The Revelation of God

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

Here we are to investigate how the cross was a word and a work. And we ought to listen attentively.

The Glory of God: According to John, Jesus referred to his death as a glorification, and event through which he and the Father would be supremely glorified or manifested. The Bible tells us that heaven and earth are filled with his glory. The flowers in the field had glory exceeding Solomon’s, God showed his glory in delivering the people from Egypt (Ps 19:1, Isaiah 6:3, Matthew 6:29).

We had a glimpse of his glory at the transfiguration, and was manifested in the miracles or signs. John tells us that we have seen his glory. The cross appeared to be shame, but it proved to be glory. The synoptic gospels tell us that suffering is the pathway to glory. His coming death was his hour of glorification:

  1. Some Greeks came to see Jesus, “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” and then talked about his death (John 12:23).
  2. Judas leaves the upper room, Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.” (John 13:31).
  3. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus says, “Father the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1).

In the cross there is a clear and public demonstration of God’s justice (Romans 3:25-26) and his love (Romans 5:8).

The Justice of God: There is seeming injustice in God’s providence: Abraham’s plea with God over Sodom and Gomorrah, the entire book of Job, and Psalm 73 where evil people prosper.

Romans 3:21-26 – the reformers interpreted “a righteousness” to mean a righteous status which is of God; it is bestowed by him. We read about the sacrifice of atonement was to demonstrate God’s justice.

  1. The first look is to the past (all sins in the past had beforehand been unpunished, Romans 3:25), and it looks to the present and future (so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus, Romans 3:26).
  2. Why had he not judged sinners according to their works? Although self-restraint might postpone justice, he could not allow a backlog of sins to mount up indefinitely.
  3. The cross shows both his justice in judging sin and his mercy in justifying the sinner.

The Love of God: How can the horrors of the world be reconciled with the love of God? Why does he allow them?

  1. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16). Apart from Jesus, we know nothing about love.
  2. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10). The words, “live” and “propitiation” betray our severe need. Because of sin, we deserve to experience death and to die under the righteous anger of God. But Jesus bore the wrath instead of us.

God poured out his love (Romans 5:5) and he demonstrated his love (Romans 5:8).

  1. God gave his Son for us. He did not send another being or creature, but himself.
  2. God gave his Son to die for us. The incarnation was the beginning of his self-giving, having emptied himself, humbled himself and became obedient to death, on a cross.
  3. God gave his Son to die for us. For underserving sinners who have missed the mark.

Three marks of false love:

  1. Mark of limitation (something is withheld)
  2. Mark of control (someone is manipulated)
  3. Mark of detachment (we remain self-sufficient, unimpaired, and unhurt)

Three marks of authentic love:

  1. Characterized by limitless self-giving.
  2. Characterized by risk-taking with no guarantee of success.
  3. Characterized by vulnerability that is easily hurt.

Both the Father and the Son suffer the cost of their surrender, though differently:

  1. The Son suffers dying; the Father suffers the death of the Son.
  2. The grief of the Father is just as important as the death of the Son.
  3. The fatherlessness of the Son is matched by the sonlessness of the Father.

Is there more emphasis on God’s love over the cross? Is there repentance and salvation without the cross? Some stories illustrate God’s forgiving mercy and contain nothing about the need for an atoning sacrifice.

  1. Did Paul corrupt church dogma and make the cross necessary for salvation?
  2. Islam claims that the boy is saved without a Savior. The incarnation, the cross and the resurrection are all unnecessary. If God is truly great, he can forgive without all of these things.
    1. Parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector: one was justified (Luke 18:9-14)
    2. Parable of the unmerciful servant: the king freely forgave and cancelled the debt (Matthew 18:23-35)
    3. Parable of the Prodigal Son: welcomes him back and reinstates him (Luke 15:11-24)

Middle Eastern understanding: the prodigal was returning in disgrace. Punishment was inevitable. The father bears the suffering rather than inflicting it. The father ran (his age ran nowhere under any circumstances), cultural humiliation, taking on the shame. This is the humiliation of the incarnation and the shame of the cross on our behalf.

