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by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that the Law of God is the eternal and unchangeable rule of His moral government; that it is holy, just, and good; and that the inability which the Scriptures ascribe to fallen men to fulfill its precepts, arises entirely from their love of sin; to deliver them from which, and to restore them through a Mediator to unfeigned obedience to the holy Law, is one great end of the Gospel, and of the Means of Grace connected with the establishment of the visible church.

The Substance and End of the Law

Calvin defines for us three uses of the Law. The first is ‘a mirror,’ in which we see our own hearts in light of God’s Law. This purpose is to drive us to Christ, the only true Law-keeper, as our hope. The second use refers to that part of the Law which is meant to govern society at large. In part, we see this at use in all places such as our own government as it restricts our right to take the life of another. Parenthetically we might ask the question of how anyone other than a believer rightly knows the laws of God. The answer is simply that the Law of God is written on the hearts of man (Rom. 2:15). There is an innate sense of knowing what God abhors and what he loves. It must also be noted that as people continue to defy the true God, they are given over to and begin to cherish more their own sin and idolatry. This process leads to a forfeiture of our intuition of God’s Law. The third use of the Law is that part of the Law that we use as Christians to guide our holy living.

The third of these uses is the most widely debated of the three. To begin we must look briefly at both salvation and sanctification in the Old Testament (OT). Salvation in the OT was never achieved through Law-keeping or moral uprightness. Post fall, the only way for final harmony to exist between Man and God is through the taking away of death and the giving of life. This was always done through faith in the mediation of God, symbolically portrayed in the slaying of animals (Heb. 10:4), and finally fulfilled in the slaying of the Son. Therefore the mode of salvation has always been through faith in God’s promise of a mediator.

Regarding sanctification, we must ask whether God’s demands in the Law are anything other than a concrete expression of God’s very own character. In giving the Law, does God impose a character foreign to his own? Does God intend through the Law for them to conform to an ideal other than himself? Of course, God does not have to keep his own laws regarding mediation or maintaining physical purity. Assuming that God’s commands are never arbitrary, the purpose of every command must be seen in light of its end, experiencing divine and brotherly harmony. Every command maintains and establishes life to that end. I conclude here that the very substance of the Law is none other than the character of God the Trinity, chiefly manifested to us in the person and life of Jesus Christ. In both salvation and sanctification, continuity has always existed between the OT and the NT because Christ is the substance of salvation and the Law.

If we put forth that the Law has an entirely different aim than that of Christ, there will be little use for the Law. If the Law was intended to be bounce-house rules for the nation of Israel and they alone, we have no use. But based on what we have shown so far, and from Christ coming to fulfill the Law, not destroy it (Mt. 5:17), we can see that the Law was intended for all of God’s people, before or after Christ came, to follow. God’s character is manifest in the Law such that conformity to the Law is conformity to Christ. But as we move throughout the OT Law, there are several laws that cannot apply to us; for example, those regarding animal sacrifice for atonement (Lev. 16). How then do we go about discerning what we are to following with regard to OT Law? No simple answer will be offered here (there is not simple answer). We can at least say that the civil and ceremonial laws terminated in Christ. Beyond this, Christ enlarges and reinterprets different laws such as adultery and loving our neighbors (Mt. 5). Those laws which pass through the lens of the teaching of Christ and his apostles are clearly required of us. In addition, those closely associated with these laws should not be easily cast aside.

Thus the moral law set forth in the OT which is both reiterated and reinterpreted by Christ is for us a guide to living like Christ. To dismiss the application of the Law is to look at Christ – who perfectly loved and honored God apart from any images or ill-utterance, who perfectly rested on the Sabbath (in spite of the rabbinic traditions), who perfectly submitted to Mary and Joseph, who perfectly loved men and women alike, who spoke nothing but truth, who had no want to even think of stealing or doubting his Father – with little significance given to his Law-fulfilling obedience.

Select Bibliography

The Cross and Salvation – Demarest

Calvin – Institutes 2

Theology for the Church – Akin

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by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that such only are real believers as endure unto the end; that their persevering attachment to Christ is the grand mark which distinguishes them from superficial professors; that a special Providence watches over their welfare; and they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

The Preserved

“Let it first be said that in declaring the eternal security of God’s people it is clearer to speak of their preservation than, as is commonly done of their perseverance. Perseverance means persistence under discouragement and contrary pressure. The assertion that believers persevere in faith and obedience despite everything is true, but the reason is that Jesus Christ through the Spirit is preserving them.” – J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, 241.

