Archive for the 'Christology' Category

James 2:21-26 (ESV): It’s true you can be justified by works.

Sunday, August 28th, 2016

 By Spencer D Gear PhD [1]

It’s true clip_image002

You can be justified by works clip_image004

Is James a preacher of falsehood?clip_image006

1. Introduction

It was early May 2015 and our backyard was flooding with water pouring onto it from the neighbour’s property. I needed sandbags to stop the water from coming into our house. To go to the Council’s works’ depot, I drove down Boundary Rd., North Lakes towards Deception Bay Rd. I came to the creek and the water was flooded over the causeway. Instead of trying to cross, not knowing the depth of the water, I turned around. Was I justified in not crossing the flooded causeway? Of course!

In my writing of this paragraph of my sermon, I have used the ‘justify’ format so that my writing is carefully aligned on the right and left margins. I have used the “justify” format function of MS Word for this paragraph.

 

Daniel morcombe.jpg(Daniel Morcombe photograph, courtesy Wikipedia)

 

DANIEL Morcombe, 13, went missing while waiting for a bus in 2003 [on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast]. It was almost eight years before his remains were found’. In 2014, Brett Peter Cowan faced trial charged with his murder’.[1a]

ABC News (Australia) reported on 15 March 2014 that

Brett Peter Cowan has been sentenced to life in jail with a minimum non-parole period of 20 years for the murder of Sunshine Coast teenager Daniel Morcombe.

Cowan was … found guilty of murder, indecent treatment of a child and interfering with a corpse.[2]

He was sentenced in Brisbane’s Supreme Court by Justice Roslyn Atkinson. Was the Justice justified in sentencing Cowan to life in prison?

Here I have used the English word, ‘justified’, to mean 3 different things:

Flower24 Justified in not crossing a flooded road;

Flower24 A paragraph of my typed sermon justified as part of its written format;

Flower24 A justice in court justified in inflicting punishment on a criminal, based on Australian law.

Please keep these examples in mind as we examine the language of this passage from James 2:21-26.

(a) Abraham justified by works (v. 21);

(b) Rahab, the prostitute, justified by works (v. 25);

(c) ‘You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone’ (v. 24);

(d) Then Paul has the audacity to state this of believers: ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom 5:1 ESV).

1.1 A quick review (James 2:14-20)

Since I preached on James 2:14-20 a month ago, you may have forgotten some of the content. James 2:17 gives a quick summary of this passage: ‘So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead’

1.1.1 Faith by itself isn’t enough.

1.1.2 Unless faith produces good deeds, it is not the real thing.

1.1.3 Faith without good deeds is dead or useless.

True faith is demonstrated by the good works that follow faith. James is not teaching that good works are need for you to obtain genuine faith. But if you have fair dinkum faith, we will see that unseen faith by the seen good works that you do. That’s the fundamental teaching in James 2:14-20.

Now to understand what James is saying that caused Luther so much heartache. It is not that difficult to understand if we keep this in mind the negative aspect in vv 14-20 – faith without works is useless. Now James turns to what a genuine, saving faith will look like.

He gives one example that we could expect – Abraham. But the other seems out in left field – Rahab, a prostitute. These 2 OT characters are as different as chalk and cheese by outward appearances. But when we get to the heart of the matter they are on the same page. You might say: What? Abraham the man of faith and Rahab the harlot. Those 2 examples seem such an unlikely couple to demonstrate justification by works.

To understand James 2:21, we must know the meaning of James 2:20. It reads, ‘Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?’ (ESV).

Now James sets out to demonstrate that genuine faith that is not followed by good works is useless. Look who he uses as his first example.

2. Abraham justified by works?

Faith & WorksNote the entire verse 21 (ESV): ‘Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?’ The NIV translates as: ‘Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?’

This verse refers to Abraham’s offering up Isaac, recorded in Genesis 22. When Abraham was obedient to God’s test and bound Isaac to the wood on the altar, took the knife to slaughter his son (Gen 22:10) but the angel of the Lord intervened to stop this sacrifice of Isaac. These are the works that James is speaking about.