Wisdom and Foolishness of the Cross: (1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5) – Jews demand miraculous signs and the Greeks demand wisdom. We preach Christ crucified which is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. Paul came without a message of human wisdom, or his own strength. Instead he brought the foolish, revealed message of the cross. He had to overcome his own weakness, fear and trembling and relay on the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Salvation of Sinners

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

“Images” of salvation (or the atonement) is a better term than “theories.” Theories are usually abstract and speculative concepts, where biblical images are concrete pictures and belong to the data of revelation.

  1. Propitiation introduces us to rituals at a shrine
  2. Redemption, to a transaction in the marketplace
  3. Justification, to proceedings in a courtroom
  4. Reconciliation, to experiences in a home or family
  5. Substitution is not a theory, but the foundation of these all

Propitiation: Romans 3:24-25, 1 John 2:1-4, 4:10 – to propitiate someone is to appease or pacify his anger. Remember God’s holy wrath and his loving self-sacrifice of Christ, which was his own initiative to avert his anger.

This is a critical question: is the object of the atoning action God or man? If the former, then the right word may be propitiation (appeasing God); if the latter, the right word may be expiation (dealing with sin and guilt). Christians are less pacifying the displeasure of God and more as a means of delivering man from sin. At the cross Jesus expiated sin, he did not propitiate God.

Fire and brimstone theology has the idea of appeasing an angry God or that the cross was a legal transaction in which an innocent victim was made to pay the penalty for the crimes of others. This is not Paul’s theology, but came from the minds of medieval churchmen (this is not biblical Christianity).

  1. The reason why a propitiation is necessary is that sin arouses the wrath of God:
    1. His anger is poles apart from ours.
    2. What provokes our anger (injured vanity) never provokes God; what provokes his anger (evil) seldom provokes ours.
  2. Who makes the propitiation? In pagan cultures it is always the human trying to avert the anger of the deity.
    1. The gospel states that nothing we can do or say or even contribute can compensate for our sins or turn away God’s anger. There is no possibility of persuading or bribing God to forgive us.
    2. God is so gracious he gives us the sacrificial blood to make atonement (Leviticus 17:11).
    3. Remember that God does not love us because Christ died for us; Christ died for us because God loves us.
  3. What is the propitiatory sacrifice? Not an animal, vegetable or mineral, but a person. The one person who could step in was God himself.

In Pauline theology, man is alienated from God by sin and God is alienated from man by wrath. It is the substitutionary death of Christ that sin is overcome and wrath is averted. God can now look at man without displeasure and man can now look at God without fear. Sin is expiated and God is propitiated.

Redemption: we move from an image at the temple to the marketplace, from religious rituals to business transactions, from ceremony to commercialism; to redeem is to buy back by purchase or ransom. There is an emphasis that we are more than redeemed by Christ, we are ransomed by him. This comes only at the payment of a price, which then sets us free. The price paid is not “himself” or his “life” but his “blood” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Christ was the victim as well as the priest, entering the Holy Place by his own blood (Hebrews 9:12, Romans 3:24-25, Ephesians 1:7). In communion, we drink the blood of Christ not to participate in the life of Christ, but in his death, appropriating the benefits of his life laid down.

Justification: this image tasks us into the courtroom. Justification is the opposite of condemnation. Forgiveness remits our debts and cancels our liability to punishment; justification declares us in a right standing before God. There have been various objections to justification:

  1. Strong antipathy or dislike to legal categories in talk about salvation; it presents God as Judge rather than as Father.
  2. It attempts to dismiss the doctrine as a Pauline idiosyncrasy, originating in his legalistic mind.
  3. Catholic objection of the reformers teaching on justification by faith;
    1. The Council of Trent (Session 6, January 13, 1547) taught that justification takes place at baptism and includes both forgiveness and renewal.
    2. Also, that before baptism, prevenient grace predisposes people to convert themselves to their own justification by freely assenting to and cooperating with that grace.
    3. Post-baptismal sins are not included within the scope of justification.