A question worth wading through in this matter is posed by John Piper – how do you know that you are going to wake up a Christian tomorrow? The question assumes, as we have discussed earlier, that one aspect of salvation affects the rest. How salvation is acquired in this regard will help us see how it is sustained. If acquiring it is operative in our faith (turning faith into a work), decision, hand-raising…then this is what will be operative in its sustenance. If the sovereignty of God is rejected in our initial entrance into the kingdom it doesn’t follow biblically or logically that it can be accepted in our sustenance. So then the question, based on the discussion on previous articles, can be answered like this: we awake each day to God’s grace poured out upon us because his preserving sovereignty is operative in the apprehension of Christ and in our continual living in him.

One man has said that at any normal moment of our lives, we are no more than 10 minutes from committing any possible sin or violating any part of God’s Word. Isn’t that frightening to think about? At our most perceptive moments, we can see the inner turmoil – the flesh urging us to make gods of ourselves. And while we are being made holy, some of us sin in gross and harmful ways. Yet this is not meant to be the ultimate litmus test for the surety of our salvation (though it is not unimportant). John’s testimony in 1 John is that while we will sin, we have an advocate to whom we turn in our darkest moments. The principal means by which we see the preserving hand of God in our lives is rarely immediately clear, but clear in time. Retrospectively, as we observe both the suffering of life and the sin which we bring forth, we see that even this sin and suffering brings forth a more proven character and we learn. And it is exactly to this which we refer when we mean God’s preservation – that God’s hand is within our suffering in such a way as to teach and sanctify us while at the same time, never forsaking him as our ultimate hope (See Rom 5:1-5). He guides and leads us through the most painful of times and choices in an unsinkable vessel.

Packer’s point is just that, God’s immovable grace is always present within us such that we always ultimately turn to him as our hope. Yet, as Christians, our perspective is that we persevere in these situations. Neither should be overemphasized (to do so would either dissolve God’s sovereign hand, or our responsibility). You will wake up a Christian tomorrow only by God’s sovereign grace being always and ever present within you. Take heart then, Christian, you are irrevocably God’s. God’s desire to keep you will never fade and this God knows no failure.

The Backslidden

It can be quite alarming to put yourself in the shoes of those listening to the Sermon on the Mount. Sure, Jesus starts out with some great stuff, but by chapter seven, we’re not so comfortable. And we shouldn’t be. Christ has no intention of letting any of his hearers off the hook. He defines salvation very clearly in that moment, as knowing God, that is, knowing God truly and intimately. This isn’t just knowledge about him, but knowing and having confidence in him as that which a son has for his father. Yet Christ’s point isn’t just to define salvation, it is that in our attempt to define our own salvation we have and can continue to be in utter disillusionment. We can want to appear so spiritual that we raise our hands and worship, yet don’t know him…we can want to be seen as so self-deprecating that we drop wads of cash into the offering so that others see and think that we live on nothing…we can even keep our hands down, give secretly, pretend we have nothing to say, or appear humble in order to mentally exalt ourselves as the humblest and purest in the congregation. We may not know God and think that expressing ourselves through the traditions in a church will lead us to him. To both unbeliever and believer, search your heart and hold fast to God. In Jesus Christ you will find his kindness.

There remains for us a difficult truth – that it is very difficult to discern with assurance the salvation of others. Indeed, in 1 John the apostle gives us several ‘tests’ which we can use to see evidence of God’s sovereign sanctification in others. But it is this that isn’t always clear. As we are sanctified we learn to lean wholly on the grace and hand of God in the midst of trials and we are thus strengthened in our faith. But you cannot see faith. Faith is immaterial. It does indeed express itself in works of mercy and brotherly love. And herein lies the issue – that moral achievement is not only accessible by faith in Jesus Christ. Many attest to have attended church to find a woman of their liking. Going to church, sexual abstinence, stopping swearing, mowing your neighbors lawn, giving up your seat to the elderly, walking an old lady across the street… these are not acts foreign to the world. They can be done by any and all, yet not by faith (Rom 14:23).

Further, it can be possible even for some to go to church and seem as though they are Christians for a great while before their true motives are revealed. It could be the case that their search for fulfillment in life brought them to the church which didn’t fit the god they had created with their own minds and they therefore left. This is by no means an attempt to put all of these people or situations in a mold. Words often cannot describe the pain of friends or family leaving the church, yet it is only within the church where hope and love are housed for us in these situations. People are dynamic and can rarely fit into the categories we place them. This is also not an attempt to define all those who have come and gone as without hope. The purpose is merely to dispel what usually gives us doubt about our own salvation usually posed in the following, “if that person didn’t find God great or God wasn’t able to keep him, how great can he really be or how can I really know that he will uphold me?” What should be clear is that it is at least possible for those whom we once thought to be believers and fall away to have never truly believed. It is not inconsistent for us to say that God upholds his church and yet some who appear to have belonged to that church can fall away (also see the parable of the sower – Matt 13). Again, it is difficult to know the hearts of others and whether it is Matthew 7 or the book of 1 John, neither should be used to beat others over the head (as a wrench belongs to a mechanic, so God’s word is best used by the Church’s pastors). Some stay in the walls of the church for years and leave. Others come and go and come. It is not for us to write the names in the book of life. None are without hope and all in those situations who know someone who has fallen away should continue in prayer and friendly persistence for their repentance and faith in Christ.

