FOCUS: The gospel, and what it is: 1 Cor 15 and the "according to the scriptures"principle in light of Is 52 - 53, Dan 7, etc, and the Hebraic prophetic vision of end times, the Kingdom of God and the messianic deliverer. Heb 1, the Son of Man/Son of God principle, redemptive sacrifice and the unexpected suffering servant messiah. Eph 2 and receiving the Christ in penitent faith, entering into the transformational scheme: regeneration, justification, sanctification and empowering, discipleship, glorification. The gospel and the culmination of history. Responding and bearing witness to the gospel in light of key exemplars and principles in the Gospels, Acts, Romans, Galatians and other epistles.. The great commission, the gospel, discipleship and witness to the nations.
The Gospel, "according to the Scriptures," and as fulfilled in the Christ
Christ as Son of God/Son of Man, and as Lamb of God; the cost of redemption
Receiving the Gospel, and walking in its power as a new people in Christ
The Gospel, the Son of Man, the "already and not yet" principle and the culmination of history
Carrying the gospel forth into the community and into the world
FOR DISCUSSION AND ASSIGNMENTS
INTRODUCTION: Isaac Watts has aptly captured the Christian understanding of Jesus as Saviour, and the core of the gospel, in the classic hymn, When I survey the Wondrous Cross:
In this unit, we will seek to rivet in our hearts and minds the core substance and power of the gospel as God's breakthrough good news that comes with the power of his Spirit through the redemption wrought on the cross, and which gives us hope in the risen, exalted Jesus of Nazareth the Christ, the Son of God and the end of days Son of Man.
The Gospel, "according to the Scriptures," and as fulfilled in the Christ
As the Lukan form of the Great Commission summarises:
Lk 24:46 . . . [the risen Jesus] said to them [i.e. his disciples], “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things . . . " [ESV]The core of the gospel is that repentance and forgiveness of sins are accessible to us in the name of Jesus. It is in the fleshing out of that glorious promise -- even, the ability to repent is a gracious gift from God! -- that we find the heart of the gospel.
Several key passages show how this tight little summary is a consistently underscored theme in the NT, setting a context for viewing the keystone text used for the Nicene Creed (and so also, for this course), 1 Cor 15:1 - 11.
Let us start with the very first Christian sermon, preached by Peter at Pentecost, c. 30 AD:
Ac 2:22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know- 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it . . . . 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing . . . " [ESV]This same theme is amplified in the epistles and the Apocalypse:
Paul: Rom 1: 1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord . . .
2 Tim 2: 8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel
Titus 3:4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Auth, Heb: Heb 1: 1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . .
Peter: 1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time . . . 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. [All ESV]
John: Rev 1: 4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail3 on account of him. Even so. Amen. [ESV]
We find the pivot of the gospel in John the Baptist's wondering announcement, on seeing Jesus:
Jn 1:29 . . . he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!What it means for Jesus to be the Lamb of God is of course summarised in the best known of all gospel texts, from John 3:
30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” [ESV]
Jn 3:14 . . . as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him . . . " [ESV]
It is against that backdrop that we should read Paul's counsel in 1 Cor 15:
1 Cor 15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me . . .[ESV]
The drumbeat refrain, "that, . . . that, . . . that, . . . that . . . " and the emphatic "in accordance with the Scriptures," of course, speak to first the matters of established fact on which our faith and salvation stand; then also, they speak to the powerfully fulfilled prophetic element of the Old Testament, of which Isa 52- 53 is the single most important example.
But, to bring out the force of why all of this is "good news" --
εὐαγγέλιον euaggelion (yoo-ang-ghel'-ee-on) n.
1. (properly) a good message
2. (specially) the good news of redemption through Jesus (i.e. the gospel of Jesus) [Mickelson update, Strong's Concordance lexicon] --
. . . let us start a tad higher than usual in Isa 52, to highlight what "good news" in the gospel sense is about:
Isa 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
8 The voice of your watchmen-they lift up their voice;
together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
the return of the LORD to Zion.
