteousness of God in all his glory. Therefore, Paul adds to Rom. 3:25a, “This was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (vv. 25b-26).

Was the ransom voluntarily paid? I feel this point should be added because a few misguided folks have vocally denied the beauty of the vicarious suffering of Jesus Christ as our penal substitution and ransom for our redemption, occasionally drifting to calling Christ’s death on the cross cosmic child abuse. They claim a neutered Christus Victor theory of atonement in an effort to preserve God’s righteousness and the unity of the Trinity. But stooping to these counter-gospel conclusions is an affront to the gospel. Why? Jesus willingly laid down his life for the sheep. Jesus knew the will of the Father spoken in the Scriptures by Isaiah, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” (53:10, cf. Matt. 27:46), and his reply was, “I am the good shepherd . . . and I down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). Therefore, the ransom was paid by our Savior’s blood, not spilled, but poured out voluntarily. Jesus was not the victim of the cross. He was the victor, and he is alive today!

To whom was the ransom paid? Too many believers have assumed the ransom was paid to Satan since we were slaves to sin and death as children of wrath and sons of disobedience (see Eph. 2:2, 3). But the ransom was not paid to Satan. It was not offered to the devil. He did not hold the price of redemption over the heads of sinners. No, the ransom was paid to the Father who was pleased to save many by offering his Son on the cross for our redemption.

For whom was the ransom paid? “. . . for many” (Mk. 10:45). The blood of Christ was shed on the cross for many. We can be sure Jesus was not crucified for his sin, but according to the foreknowledge of the Father, he was appointed to die for our sin. He took our place. This is the vicarious nature of the atonement for the payment of our sins, and Jesus says it is ‘for many,’ not all. There is a specific focus of the specific atonement of those redeemed by God’s grace for us in Christ, and there is also a glorious triumph in ‘for many,’ not all. We can be sure not a drop of Christ’s blood was poured out in vain–not a cent of the ransom was overpaid. Jesus is receiving his very bride, and by the proclamation of the gospel, God according to his sovereign grace is calling all of his sheep to the sheepfold.

Are you in Christ today? Are you among those for whom the ransom was paid? If you are hearing the gospel proclaimed to you as you are reading this loud and clear like a ringing bell, answer the call. Believe and be saved. Be reconciled to God through faith in all the promises God is for us in Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the glory of Easter.

PS :: Read Drew’s post below about the Said at Southern blog madness. We made it to the second round, which is actually a surprise for us. There are a lot of excellent blogs in the S@S network, including several who have been blogging faithfully longer. But, if you feel like it, vote for us. If not, that is fine. We are just glad you are reading.

PS2 :: Also read Drew’s post Preaching the Wrath of God on Easter, where he asks, “What did you hear preached on Sunday morning?” “If we sacrifice the whole truth for a half truth, we might win more hearers, but in doing so we have ceased to preach the gospel and we have begun to deceive our hearers.”

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I’d swim across Lake Michigan
I’d sell my shoes
I’d give my body to be back again
In the rest of the room
To be alone with you
To be alone with you
To be alone with you
To be alone with you

You gave your body to the lonely
They took your clothes
You gave up a wife and a family
You gave your ghost
To be alone with me
To be alone with me
To be alone with me
You went up on a tree
To be alone with me
You went up on a tree
I’ve never known a man who loved me.

- Lyrics from To Be Alone With You by Sufjan Stevens.

If you haven’t heard, Sufjan Stevens is currently the darling of the independent music scene. He is also probably my favorite contemporary song writer. I have seen Sufjan three times in concert and all three times he ended his set with two songs–the above song, To Be Alone With You and That Dress Looks Nice on You. Typically Sufjan plays these two sufjan-stevens-and-the-cross.jpgsongs unplugged giving them a deep, introspective, worshipful feel. It is a surreal experience to be surrounded by hundreds of people, many of whom likely are not Christians, singing every word of a song that is clearly about Jesus Christ.

Hearing so many people sing a song about Jesus while likely not believing in Him is a testimony to how the rise of postmodern thinking has affected our interpretation of art. Postmodern literary criticism teaches that meaning lies in the reader rather than the author (this literary theory is called reader-response criticism and was made popular by author Stanley Fish and philosopher Jaques Derrida). Thus people can sing To Be Alone With You and interpret it as a testimony to their own struggles and victories in their struggle with intimacy or more simply just a story about a man who gave of himself to help others. Such interpretations might seem clearly implausible but these are seriously the sort of things that people have said about the song (see the comments on Sufjan’s lyrics here). In the world in which we live, Sufjan’s song can mean any number of things no matter the clear references to the cross (tree) and the Holy Spirit (ghost).

Despite the fact that people seem to feel free to interpret Sufjan’s song in numerous ways, I think it is clear that Sufjan is trying to say something about Jesus Christ and mankind in this song. So I want to ask you, what is Sufjan saying about the cross of Jesus Christ in this song? What does the song say about the atonement of Christ? What is meant by “to be alone with me you went up on a tree”? I’ll save my answers to these questions for the comments page.

Though I love Sufjan Steven’s music, I do think there are some problems with what is said here about Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. There are some very encouraging things said by Sufjan here as well. I posed these questions to get you to think critically and carefully about what you hear. We as Christians must believe that meaning lies with the author. When someone sings about Jesus, it is worth considering what they mean.

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ER released this new episode about a month ago. Surprisingly, their handling of pluralism, lethal injection, and even homosexuality was honestly equitable and mature, though they offered no answers for their hard questions.

Check it out:

Of course, there is an answer to Dr. Truman’s question.

God doesn’t look at a sinner’s heart and say, this man is 85% righteous but 15% sinner. And then to another, this man is 10% righteous but 90% sinner. Instead he says, there are none righteous, no not one. They are all 0% righteous and 100% sinner. Christ lived the perfect life that we should have lived and are condemned for not doing, and he died the sinless sacrifice on our behalf, our ransom, imputing his righteousness to us and taking our sins from us and taking them on himself on the cross. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

“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” (Rom. 3:23-25a).

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).

“Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering soul to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above” (Robert Robinson, ‘Come Thy Fount of Every Blessing’).

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