Devotional Thoughts

 

Apr

17

2014

Trevin Wax|2:10 am CT

The Multifaceted Diamond of Christ’s Atoning Work

Diamond scinilationThe atonement is like a multi-faceted diamond. What Christ accomplished on the cross is so massive, and the window into the heart of God is so big that no one explanation or description of the atonement can tell the whole story.

Because the atonement is at the heart of who God is and what he has done for us, we can never fully exhaust the riches that flow from this event. But recognizing our inability to mine all the theological treasures represented in the cross of Christ should not keep us from pondering the beautiful truth of this event.

In recent weeks, guest contributors have written about the different aspects of Christ’s atoning work. Here is a summary of their posts, with links for you to dig deeper into the significance of each truth.

On the cross, Christ slays the Dragon and wins our victory:

In the cross and resurrection, Christ the warrior king is the new and better Adam who delivers a head crushing blow to the serpent. He is the new and better Joshua who drives out all his enemies from the Promised Land. He is the new and better David who establishes the eternal kingdom of God.

On the cross, Christ drinks the cup of God’s wrath as a substitute sacrifice:

Because of this, when God looks at us, he no longer sees a sinner destined for wrath; he sees His Son nailed to the cross, shedding His own blood in our place. He died so that we may truly live, free from the shackles of sin and death.

On the cross, Christ redeems us from slavery to sin and death:

Can you see that this is what the redeeming love of God looks like—buying you back from the slave market? He wooed you to himself with gospel promises of mercy instead of punishment, belonging instead of estrangement. He loved you by redeeming you from your enslavement to all lesser lovers, and He is loving you even now as He cuts away from your character every lingering tether to your old way of life.

On the cross, Christ pays the ransom:

The ransom now paid, we have been delivered from the domain of sin and death into perfect union with the Son of God, in whom there is therefore now no condemnation.

On the cross, Christ is the Lamb who takes away our sin and shame:

Expiation is that angle on the atoning work of Christ that means we are clean. Clean. What we need is the good news that Jesus Christ died not only to forgive us, but to cleanse us.

On the cross, Christ is our liberator:

Redemption is not for our restriction, but for our joy. Christ did not die for our duty, but for our delight. I have been set free, but this freedom is not an unfettered pursuit of my desires, for that’s slavery all over again. It’s the joyful mission of bringing God pleasure because He has liberated and set me free.

On the cross, Christ shows how God is with us in our suffering:

There, in the midst of God’s own grief and sorrow, we see God with us and believe that he is able somehow to take up our burdens upon himself and deliver us from our despair. He is not distant from our pain. He understands our suffering because Jesus Christ – God in human flesh – suffered.

On the cross, Christ is the propitiation that makes us right with God:

Everybody needs a plan for getting on the right side of the gods. But if the true God has made his character known as it is found in the Bible, then there’s only one way of propitiation: the one that God himself put forward in the blood of Jesus, to be received by faith, the one who is his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

On the cross, Christ becomes our ultimate example:

Jesus Christ is the supreme model of Christian discipleship, the ethical exemplar of the Christian life. The compelling force of Christ’s sacrificial example is one answer to indifference and inaction in our broken world. Once we truly grasp what Christ did on our behalf, we will be compelled to live our lives in a way that reflects his self-sacrifice for all others.

 
 

Apr

16

2014

Trevin Wax|2:10 am CT

Arms Outstretched

Psalm22

Those hands need nails to keep them in line.

Something must be done.

Those arms must never embrace again.

We saw His arm reach out when He touched the leper, in defiance of our purity laws.

We saw His hands lift the face of an adulterous woman, thwarting our execution of her just sentence.

We saw Him welcome children into His arms, as if one must become like an infant to belong to His kingdom.

We saw Him break bread and divide the fish, as if He were supplying manna from heaven.

We saw His arms beckon sinners to His table, as if by repentance one can wash away the past.

We saw His arms do nothing to stop a sinful woman from anointing Him, as if He were a treasure greater than her priceless perfume.

We saw His arms crack the whip and overturn the tables, as if He were in charge of the temple.

And then we watched Him lead the blind and the lame inside, as if God’s house were for the broken and weary.

His hands are tainted, unwashed, defiled.

His hands, just like His speeches, are always about Him. He never ceases to point to Himself.

As if He were the only way. As if He alone has truth. As if He alone gives life.

His arms are open to anyone (anyone!) who will repent, and yet He bars the door from those of us who need no repentance.