9 Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The LORD has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God. [ESV]
A conquered, defeated people; defeated for their sins, now rejoice to hear the happy sound of the feet of the heralds of good news of victory and liberation resounding on the mountains surrounding Jerusalem.
Bringing news; welcome, longed-for news.
News of happiness, news of liberation: the victory and reign -- the kingdom -- of God.
News well worth singing:
(BTW, it seems there are ever so many versions on this song, this is closest to what I learned c 1979; I particularly loved the further verses based on the KJV text, and as I recall, in that form this was a key song at the 1980 Ralph Bell BGEA national crusade in Kingston, Jamaica. This version, c. 1974, seems to be an important "original," and the video culminates in the Lord's prayer for disciples, which takes on new light in that context.)Theology should be sung, in heartfelt meditative worship. So, let us pause also for Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty . . .Worthy is the Lamb:
Just so, the gospel, first, is the good news to a people in bondage and defeat, good news of liberation and the restoration of the just, blessed and wise -- thus, peaceful -- rule of God.
A news that -- equally as news of joy -- also goes forth to all nations.
That is why, the preaching of the gospel is, synonymously, the preaching of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven.
It is why, after opening with "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God . . . " [Mk 1:1], and after briefly surveying the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, the opening words of the Gospel of Mark -- briefly noting yet another outrage of bondage and defeat -- culminate:
Mk 1: 14 . . . after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” [ESV]In short, the Kingdom is breaking in upon us, so we must change our attitudes, thoughts and behaviour, turning back to God. For, that is what the word repent -- metanoeo, from metanoia -- is:
μετανοέω -- Metanoeo -- met-an-o-eh'-o
1. to change one's mind, i.e. to repent
2. to change one's mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins [Thayer]
This call to repentance in light of the breaking in of the Kingdom calls to our mind's eye the Kingdom vision of Daniel, interwoven as it is with visions of the corrupt and passing kingdoms of men:
Daniel 7: 9 “As I looked,
thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened . . . .
13 “I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed. [ESV]
Hence, we can see the force of Phil 2:5 - 11, daringly but confidently echoing Isa 45:18 - 23:
Phil 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.It is in this context that we can hear afresh the breakthrough force of the keystone prophecy that stands aback of 1 Cor 15:
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [ESV]
Isa 53:4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned-every one-to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him [--> the Lamb of God!]
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.[ESV]
It is against this backdrop that leading theologian, Bishop N T Wright of the UK, has observed in a recent paper on the epistle to the Galatians, that:
In order to arrive at the meaning of ‘gospel’ within the confines of the letter to the Galatians, we must go back to the old question: where did the idea come from and what echoes did the word in consequence carry both for Paul and for his readers? . . . .the two backgrounds regularly proposed for Paul’s [usage] . . . are, predictably, the Hebrew scriptures on the one hand and pagan usage on the other. The line between the two tends to follow the old divide between those who suppose Paul to be basically a Jewish thinker and those who see him as having borrowed his fundamental ideas from Hellenism . . . .
In terms of Gal. 4.1-7, the message of the Pauline gospel is this: the true god has sent his son, in fulfilment of the prophecies of scripture, to redeem his people from their bondage to false gods . . . ; he now sends his own spirit to make his people truly what they were before only in theory and hope—his own children, heirs of his world. Equipped with this gospel, the Galatian Christians now know the true god; or rather, as Paul quickly correct himself, they are known by him (4.9). 19 That is, they have received the great blessing promised by Isaiah throughout chs. 40-55: the one true god has revealed himself in saving them, routing the idols of the nations in doing so. The message of good news decisively confronts the power of the spurious gods . . . ["Gospel and Theology in Galatians," (Originally published in Gospel in Paul: Studies on Corinthians, Galatians and Romans for Richard N. Longenecker, eds. L. Ann Jervis and Peter Richardson, 1994, pp. 222–239. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Supplement Series 108.]