Select Bibliography

The Cross and Salvation – Demarest

Calvin – Institutes 1

Theology for the Church – Akin

Packer – Concise Theology

Packer – Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that Sanctification is the process by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of his holiness; that it is a progressive work; that it is begun in regeneration; and that it is carried on in the hearts of believers by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Sealer and Comforter, in the continual use of the appointed means, – especially, the word of God, self-examination, self-denial, watchfulness and prayer.

The Sanctified One

When saying any one thing in theology, you are saying something about everything, however significant. However unrelated, it is telling that many high-church environments also hold to infant (paedo) baptism and covenant theology as opposed to dispensational theology and holding believer’s (credo) baptism (there are exceptions). For now, what we have already said about justification and its communication to us will help us think about what sanctification is and how we grow in it. First, however, to a definition – while justification deals with our legal reprehensibility before God, sanctification deals with the continual reshaping of our polluted minds and desires to conform them to the mind and desires of Jesus Christ. It is more simply, our being made into the “image of his Son” as Paul says in Romans 8. It is helpful to note here that Paul is intent on telling us the point for which we were saved, not that we might be expiated of our sin and cleared of our guilt and then live on to the same destructive and chaotic end, but that we may live a new life, in his new life. In sanctification, we are being decontaminated from our old life.

As previously discussed, justification is received insofar as we partake of Jesus Christ, not from afar, but in our very oneness with him. Calvin will help here:

“Christ was given to us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life” (Institutes 3.11.1)

Not only do we receive the legal pardon, but we also receive from Christ his life of holiness. This is of little consequence if we believe that sanctification is mainly about becoming a good, moral citizen, but this is not the case! Following the definition we set out with, this fact has grand implications. If sanctification is akin to ‘Christ-ification’, or conformity to the whole character of Jesus Christ, how else are we to grow in holiness than to partake of him? We often take the Holy Spirit as a surrogate for the absent Christ, but this is a strange conclusion to come to from John 14:15-20. Rather it seems that Christ is present precisely through the third person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings the life of Jesus Christ to bear upon us such that we die with him (Rom. 6), rise with him (Col. 3), and live in him (Gal. 2:20).

Sanctified Schizophrenia

Paul writes, “Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death” (Rom. 7:24)? The apostle is no stranger to the true pain and toil we undertake when we grow in holiness. Growing involves growing pains. As with a surgeon who must further splice apart an already mutilated body in order to find the lead bullet inside, Christ must peal apart the layers of our idolatry and self-indulgence to remove our vicious desires. No Christian should think that a constant upward path is the norm of the Christian life. Many believers embarking on the journey of sanctification (all of life post-justification) slip. They take one step forwards and three back… four forward and two back. There is no formula for the sanctification of believers, except that for the perceptive Christian, the path is a warzone. And though this is the case, we are able to look back through our history as one of God’s children and see the struggles that, with Christ, have been conquered. In this way, sanctification is the instrumental means by which we can obtain assurance that we are indeed held captive by God. I conclude with Calvin:

“Therefore the godly heart feels in itself a division because it is partly imbued with sweetness from its recognition of the divine goodness, partly grieves in bitterness from an awareness of its calamity; partly rests upon the promise of the gospel, partly trembles at the evidence of its own iniquity; partly rejoices at the expectation of life, partly shudders at death. This variation arises from imperfection of faith, since in the course of the present life it never goes so well with us that we are wholly cured of the disease of unbelief and entirely filled and possessed by faith… the end of the conflict is always this: that faith ultimately triumphs over those difficulties which besiege and seem to imperil it.” Calvin – Institutes 3.2.18

Select Bibliography

The Cross and Salvation – Demarest

Calvin – Institutes 3

Theology for the Church – Akin

by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that Election is the eternal purpose of God, according to which He graciously regenerates, sanctifies, and saves sinners; that being perfectly consistent with the free agency of man, it comprehends all the means in connection with the end; that it is a most glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, being infinitely free, wise, holy and unchangeable; that it utterly excludes boasting, and promotes humility, love, prayer, praise, trust in God, and active imitation of his free mercy; that it encourages the use of means in the highest degree; that it may be ascertained by its effects in all who truly believe the Gospel; that it is the foundation of Christian assurance; and that to ascertain it with regard to ourselves demands and deserves the utmost diligence.