No more.

Those cursed arms must be pinned down. Those hands must be stilled. Those wrists must be bound.

If He is so determined to stretch out His arms, let them be stretched out and nailed to the tree.

Perhaps then His embrace of sinners will end. Perhaps then people will understand true holiness. Perhaps then purity and righteousness will reign.

But wait, what is He saying?

Who is He talking to?

Father, forgive?

He is praying. Yes, He is praying… for us.

See Him there, with arms outstretched. His hands are speaking again.

This time, they beckon us to come. To trade our taunts for tears. Our efforts for His accomplishment. Our debts for His inheritance.

Before His cross we kneel. Here He is enthroned, hovering over us, arms outstretched, His shadow covering our sin. Blessing in His blood.

Arms outstretched, His broken body fills the threshold. The narrow door of repentance is open to the world.

 
 

Mar

27

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Christ the Dragon Slayer

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This spring’s Gospel Project for Adults and Students leads participants through the “Atonement Thread,” which helps people put the Bible together to see how the theme of atonement runs from Genesis to Revelation.

For the past several Thursdays, I’ve featured contributions from some friends who are examining the beauty of the atonement from different angles. Here’s how the series has shaped up so far:

Today, Phillip Bethancourt contributes an article on how the cross achieves the cosmic victory of God over the enemies of Satan, sin, and death.

Phillip Bethancourt is Executive Vice President for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Assistant Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary. His dissertation, Christ the Warrior King, examines the integration of the biblical theme of kingdom warfare with Christology.

The Cross as Cosmic Victory

Understanding the cross as cosmic victory means that, in the atonement, Jesus defeats the enemies of God by satisfying the wrath of God. Because the kingdom of God is a central theme in Scripture, our view of the atonement must account for how Jesus conquers his kingdom enemies: Satan, sin, and death.

Jesus defeats his enemies in the atonement and resurrection through vicarious victory. The atonement is vicarious victory because it is substitutionary and penal. It is vicarious victory because it is a conquest of all God’s enemies. Put simply, understanding the cross as cosmic victory means that the crucifixion brings conquest.

Two Key Conquests

The atonement’s vicarious victory achieves two key conquests over Satan, both of which shape our spiritual warfare today:

First, the atonement as vicarious victory defeats the power of Satan’s deception.

From the garden of Eden to the garden of Gethsemane, Satan’s primary weapon against the people of God is deception. Yet, through his sinless life and victorious death, Jesus conquers Satan’s power of deception and overcomes the fear of death (Heb 2:14-17).

This cosmic victory over deception transforms our fight for holiness. Why? Christ’s substitutionary death enables his righteousness to apply to those who have fallen under the devil’s temptations. Jesus can deliver us from the dominion of the devil’s deception since he “is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb 2:18). We can find victory over sin because the cross has conquered Satan’s power of deception.

Second, the atonement as vicarious victory defeats the power of Satan’s accusation.

Jesus is the Passover lamb who brings about a new Exodus that rescues captives from slavery to sin. This slavery to sin derives from Satan’s power of accusation (Rev 12:10). In the atonement, Jesus cancels the record of debt that results from Satan’s accusations of sin and, as a result, triumphs over his kingdom enemies (Col 2:13-15).

This cosmic victory over accusation also transforms our fight for holiness. Why? As Jesus clothes us in the armor of his righteousness, he shatters Satan’s power of accusation so that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Jesus delivers us from the private shame of accusation because he went through the public shame of atonement.

Christ the Warrior King

The atonement as cosmic victory fulfills the holy war pattern in Scripture.

  • In the cross and resurrection, Christ the warrior king is the new and better Adam who delivers a head crushing blow to the serpent.
  • He is the new and better Joshua who drives out all his enemies from the Promised Land.
  • He is the new and better David who establishes the eternal kingdom of God.

The cross as cosmic victory recognizes that Christ’s covenantal vindication leads to victorious conquest. Through his vicarious victory, Jesus defeats the dominion of the devil’s deception and the stronghold of Satan’s shame.

In the atonement, Christ the warrior king is both dragon slayer and divine satisfier.

 
 

Mar

06

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

The Savior Who Suffers With Us

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This spring’s Gospel Project for Adults and Students leads participants through the “Atonement Thread,” which helps people put the Bible together to see how the theme of atonement runs from Genesis to Revelation.