1 --> the gospel is inherently the proclaimed good news about an end of times intervention as an extravagantly expensive act of loving concern by the true and Living God, our Creator from whom we are alienated by sin. Good news about Jesus that, paradoxically, calls for both penitence and joy. Penitence, as we turn from our sin, and joy as we receive an open-armed welcome from the victorious, wounded healer Messiah. Also,
2 --> it is the proclamation of the decisive intervention by God that calls us all to hear, heed, repent, surrender to and receive as Lord and Saviour the crucified and risen Son of God and Son of Man. as Paul put this to the Athenians in the midst of their great philosophical erudition, brilliant artistic accomplishments and utterly gross idolatry:
Ac 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.
30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” [ESV]
3 --> The same, who -- by the spiritual significance of the act of judicial murder on the cross that led to Jesus' resurrection from the dead -- is also the Lamb of God willingly slain in our place as atoning sacrifice lifted up to give us life for the look of penitent trust that takes God at his promise of salvation, and
4 --> who is also risen with restoration, healing, salvation and deliverance in his wings. And, in case you doubt this (or do not realise just what it cost our Wounded Healer who bore our sorrows and by whose stripes we are healed), observe what happens in Mt 8 after the healing of the Centurion's servant and Peter's Mother in law:
Mt 8:16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
5 --> This shows what those marvellous works of healing cost Jesus, and they tell us of the self-sacrificial love entailed in every act of healing that he administered. Of course, in his days of ministry in Israel and in the many cases of healing in his name since, these are but a foretaste of what he shall do when he "makes all things new" in the fullness of the Kingdom of God.
6 --> This same risen Lord is the eschatological -- i.e. end times -- Son of Man who at the end of days shall fully establish the fullness of the eternal Kingdom, a kingdom not carved out by human hands and swords. Hence, the force of Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's vision of the passing kingdoms of man:
Dan 2:37 You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, 38 and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all-you are the head of gold.
39 Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. 40 And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these.
41 And as you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom, but some of the firmness of iron shall be in it, just as you saw iron mixed with the soft clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. 43 As you saw the iron mixed with soft clay, so they will mix with one another in marriage,3 but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay.
44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, 45 just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.” [ESV]
7 --> And now, we have that Kingdom manifest in the form of a foretaste, a deposit guaranteeing our ultimate inheritance, through the Spirit living in us and empowering us to live transformed lives. A foretaste that advances to and is a token of the completion to come, even as waves advance on a beach as the tide inexorably rises. So, Paul writes:
Eph 1:13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.[ESV]8 --> And, he then goes on, in a rushing torrent of words that seek to capture the vision and intensity of his heart in his prayers:
Eph 1: 17 . . . that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. [ESV]
Already, we have directly seen from the text of Scripture, that Jesus is Lamb of God, Lord and Saviour, Wounded Healer, the one crushed for our iniquities, Son of God and Son of Man.
The Revelation gives us a visionary scene that allows us to appreciate the importance -- and the cost -- of the title Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sins of the world:
Rev 5:1 . . . I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”Ransomed, bought back from the alienation from the very source of life caused by sin. That is how we become " the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood." [Ac 20:28.] We have thus been ". . . ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [our] forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." [1 Pet 1:18 - 19.]
3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” [ESV]
Now, there are many theories of the atonement and related concepts such as justification, regeneration, and sanctification, with many attendant technicalities of and debates over matters of theology and exegesis. Such have their place, and were this a technical course, we would need to pore over the history and rationale of theological thought on the way that redemption by the Lamb of God works. (And, the several referred works on systematic theology in the reference resources page will allow those who need to work through such matters, to trace the key ideas.)
But, this is a street-level survey course, to equip people to deal with issues and concerns likely to be encountered on the ground, with very direct reference to the grounding of our conclusions and calls to action in scripture using primarily inductive approaches and such clarifications of meaning as are necessary. Inductive approaches, which depend on the balance of the plain meanings of scripture -- like the Bereans, searching the scriptures read in context to see if the things claimed are so -- help preserve us from imbalances introduced through erroneous appeals to technicalities of language or schools of thought.