Sovereign Election

The purpose of discussing election is always pastoral in the Holy Scriptures (Rom 8, 9, Eph 1). It is seen as something that comforts believers and ought also to elicit praise from them. While the issues regarding election are complex indeed, the following discussion will be closely tied to the Scriptural purpose rather than the debates within or related to the doctrine of election. Of course, a definition is necessary for us to really know what we are talking about. It can be defined as the free action of God to choose individuals for salvation. This definition, however, has given way for some to say that he chooses usbased upon consideration of future acts of service or those individuals eventually choosing him. Thus we can helpfully add, God chooses individuals for salvation based upon nothing in that individual whatsoever, but solely out of his mercy and grace.

At first glance of course, this definition also presents some difficulty. It comes under fire in that “mercy and grace” cannot be a foundation for choosing some and not others. “Mercy and grace,” then, are accused of being a smokescreen for having nothing to say at all. And here they are correct. Though we wouldn’t use the same language, there are times when understanding doctrine must stop. We cannot probe the recesses of God’s mind and we are not meant to. It is precisely in the question, “Why does he choose some and not others,” that they have gone too far (as Paul says in the middle of Romans 9). Trying to piece together the theology contained in the Bible can be tricky business. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is one of the principle examples of where we must say there is deep mystery involved (others may include the event of the Fall or that marriage is a reflection of Christ and the church) because there is simply no Biblical warrant to go further. We rest with the previous definition.

Election should not be seen as an elementary school game of cosmic-dodge ball where Christ gets first pick and Satan second. The doctrine is closely related to the fact that man in his fallen condition hates God deeply and without remorse. Men so hate God that even great acts of love elicit mockery by the supposedly religious elite. Election is the first of many subsequent acts where God alters who we are. But, election is not haphazard. God does not just choose to change the suicidal destruction we bring about in our lives, he brings that very change to fruition. His sovereign election is brought about by events in our life that he has planned (which we call the providence of God). God is always intentional and deliberate in his actions, never unplanned or random. God’s sovereign choice to overcome our dark intentions terminates in our being brought into new life.

Martin Luther’s confessor, Staupitz, counseled him with the following words, “If you want to dispute about predestination, begin with the wounds of Christ, and it will cease.” But hang on, isn’t election completely fatalistic? If I can’t probe the depth of my soul and find a firm moral island to stand, should I conclude that I’m not elect? Isn’t my election based on my experience and personal holiness so much so that devoid of these things I can only conclude that I’m not elect and that I cannot become saved because salvation is the sovereign power of God and not in my own ability? Nothing is further from the truth. Election is never to be sought in place of Jesus Christ. Only in Jesus Christ will we find firm confirmation of that very election for in him is found the fruition of our election. Do you desire to make sure your election and gain assurance of salvation? Look to Jesus Christ. Look and grasp him. Know that in him is the great benevolence of the Father toward you and in grasping the Son, we share with the Son in his inheritance. We share in the delight which the Father has for the Son. We share in the joy of divine rest and peace. If these truths glimmer with familiarity, know that you are unshakably the Lord’s.

Sovereign Goodness

There remains as we think about God’s sovereign election and providence great distortion. In many ways, God has given us earthly images that help us to understand who he is toward us. Godly fathers on earth help us see what it means that God is our Father, likewise friends, brothers, marriage relationships. But few examples on earth can help us grapple with God’s sovereign rule. It’s a good step for us to take to admit at the outset that we need great help in understanding God’s providence. Calvin wrote of God’s providence, “Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it” (1.17.11).

Ultimately there is no foundation to understanding that God sovereignly rules over all things other than that he is supremely good and trustworthy. It is of course, with great ease that we attribute all good things that we experience to God’s gracious and kind providence. But when death, destruction, deception, dismay, and disappointment breeze through our front door, it is quite another story. There are easy ways to ‘excuse’ God for these events, but the Bible does not do this. Joseph’s misery brought forth a nation. Naomi and Ruth lost their loved ones and made way for Ruth’s offspring David…and Jesus Christ. Job endured the loss of everything he had to eventually experience greater blessings than he had before. All of the suffering that Christians endure has a telos (end), which is our sanctification and ultimate glorification. The redeeming of our suffering takes place most fully as we join the heavenly parade of martyrs and the many suffered people of God over the ages. Not only do we join them, but we join Jesus Christ who entered into the sovereign plan of God (Acts 2:23) and experienced the full force of God’s wrath. God is not the God who directs and guides events at a distance, but from within. He comes down into his own sovereign plan and experiences the deepest corners of our darkness.

With regard to the destruction in our lives, God is either asleep at the wheel, unconcerned with us, unable to help, or infinitely wise and involved to an end of which we cannot always see. We are often blind and confused concerning the events around us and in our lives. Yet there is one place of peace, light, and clarity – God’s good providence. This providence sets our eyes straight ahead to the eternal kingdom in whose streets we will one day walk. On these walks we will contemplate the full end of our earthly misery and joys. If God is good, utterly concerned, fully trustworthy, endlessly faithful, and truly filled with the same warm love of which the Bible attests, then we have this end on which to look – those streets.