For the past several Thursdays, I’ve featured contributions from some friends who are examining the beauty of the atonement from different angles. Here’s how the series has shaped up so far:

The beauty of Christ’s atonement is seen in how God is with us (in our suffering), instead of us (as our substitute), and for us (in victory over the powers of Satan, sin, and death). In today’s blog post, I want to focus on how the truth of the incarnation (in the person of Jesus Christ God is with us) is magnified by the reality of the atonement (God is with us in suffering).

God With Us in Suffering

In November 2008, Mumbai, the largest city in India, became the target of a series of coordinated terrorist attacks that killed 173 people. Two of the victims were from New York – a Jewish Rabbi and his wife, both in their late 20′s. Kashmiri militants entered the rabbi’s home and slaughtered him and his wife. The couple’s nanny found their 2-year-old son, Moshe, sitting in a pool of his parents’ blood.

When the memorial service took place in Brooklyn, New York, the two-year-old boy cried out for his slain parents. “Ima! Abba!” he said, using the Hebrew words for mother and father. “Ima! Abba!” he moaned. Little Moshe’s mournful wail echoed through the synagogue, drowning out the voices of the hundreds of people grieving his parents’ death.

An inconsolable two-year-old, crying out for his dead parents. My heart wells up with the question: Why?

Why does God allow this kind of pain?

Why is the world such a messed-up, broken place?

And how do we make sense of the beauty that we still see in this world that features so much ugliness?

What is it like to witness the changing of the seasons from behind the barbed wire of a concentration camp?

How does a Holocaust victim admire a glorious sunset when it serves as the backdrop for smoke rising to the sky, smoke coming from piles of burning bodies of men, women and children?

How do we make sense of the evil that exists in a world of such beauty?

I have an agnostic friend who cannot come to grips with the suffering he has witnessed in this world. “What can you say about a God who would allow such pain?” he asks. His question is deeply personal. Thankfully, the answer is too.

Christianity’s Resolution to Evil

Christianity does not answer the question Why. Instead, God provides – not the answer to the intellectual dilemma – but the resolution to the problem. Christians look to the cross.

There, in the midst of God’s own grief and sorrow, we see God with us and believe that he is able somehow to take up our burdens upon himself and deliver us from our despair. He is not distant from our pain. He understands our suffering because Jesus Christ – God in human flesh – suffered.

The cry of little Moshe was once the cry of Jesus. “Abba! Abba!” he cried in the Garden of Gethsemane. “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.”

It is because of the cross that we know God is not absent from our suffering and pain. It is because of the cross that we can experience forgiveness and reconciliation and peace with God.

As we witness the evil and pain in this world, we too cry out Abba! Abba! God does not give us an explanation. He gives us himself.