Indeed, the very fact of divergent schools of thought sustained across generations of technically trained theologians should serve to warn us that technical study is no sure protection against theological error. (The notorious Calvinist- Arminian- Biblical Theology debates alone amply serve to show the problem . . . )
Indeed, inductive study is no cure-all either.
So, let us in all our studies have the humility to go with the evidence of that which is true.
So now, let us go directly to Romans and Hebrews, where such technicalities as are needed for the street will find a direct scriptural anchorage. First, Romans 3 when Paul has first given the indictment of sinful humanity, in a "string of pearls" citation of the moral plight of fallen man:
Rom 3: 9 What then? . . . we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:This passage introduces a whole new vocabulary, with several rare, technical words that appear in translations (and in explaining the terms), for which there simply are no easy substitutes, and there are some more familiar words that we tend to be quite vague on:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside;
together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one” . . . .
19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one-who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. [ESV]
Justification (20): δικαιόω dikaioo (dik-ai-oh'-o) v. 1. to render (i.e. show or regard as) just or innocent
Sin (20): ἁμαρτία hamartia (ham-ar-tee'-ah) n. 1. a sin [Sin, being "missing the mark" of doing or saying or thinking the right, at root due to a deep seated rebellion against God embedded in our nature as fallen humanity.]
Righteousness (21): δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune (dik-ai-os-oo'-nay) n. 1. equity (of character or act) [roughly: uprightness showing itself in "fair and square" dealing] 2. (specially) Christian justification
Faith (22): πίστις pistis (pis'-tis) n. 1. persuasion, i.e. credence [or, confident trust in] 2. (morally) conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher) 3. (especially) reliance upon Christ for salvation 4. (abstractly) constancy in such profession 5. (by extension) the system of religious (Gospel) truth itself [A good summary is, (penitently) personally trusting in and relying on God based on confident belief that he is and rewards those who sincerely, diligently and honestly seek him in light of his Word, his promises and character. Cf. Heb 11:1 & 6.]All of these are involved in how we are to appreciate the full force of how, through penitent faith in his atoning blood shed on the cross, and calling on his name as Lord and Saviour, we find welcome, forgiveness and transformation in Jesus. Let us notice, too, how Paul continues by using the pivotal case of Abraham, as he touches on the centrality of faith in properly responding to and being justified before God:
Believe (23): πιστεύω pisteuo (pist-yoo'-o) v. 1. to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), i.e. credit 2. (by implication) to entrust (especially one's spiritual well-being to Christ)
Glory (23): δόξα doxa (dox'-ah) n. 1. glory (as very apparent [think, glowing radiance showing the purity, awesomeness and power of God as when God appears in visions or as Jesus appeared at the Mt of Transfiguration]), in a wide application (literal or figurative, objective or subjective)
Grace (24): χάρις charis (khar'-ece) n. 1. graciousness (as gratifying), of manner or act 2. (especially) the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life 3. (also) gratitude [Classically: "God's riches, at Christ's expense" through his unmerited favour poured out freely in love.]
Redemption (24): ἀπολύτρωσις apolutrosis (ap-ol-oo'-tro-sis) n. 1. (the act) ransom in full 2. (figuratively) riddance 3. (specially) Christian salvation
Propitiation/Expiation (25): ἱλαστήριον hilasterion (hil-as-tay'-ree-on) n. 1. an expiatory (place or thing) 2. (concretely) an atoning victim 3. (specially) the lid of the Ark (in the Temple) [AMP, v; 25: the cleansing and life-giving sacrifice of atonement and reconciliation, propitiation, per New Bible Dict: "the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift," where expiation is preferred in some modern translations but is not without difficulties (e.g. can divine wrath never be just, simply because our own anger is so often tainted by sin?). Holman Bible Dictionary: "Expiation emphasizes the removal of guilt through a payment of the penalty, while propitiation emphasizes the appeasement or averting of God's wrath and justice. Both words are related to reconciliation, since it is through Christ's death on the cross for our sins that we are reconciled to a God of holy love (Romans 5:9-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Colossians 1:19-23) . . . "]
Atonement (cf Rom 5:11): καταλλαγή katallage (kat-al-lag-ay') n. 1. an exchange 2. (figuratively) an adjustment, reconciliation 3. (specially) restoration to the divine favor
Forbearance (25): ἀνοχή anoche (an-okh-ay') n. 1. self-restraint, i.e. tolerance
[Mickelson update to Strong's lexicon, parentheses added.]