Justification declares the person right before God, it does not make them right.

  1. If just means forgiven and accepted and right with God, then we immediately become what God declares us to be. There is a difference between declaring and making us just.
  2. If just is used to signify made new or made alive, then again we are what God declares us to be.
  3. If just means having a righteous character or being conformed to the image of Christ, then God’s declaration does not immediately secure it, but only initiates it. Sanctification is another topic, dealing with growing in holiness.

Faith is of no value in itself. Its value lies solely in its object. The justifying work of Son and the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit cannot be separated. Good works follow justification and new birth. Salvation is never by works but unto works.

God never acquits the guilty (Exodus 23:7) and never condemns the innocent (Proverbs 17:15).

Four of Paul’s key phrases summarize his defense of this divine justification of sinners.

  1. The source of our justification is indicated in the expression “justified by his grace,” that is, by his utterly undeserved favor, which occurs in Titus 3:7 and in Romans 3:24. No one can justify himself, no one is righteous (Romans 3:10, 20, 24).
  2. The grounds for our justification are that we are “justified by his blood” (Romans 5:9). There could be no justification without atonement. There is no pardon without principle; there is no forgiveness that simply overlooks sin.
  3. The means of our justification is indicated in Paul’s favorite expression “justified by faith” (Romans 3:28; 5:1 [“justified through faith”]; Galatians 2:16; 3:24). Grace and faith belong indissolubly to one another, since faith’s only function is to receive what grace freely offers.
  4. The effects of our justification can be deduced from Paul’s expression “justified in Christ” (Galatians 2:17), which points to his historical death, and personal relationship with him that, by faith, we now enjoy.

Reconciliation: this image is from the home and family and friends; it is the opposite of alienation. It begins with reconciliation to God and then to the community. It has to do with making peace with God, adoption into his family and having access to his presence. Ephesians 2:11-22 refer to the wall of separation, Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14) but also separated from Christ (Ephesians 2:12).

How does reconciliation take place (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)?

  1. God is the author of reconciliation: it is from his initiative, not ours. We are reconciled to him; he is not reconciled to us. He is always the subject and never the object. Reconciliation presupposes enmity between two parties. The Bible uses words like, enemies with God, enmity, hostility (Romans 11:28, 5:10).
  2. Christ is the agent of reconciliation: 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 make this clear; God reconciled us to himself through Christ (past tense). It was finished at the death of Christ.
  3. We are the ambassadors of reconciliation: (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Summary:

  1. Propitiation underscores the wrath of God upon us.
  2. Redemption, our captivity to sin.
  3. Justification, our guilt.
  4. Reconciliation, our enmity against God and alienation from him.
  5. All of God’s saving work was achieved through blood-shedding, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ.

Ransomed by God

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

This is about the self-substitution of God. How can the holy love of God come to terms with the unholy lovelessness of sinful man? The problem is not outside of God; it is within his own being. How can he express at the same time his holiness and judgment and his love and pardon? Only by providing a divine substitute for the sinner, so that the substitute would receive the judgment and the sinner would receive the pardon.

Sacrifice in the Old Testament: Paul tells us the Christ gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2), gave himself (Galatians 1:4), or in Hebrews 9:14, Christ offered himself. Jesus died for sins (Romans 8:3, 1 Peter 3:18). In our passage today, we see that sacrifice in the OT was just a shadow of what was to come.

Sacrifices were offered for several reasons: they were associated with penitence, celebration, national need, covenant renewal, family festivity and personal consecration. Regarding sacrifice we find them to signify belonging to God, and also alienation from God because of sin and guilt.

The notion of substitution means that one person takes the place of another, in order to bear his pain and to save him from it. Moses stepped in to save the Hebrews (Exodus 32:32), Paul would have stepped in for his people (Romans 9:1-4), Abraham was going to sacrifice his son but was provided a substitute (Genesis 22:13).