2.1 Didn’t this happen when he offered Isaac on the altar? (v. 21)

What we are not told in verse 21 is about Abraham believing God and being justified by faith, or being counted as righteousness. We have to wait until James 2:23 to read about that.

However, it is critical for our understanding that we know that Abraham’s being justified by works in James 2:21 follows Abraham’s being justified by faith.

We are told about this justification by faith in Genesis 15 in God’s Covenant with Abram. God’s promise was his very own son to be Abram’s heir (Gen 15:4) and Abram’s descendants would be as many as the stars in the heaven (Gen 15:5). Then in Gen 15:6 we have these words from Abram, ‘And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness’. This is where Abram was justified by faith in God alone.

This is the verse to which Paul refers when he wrote to the Romans 4:3, ‘For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”’. To the Galatians 3:6, Paul wrote, ‘Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”’. In these 2 verses in Romans and Galatians, Paul is referring to Gen 15:6 when Abram was justified by faith.

However James 2:21 is referring to another incident in the life of Abraham when he offered up Isaac as a sacrifice, a demonstration of Abraham’s faith in God.

Commentator C. E. B. Cranfield summarised this very well:

For James, no less than for Paul, the words of Gen. 15.6 quoted in [James 2] verse 23 (“And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness”) are decisive. It was by his faith that Abraham was justified. His works (his readiness to offer up Isaac related to Gen. 22) did not earn his justification (about which we hear already in Gen. 15): they were simply the fruit and the outward evidence of his faith (Cranfield 1965:340).[3]

That’s an excellent statement and summary. Even though these verses got Luther tangled up, they are not all that difficult to understand if we consider the context in James 2 and the references to Genesis 15 and Gen 22. In James 2:21, Abraham is stated as being justified by works. This is an illustration of the true faith that Abraham already had. Abraham’s good works and his faith are inseparable, but the works DO NOT lead to Abraham’s faith and righteousness before God. Abraham’s work of offering up Isaac is a proof of genuine faith.

Again, Cranfield said it well, ‘Had there been no works, Abraham would not have been justified; but that would have been because the absence of works would have meant that he had no real faith’ (Cranfield 1965:340).[4]

So to answer the question, ‘Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac?’ We say, ‘Yes, Abraham the father of the Jews, including Jewish Christians, ‘was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar’ (that’s the NLT translation). However, this demonstration of works was based on Abraham’s being declared to be righteous by faith.

The same applies to all believers. Our good works demonstrate that we are already believers who have been justified by faith. This leads to the summary in James 2:22,

2.2 Faith active with works (v. 22)

This is what I’ve just explained and James 2:22 states, ‘You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works’. Or as the NLT puts it, ‘You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete’.

What could it possibly mean that Abraham’s

3. Faith completed by works (v.  22)

arrow-small NASB, ‘as a result of the works, faith was perfected’.

arrow-small CEV, ‘He proved that his faith was real by what he did’.

arrow-small NRSV, ‘faith was brought to completion by the works’.

‘Was completed or perfected’ is the aorist tense (point action) of the verb, teleiow, meaning ‘to carry to the end, to complete like love in 1 John 4:18’,[5] which reads, ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love’. The same verb is in James 1:4 with ergon teleion, ‘And let steadfastness have its full effect (or ‘must finish its work’ NIV), that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’ (ESV).

Faith is ‘brought to its intended goal’ by good works. Abraham was justified by faith (Gen 15) but his faith was made complete by his offering of Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen 22). Your works will demonstrate whether your faith is the real thing.

My wife, Desley, and I really enjoy custard apples. They are grown in different parts of the Queensland east coast and into northern NSW. A custard apple tree is made perfect, brought to its intended goal, by producing custard apple fruit. If you have faith that is genuine, you will have that faith perfected by your doing good works (Hiebert 1979:194).

Let’s use a down to earth analogy: This photo is an example of justification by works for the custard apple tree.

clip_image008

(courtesy www.custardapples.com.au)

This is the justification by faith for the custard apple tree – flowers:

clip_image010

(photo courtesy toptropicals.com)

Wherever you have a genuine custard apple tree and flowers, it must blossom into the good works of custard apple fruit.