Rom 4:2 . . . if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”We see here, a definition of faith: trusting God, the God who -- by virtue of the sacrifice of the one who is the Lamb of God -- justifies the wicked. This echoes the crucial insight from Heb 11:1 - 6:
4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised?
It was not after, but before he was circumcised.
11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.
The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. [ESV]
Heb 11:1NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, [a]the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].In short, we here see definitions by accomplishment, example and description of what is involved. Faith is our title-deed that proves and gives confident assurance to our hopes, it rests on understanding that the visible world comes from the all-powerful creative act of the Invisible God, and it is confident that this same God rewards those who seek him in penitent trust, based on his Word.
2For by [faith--[b]trust and holy fervor born of faith] the men of old had divine testimony borne to them and obtained a good report.
3By faith we understand that the worlds [during the successive ages] were framed (fashioned, put in order, and equipped for their intended purpose) by the word of God, so that what we see was not made out of things which are visible.
4[Prompted, actuated] by faith Abel brought God a better and more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, because of which it was testified of him that he was righteous [that he was upright and in right standing with God], and God bore witness by accepting and acknowledging his gifts. And though he died, yet [through the incident] he is still speaking.
5Because of faith Enoch was caught up and transferred to heaven, so that he did not have a glimpse of death; and he was not found, because God had translated him. For even before he was taken to heaven, he received testimony [still on record] that he had pleased and been satisfactory to God.
6But without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him [out]. [AMP]
But, is such faith as opposed to works morally unsound, undermining of the need to walk in ways of righteousness? (Such, of course, was an accusation that was frequently flung in Paul's teeth by his opponents inside and outside of the Christian Faith, which he strongly and rightly rejected.)
Not at all.
To see why, it is helpful to look at how Paul presents justification by faith in Eph 2:
Eph 2: 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.Paul's answer to the charge is dynamic: we were trapped in the demonic world-system, prey to the triple power of the world-system, the lusts of the flesh, and the tyranny of Satan. But now, by the liberating sacrifice of the Lamb and the gracious gift of penitent trust in God based on his word, we have been set free. Free, not by what we could do while yet locked up, fast-bound in sin and deception, but by the gracious gift of God. Free to now walk in our true destiny and calling by the Spirit poured out and dwelling within:
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved- 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Rom 8: 1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.By the transforming power of the Spirit who dwells within the one born again by coming to trust in Jesus, and who wells up in overflowing measure, we are set free from the power of the sinful flesh and its mind that is implacably hostile to God. A mind that traps us in an endless looped tape of sin and self- destructive bondage. A bondage that can even take advantage of the principles of righteousness, of morality, of even the Law of God.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. [ESV]
For instance, in our desperate attempts to not do sins X, Y, and Z, our minds are trapped in the loop of sins X, Y and Z, leading us right back to being again ensnared in sins X, Y, and Z. Worse, where we can see how we have made progress with sins U, V and W, we too often foolishly boast of how better we are than that notorious public sinner A, over there beating his breast. Missing the plank in our eyes because we are so busy about the sawdust in A's eye. And, as Jesus said in the parable, it is the notorious sinner who dared not even lift his head in God's presence but cried out for mercy who went away justified, not the oh so upright pharisee who sought to justify himself before God based on his moral and religious accomplishments.