The cross is God’s answer to our cry.

~~~~~

adapted from Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope

 
 

Feb

27

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

The Costly Freedom of Redemption

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This spring’s Gospel Project for Adults and Students leads participants through the “Atonement Thread,” which helps people put the Bible together to see how the theme of atonement runs from Genesis to Revelation.

For the past several Thursdays, I’ve featured contributions from some friends who are examining the beauty of the atonement from different angles. Here’s how the series has shaped up so far:

Today, Bryan Loritts contributes an article on freedom as it relates to redemption.

Bryan Loritts is the Lead Pastor of Fellowship Memphis and the author of A Cross-Shaped Gospel and editor of Letters to a Birmingham Jail.

FREEDOM & REDEMPTION

In the book, The House of Sugar Beach, Helene Cooper tells of the time during the Liberian Revolution, in which her house was broken into by soldiers. These bloodthirsty men took a young Helene and her sister down stairs into the basement with the intent of gang-raping them. Right as they were going to commit this atrocity, the door to the basement flew open. It was their mother demanding that the soldiers release her daughters. In return, the mother said that they could take her. The men agreed to her terms. Helene and her sister were released, and for the next hour or so, they hid in their rooms listening to the brutal sounds of the soldiers as they took their turns ravaging their mother.

Helene and her sister had been redeemed.

The Ravages of Sin

The Bible goes to great lengths to talk about our redemption as followers of Jesus Christ. The term means to buy back.

Redemption presupposes slavery, peril and an overall unwanted prior position. Like Helene and her sister, we were perilously close to sin ravaging and destroying us. We were completely powerless against the soldiers of sin, a point Paul makes abundantly clear to the Ephesians (2:3).

But at the last moment, the doors to the basement of our prison were flung open when like Helene’s mother, Christ provided the terms of our redemption: we would be released, and He would take our place. Paul expresses this most clearly to the Corinthians when he says of Jesus Christ, “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 Corinthians 5:21.

Costly Freedom

What Helene’s mother and Jesus Christ teach us is that redemption is costly, and yet redemption is also freeing.

In an individualized postmodern society like ours, I fear we have a great misunderstanding of freedom. We’ve taken freedom to mean the absence of responsibility, that one can do whatever they want, when they want. This is what many mean by freedom when they talk of freedom of speech. I can say what I want, even if it demeans and destroys you, because, well, I’m free to say it. Or many would say that I’m free in my sexuality to explore and have sex with as many people as I’d like regardless of how my actions may affect others. There are even open marriages, where the spouse is “free” to have relationships with others, and this is esteemed as being “mature.”

Yet this is not how the bible views freedom, and redemption. Freedom is not the absence of responsibility; that’s chaos.  Instead freedom, real meaningful freedom, is only enhanced by responsibility.

We see this truth in redemption. Christ redeemed us at infinite cost to Himself so that we might be free to serve Him (responsibility). No one articulated this better than Paul when he said that he was no longer a slave to sin, but now that he’s been redeemed, he’s a slave to Christ, and to righteousness. Christ has bought us, both releasing us from the grip of sin and Satan, and setting us free to worship and find our joy in him.

In my years of pastoral ministry I’ve never met a joyful serial adulterer – one who had sex on their terms. What I have experienced are couples who have been faithfully married to one another for decades who are the epitome of joy as they have committed to selflessly seeking the other person’s happiness within the responsible boundaries of marriage. A person who is ruled by their appetites and spends money “freely” without any kind of responsibility, I can tell you now, that’s not joy. But the person who handles money responsibly, and goes to war with their material appetites, that’s joy.

As my father is known to say, “‘No’ is the most freeing word in the English language.” Meaning in life is not found when each one “does what is right in their own eyes”, but when one finds satisfaction outside of themselves in a Holy Other.

Death for Delight

If this be the case, then redemption is not for our restriction, but for our joy. Christ did not die for our duty, but for our delight. I have been set free, but this freedom is not an unfettered pursuit of my desires, for that’s slavery all over again. It’s the joyful mission of bringing God pleasure because He has liberated and set me free.

 
 

Feb

20

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Pagan Propitiation vs Biblical Propitiation

Wax Header

This spring’s Gospel Project for Adults and Students leads participants through the “Atonement Thread,” which helps people put the Bible together to see how the theme of atonement runs from Genesis to Revelation.

For the past several Thursdays, I’ve featured contributions from some friends who are examining the beauty of the atonement from different angles. Here’s how the series has shaped up so far:

Today, Fred Sanders explains the concept of “propitiation” and how the biblical picture differs from the ancient pagan understandings.

Fred Sanders is an evangelical Protestant theologian with a passion for the great tradition of Christian thought. He is the author of many books, including The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, and Wesley on the Christian Life. Since 1999 he has taught in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University.

