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.

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Paul and the Work of Christ

Foremost in the thought of Paul was the fact that Jesus Christ brought to men a knowledge of God which without Him they could never have possessed or entered into (John 14:9)

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6).

To the Colossians, Paul writes to combat a heresy which held that Jesus was certainly great, but that He was only one stage on the way to the knowledge of God. Paul says He is the full revelation of God, He did not come to bring the revelation of God.

  1. For it was the [Father’s] good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, (Colossians 1:19)
  2. In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:3)
  3. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, (Colossians 2:9)

It would not be enough to simply show men what God was like. Paul saw that Jesus Christ came to open the way to God for men, to give men access to God.

  1. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)
  2. For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:18)
  3. In whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. (Ephesians 3:12)
  4. The word prosagoge means bringing men to God: “Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting, and wash them with water. (Exodus 29:4)

Behind the truth of Jesus as the introducer into the presence of God there were two thoughts: 1) Men by their sin had erected a barrier. 2) Jesus came to show men the truth about what God is like. Jesus’ service and death gave a new idea. Apart from Jesus they would not know God’s love.

Paul uses six great metaphors to describe the work of Christ:

1) Justification – from the law – an ethical religion always has sanctions.

  1. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. (Romans 14:10)
  2. So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:12). Therefore justification comes in.
  3. Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Romans 5:1)
  4. Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (Romans 3:24)
  5. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. (Romans 3:28)
  6. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, (Romans 4:5)
  7. Justification usually means to produce reasons why a person is right, to prove why he did something. In the NT, the word is dikaioun. In Greek –oun does not mean to make a person something; but to treat, reckon, account a man as being something. So instead of punishing the sinner, God treats the sinner as if he had been a good man. The shock for the Jews was that a judge to treat a bad man as if he was good was the ultimate of injustice and wickedness.
  8. He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD. (Proverbs 17:15)
  9. “Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. (Exodus 23:7) – but Paul says it’s a paradox…
  10. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, (Romans 4:5)
  11. The perfect picture of justification is the story of the prodigal son. The father welcomes him back before the son has the chance to request servant status.
  12. Sanctification – This must follow justification. The sinner freely received back must clothe himself in holiness, and God will treat him as if he never rebelled.
  13. Justification by faith – We can only know that Jesus told us so. We must put our faith in the assumption that Jesus was right when He told us what God was like.
  14. Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (Galatians 3:11)
  15. Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified. (Galatians 2:16)

2) Reconciliation – from friendship – we are all enemies of God, being reconciled by the death of His son.

  1. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:10)
  2. Now all [these] things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, (2 Corinthians 5:18)
  3. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
  4. And might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (Ephesians 2:16)
  5. And through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, [I say], whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, [engaged] in evil deeds, (Colossians 1:20-21)

3) Redemption / purchase price – from slavery.

The Hebrew background – comes from the emancipation from Egypt:

  1. “Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (Exodus 6:6)
  2. “In Thy lovingkindness Thou hast led the people whom Thou hast redeemed; In Thy strength Thou hast guided [them] to Thy holy habitation. (Exodus 15:13)
  3. But because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:8)
  4. “And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. (Deuteronomy 15:15, 16:12)

The Greek background – slave earning enough to buy his own freedom – owner taking the slave to the temple, the slave pays the money, and the slave then becomes the property of the god and free from all men.

  1. Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (Romans 3:24)
  2. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, (1 Corinthians 1:30)
  3. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, (Ephesians 1:7)
  4. In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:14)

4) Propitiationhilasterion – from sacrifice, that which restore the broken relationship. Not the sacrifice itself, but the penitence of which the sacrifice was a symbol. The Greek word never means the sacrifice itself, that is Jesus would be the sacrifice. -erion means the place where something is done which is the mercy-seat. So this is the place where man and God meet.

  1. “And you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. (Exodus 25:17)
  2. And above it [were] the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail. (Hebrews 9:5)

The High Priest represented the people:

  1. “And there I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel. (Exodus 25:22)
  2. And the LORD said to Moses, “Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. (Lev 16:2)

The Day of Atonement:

  1. “Moreover, he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle [it] with his finger on the mercy seat on the east [side]; also in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. “Then he shall slaughter the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and bring its blood inside the veil, and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. (Leviticus 16:14-15)
  2. For it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you shall be clean from all your sins before the LORD. (Leviticus 16:30)
  3. This is the place where His love and His justice meet. Jesus is the only person in the universe that can bring men back to God.
  4. Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. [This was] to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; (Romans 3:25)

5) Adoption – from family.

  1. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15)
  2. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for [our] adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:23)
  3. Who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the [temple] service and the promises, (Romans 9:4)
  4. In order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:5)
  5. He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, (Ephesians 1:5)
  6. Adoption for three reasons: continue family name, to pass an inheritance, and to insure the worship of ancestral gods would not be interrupted. The adopted person would receive all rights of the blood family, in Greek society.
  7. Paul had the Roman idea in mind as he wrote. The father had absolute power over the children. As long as the father was alive, the son never came of age. The adopted person lost all ties to the former life, even debts, he was a new person entering into a new life.

6) Reckon or Impute – from accounting.

  1. For what does the Scripture say? “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Romans 4:3)
  2. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: (Romans 4:5-6)
  3. “BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.” Is this blessing then upon the circumcised, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS RECKONED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” How then was it reckoned? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be reckoned to them, (Romans 4:8-11)

There is not a man in the whole world who has not a vast debit balance in his account with God. He is in debt and can never repay. But God in His mercy cancels the debt and the merits of Jesus are credited to him.

This material is from William Barclay, the Mind of St. Paul, 1975.

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