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Submitted by Matthew Boedy
What has become of the gospel in this day and age? What has become of Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me? What is so amazing about grace anymore? If God is a God who loves us, why should hell be a problem? What has become of the second person of the Trinity in the context of theology? Why did Jesus live and die, as an example to us or an accomplishment for God?
Today these questions are the questions that face not only the church of God, but the human race as a whole. When the church cant answer these questions in truth, the world follows in doubt. Although the church today is answering these questions, the answers come from a distorted view of the world - a panoramic scope focusing the message of the gospel through mans eyes, not Gods.
We have changed the perspective of the history of salvation. It is no longer Gods redemptive plan for sinners that is preached, but the development of God in mans eyes. Surely God is not dead, but the verification of his existence is his usefulness (Micheal Horton). In this day and age, God is dependent on man, not man dependent on God.
It is no longer God that is sovereign but man himself. It is no longer faith in Christ Jesus that saves, but faith in religion itself. It is no longer Jesus, the Son of God made man, who stands at the center of truth in Gods redemption, but man, in his progress to earn Gods favor. Heaven is looked up to as a birthright we are entitled to rather than a reward for Gods unmerited favor, while hell is a discipline program based on scare tactics not the literal place of eternal separation from God.
From mans eyes the gospel is egocentric. From the eyes of God it remains Christocentric. In this essay I would like to aid the restoration of the gospel to its true center, its foundation the Lord Christ Jesus. In my judgment there are three areas of theology where the gospel needs to be grounded. I am not saying that there are not other valid doctrines that need re-centering, but these three I have chosen to be a basis for the reformation of the others.
So lets us look at the gospel from Gods perspective.
Michael Horton writes about an experience he had when he went to a nondenominational Christian high school and asked 160 students this question, How many here have ever heard the term, justification?
Out of 160 young people, only one person had ever heard of, much less understood, the central tenet of the Protestant Reformation and, indeed, of the gospel itself, he said. What kind of perspective can we expect to have if the central tenet of our faith is not known? Certainly we dont have Gods view. So we must deal with this basic creed of reformation faith if we are to regain Gods perspective on the gospel.
The dictionary I have defines the verb justify as to declare innocent or blameless. In Vines Complete Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words the verb justify is defined as to declare to be righteous, to pronounce righteous. Justification is then the state of being justified; the state of having rightness before God.
Gods justice is the root of justification. God is just, or fair and impartial, with his people. He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deuteronomy 32:4) The Lord our God is the ethical, social, and most importantly the moral judge of the world. He just doesnt judge right and wrong in the situations of life through His word, but in the most simplest and most individual sense he judges us for our sin.
Gods justice is part of the total character of Himself. There is no reason to expect mercy from the righteous Judge of the Universe. Let me say that again. There is no reason to expect, or take for sure, mercy from the Lord. He does indeed reward the righteous, but the wicked he repays each person for they have done. JI Packer reminds us that the Bible labors point that just as God is good to those who trust him, so he is terrible to those who dont. It is from the Lord that man gets justice. (Proverbs 29:26) The essence of the judgment of God is justice. Justice for the righteous, but also justice for the wicked.
What does justice mean to us? What can we expect from such justice? To answer these questions, we must look at our standing before God as a creation. In the most clearest declaration of Gods justice and judgment in any passage of Scripture, Romans Chapter 2 gives us the answers.
But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of Gods wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Romans 2:5-8)
Paul, in these verses and the following Chapter 3, gives us Gods perspective concerning our standing before Him. Justice here is defined as without favoritism (verse 11) which means everyone is under judgment. The impartial judgment is based on a just standard and placing what he (man) has done up against it. That standard is Jesus Christ (v. 16).
For those who, like the Jews, have tried to observe the law fully, they are condemned by it. For those who, like the Gentiles, claim to not have the law, God says you will perish apart from the law and will incur the same judgment as those under the law for your conscience bears witness to your sin. (v.12-15) We get justice from God because He is just. The justice we incur on ourselves is Gods judgment. He is just, or truthful and wise, when he judges. Gods authority for judgment makes the whole world accountable to Him and therefore his judgment is justice for us.
Chapter 3 tells us there is no one righteous, not even one......there is no one who does good. (v. 10b, 12b) Gods judgment of our ways is apparent. His judgment involves eternal separation from Him at the day of His wrath. His holiness is always giving us justice. We will always get what is fair. We are spiritually dead now and will continue to be away from God after we are physically dead if we continue to have Gods wrath on us.
That is what is fair.
We have defined the justice of God and his impending judgment. Sinners awaiting damnation. But if we were to stop now, then we have only half defined God; we have only half given his perspective. Now we turn to the most amazing concept of history - justified sinners. Romans has declared that no one is deserving of the title righteous. But if we are truly the creation of God and meant to glorify him and enjoy him forever, how can the relationship that was perfect in the Garden be regained today in the world?
How can the unrighteous have fellowship with the righteous?