Select Bibliography

The Cross and Salvation – Demarest

Packer – Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Institutes 1.17

by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God; whereby being deeply convinced of our guilt, danger and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy; at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest and King, and relying on Him alone as the only and all sufficient Savior.

Faith

“[Isaac] will never forget that in one hundred and thirty years you got no further than faith.”[i] Abraham’s journey to Moriah with Isaac is one story among many in Hebrews 11 which the writer intends to use as an example for us because, “Without faith it is impossible to please him.”[ii] Faith is the apprehension of God in the person of Christ. Faith is the apprehension of Christ in everything we do and thus becomes the upward thrust and God-glorifying telos (end) of each moment of our life. Thus Paul writing to the Corinthians, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” (10:31) and also to the Romans, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin,” (14:23) is Paul in essence expressing the very same idea. This of course assumes that faith is so defined with Jesus Christ as its object.

That Jesus Christ is the object of saving faith means several things as we discuss here. First, faith includes a level of true knowledge about the object. Faith must be based upon a biblical knowledge of Christ and his provision for us. A faith devoid of this content is nothing other than superstition (eg. transubstantiation) or nicely-dressed error (eg. JW’s, Mormons). Faith must also contain belief that agrees with the testimony of Scripture about Christ, namely that he provides salvation for those who call on him. Finally, faith must go beyond an intellectual assent and agreement to a trust and commitment to the object. In the case of faith, all of these find as their object, Jesus Christ. The formula for faith includes the knowledge of, agreement with, and trust in the person of Jesus Christ as the one mediator who provides unfettered access to God.

The oft used phrase, “I really grew in my faith by…” is perhaps overused, but not out of place. What someone should mean in using this language is that they have progressed in any one of these areas. We grow in our faith as we understand not only that Jesus Christ made a provision for us, but expiated our sins through the cross, redeemed our humanity through his life, and even meets with us as we partake in his word and sacrament. Throughout our lives and through sanctification, the very same truths that we understand intellectually, progress from a passive agreement further to an awe-filled and hearty ‘amen.’ This expresses itself further as these truths move through our souls in such a way that we trust more strongly in Christ not just for salvation, but for our very sanctification.

This faith is more than just a flippant hope (“I hope I remembered to turn off the oven!”), although they are related. Both look outward within bleak circumstances, but where hope looks forward, faith steps forward. All people make this step toward their hope. The problem mainly is that people hope in white teeth or a hunk of metal on wheels. If these are our salvation, our faith will look oddly similar to that of the world, pursuing all manner of worldly possessions seeking everything…or anything at all that can placate the hunger within. Let us rest in that our faith is in none of these! Let us praise in that our salvation is more than just, “well I hope that I am saved!” We believe in Christ and trust in him for salvation confidently.

Repentance

If faith is the trust in God, repentance is the act whereby our previous faith, which rested solely on the self, is repudiated. Repentance is the move from self and faith completes the move by reaching to Christ. Repentance in the biblical sense is radical. We should understand repentance in any single event as the dashing to pieces of an idol and replacing it with the true God once again (or for the first time). It is in this sense no mere change of mind, but powerful enough to rip away our faith from an idol and redirect it to Christ.

Like faith, there is a necessary formula to produce an act of repentance. There must first of all be recognition of the divine standard being broken by the one repenting. An awareness of the rupture in the relationship between God and man must always be present. Also, as difficult as it will be to nail down, there must be an emotive element. The attitude toward what has been committed cannot be neutral. In any particular instance, the attitude felt when one confesses, “I have mutilated the glory and name of God,” must never be equivalent to stating, “I am sitting in my living room right now.” There is an involvement in confession that includes a healthy hatred and shame in having done it. I say healthy to emphasize this is very often done in an unhealthy way. We must not, as the early Luther did, be consumed with our own sin. Repentance is not attrition – it is not self-preoccupation with no sense of remorse. This indeed is the final ingredient in biblical repentance, resolve. This is the point in repentance where volition brings us away from the trust in sin and self to faith, where Christ is apprehended. Repentance without resolve to forsake the old life is pure misery.

Repentant Faith

These two distinct movements, as it has already been shown, are uniquely related. They are distinct movements, but not divided. In any given instance of faith or repentance, the other is present. There is a tremendous amount of overlap between the two and they should probably be understood as occurring at the same time. Distinction without division (Chalcedon) is a helpful way to imagine these movements.