PROPITIATION

“Propitiation” is one of those five-syllable theological words that tend to break up polite parties. But it’s also a word that’s well worth the work of understanding, because whether we know it or not, all of us are walking around working on some sort of plan for propitiation. The big question is whether our plan is a Christian one.

The Ancient Meaning

Here’s what I mean: Propitiation is an ancient word, which we as Christians have in common with other world religions. To propitiate a god is to offer a sacrifice that turns aside the god’s wrath. Anyone who believes in a god knows that they need some way to stay on the friendly side of that god. So they give gifts to the god, or serve in the temple, or give alms. And if the god is angry with them, they pay a price, or make a sacrifice, or find some way to soothe the god’s anger: they propitiate him.

This description may conjure up images of animistic tribes cravenly placating their volcano gods by tossing in victims; and in fact some modern Christians have argued that, whatever the Old Testament may have been about, the New Testament can’t possibly have anything to do with propitiation. But the fact is, the idea that God’s wrath must be turned aside by a sacrifice is very much a New Testament idea. It’s just that, as John Stott has argued, “the Christian doctrine of propitiation is totally different from pagan or animistic superstitions.”

Pagan Propitiation vs. Biblical Propitiation

In pagan propitiation, the gods need to be propitiated because they are grumpy and capricious. They don’t care much about humans except when something makes them angry; then they smite! And it’s up to humans to get busy doing the propitiating, to make up for whatever they’ve done that angered the gods. The humans find something that the gods like (sweets, or meat, or pain, or blood), and offer it as a bribe to calm down their wrathful deities.

But every aspect of biblical propitiation contrasts with the pagan kind.

  1. First, consider why God requires propitiation: not because he’s moody or easily provoked, but because he is holy and just. God responds to sin with absolute consistency, and his “wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18).
  2. Second, consider who carries out biblical propitiation: not humans on their own initiative figuring out what God likes, but God himself declaring what kind of sacrifice he accepts, and then providing it. Even in the Old Testament, God takes credit for providing the blood of animal sacrifice (“I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement,” Leviticus 17:11).
  3. And third, consider what kind of sacrifice brings about biblical propitiation: not a bribe or something nice to tide him over. No, in the fullness of time, God fulfills the Old Testament symbolism by giving his own Son to die for us.

As Stott summarizes, in biblical propitiation, “God himself gave himself to save us from himself.”

This stark difference between pagan and biblical propitiation is the background for the bold statements the New Testament makes: that we 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” (Romans 3:24-25); and “he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). In both cases, the apostles use the Greek word hilasterion (also five syllables!), best translated by our big word propitiation.

Why Propitiation Matters

One reason it’s so important to grasp what biblical propitiation is, is so that we can make sure our plan is the biblical one rather than one of our own devising.

In daily life there is a constant temptation to ignore Christ as our God-given propitiation, and to seek other ways of cutting little deals with God, to curry his favor and appease his wrath, to give him something he’ll like so he’ll at least refrain from smiting us, and maybe even reward us with various blessings and goodies.

Don’t do this.

To lapse into pagan modes of propitiation is to take way too much onto your own shoulders (you’re not big enough or good enough to propitiate the true God) and attempt to solve it with entirely inappropriate resources (your sin isn’t small enough to be set aside by those little offerings).

Everybody needs a plan for getting on the right side of the gods. But if the true God has made his character known as it is found in the Bible, then there’s only one way of propitiation: the one that God himself put forward in the blood of Jesus, to be received by faith, the one who is his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

 
 

Feb

13

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

What Expiation Means for You (4 Things)

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This spring’s Gospel Project for Adults and Students leads participants through the “Atonement Thread,” which helps people put the Bible together to see how the theme of atonement runs from Genesis to Revelation.

For the past several Thursdays, I’ve featured contributions from some friends who are examining the beauty of the atonement from different angles. We began with Brandon Smith, who wrote about the mysterious beauty of penal substitution. Nancy Guthrie pointed us to the story of Hosea and Gomer to help us understand the beauty of redemption. Then, Jared Wilson showed us what it means to say that Christ is our ransom. And last week, Matt Capps explained how the atonement is meant to influence us. Today, my friend Adam Mabry looks at the atonement through the lens of expiation.

Adam Mabry is the Lead Pastor of Aletheia Church in Boston, MA—a growing, diverse church passionately committed to bringing the truth, grace, and the changing power of the Gospel for the glory of God and the good of all people. He has also planted churches in Edinburgh, Scotland and is a guest speaker at various events around the country. He and his wife, Hope, have four children.