In a sacrifice the worshipper brought the animal, put hands on it and killed it. The priest applied the blood, burnt some of the flesh, and arranged to have the rest eaten. The point was identification and the hands were a symbolic transference of their sin. The shedding and sprinkling of blood was vital for atonement, and eating of blood was prohibited (Leviticus 17:11).

  1. Blood symbolized life (Genesis 9:4, Deuteronomy 12:23)
  2. Blood makes atonement, the reason is the repetition of the word life (life was given for life, the life of the innocent for the life of the guilt).
  3. Blood was given by God for this atoning purpose: the sacrificial system was God-made, not man-made.

Two verses we need to look at: without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22) and, it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). While Old Testament sacrifices were shadows, the substance was always Christ. For a substitute to be effective, it must prove to be an appropriate equivalent. Animals are not equal with humans, humans are not equal with God (Matthew 12:12, 1 Peter 1:19).

Passover and Sin Bearing: Passover was the beginning of Israel’s national identity, and it was here the New Testament identifies the death of Christ as the fulfillment of the Passover (the new and redeemed community and the new exodus from sin). God provided self-disclosure of himself:

  1. Yahweh revealed himself as the Judge (the background to the final plague).
  2. Yahweh revealed himself as the Redeemer (blood is applied to the door and they must take shelter under it).
  3. Yahweh revealed himself as Israel’s covenant God (he redeemed them to be his own people).

For us, the message is also clear:

  1. The Judge and Savior are the same person (it was God who passed through Egypt to judge the firstborn, who passed over the Israelite homes to protect them).
  2. Salvation was (and is) by substitution (only the firstborn males who were spared were in whose families a firstborn lamb had died instead).
  3. The lamb’s blood had to be sprinkled after it had been shed (there had to be individual appropriation of the divine protection).
  4. Each family rescued by God was thereby purchased for God.

What does it mean to bear sin? Jesus bore our sins (1 Peter 2:4) and was once offered to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9:28). It means to bear sin’s penalty.

The Scapegoat (Leviticus 16:5-28): One goat gets killed and the blood is sprinkled in the usual way, while the priest lays his hands on the living goat’s head and confesses the sin and rebellion of the people. The living goat is then driven into the desert.

Do not make the mistake of driving a wedge between the two goats because the two together are described as the sin offering (Leviticus 16:5). Each embodied a different aspect of the same sacrifice, one exhibiting the means and the other exhibiting the results of the atonement.

Jesus death and two sin-bearing statements:

  1. He died to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
  2. He died to pour out his blood for many (Mark 14:24, Isaiah 53:12).

Who is the substitute? Yes, it was Jesus, but was he just a man? If so, how could a human being stand in for another human being? Was he then simply God appearing to be a man? If so, how could he represent humankind? How could he (God) have died? Neither God alone nor man alone, but the unique and only God-Man was a suitable substitute, uniquely qualified to mediate between holy God and sinful man.

The possibility of a substitute rests upon the identity of the substitute. The essence, nature and identity of the Christ had been the subject of many heresies and controversies.

God was in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19): the righteous loving Father humbled himself to become, in and through his holy Son, flesh, sin and curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character. Make this personal.

The doctrine of substitution not only affirms a fact (that God was in Christ substituting himself for us) but it’s necessary (there is no other way by which God’s holy love could be satisfied and rebellious humans could be saved). Therefore, we all stand before the cross, as Adam, embarrassed at our nakedness attempting self-justification, wearing filthy rags. Jesus wore the rags and clothed us with righteousness.

The Satisfaction for Sin

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

The way different theologians have developed the concept of satisfaction depends on their understanding of the obstacles to forgiveness which first need to be removed.

  1. What demands are made which stand in the way until they are satisfied?
  2. Who is making the demands?
  3. Is it the devil? Or is it the law, or God’s honor or justice or the moral order?

Stott argues that the primary obstacle is to be found in God himself. He must satisfy himself in the way of salvation he devises. He cannot save us by contradicting himself.