As Christians, this is a lifelong movement and can be a sort of pendulum swing. As we begin, our repentance is done without much understanding of God’s holiness or with a comprehensive understanding of who he is toward us. As we age, our knowledge of his love and the depth of his holiness begin to loom large. We also begin to sin differently – where we once committed many sins without much filter, we are given over to a holier mind as Christ reigns in our bodies. Yet even though we sin less, we grieve more because we understand the depth of our offenses even further in light of his identity. In either end of our personal timelines, the depth of our repentance and strength of our faith are not what saves us. It is the strength of the hand which grasps us, not ours on him, which brings the provision of salvation to fruition within us.

 

Select Bibliography

The Cross and Salvation – Demarest

Berkhoff – Systematic Theology

Fear and Trembling – Kierkegaard

Institutes 3 – Calvin

by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that, in order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated, or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; that it is effected in a manner above our comprehension by the power of the Holy Spirit, in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel; and that its proper evidence appears in the holy fruits of repentance, and faith, and newness of life.

The Nature of Regeneration

Regeneration tells us that God the Trinity is profoundly and personally interested in us. A lawyer springs the guilty free through crafty fact-bending, but even upright lawyers and judges dismiss the innocent upon the resolve of a case. God, upon our legal resolve and our being justified, does just the opposite. In salvation, God not only justifies us, he invades our very life and decisively changes us. It is not unheard of in Christianity today to reduce the gospel to legal-reckoning. This vitally important aspect of salvation can never be overlooked, but no one aspect of salvation can suffice to contain it all. God’s saving action is beautiful and manifold.

The first aspect of salvation which we actually experience is our being regenerated. In regeneration, we are ‘born-again’ (see John 3). This new life into which we are placed is more than just a new paradigm or perspective – it actually provides for us some measure of ability to do meaningful and worthwhile actions with our own two hands. However, this ‘new life’ in which we now live is no abstract form of spiritual batteries on which we now run. This power is the Holy Spirit himself as he indwells us and gives us the benefits of Jesus Christ. In the event of regeneration, we are given new life, namely the Holy Spirit, from which our new desires are shaped.

This event is also passive, in that it is solely brought about by God – an event in which we do not bring about by any effort of our own. That said, it is by no means a haphazard moment. God brings about salvation in the context of the preaching and hearing of Scripture. There is no formula for God to save other than his inscripturated-gospel message. Gospel preaching ushers in the Holy Spirit who regenerates our hearts and enables us to respond to the beckon of the preacher.

Many in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church espouse a kind of baptismal-regeneration by which the mark of our sinful nature is wiped clean (though not given much real content). Extended treatments of this can be found in many evangelical systematic theologies. Suffice it to say here that all theology is related. What you say about one part of theology will nearly always affect others. If one holds baptismal regeneration, the pressure is often to separate this event from the other events of salvation such as sanctification and justification. In Catholicism, justification is achieved through lifelong sanctification which is rooted in baptismal regeneration. While their doctrine of baptismal regeneration is not the cause of this mishap, it is a result of the underlying problems with a poorly constructed theological system.

The Regenerate Life

For every part of our human nature that experienced the effects of the fall (every part) there will be a reversal. This reversal begins in our regeneration. Our will, intellect, emotions, relationships, and moral compass are all torn and twisted. In the giving of new life, God begins the process of reparation to these. Lest we be discouraged that new life means a kind of explosive and fanatical response to the gospel, we must realize that the giving of new life does not mean we are perfect, but changed. In the process, we desire more and more the presence of God. We realize continually that God is our perfect Father and that he is for us. We love others more intensely and feel rancor less powerfully. We begin to care for others and feel around us the immensity of evil in the world. Note Paul’s list in Galatians 5 and the context in which each of these fruits will be expressed. He touches on nearly every part of our life in this short list. This is the effect of the Spirit, the reformation of our soul. Yet we do continue in a kind of duality. Though the stain of sin has been lifted, brash and stupid desires remain within us. In this vein Paul writes, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death” (Rom 7:24)?

It would be a mistake for us here to observe the moral compasses of unbelievers and compare them with our own. We do much damage by discouraging ourselves as we sink into nail-biting fits of comparison. We are, every one of us, a work in progress. Regeneration is not about being made moral, it is about being the recipient of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Our sights are not to be held on moral impeccability but on knowing and cherishing Christ more. What regeneration helps us see is that the Christian life is not about grasping God more, but being grasped by God more. Though our regeneration and new life is given decisively, the Spirit continually wreaks fruit within us.

Select Bibliography

Saved by Grace – Hoekema

The Cross and Salvation – Demarest

Theology for the Church – Akin

Institutes 3.3 – Calvin

by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that the blessings of salvation are made free to all by the gospel; that it is the immediate duty of all to accept them by a cordial, penitent, and obedient faith; and that nothing prevents the salvation of the greatest sinner on earth, but his own inherent depravity and voluntary rejection of the gospel; which rejection involves him in an aggravated condemnation.