EXPIATION

I could tell she felt terrible. I had just blessed and dismissed the congregation, and she headed straight for me. She was convicted. She was guilty. She didn’t know what to do. Her name isn’t important, but her pain is. Hers is the pain we all share because of sin. The story she shared chronicled anger, sexual brokenness, depression, and defeat. “I just feel so terrible, Pastor.” It was heartbreaking to hear, and I hear it all the time.

Deep sadness over sin is something we all feel. We forget, of course, because our cultural moment has moved into the stage of collective depravity wherein we celebrate sin instead of hiding it. We plaster depravity on magazines, billboards, and web ads.

Who’s feeling guilty? Underneath all that puffery, everyone is. Even to those who’ve never heard the gospel, their thoughts still condemn them (Rom 2:14-15).

So what of the atonement is good news to a guilty world, hellbent on assuaging their collective consciences through every other possible means? What of the gospel do we tell them?

We tell them of expiation.

Expiation is that angle on the atoning work of Christ that means we are clean. Clean.

The young woman after church felt dirty. Used. Beyond redemption because of her brokenness. What does the world tell her? “Perk up, you’re just like the rest of us. You need some self-esteem!”

But that’s just it. She knew herself quite well, and there wasn’t much there to esteem. What she needed was the good news that Jesus Christ died not only to forgive her, but to cleanse her.

1. Expiation Means My Scars Don’t Define Me

My pastor in college would always remind us, “we all operate out of our pain.” That’s true, until our pain is healed. We hurt others the way we were hurt by others. It’s pop psychology truth that we are likely to scar our kids the way we were scarred by our parents. That is, unless the scars are removed.

Expiation means that the pain of sin committed by us or by others against us no longer has to define us. He has cleansed us (1 John 1:7), healed us. He got scars to free us from ours.

2. Expiation Means I Don’t Have to Be Ashamed

Because Jesus says we’re clean, we are. The addict is no longer “the addict.” The drunk no longer “the drunk.”

Shame is our emotional response because of sin. We hide in it or we take pride in it (as many are apt to do today), but it’s still shame. Expiation means that Jesus was shamed so I could be accepted. He was sent out so I could be brought in (Rev 1:5b).

3. Expiation Means I’m Clean

If Jesus is truly my expiation, then I no longer bear the marks of my sin. In Christ, neither do you. Neither does the young woman after church. The gift of expiation is a clean conscience. And if Jesus dirtied Himself and took my sin to declare me clean, then clean I am.

4. Expiation Means I Can Be Bold

Because Jesus has clothed us with righteousness (Is 61:10) then we should be bold. Not brash or rude, but bold — secure in our identity as forgiven, restored children of God.

Because of expiation, we can pray boldly (Heb 4;16), live boldly, and speak the good news of the gospel boldly (Acts 4:29) to a world that needs so desperately to hear it.

The young woman left that day beginning to know she was clean in Christ. I wonder, do you?

 
 

Feb

06

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Following the Steps of the Crucified One

Wax Header

This spring’s Gospel Project for Adults and Students will lead participants through the “Atonement Thread,” which helps people put the Bible together to see how the theme of atonement runs from Genesis to Revelation.

For the past several Thursdays, I’ve featured contributions from some friends who are examining the beauty of the atonement from different angles. We began with Brandon Smith, who wrote about the mysterious beauty of penal substitution. Nancy Guthrie pointed us to the story of Hosea and Gomer to help us understand the beauty of redemption. Last week, Jared Wilson showed us what it means to say that Christ is our ransom. Today, Matt Capps shows us how the atonement is meant to influence us.

Matt Capps (@mattcapps) serves as the Brand Manager and Strategist for The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, TN. Matt is an ordained Baptist minister, and is currently finishing his D.Min. at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is proud to be Laura’s husband and Solomon’s daddy. 

The Moral Influence of the Atonement

Discussions concerning the atoning work of Christ have, for the most part, been relegated to the purpose and extent of Christ’s sacrifice, and rightly so. After all, our evangelical faith holds this doctrine of penal substitution at the center of what we believe about the atoning work of Christ (1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 2:14).

Even so, there is another aspect of the atonement of Christ often overshadowed by our wonderfully cross-centered theology. If we are seeking a truly comprehensive and robust survey of that wonderful cross, the moral influence of the cross is a necessary companion to the atonement conversation.

The Cross Moves Us

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
…And pour contempt on all my pride.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

This portion of Isaac Watt’s 1700′s hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” has regained popularity in recent years and illustrates this doctrine well. The words focus on the emotive effect of the cross on the observer. Before we go any further, it may be prudent to address a few concerns many of you may have already begun to consider.

1. Does the theory of the moral influence of atonement necessarily lead to legalism?