Satisfying the Devil: this teaching was widespread in the early church. It comes out of declaring the devil with power and the cross deprived him of it. Mankind had been in captivity not only to sin and guilt but to the devil. They thought of him as the lord of sin and death, he is the major tyrant from whom Jesus came to liberate us. Here are two mistakes:

  1. They credited the devil with more power than he has. They speak as if he had acquired certain rights over man which even God himself was under obligation to satisfy honorably.
  2. They thought of the cross as a divine transaction with the devil; it was the ransom-price demanded for the release of the captives, and paid to the devil in settlement of his rights.

The value in these theories is that they took seriously the reality, malevolence and power of the devil (the strong man fully armed). We must deny that the devil has rights over us which God is obligated to satisfy. Any notion of Christ’s death as a necessary transaction with the devil is ruled out.

Satisfying the Law: this theory assumes that mankind incurs the penalty of their law-breaking. They simply cannot be let off the hook. The law must be upheld and defended, and its just penalties paid. The law is therefore satisfied. An Old Testament example is when Darius sought to find a way to save Daniel. The law could not be tampered with. God longs to save us, but he cannot do so by violating his own law, which has just condemned us. He cannot just abolish the law he has established. The Bible says that every law-breaker is cursed and that Christ came to redeem us from the curse (Galatians 3:10, 13).

Satisfying God’s Honor and Glory: Anselm (the 11th century) declared the relationship between the incarnation and the atonement (in Cur Deus Homo?). He agreed that the devil needed to be overcome, but rejects the ransom theories on the grounds that God owed nothing to the devil but punishment.

Instead, man owed something to God, and that is the debt which needed to be repaid. Remember that believing God can forgive sin as we forgive others does not consider the seriousness of sin. So what can be done? If we are to be forgiven, we must repay what we owe. We are incapable of doing this for ourselves or others. There is no one who can make satisfaction for sin except God alone. It is essential that the God-Man make this satisfaction. He gave himself up, not as a debt he needed to pay, but freely for the honor of God.

God Satisfying Himself: these interpretations all represent God as subordinate to something outside and above himself which controls his actions, to which he is accountable, and from which he cannot free himself.

  1. The language of provocation: God is provoked by Israel’s idolatry to anger or jealousy or both. But God is never provoked without reason. It is evil alone that provokes him and God must behave like the holy God that he is. If evil did not provoke him to anger, he would forfeit our respect, for he would no longer be God.
  2. The language of burning: this depicts God as burning in his anger; kindling, quenching and consuming.
  3. The language of satisfaction itself: basically that God must act as himself; what is inside must come out.

God is provoked to jealous anger over his people by their sins. Once kindled, his anger burns and is not easily quenched. He unleashes it, pours it out and spends it.

The Holy Love of God: what does this have to do with the atonement? Just as God chooses to forgives sinners and reconcile them to himself, he must first be consistent with his character. How can God express his holiness without consuming us? How can he love us without condoning our sin? How can God satisfy his holy love? How can he save us and satisfy himself? In order to satisfy himself, he sacrificed or substituted himself for us (which is the next chapter).

The Problem of Forgiveness

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

Why does our forgiveness depend upon the death of Christ? Why does God not just forgive us without the necessity of the cross? Why can’t God practice what he preaches and forgive without condition, as he instructs in Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-22? If we believe that God can forgive us as we forgive others, we have not yet considered the seriousness of our sin. The obligation of the forgiven is to forgive. God need no forgiveness and we overlook the fact that we are not God. This attitude demonstrates our shallowness. Our sin is not a personal injury toward God, it is downright rebellion against him.

How does God express his holy love? How can he forgive sin without compromising his holiness? How can he judge sinners without frustrating his love? Stott focuses on four concepts:

The Gravity of Sin:

  1. Five Greek words for sin: hamartia (missing the target); adikia (unrighteousness or iniquity); poneria (evil of a vicious kind); paraptoma (trespass or transgression); anomia (lawlessness or disregard of a known law).
  2. The emphasis of Scripture is the godless self-centeredness of sin. We proclaim our independence and autonomy; taking a position reserved for God alone. Sin is defiance, arrogance and the desire to be equal with God.
  3. David’s confession, his sin was against God (Psalm 51:4). Sin cannot be dismissed a simply a cultural taboo or a social blunder. Sin has a willful and defiant or disloyal quality: someone is defiled or offended or hurt.