So, wherever people have genuine faith, it must blossom into good works – feeding the hungry, clothing those needing clothes, and meeting human need. It will also blossom into Christians proclaiming the Gospel. Timothy was a pastor who cared for people. However, what did Paul say to Timothy? ‘But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry’ (2 Tim 4:5 NIV). Primarily, he was not an evangelist, but God’s instruction still was, ‘Do the work of an evangelist’.

No matter what the gifts of people, we need to engage in practical good works among needy people. We may choose to do it locally or through international humanitarian groups such as Compassion, Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, Mercy Ships, or many other ministries.

Notice the emphasis of James 2:23:

3.1 Scripture was fulfilled (v. 23)

‘and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God’.

This refers back to Gen 15:6, which I’ve already covered, when Abraham was justified by faith.

3.1.1 Abraham believed God (v. 23)

3.1.2 It was counted to him as righteousness (v. 23)

a. Abraham was called a friend of God (v. 23)

Where is Abraham called ‘a friend of God’? These words do not come from Gen 15 or Gen 22. So to what is James referring? Here are a few possibilities:

clip_image012A close relationship between God and Abraham is implied in Gen 18:17-18 (ESV): ‘7 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?’

clip_image012[1]We know from 2 Chron 20:7 that King Jehoshaphat while addressing God, spoke of Abraham as ‘Abraham your friend’ (ESV).

clip_image012[2]In Isa 41:8, God spoke of ‘Abraham, my friend’.

So there you have a few examples of Abraham’s intimate relationship with God so that Abraham could be called a ‘friend of God’.

Now James 2:24 gives a summary:

4. This means: A person is justified by works (v. 24)

‘You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone’. How is that possible? As I’ve attempted to show in my last message and this one that being justified by works and not faith alone means that genuine faith, fair dinkum faith in Christ alone for salvation, is not the real thing unless it is shown by its good works. Good deeds follow salvation but they are a package. If there is no good works, there is no genuine faith. So it is biblically sound to say that a Christian is justified by works and not faith alone, as long as one remembers that faith and works are used interchangeably as a demonstration of genuine faith in Christ alone for salvation.

4.1 Not justified by faith alone (v. 24)

Miss Placed FaithNow, you won’t accuse me of preaching a false doctrine when I say that we are not justified by faith alone, will you? That’s exactly what James taught because of the compulsory combination of genuine faith expressed through good works. If you don’t have the good works, you don’t have real, saving faith. But the good works come after saving faith. They demonstrate that you already have faith.

Then we come to an unexpected example of justification by works. We can understand Abraham demonstrating his faith by moving to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. Abraham was a hero of the faith.

But then we have this provocative example in a Jewish culture that treated women as sub-standard. Bible History online has an article, ‘Jewish women and the Temple’, in which it says this about Jewish women in the first century AD:

Rabbinic literature was filled with contempt for women. The rabbis taught that women were not to be saluted, or spoken to in the street, and they were not to be instructed in the law or receive an inheritance. A woman walked six paces behind her husband and if she uncovered her hair in a public place she was considered a harlot.

In ancient Israel the Jewish culture was one of the most male dominant cultures in the whole world…. The Mishnah taught that a woman was like a gentile slave who could be obtained by intercourse, money or writ (m. Qidd 1:1).[6]

The Mishnah dealt with the debates on the Jewish oral law that were composed by the Jews between AD 70 and 200 and forms part of the Talmud. If you want to investigate any teaching (such as that on women) within the Mishnah, that is called a Midrash.[7]

Now to …

5. Rahab, the prostitute, justified by works (v. 25)

She is a very unexpected example. Not only was she a woman, but also she had been a prostitute. We read about Rahab in Joshua chs 2-6. Remember the story? Paul Cornford has been preaching about her in recent weeks. Just a few incidents from her life are mentioned here in James:

5.1 She was justified by works (v 25)

This verse from James 2:25 (ESV) states, ‘And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?’

Don’t miss the introductory words, ‘And in the same way’ (homoi?s). And in the same way as Abraham, but what a prominent contrast. James has taken 2 people of very different characters and demonstrated how their faith was followed by works, thus proving their justification by faith.

Remember the story?