No, and we must be careful not to react legalistically to anything that holds Christ up as an example. As John Stott reminds us, the way to holiness is not by imitation of Christ, but through union with Christ.

How do we express union with Christ? We would all acknowledge that to some degree, worshipping the Lord through a holy lifestyle is a part of that equation, especially if we take seriously Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2.

2. Isn’t the moral influence theory of the atonement the bastion of mainline liberal theology?  

Well, it is, unless the moral influence of the cross is rooted in the purpose of the atonement. Leon Morris has rightly argued that by itself the moral example of the cross is inadequate, but this does not render it untrue. In every instance where Christ’s death is presented as an example to be followed, one can also find his substitutionary sacrifice as the foundation and motivation for that example close by. We cannot disconnect the two.

The Bible teaches that the sacrifice of Jesus not only provides salvation, but also impels us towards sanctification, inspiring us to reflect God’s love to others (2 Cor. 5:14, Rom. 8:35-39).

Did Jesus not tell His disciples that the greatest display of love is found in laying down one’s life for his friends (John 15:13)? The motivating power of His sacrifice is seen on the cross. Jesus’ obedience to God and His petition that God would forgive those who crucified Him moved one of the criminals on the cross beside him to believe (Luke 23:39-43; Mark 15:39).

Likewise, Paul argues that the death of Christ not only provides the way of salvation, but also provides the supreme demonstration of love (Rom. 5:8). For this reason, he called the church to imitate Jesus’ love and compassion and adopt an attitude of unselfish concern for others (Eph. 5:1-2; Phil. 2:3-8).

Peter also exhorted the church: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).” Christ serves as the example of love and perseverance for the church when they suffer unjustly.

The Supreme Example

Jesus Christ is the supreme model of Christian discipleship, the ethical exemplar of the Christian life (1 Cor. 11:1; Heb. 12:2). The compelling force of Christ’s sacrificial example is one answer to indifference and inaction in our broken world. Once we truly grasp what Christ did on our behalf, we will be compelled to live our lives in a way that reflects his self-sacrifice for all others (2 Cor. 5:14).

The cross of Christ not only atones for sin; it also provides a gripping vision that demands our souls, our lives, and our all.

 
 

Feb

04

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

The Spirit-Formed Community

pentecost-church-bulletin-cover-e1308018576592The power of Pentecost makes for a fantastic story. Rushing wind, flaming tongues, and the proclamation of a fisherman turned evangelist calling people to repent and be baptized.

But don’t miss how Acts 2 ends. The power of the Spirit that flowed through the apostles’ proclamation is the power that gathers people into a new community.

So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. And every day they devoted themselves [to meeting] together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.

Evangelicals in the West tend to think of the gospel as just a transaction between the individual and God. Just me and Jesus, thank you. Of course, salvation is indeed about an individual being reconciled to God. The Spirit ushers us into a restored relationship with the living God, an intimate knowledge and love of Him who loved us first.

But we mustn’t leave out the result of the gospel’s proclamation in Acts 2. The cross restores our relationship to God, and the result is restored relationship with others. Vertical reconciliation makes possible horizontal reconciliation, and the horizontal dimension then magnifies the vertical.

Here’s an example. Ephesians 1 is all about God’s magnificent plan of salvation. Ephesians 2:1-9 is all about God’s magnificent plan of saving individual sinners like you and me. But the rest of Ephesians 2 and 3 (and 4-6, for that matter!) is about how God’s magnificent plan results in the creation of a renewed people – bringing together former enemies, Jew and Gentile, into one family. Jesus is our peace.

The Holy Spirit not only gives us power, not only leads us to proclamation, and not only fulfills God’s promise. He forms a new people.

What Kind of People?

That’s where Acts 2 gets most interesting. The characteristics of this new people reflect the work of the Holy Spirit. What are they doing?

  • They are devoted to the apostles’ teaching. This is a Word-centered group of people, aren’t they? No surprise there. The Spirit inspired the apostle’s teaching.
  • They are devoted to fellowship. They love each other. No surprise there. The Spirit of love has been poured into their hearts.
  • They break bread together at the Communion table. No surprise there. Through the Spirit, Christ is present with us when we gather and proclaim His death through the Lord’s Supper.
  • They are devoted to praying together. No surprise there. The Spirit is the One who groans within us when our words run out.
  • They are marked by fear of the Lord. No surprise there. God has given us the Spirit of all wisdom, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
  • They are marked out by witnessing the signs and wonders of the apostles. No surprise there. We too have seen God’s wonders. We’ve seen Him rescue people from sin, we’ve seen Him heal people of sickness in answer to our prayers, we’ve seen Him soften the hardest heart.
  • They are willing to share their belongings and give to one another. No surprise. The Spirit of generosity has been poured out on God’s people.
  • They show hospitality, going from house to house. No surprise. This is the Spirit who welcomes us into the throne room of grace.
  • They are filled with gladness and simplicity. No surprise. This is the Spirit, the Comforter who brings us joy in God.