Human Moral Responsibility:
Is it fair to blame human beings for their misconduct? Are we responsible for our actions? Scapegoats include: genes, chemistry, inherited traits, parental failures, early childhood upbringing, educational or social environment.

Criminal law determines assumes that people have the power to choose whether or not to break the law and treats them accordingly. There is even a distinction between intentional and unintentional homicide (between murder and manslaughter – which is straight out of Mosaic law). Liability also may depend upon moral and mental factors: the intention of the mind and the will. Lack of consciousness and control will always need to be defined. Trying and convicting and sentencing in the courts is based on the assumption people are free to make choices, being free agents.

The Bible emphasizes original sin, as an inheritance, so we are tainted and twisted from the start (Mark 7:21-23, John 8:34). We are enslaved to the world (public fashion and opinion), the flesh (our fallen nature) and the devil (demonic forces). At the same time the Bible tells us that while our responsibility is diminished, it is not demolished. We are morally responsible. We are to choose between life and death, good and evil, between the living God and idols (Matthew 23:37). Yet no one may come unless the Father draws him (John 6:44, 5:40). If men do not come to Christ, is it because they cannot or they will not? This is the debate between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Man does not sin out of weakness but he chooses to let himself go into weakness. There is always a spark of decision.

True and False Guilt: If humans have sinned, and they are responsible for their sins, that makes them guilty before God. There is a guilt that is deserved (John 3:19, men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil). This is a deliberate rejection of truth and goodness. False guilt looks at the cross and senses sorrow and guilt for Christ dying on the cross. We must understand that we did this, we are guilty. But it is false guilt to leave it there, and not talk about forgiveness of that sin. We must not look at the cross and only feel the shame for what we did to Christ, we must see the glory of what he did for us. Like the Prodigal Son, a guilty conscience is a great blessing, but only if it drives us to come home.

If there is false guilt (feeling bad for what we have not done), there is also false innocence (feeling good about the evil we have done). False contrition is unhealthy (ungrounded weeping over guilt) and so is false assurance (ungrounded rejoicing over forgiveness).

To say that someone is not responsible for their actions is to demean him as a human being. Eve blaming the snake, Nazis blaming they were only following orders.

Holiness and God’s Wrath: Our sins separate us from him, his face is hidden and he does not hear our prayers (Habakkuk 1:13, Isaiah 59:1-2). Moses hid his face. Isaiah had a sense of uncleanness. Job sat as a despised man. Ezekiel saw only a likeness of God’s glory. Peter recognized his sinfulness. John fell on his face as though he were a dead man. Closely related to God’s holiness is his wrath, which is the only reaction to evil.

The impersonal character of God’s wrath: this makes wrath not a divine attribute, but it is transformed into a process. Perhaps Paul’s adoption of impersonal wrath is not to affirm that God is not angry, but to emphasize that his anger is void of any personal malice. It is a fact, a process. Perhaps speaking to God’s anger is legitimate anthropomorphism.

Metaphors to God’s separation from sin: height (high and lifted up); distance (we dare not approach too close – Moses, Isaiah, the Tabernacle, and Uzzah); light and fire (a consuming fire that we cannot approach); and the most dramatic is vomiting (idolatrous practices were abhorred, disgusting, loathed, and lukewarmness was to be spit out). The point is that God cannot be in the presence of sin. We must hate evil and be disgusted with it. We cannot walk the road of moral compromise. Sin does not often provoke our anger and we then we do not believe our sin will provoke God’s anger.

This is essential to understanding the cross: balanced understanding of the gravity of our sin and the majesty of God. Diminish either and we diminish the cross. Forgiveness for God is one of the most profound problems. God must not only respect us as responsible beings, but also must respect himself as the only holy God. Before a holy God can forgive us, there must be some kind of necessary satisfaction.