5.1.1 When? Receiving messengers & sending out by another way (v. 25)

What were the works that justified her? We know from Joshua 2:1 and 6:17, 22 that Rahab received the spies (here in James they are called messengers). Joshua had sent 2 spies to check the land of Canaan, but especially Jericho. Rahab hid these spies in her house. The King of Jericho went to Rahab saying, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house for they have come to search out all the land’ (Josh 2:3).

To protect the spies, what did Rahab do? ‘She let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall’ (Josh 2:15). The spies departed by another way and Rahab ‘tied the scarlet cord in the window’ (Josh 2:21).

That’s all we have reference to here in James 2:25, but that’s enough to demonstrate she was justified by works. HOWEVER, where is Rahab’s faith that preceded her good works?

This we know:

clip_image014 Rahab has her name in Christ’s family tree, his genealogy, according to Matt 1:5 (ESV): ‘and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse….’

clip_image016 Here’s the BIG one regarding Rahab’s faith: ‘By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies’ (Heb 11:31 ESV).

In the great faith chapter of the Bible we have proof of Rahab’s faith and this meant she did not perish with the disobedient ones because of what she did for the spies.

When James asks, ‘Was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works?’ He is asking: What works did Rahab do to demonstrate she had faith in the living God? Her good works entailed what she did for the spies, the messengers.

Now James concluded his discussion:

6. Faith without works is dead (v 26)

James 2:26, ‘For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead’ (ESV).

6.1 Just as the body apart from the spirit is dead (v. 26)

What happens when your spirit leaves your body when you breathe your last breath? We have information about this in Eccl 12:6-7 (NLT):

‘Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. 7 For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it’.

The analogy is:

6.2 In a similar way, faith without works is dead (v. 26)

I hope you have gained the message in my expositions on James 2 that if you don’t have works that follow faith, then your faith is not genuine.

So to say that you are justified by your works is using justify to mean demonstrate to be righteous. Just as custard apples justify the existence of a living custard apple tree that blossoms and produces fruit, so a Christian’s works justify that he or she has genuine faith. Unless you have works accompanying faith, you do not have fair dinkum faith that saves.

7. Conclusion

Wayne Grudem, a Reformed Baptist theologian, summarised his interpretation of James 2, stating that

“show to be righteous” is an acceptable sense for the word justified, but also on the consideration that this sense fits well with the primary purpose of James in [James 2].[8] James is concerned to show that mere intellectual agreement with the gospel is a “faith” that is really no faith at all. He is concerned to argue against those who say they have faith but show no change in their lives. He says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith” (James 2:18) [Grudem 1999:322].

Now to some,

7.1 Applications of James 2:21-26 to your life and this church

Let me suggest a couple before I ask for your contributions:

  1. What does it mean to be justified by works? It means that you will SHOW you are righteous before God by your good deeds. What good works should we be doing as individuals and as a church?
  2. No matter how bad your past, Rahab is an example that demonstrates that justification by faith leads to justification by works – the practice of good works.
  3. Is the title of this sermon accurate? ‘It’s true! You can be justified by works!’ Dare I add, true Christians MUST be justified by works!
  4. Now it’s over to you. How can you apply this message to your life and this church’s ministry?

8. Works consulted

Cranfield, C E B 1965. The message of James. Scottish Journal of Theology 18 (3), September, 338-345.

Grudem, W 1999. Bible Doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

James 2:21-26 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

9.  Notes


[1] Preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld., Australia, Sunday 17 June 2016, PM Service..

[1a] The Courier-Mail 2013. 10 years later, the life and death of Daniel Morcombe (online), December 06. Available at: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/years-later-the-life-and-death-of-daniel-morcombe/story-fnihsrf2-1226776823830 (Accessed 28 August 2016).

[2] ABC News, 2014. Daniel Morcombe’s killer sentenced to life in prison (online), 15 March. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-14/daniel-morcombe-killer-brett-peter-cowan-sentenced/5320538 (Accessed 7 May 2016).

[3] This Cranfield citation is from Hiebert (1979:192).

[4] This citation is taken from Hiebert (1979:193).

[5] Robertson (1933:37).