Freedom and Responsibility

A quick review of Romans 5 & 6 may leave some perplexed as Paul discusses the freedom that we experience in Christ and describes it as slavery to righteousness. What we must understand in Paul’s discussion here is that his definition of freedom is worlds apart from ours. Freedom as it is defined in our cultural and political context is the unhindered right to do anything. Freedom is unhinged will…but is that even possible? Isn’t a person’s will tied to them in such a way as to form the will? Can anybody will acts that are not necessarily conditioned by one’s own past experience in life? The simple point is this, everybody has a master. One can only be as free as their nature. Everybody has an aim and an end which they are aiming for in narrative of their lives. Paul’s point is that the chains that once bound us to a prison of self-wonder and self-obsession have now been bound to Christ. As we will see next week, Christ has changed our very nature within us and bound us to himself. This is freedom – to be bound to such a nature that we can worship the Creator and Father of our very freedom and that within this nature, upheld by that Father, is no dread or fright that we will be left of our own accord.

The responsibility of salvation is given to us but the ability is not in us to receive it. Freedom thus defined allows us to see that we are not set free as un-mastered subjects. We are apprehended by God. We are not set free to muster ourselves into a repentance just good enough to be worthy of God. We will never repent or believe in such a way that God does not yet, even in our repentance, provide mediation for us. The Father in Jesus Christ provides for us the freedom necessary by fastening us to himself.

Sovereignty?

Hyper-Calvinism is a term applied to those who have taken John Calvin’s theology to deterministic extremes. If God is the sovereign Lord, how can human agency exist in any respect at all? This describes the Hyper-Calvinist. Human responsibility is turned into a farce and God is ultimately the cause of everything. Paul addresses this kind of thinking to us in Romans 9 (take a peek). In a theological discussion surrounding God’s purposes, Paul does not give us the inner workings of God’s decrees. Rather, he explains to us that questioning what God demands of us in light of his sovereign hand is a form of unbelief. The point Paul makes subtly is that it is more central to Christianity that we hold a biblical consistency instead of a philosophically airtight system. Philosophers will bemoan Paul’s insistence on the affirmation of seemingly contradictory terms. The Old Testament bears witness that God repeatedly assures the salvation of his people and clearly acts sovereignly. He nonetheless prescribes laws and arranges massive responsibility for his people that you would not expect of mere puppets. The OT not only claims both but holds no forte in either direction.

The doctrine of sovereignty will be addressed in the later articles. Suffice it to say here that the doctrine is a source of great comfort for believers. The providence of God is a personal providence which is not just exercised from high above, but from within. God entered his own providential plan and was subject to a gruesome death and unspeakable evil. If this is not the case, if God is not sovereign then with regard to all the events in your life you could speak of God in a few different ways. He could be asleep at the wheel, perhaps he is just unconcerned, or maybe he just doesn’t even have the power to act. We must see that we cannot see. He is infinitely wise and involved in the events of our lives in such a way to bring about a holy and joyous end. While the contours are sometimes confusing to us, let us rest in that he is not confused, unable, unwilling, or unconcerned.

Select Bibliography

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God – Packer

The Cross and Salvation – Demarest

Theology for the Church – Akin

Calvin’s Institutes (1:16-18)

by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that the great Gospel blessing which Christ secures to such as believe in Him is Justification; that Justification includes the pardon of sin, and the promise of eternal life on principles of righteousness; that it is bestowed, not in consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done, but solely through faith in the Redeemer’s blood; by virtue of which faith His perfect righteousness is freely imputed to us of God; that it brings us into a state of most blessed peace and favor with God, and secures every other blessing needful for time and eternity.

Justification Accomplished

Calvin described it saying, “…this is the main hinge on which religion turns…”[i] Luther said it is “the doctrine on which the church stands or falls.”[ii] Without a doubt, it is the doctrine on which the entire Reformation was launched and continues to be the biggest point of conflict between Evangelical and Catholic conversation. But it is no mere conversation piece for us. It is the climax and resolution after the cliffhanger. Having been left biting our nails with regard to the apprehension of our deliverance, we can now have confidence. We may learn from Scripture that God is tri-personal, that he is all-powerful, that he created all out of nothing, even that he has endowed us with authority over all the earth, and yet there is a looming question – What is this God’s disposition toward us? Is he for or against us? Justification answers this question.

Justification is multifaceted and oceans of ink have been spilled on the subject. Luther was excommunicated and nearly killed regarding it, but many weren’t so lucky (it was not solely this distinctive that angered the Catholics). Justification in the medieval church was accomplished after a lifetime of sanctification. This sanctification was always considered by God’s grace, first administered through infant baptism (removal of original sin for them), and ever after through the sacraments which were only given through the church. Not so odd then, that they despised the Reformers since their efforts undermined the entire structure of the Catholic Church (including income!). Depending on who you ask, they had it coming.