Certainly not by any means of man. Verse 21 of Chapter 3 of Romans may be the most amazing verses of the whole Bible. But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. (emphasis mine) A new revelation has come. A righteousness, an imputed justice, and an accredited standing before God has been revealed from God himself.
Man cannot give himself rightness and cannot administer justice on himself, though he will always receive it. Sinners of the world, deserving justice that implies Gods judgment, have had a solution to their sentence of damnation revealed to them. The ones who are not righteous will become righteous. The ones deserving justice will be justified. Packer again writes, The New Testament answer is: Call on the coming Judge to be your present Savior.
Once we have this imputed or alien righteousness, which is from God through the redemption of the cross, we are justified by God while we are yet sinful. His own righteousness is our sole justifier. His justice and the implication of wrath against our sin have been appeased by His righteousness. And central to this imputation is Jesus Christ. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (v.22) The verses go on to say that Jesus is a sacrifice presented to demonstrate Gods justice, so as to be the just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (v.26)
It is important if we are to keep our eye on the Christocentricness of the Gospel, that we remember this short summary: He is active; we are acted upon. The divine acts of incarnation, redemption, and resurrection - all acts of Christ - are the foundations for justification.
Once we have accurately defined the basis of justification we need to defend its biblical meaning against the other gospels in the world and those, ironically, made by the world. Francis Schaeffer in quoting Romans 3:24-26 points directly to the misleading ideas of humans trying to have a part in salvation...
Whether it is the Judaizers at the time of Paul, or the classical Roman Catholic Church with the addition of works, or the modern theologian - it does not matter. Man always tries to sneak a humanistic element into salvation. But in the area of individual salvation Scripture rejects all humanism. Man is justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus!
It is humanistic, and therefore not Christocentric, to say your decision for Christ saves. Justification is an one time event and so is the act of deciding. But the gospel does not talk about deciding for Christ or asking Jesus into your heart but clearly describes acquiring a righteousness that has been revealed by God. This righteousness comes through faith - that is faith is the instrument of application. Christians acknowledge truth through faith.
Just like when people look for better instruments to be conductors for electricity so to make the electrons flow through more efficiently, so too does the alien righteousness from God flow through faith efficiently. If we can only please God with faith, then it is the most efficient instrument to build up His glory. Faith is the only conductor of righteousness, so we are justified by faith alone.
We talk too much about faith today and not enough about the object of our faith. When we do that, faith becomes something subjective; it becomes an end rather than a means to an end, namely Jesus Christ. (Horton) The phrase in Christ is the phrase that should be emphasized in theology. If we are in Christ we are justified freely. If we are in Christ we are in need of nothing else for we have been set right with God.
In the Old Testament, the Jews were commanded to offer sacrifices to the Lord. These included sin offerings, which made atonement for sin; grain offerings which the priests used for themselves; guilt offerings, which paid the guilt of sin; and thank offerings that were given to give God thanks.
The Hebrew word for offering is qorban, which is derived from a verb meaning to come/bring near. Usually the word is translated as that which one brings near to God or the altar (Vines).
Jesus, the final sacrafice, brings God near. He was sacrificed to take away the sins of many people. (Hebrews 9:28) Jesus is called the eternal priest who could make the most holy sacrifice. (Hebrews 10:12) By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:14) He is the fulfillment of Old Testament offerings. He, and he alone, brings peace with God through the ministry of reconciliation.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13).
The verb reconcile means to restore to union and friendship after estrangement. Again in Vines we see this: By reason of this (Christs atoning death) men in their sinful condition and alienation from God are invited to be reconciled to Him; that is to say, to change their attitude, and accept the provision God has made, whereby their sins can be remitted and they themselves be justified in His sight in Christ.
We have seen the antithesis of justification before God. Either we in Christ or we are not. Here with reconciliation, the antithesis continues. Either we are alienated from God or we have gained access by grace. In Romans 5, Paul lays out the relationship of justification and reconciliation:
Since now we have been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from Gods wrath through him. For if, when we were Gods enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have now received reconciliation. (v.9-11, emphasis mine).
Those who are under Gods wrath as his enemies. For as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. (Philippians 3:18). Enemies are characterized by their alienating minds which is shown by their evil behavior. (Colossians 1:21). They do not think the knowledge of God is a worthwhile pursuit and support those who do wickedness.
How are enemies of God reconciled to Him? But now he has reconciled you by Christs physical body through death... (Colossians 1:22). It is Christs death, the shedding of his blood, that brings us returns to God. Jesus became a propitiation to God on our behalf.
John Murray defines the meaning of propitiation like this:
The doctrine of propitiation is precisely this: that God loved the objects of his wrath so much that he gave His own Son to the end that He by his blood should make provision for the removal of His wrath. It was Christ's so to deal with the wrath that the loved would no longer be the objects of wrath, and love would achieve its aim of making children of wrath the childrens of Gods good pleasure. (The Atonement, pg. 15).
When Gods wrath has been removed against us, then we return to a relationship with God and begin to fulfill the original purpose of man - to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That is the definition of reconciliation - to restore to union. This comes only through Christs death.