[6] Bible History online n d. ‘Women in Jewish history’. Available at: http://www.bible-history.com/court-of-women/women.html (Accessed 10 May 2016).

[7] What is a midrash? (online), Got Questions? Available at: http://www.gotquestions.org/Mishnah-midrash.html (Accessed 10 May 2016).

[8] The original said, ‘this section’.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 August 2016.

Does God love the world or only the elect?

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

God is Love

(courtesy ChristArt)

 

By Spencer D Gear

This is a reasonable question:

When christians tell non-believers God loves them, before sharing the gospel. There are many verses I can refer to with regards to the Love shown by God to both believer and unbeliever. But when we say “God loves you”, is there scripture to show this?[1]

After a reply, he wrote this response:

The problem I run into is the context.

1. John 3:16 is the top verse I hear. Does it mean the WHOLE WORLD.
I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. (John 17:9 KJV)
*why not the world?
2. When verses are referring to believers (Israel/ church) and not unbelievers.
3. I know God sends the rain to both the wicked and the righteous.
A better question I should ask is…..
Would YOU tell Esau “God loves you”?[2]

My response was:[3]

John 17:9 states, ‘I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours’ (ESV).

With regard to John 17:9 and who it is that Jesus is praying for, we get the answer by reading the context. Please read the whole of John 17 to know who Jesus is praying for. Evangelical commentator, Leon Morris, wrote of John 17:9:

Very simply Jesus prays for them. He makes a distinction between the little band of disciples and the world. His prayer is not for “the world”. This does not mean that “the world” is beyond God’s love. Elsewhere we are specifically told that He loves it (3:16). And throughout this chapter it is plain that Jesus came with a mission to the world, and that the disciples were now to carry it on. A little later Jesus prays that the disciples may do certain things “that the world may believe…” (v. 21), and “that the world may know” (v. 23). The world is to be reached through the disciples and it is for His agents that Jesus prays. But He could scarcely pray for “the world” as such. As “the world” it was ranged in opposition to God. Its salvation lay precisely in its ceasing to be “the world”. Prayer for the world could only be that it be converted and no longer by the world. But that would be a different prayer. We see it for example in His prayer for those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34). Now He prays rather for the little group of His friends. Notice that they are again described in terms of their relationship to the Father. They have been “given” to Christ. They belong to the Father (Morris1971:725).

Another wrote:

There are passages in John that can reasonably be interpreted that way [God loved the world, John 3:16] , e.g. John 14:23. Personally I tend towards a more universal concept. Luke 6:35 suggests that our love for enemies is based on God’s own love for his enemies, but I think a reasonable case can be made that God only loves his people, and in John, only the elect.[4]

My response was:

If God only loved the elect, that makes “for God so loved the world” an oxymoron.

It makes God commit self-contradiction, which he does not do. Could it be that your doctrine of God only loving the elect is the one in error? “God so loved the world” cannot be dissected and deconstructed to mean “God so loved the elect”, unless one wants to get into eisegesis.

Luke 6:35 has no relation to God’s love for the world or the elect. It relates to what he told his disciples to do, ‘But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great…” It is talking about rewards for believers, not whether or not God loves the world or only the elect. In context, I think you are wanting Luke 6:35 to say something it does not say. Clutching at straws?[5]

Norman Geisler (1999:77) agreed: ‘Few teachings are more evident in the New Testament than that God loves all people, that Christ died for the sins of all human beings (cf. 1 Tim 2:4-6; 1 John 2:2), and that God desires all people to be saved (2 Peter 3:9)’.

 

References

Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Morris, Leon 1971. The Gospel according to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

 

Notes:

[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘The Love of God’, toolmanjantzi#1, Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7721033/ (Accessed 3 February 2013).

[2] Ibid, toolmanjantzi#3.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

[4] Ibid., Hendrick#12.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#14.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 February 2016.

How could the holy Jesus deal with the wicked sins of humanity?

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Crucify

(courtesy ChristArt)

 By Spencer D Gear

A Christian woman whom I have known for 25 years contacted me recently[1] as she has problems understanding some biblical teachings after listening to a prominent evangelical preacher, John MacArthur, on YouTube. Please understand that these are her understandings from what she heard online.