So easy is it for us to delude ourselves in this utterly sobering matter!
But, by God's rich grace, bought at extravagant cost, freely paid in love, we are set free. Free to walk in those good works that God has laid out in advance and called and gifted us to do. Each, and every one of us who by God's grace finds faith in the Lamb, and so salvation.
It is in this context that we can best appreciate James' counsel:
James 2: 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good2 is that?That is the context in which the writer to the Hebrews compared the two covenants:
17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works . . . . 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”-and he was called a friend of God. [ESV]
Heb 9: 11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.Ironically, the impressive buildings, liturgy and sacrificial rituals of the earthly tabernacle or even the magnificent temple, are only a physically acted out symbol of the true, once for all offering of the true, utterly innocent, Lamb of God. He, who by that atoning sacrifice mediates a new covenant, with the power unleashed to utterly transform the heart and life.
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. [ESV]
So, that sacrifice having been made on a hill without a city wall, at the place of the skull, Golgotha, we come to the Lamb in empty-handed, penitent faith.
We thus first find forgiveness in his willingly offered, loving sacrifice.
By the power of that death on the cross, he has provided propitiation for our sin.
By the power of his resurrection and glorification, he pours out his Spirit who comes to live in, fill and empower us.
Thus, we are able to ever more and more walk by God's grace in those good works he has laid out in advance for us to do.
Receiving the Gospel, and walking in its power as a new people in Christ
Our proper response to such an extravagant act of love is to humbly, penitently, gratefully receive that which was so hard-bought for us.
There is an old song, sometimes abused and often unfairly dismissed, but which we should listen to, for it captures the spirit of a genuine convert's penitent trust in The Lamb of God like nothing else I know, Just as I am:
Just as we are, we come to the Lamb.
But, he does not leave us just as we are. Justification leads to a walk of sanctification and eventually ultimate glorification. Traditionally, salvation from the penalty, power and eventually presence of sin.
This is the general pattern of Romans 1 - 8, which begins with an indictment of sinful man, that leads to seeing that we must be justified by penitent trust in Christ, which is associated with the new birth -- also termed, regeneration -- which is the context for how the Spirit comes to dwell and well up within us. From this, we move to not only being set apart to God and his purposes -- the root idea of both sanctification (the act or process) and holiness (the achieved state) -- but transformed from within by the Holiness of that indwelling Spirit. Then, either at the moment of one's "promotion to glory," or for those who are here on earth at the Coming, glorification catches us up into the full glory of God.
Romans 8 culminates in a crescendo that summarises the pattern of transformation:
Rom 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.God knows and calls us forth, we receive the gift of penitent faith, we grow in grace by the indwelling Spirit, we are ultimately glorified. And yes, there is a centuries long debate on this, as to what the extent there is of human freedom to respond to God and related themes; what is clear is that absent the stirring of the Spirit, we cannot respond to God, but also, that we are invited: "The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price." [Rev 22:17.]
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died-more than that, who was raised-who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.9 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [ESV]
Great men of God have come down on opposite sides of the theological issues (with serious points to be made on all sides), so we need not detain ourselves overlong on this debate; clearly this is a point where some things are veiled, and it is not given to us to know with certainty as it is not necessary for us to do our main job. What is more to the point of our task and responsibility is the counsel of Peter:
2 Pet 1: 1 Simeon Peter, a servant2 and apostle of Jesus Christ,We may set alongside these great passages, 1 Cor 6:9 - 11:
To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:
2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. [ESV]
1 Cor 6: 9 . . . do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?"Drunkards" is a good paradigm case of the dynamics of addictive bondage to sin, and the transformation wrought in Christ. So also, the now classic twelve-step recovery road for the alcoholic and other addicts -- sin is inherently addictive and enmeshing -- is a good illustration of the principles of repentance, recovery and transformation of life through discipleship in the face of life-dominating, addictive, destructive sins.