  • They praise God. No surprise. The Spirit lifts up Jesus, and whenever we proclaim Him as Lord, it’s through the work of the Spirit.
  • They find favor with all the people. No surprise. The Spirit fills us with love and self-giving devotion to others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.

The Gospel of the Promised Spirit

The Holy Spirit is part of the promise of the gospel.

  • He gives us power to fulfill Christ’s mission.
  • He leads us to proclamation of Christ’s gospel.
  • He fulfills God’s promise of regeneration.
  • And He forms a new people who know and love God, and overflow with love for others.
 
 

Jan

30

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Christ Pays the Ransom, But To Whom?

Wax Header

This spring’s Gospel Project for Adults and Students will lead participants through the “Atonement Thread,” which helps people put the Bible together to see how the theme of atonement runs from Genesis to Revelation.

For the next several Thursdays, I’ve invited some friends to contribute to a blog series that looks at the beauty of the atonement from different perspectives. We began with Brandon Smith, who wrote about the mysterious beauty of penal substitution. Last week, Nancy Guthrie pointed us to the story of Hosea and Gomer to help us understand the beauty of redemption. Today, Jared Wilson shines light on the truth that Christ is our ransom.

Jared Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church and author of The Pastor’s Justification, Gospel Wakefulness, Your Jesus is Too Safe, and Gospel Deeps. His blog is The Gospel-Driven Church.

Ransom

Psalm 49 establishes a dilemma of direst condition:

Truly no man can ransom another,
or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of their life is costly
and can never suffice . . .  (49:7-8)

The condition of man since the fall is one of bondage to sin and corruption from death. Having disobeyed God, we have revolted from our insidest selves to His good order and holy decrees. Therefore, we are slaves to death and children of wrath.

The psalmists then effectively tell us, no man can rescue himself. And we can’t even rescue each other. And why? Because no sinner can muster the moral currency required to pay the ransom for this rescue.

This is cause for great humility in ourselves, because those who are saved are not saved by any righteousness of their own, and for great patience and mercy with others, because those who do not believe in Christ are, biblically speaking, captives.

So there is the gospel of Jesus Christ to be carried into every dark corner of the soul and every far corner of the world! Because in the gospel comes the ransom that sets captives free. Psalm 49:15 tells of it:

“But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.”

God will pay the ransom himself in order to receive us back to himself. He has done this through Christ, who is our ransom, as we see in texts like Mark 10:45:

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

But this angle on the atonement has always raised the sticky question: To whom is the ransom paid?

In C.S. Lewis’s classic work of “supposal,” The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, we see where Aslan makes the payment of his life for Edmund’s liberation in response to the White Witch’s demands. It’s a powerful scene and not without biblical resonance, but if we draw the lines to directly, we may make a theological mistake of some importance. Aslan is clearly Christ in the story, and the Witch is clearly the stand-in for our accuser Satan. But while Satan is often called the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), he is still subservient to the sovereign Lord of all the cosmos. So we have to be careful in how we speak of ransom, lest we lend too much power to the enemy and deflect too much glory away from God.

There is in fact a “ransom text” in the Bible that gives us a clue as to whom is being paid the ransom. In 1 Timothy 2:5-6, Paul writes:

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

The context of this passage show us Christ as the “mediator” not between men and the devil or between God and the devil but between men and God. It would seem from the shape of this text, that the ransom is paid by the Son of God to God the Father, as Jesus becomes the ransoming mediator between God and men, making atonement for men to God. And of course we see the foundation of this truth in Psalm 49:7, where the ransom price of man’s life is said to be owed to God.

In this sense, the ransom view of the atonement is similar to the concept of propitiation (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2), which means “to make favorable.” Who has Christ made favorable with His sacrifice on the cross? Certainly not the enemy, whose frustration is compounded eternally knowing that Jesus’ death redeems souls from sin and its punishment, and who at the cross is not paid but actually shamed (Col. 2:15), and not satisfied but actually defeated (Heb. 2:14-15).

No, at the cross, the sinless Jesus has taken the punishment owed by the Father to the sinful rebels against His holiness (Isaiah 53:4-5). The wrath of God has been satisfied at the cross of Christ (Col. 1:20). It is the Father who in holy love sends His Son to make the payment that removes his holy wrath from the children of God (1 John 4:10; John 3:36). The Father has been propitiated. Similarly, then, Christ has paid the ransom to the only one who truly holds life and death in His hands—God Himself.

So in the beautiful irony of the gospel, we are effectively saved from God by God. The only security from God’s wrath, then, is found in God’s love in Christ (Psalm 2:12). The ransom now paid, we have been delivered from the domain of sin and death into perfect union with the Son of God, in whom there is therefore now no condemnation (Rom. 8:1).