Her difficulties were:

  • ‘Jesus lay aside some of His eternal rights/attributes and became totally dependent of the Father’;
  • MacArthur talks about how Jesus lay aside ‘somehow’ His holiness and became sin;
  • He talked about our struggle is the opposite we struggle to lay aside ‘sin’ to attain holiness.
  • ‘Jesus would stop being God if He were not eternally Holy. How then can he become sin?   So I find the concept hard to reconcile in my mind’.
  • ‘I thought He was punished for our sin, not that sin and evil clothed Him. So Jesus temptation was to NOT let sin cover Him but remain as He was absolutely Holy’.
  • ‘But then as I write this I “know” that He is and always has been absolutely holy’.
  • ‘Or does He allow sin/evil to cover Him, not change Him, but to draw so near it (sin) it was on Him’.
  • ‘Thus the Father turns away and He is punished as if He has committed the sin Himself. I always thought Jesus was untouched by filth and evil but took the punishment for our actions in His complete purity. Is it as though the Father “bathed Him in our filth” or He allowed that filth to touch Him and then was punished as though He was our filth. Hard concept for me to understand’.

This Christian has been doing some deep thinking about the Christian faith and what Jesus did for her and she’s struggling to understand how Jesus became sin for Christians through his death on the cross.

How should I reply?[2]

The doctrine of imputation

centerforinquiry.net

How can Jesus become sin for us? This is the doctrine of imputation – how our sins were imputed to Christ when he died for us on the cross. What does that mean? I recommend that you take a read of this excellent explanation with some good illustrations: ‘Our sins are imputed to Christ‘ by Ernest L Martin.
‘Impute’ is forensic language – the language of the courts. It means to charge to, to reckon to. The biblical examples of the need for this are in passages such as:

 

1. ‘The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isa 53:6);

2. ‘He bore the sin of many’ (Isa 53:11);

3. Remember John the Baptist’s words: ‘The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (Jn 1:29);

4. God made Christ ‘to be sin, who knew no sin’ (2 Cor 5:21);

5. Christ became ‘a curse for us’ (Gal 3:13);

6. Christ was ‘offered once to bear the sins of many’ (Heb 9:28);

7. ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’ (1 Pt 2:24).

If we pick up the verses from Isaiah and 2 Cor 5:21, we see that by a legal/forensic act, God the Father has put the believers’ sins on Jesus. They have been reckoned to Jesus’ account. Wayne Grudem put is this way:

It was God the Father who put our sins on Christ. How could that be? In the same way in which Adam’s sins were imputed to us, so God imputed our sins to Christ; that is, he thought of them as belonging to Christ, and, since God is the ultimate judge and definer of what really is in the universe, when God thought of our sins as belonging to Christ then in fact they actually did belong to Christ. This does not mean that God thought that Christ had himself committed the sins, or that Christ himself actually had a sinful nature, but rather that the guilt of our sins (that is, the liability to punishment) was thought of by God as belonging to Christ rather than to us (Grudem 1999:253).

In simple language, when God imputed human beings’ sins to Jesus, God thought of them as belonging to Jesus Christ. That’s the meaning of the Greek word, logizomai,  which is essentially “to consider” or “to reckon something to be so.” So God decided as a legal act from his throne that the sins of human beings who trust in Christ belong to Jesus. This is the marvellous action of the designer of the universe that he should do this for us. Imputation deals with our legal position before God regarding sin and death. By our sins legally belonging to Jesus, we can have the marvellous gift of fellowship with and be in a right relationship with God.

The righteousness of Christ is imputed

clker.com

But this happens because there is another dimension to imputation. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer. In basic language, it means that the merits of Jesus are put into the account of another – Christians. We get this message from 2 Cor 5:21, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin [or, a sin offering] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (ESV).

This is not God’s attribute of righteousness because our faith in Christ doesn’t have to do with that. But this relates to the righteousness that God has provided for anyone who has faith in Jesus alone for salvation. God restores us to favour with Himself by imputing to us Christ’s righteousness.

We must not forget that this is a legal arrangement between God and us that is made possible because our sins are imputed to Christ and we receive a righteous provision to be able to enter God’s presence.