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
11 And such were some of you.
But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. [ESV]
Here, we can find as a model the now famous twelve steps, presented by Alcoholics Anonymous in their "big book":
Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of be-ing honest with themselves . . . . If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it—then you are ready to take certain steps. At some of these we balked. We thought we could ﬁnd an easier, softer way. But we could not . . . . Remember that we deal with alcohol—cunning, baf-ﬂing, powerful! Without help it is too much for us.
But there is One who has all power—that One is God.Given the frankly theocentric, penitent sinner approach, it should not be surprising to hear that in the early days, this lay-led movement of addicts in lifelong recovery was often derided and dismissed by professionals, and that spectacular failures -- including a co-founder -- were luridly headlined to dismiss the approach as useless, naive and ill informed. But, in the end, it has been so vindicated by actually working, that it is the model for many similar movements of recovery. (Including from bondage to things like drugs, pornography and homosexual behaviour.)
May you ﬁnd Him now!
Half measures availed us nothing . . . . Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol— that our lives had become unmanageable.2. Came to believe that a Power greater than our-selves could restore us to sanity.Many of us exclaimed, “What an order! I can’t go through with it.’’ Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like per-fect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection . . . [Alcoholics Anonymous, "big Book," ch 5, pp.58 - 60.]
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.[--> This is the famous, pivotal public confession, "I am an Alcoholic . . . "]
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to im-prove our conscious contact with God as we un-derstood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
But, this recovery approach is in reality nothing new, we have just seen in a somewhat generic form, the principles of transformation of life through discipleship founded on repentance and reaching out to God as Saviour, and to be expressed in a community of mutual support and lifelong growth; knowing that relapse is possible, and that moral-spiritual struggle is inevitable.
This, we may see in Eph 4 - 5:
Eph 4: 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.
18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance [-->en-darkenment] that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous [-->morally benumbed] and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. [--> addicted to sin]
20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!- 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self,5 which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.
28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
5: 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.
4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,Discipleship is founded on repentance, trust in the God who saves us, and a fearless and dauntless determination to walk in the light with God and with our brothers and sisters in God.
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. [ESV]
By the power of the indwelling, upwelling Spirit, we learn to walk in the light and develop the practice of walking in the light ever more and more, day by day, hour by hour. That requires a special vigilance over that which may benumb the conscience, en-darken the mind, and enmesh us in captivity to life-dominating sin. Instead, we live by the truth in love, through Jesus, upwelling from within through the Spirit, with the power of love, truth, and purity. Thus, as the people of God, we are transformed in the image of Christ.
Peter's counsel is ever so apt, even eloquent:
1 Pet 1: 22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
2: 1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation- 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”1
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.Again, and again, in ever so many different ways, we see that the pivot of the Christian life is receiving Jesus through repentance and faith based on the word of God; the gospel.
The Gospel, the Son of Man, the "already and not yet" principle and the culmination of history
As we read the account of Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin in Matthew, we see the frustrated High Priest, after his witnesses had hopelessly contradicted one another:
Mt 26:62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?”9In short, having had his case collapse, the High Priest resorted to extorting a damaging confession that could be construed as blasphemy. Jesus had been silent, so he now resorted to an oath that, should one be silent, one would be guilty of blasphemy. So, he adjured Jesus by the Living God, to say whether or not he was the Christ, the Son of God.
63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.”
67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” [ESV]
Jesus' reply: “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
That is, he alluded to Daniel 7:13 - 14, in the heavenly throne room of judgement:
Dan 7: 13 “I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed. [ESV]
In his triumphant haste, the High Priest did not pause to ask whether this confession that he had extorted could actually be true, and tore his official robes in the sign that blasphemy had been committed in his presence. And so, the kangaroo court decided to put Jesus to death on the charge of blasphemously claiming to be Messiah, Son of God. That charge was given a political colour to Pilate, and when he proved reluctant, his hand was forced on pain of being denounced as cossetting rebels against Caesar.
Paul's reply at length is apt, as he introduced his epistle to the Romans:
Rom 1: 1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord . . . [ESV]
Jesus' status as eschatological -- end of days -- Son of Man was vindicated by his resurrection from the dead.