The ministry and message of reconciliation both have their origin with God. But I agree with Michael Horton when he says, Today we are trying to reconcile God to humanity, instead of reconciling humanity to God. We are trying to reconcile our sin with God in unholy and unbiblical ways. We begin with a wrong view of God and then apply that to a wrong view of ourselves. We choose to shape God in our image, whereas we were created and told to live in His.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus instructed the Jews that their view of Scripture was false. They had diligently searched the Scriptures thinking in them they had eternal life. But Jesus reminded the Jews that the Scriptures spoke of him, through whom we might obtain eternal life. Jesus said they would believe anyone who came in his own name but they refused to believe in Jesus because he came in the Fathers name. He asks then, How can you believe if you..... make no effort to obtain the praise (or glory) that comes from the only God? They didnt just have an unbelief; their belief was distorted. They had a disbelief about the Scripture, and that led to a disbelief about God. (John 5:36-47).
DA Carson describes the speech by Jesus in John 5 like this:
The chief punishment of the liar is not so much that he is not believed but that he does not believe; similarly the chief judgment on those who deny that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Son of God, is not so much that they have no Messiah, but that they will follow false messiahs: if someone comes in his own name, you will accept him.
We have made a false god. The content of our faith is empty because the hope we have set our lives on is an empty god. We have lost the meaning of reconciliation. If sin no longer has any moral meaning, then its consequences no longer apply. The message of reconciliation says we are in need of restoration because sin separates us from God. The ministry of reconciliation meets that need through the Messiah, Jesus Son of God. Michael Horton again says we have a weak faith because we are constantly looking at ourselves.
The reality of God shows us the reality of our desperation. So desperate is our need for salvation that there is nothing we can do to gain it. That is why God came to reconcile the world to himself. There was no other way.
In his famous book Knowing God, JI Packer defines adoption as the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification.
So we have come to the pinnacle of what it means to be called Christian. To be called a Christian is to have God as our Father. It is more than having our sentence paid; more than being freed from our punishment; and more than knowing our sins are forgiven. Adoption is a relationship with the Lord God whom we can now call Father. It is eternal life as a son of God.
Adoption signifies the place and condition of a son given to one whom it does not naturally belong. (Vines) We are placed into the family of God and given the condition of a son. Paul compares our former position as slaves, those who have no share in the familys inheritance. (Galatians 4). The natural attitude of our hearts towards God is not that of sons. (RA Torrey). Adoption, then is a rebirth, by which we are given an unnatural family, a spiritual family. This divine family offers us a relationship with the Father.
Galatians is one of the most direct scriptural passages on adoption. Through Chapter 3 verse 26 to Chapter 4 verse 7, the Apostle Paul lays down the doctrine of sonship. This is where the meat of the significance comes from. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Just as justification is by faith and we are reconciled to God through faith, adoption too is brought to us through faith in Christ Jesus. We have been baptized into Christ (v 27) and have clothed ourselves with Christ.(v 27). Our faith is not the object here; it is Christ Jesus.
We said before that adoption is a spiritual sonship. For this reason it is by the Spirit of His Son that we are being nurtured. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (Romans 8:14) This Spirit, the triune Spirit of God, witnesses together with our renewed and steadfast spirit to call out Abba, Father. Abba is the Aramaic word for Father. Just as Jesus calls God his Father, so too can we. I pray......that all of them may be one Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. (John 17:20-21).
The work of the Holy Spirit is the instrument of sonship. Paul calls the indwelling Holy Spirit a seal, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. Having been given the full rights of sons through adoption, so then as heirs to the kingdom of heaven, we await our inheritance. The Holy Spirit is then is an abiding, or faithful, witness from God that we are His sons.
The universals will say, But isnt everyone a child of God? And the answer of a Bible-believing Christian should be No, by any means. We are by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3) Our physical birth lines do have us as offspring of God (Acts 17:29). But as Paul demonstrated, we are slaves, not sons. We have no inheritance because we are not considered to be sons.
Jesus called the Pharisees children of the devil. (John 8:42-47). Those who do not love God are not His sons. Those who are enemies of the cross are not children of God. Those who have not the Spirit of God cannot, and do not wish to, love God. From Gods perspective, they are not lovely children.
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Hebrews 2:10-11).
The family of God are heirs to the kingdom through Christ Jesus. We share in His sufferings so that we will share in His glory. It is the Spirit of the Son that lives in us. We live to obey our Father and give glory to the one who makes us holy. Therefore holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. (Hebrew 3:1).
God does not see our sin through the shadow of the cross. He does not see enemies but friends because of the propitiation of Christ. He does not see objects of wrath but nurtured sons. From Gods perspective, we are justified, reconciled, and adopted in Christ Jesus. There is no merit in our actions, nor any righteousness in our lives. For it is by grace we are saved. This is the gospel from Gods perspective. Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1,2).
Let us not believe in vain. Let us see from His perspective.
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