Grudem summarises this for us:

(C) GOD CAN DECLARE US TO BE JUST BECAUSE HE IMPUTES CHRIST’S RIGHTEOUSNESS TO US
When Adam sinned, his guilt was imputed to us.  In other words, God the Father viewed it as belonging to us, and therefore it did.  In the same way Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, and therefore God thinks of it as belonging to us.  It is not our own righteousness that we have earned in some way, but Christ’s righteousness that is freely given to us.

  • Paul says that God made Christ to be our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • Paul speaks of a righteousness that is not his own, but instead is through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9)
  • All who believe in Christ have been made righteous before God (Romans 3:21-22)

This idea that God declares us to be just or righteous not on the basis of our actual condition, but rather on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness was the heart of the difference between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism at the Reformation.  Grudem covers the error of the Catholic Church teaching derived from the Council of Trent. The consequence of this view of justification held by many Catholics is that our eternal life with God is not based on God’s grace alone, but partially on our merit as well or as Catholic Theologian Ludwig Ott stated “For the justified eternal life is both a gift of grace promised by God and a reward for his own good works and merits…. Salutary works are, at the same time, gifts of God and meritorious acts of man.”  This is not supported Biblically.  Justification is all God, and not by any merit in us (Source, a longer version is in Grudem 1999:318-320).

So when people are justified by Christ through faith in Jesus alone, they have had their sins pardoned. The penalty of their sins has been remitted (given to Jesus’ account)  and they have been restored to proper relationship with God. Why? It happens because our sins have been imputed to Christ (he has become sin for us) and the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us.

I hope that this gives a starter in understanding this wonderful doctrine of the imputation of our sins to Christ and Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us.

Works consulted

Grudem, W 1999. Ed by J Purswell. Bible doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Notes


[1] Her email was received by me on 13 May 2014.

[2] My email reply was sent on 15 May 2014.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.

Refutation of a heresy of Christ’s incarnation

Monday, October 24th, 2011

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Courtesy of Hendrickson Publishers (2005)

By Spencer D Gear

Was this idea of Jesus’ being fully man and fully God a creation of the church after Christ’s life, death and ascension?

A statement has been made about the divine and human with relation to Jesus. It’s a confusing statement, but it points to a problem in the contemporary doctrine of the person of Christ:

It seems to me that part of the problem is the idea of Jesus being “fully man” and “fully God” simultaneously. But I think some of this is stuff that has come up AFTER Jesus. For example, the Ebionite Christians of the 2nd Century said that Jesus was man, but not God, but the Docetist Christians (same era) said Jesus was fully God, but not a man at all (since, by their thinking, God couldn’t be debaucherized by entering a sinful world.. so Jesus was kind of like a hologram, in today’s terms).. and so to stick these together, they made Jesus “fully God, and fully man”.. and that’s where this confusion comes from.[1]

My response[2] is that Jesus has two natures – fully God and fully man – and this is the orthodox teaching of the New Testament. See the following for biblical support:

The Nestorian heresy

This was as much an issue in the early church as it is today. It was debated at the First Council of Ephesus in 431 and the Nestorian position was found to be unorthodox and his teachings were condemned as heresy.

Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople, may not have taught this doctrine himself, but Nestorianism, associated with his name, believed the error that Jesus was two distinct persons, one human and one divine. This doctrine threatens the nature of the atonement. Harold O. J. Brown stated that

Nestorius’ incarnate person was a single person, not two as his critics thought, but he could not convince others that it was so. Consequently he has gone down in history as a great heretic although what he actually believed was reaffirmed at [the Council of] Chalcedon.[3]

The Scriptures do not indicate the human nature of Christ as an independent person. We don’t find in the Bible any teaching such as: “Jesus’ divine nature did this” and “Jesus’ human nature did that” as if they were acting as two separate persons. The NT teaching always speaks of the PERSON of Christ did this or that.

So, the orthodox position is that Jesus was one person who possessed both a human nature and a divine nature.