In another epistle, explaining how he prays for the Ephesians, he writes about that power of God exerted to raise Jesus from the dead:
Eph 1: 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. [NIV, '84]The power made available to us is the resurrection power that broke the bars of the grave, vindicating Jesus as messiah. The same, that exalted him as Lord over all in this age and -- as the Son of man coming on the clouds -- the one to come.
In that context, God has placed all things under Jesus' feet and made him head over everything for the church, "which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." [Eph 1:23.]
Thus we see in action the principle of the already and the not yet, which drives the process of culmination of all things that has begun with the coming of Messiah. That is, there is a definite culmination, and now we have a rising and inexorable tide of history, like waves mounting up ever higher and ever higher on a beach as the tide comes in.
Messiah has come, and has been vindicated by the power of the resurrection. He has made available to us the same power, as his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. And, from this we know that the tide of history is rising until the culmination of all things, and that in that process we are like those waves on the beach, filling, filling, filling -- rising, rising, rising -- as a foretaste and substantiation of that which shall be in perfect completion at his coming.
Which sets the context for:
Carrying the gospel forth into the community and into the world
In Ephesians 4, Paul gives what we may call the operational form of the church's mandate:
Eph 4: 10He Who descended is the [very] same as He Who also has ascended high above all the heavens, that He [His presence] might fill all things (the whole universe, from the lowest to the highest).Jesus came, descending and ascending to fill all things. He gave as gifts to the church certain leadership ministries to equip God's people so that God's people can carry out works of service, leading tot he growing of the church in all things into the fullness of Christ, at the same time bringing that fullness into the world around. As one consequence, we will be increasingly freed from vulnerability to deception and tricky schemes.
11And His gifts were [varied; He Himself appointed and gave men to us] some to be apostles (special messengers), some prophets (inspired preachers and expounders), some evangelists (preachers of the Gospel, traveling missionaries), some pastors (shepherds of His flock) and teachers.
12His intention was the perfecting and the full equipping of the saints (His consecrated people), [that they should do] the work of ministering toward building up Christ's body (the church), 13[That it might develop] until we all attain oneness in the faith and in the comprehension of the [[b]full and accurate] knowledge of the Son of God, that [we might arrive] at really mature manhood (the completeness of personality which is nothing less than the standard height of Christ's own perfection), the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ and the completeness found in Him.
14So then, we may no longer be children, tossed [like ships] to and fro between chance gusts of teaching and wavering with every changing wind of doctrine, [the prey of] the cunning and cleverness of [c]unscrupulous men, [gamblers engaged] in every shifting form of trickery in inventing errors to mislead.
15Rather, let our lives lovingly [d]express truth [in all things, speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly]. Enfolded in love, let us grow up in every way and in all things into Him Who is the Head, [even] Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
16For because of Him the whole body (the church, in all its various parts), closely joined and firmly knit together by the joints and ligaments with which it is supplied, when each part [with power adapted to its need] is working properly [in all its functions], grows to full maturity, building itself up in love. [AMP]
And, all of this is inextricably tied to the rising tide of history as the age of the church moves to the culmination of all things.
Closely bound up with this is the announced good news of messiah and the decisive victory at Calvary demonstrated in the power of the resurrection. How lovely on the mountains are the feet of hem who bring good news, proclaiming news of happiness, peace with God, the God who reigns. Calling us to the freedom in Christ, and to healing, the God-blessed transformation of life, family, church, school, community and culture.
Indeed, we may argue, that when we see an aspect of the world, we ask, what is it like now?
Then, if it were filled with Christ, what would it become?
The tension between those two is the redemptive, transforming gospel mandate to that aspect of our world.
So, the gospel goes out as a force of grace, liberation, healing, salvation and blessing to all the world.
The question, we must each answer for ourselves, is: what will we do in response? And, why?
FOR DISCUSSION AND ASSIGNMENTS