We can talk of Christ’s human nature, where he ascended to heaven and is no longer in our world (see John 16:28; 17:11; Acts 1:9-11). When speaking of Christ’s divine nature we can say that he is present everywhere: “Where two or three are gathered in my name THERE AM I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20); “I am with you always to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

So we can say that both of these things are true about the PERSON of Christ – he has returned to heaven AND he is also present with us.

We can say that Jesus was about 30 years old (Luke 3:23) if we speak of his human nature, but when speaking of his divine nature, we can say that he eternally existed (see John 1:1-2; 8:58). In his human nature, Jesus became weak and grew tired (see Matt. 4:2; 8:24; Mark 15:21; John 4:6), but we know that in his divine nature, he was omnipotent (Matt. 8:26-27; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3. Therefore, we know that he was omnipotent, but he grew tired.

We see these two natures at work in the situation where Jesus was asleep in the boat and then calmed the wind and the waves (Matt. 8:26-27). It is amazing that this one person was both tired and omnipotent. At time his weak human frailty hid his omnipotence. But we must never lose sight of the fact that Jesus was one person with both human and divine natures.
I find that the only way I can get my head around this teaching that opposes Nestorianism, is to read the Scriptures. Jesus was truly and fully God and truly and fully human – both natures in the one person.

But what about this problem?

It is stated by Jesus, ‘But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’ (Mark 13:32 ESV). He was speaking of his second coming and Jesus did not know this time. How can this be when he is fully God?

This is why the biblical doctrine of Christology needs to be fully support in understanding that Jesus was one person with two natures. Christ’s lack of knowledge of the time of his return is a clear example of the need to have the orthodox doctrine of Christ’s one person with two natures. Wayne Grudem put it this way:

This ignorance of the time of his return was true of Jesus’ human nature and human consciousness only, for in his divine nature he was certainly omniscient and certainly knew the time when he would return to earth.[4]

Let’s check out Lutheran commentator, R. C. H. Lenski, and his interpretation of Mark 13:32:

The fact that the angels, though they are in heaven, do not know the date and period is no special surprise to us, but the fact that “the Son” should not know day and hour does cause surprise. The term “the Son” is placed alongside of “the Father.” But whereas Jesus thus names himself according to his divine person and nature, what he predicates of himself is something that pertains to his human nature. The Scriptures show that Jesus may be named according to either nature, and yet that something that belongs to the opposite nature may constitute the predicate. Analogous to the expression used here is Acts 3:15: “you killed the Prince of life”; also 1 Cor. 2:8, “crucified the Lord of glory.” In their essential oneness the three persons know all things, but in his humiliation the second person did not use his divine attributes save as he needed them in his mediatorial work. So the divine omniscience was used by Jesus only in this restricted way. That is why here on Mt. Olivet (v. 3) he does not know the date of the end. How the incarnate Son could during his humiliation thus restrict himself in the use of the divine attributes is one of the mysteries of his person; the fact is beyond dispute.[5]

This is the mystery revealed in the NT. Jesus Christ was one person with two natures – human and divine. Lenski has stated it well in his assessment above: “How the incarnate Son could during his humiliation thus restrict himself in the use of the divine attributes is one of the mysteries of his person; the fact is beyond dispute”.

See more of my articles in ‘Truth Challenge’. See also the article, ‘What do Christians believe about the incarnation? Was Jesus really God?

Notes:

[1] Christian Forums #256, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7474786-26/#post58827293 (Accessed 23 October 2011).

[2] Ibid., #257. I was helped in my response by Wayne Grudem 1994. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, pp. 555-562.

[3] Harold O. J. Brown 1984. Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., p. 176. This edition now is available from Hendrickson Publishers (2005).

[4] Grudem, op cit, p. 561. Grudem notes that if you check out the commentaries on Mark 13:32 by John Calvin, H. B. Swete (an Anglican) and R. C. H. Lenski (a Lutheran), you will find that they all attribute this ignorance by Jesus to his human nature and not his divine nature (Grudem 1994:561 n 43).

[5] R. C. H. Lenski 2001. The Interpretation of Mark’s Gospel. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, pp. 590-591. Previously it was published by The Wartburg Press (1946) and assigned in 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House. The Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. edition was printed in March 2001.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 October 2015.

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