Justification for the Reformed project and most Evangelicals is, “the act of God by which he credits the righteousness of Christ to the believer and declares him just”[iii] The tangible, law-fulfilling righteousness of Christ, which he accomplished through his earthly journey, is given to us at the moment of justification. In our justification, our sin and guilt is judged in the person of Christ in the great exchange. It is on this cross that Christ is crushed under the wrath of the Father and suffers our punishment for sin. Imagine for a moment, the devil accusing God… “Where is your justice God? I thought you were the perfect and holy judge of every living thing? There is no possible way for you to give these people life, they have marred your image and despised you with a high hand… You aren’t the perfect and unchanging God, you let them run free!” Facetious, of course, yet this is the conversation, of sorts, that Paul is answering in Romans 3:21-26. Here, Paul shows how God can save the wicked and still be a consistent, just God. Justification reveals that the God who created all, is a benevolent and trustworthy Father to be sought and discovered further. He is for us – this, rather than a God whose identity is nothing but a terror to us outside of Jesus Christ (therefore outside of justification).

Justification Applied

Luther wrote, “I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners…Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience…”[iv] This he wrote in regard to his struggle through understanding what God’s righteousness means for us. The German plagued himself with the most devout expression of piety…whipping, beating, starving, and freezing himself throughout his life as acts of penance. All this was done with the understanding that justification, through God’s grace, is earned cooperatively. When Luther discovered the truth of Paul’s heart in Romans, the entire world shook. How do we get justification? Sola Fide – by faith alone. Faith will be defined in a few weeks. The purpose here is only to say that the application of redemption is by the power and initiative of God alone.

First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us. –Calvin[v]

As with other aspects of our salvation, let us not depersonalize justification. How can legal benefits and declarations be made of us with regard to our souls if we remain outside of Jesus Christ? The testimony of Calvin and others[vi] regards justification as intimately related to our being united to Christ. It does not in any way diminish our legal standing, but brings legal fiction to fact. In Christ, we have his righteousness and he bears our wickedness. In Christ, there is no condemnation (Rom 8). In Christ we have been raised and seated with him. In Christ, we were chosen for adoption (Eph 2). In Christ, we should seek the things that are above, since he is our life (Col 3). In Christ we have redemption (Col 1).

This all ought to fill us with assurance. It remains however, that we often base how assured we are of God’s favor of us on our own emotions, performance, and other experiences. However the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb 10:22). Further, perfectionism and perpetual guilt is completely antithetical to God’s verdict on us. We ought to have a healthy sense of guilt and repent! Yet our assurance of pardon should follow with joy and praise, knowing full well the magnitude of the price paid.

Select Bibliography

The Cross and Salvation – Bruce Demarest

Theology for the Church – Akin

Calvin’s Institutes (Mostly book 3)

Salvation Accomplished by the Son – Peterson

Hoekema – Saved by Grace

[i.] Institutes, 3.1.1

[ii.] Akin, Theology for the Church. 745

[iii.] Ibid, 746.

[iv.] Nichols, Martin Luther. 37

[v.] Institutes, 2.1.1

[vi.] Also the view taken by Kenneth Keathley in Theology for the Church, 752; Packer, Justification 645; Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 495.

by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that the salvation of sinners is wholly of grace; through the mediatorial offices of the Son of God; who by the appointment of the Father, freely took upon him our nature, yet without sin; honored the divine law by his personal obedience, and by his death made a full atonement for our sins; that having risen from the dead he is now enthroned in heaven; and uniting in his wonderful person the tenderest sympathies with divine perfections, he is every way qualified to be a suitable, a compassionate, and an all-sufficient Savior.

The Incarnation

If Christ’s reconciliation for us is only given from afar, then Christ is afar. But, the incarnation says the opposite – that Christ is near. He is Immanuel – God with us. But do we add the, “so-to-speak” after saying this? Is God with us, so-to-speak? It cannot be that God is just with us in that he wants a certain end for us and will be thinking about us as we go about that end. It must be that God being with us is this – he has shared in our darkened lives and in them, seen the Father perfectly. This he did not just as a model, but he literally gives us his own vision of the Father through the Holy Spirit in our redemption. It is now the case that through Jesus Christ we can see the Father’s tender love that he has for us in his Son. This is only possible through Christ taking upon himself humanity. Calvin writes regarding Christ’s role as mediator, “Who could have done this had not the self-same Son of God become the Son of man, and had not so taken what was ours as to impart what was his to us, and to make what was his by nature, ours by grace?” (Institutes, Book 2 Ch 12 P2)

Stoics, Platonists, Greek Mythologies, and even God’s people, Israel, gawk and scoff at the idea that God could become man. Amidst these objections and others the council of Chalcedon (451 AD) thought it prudent to set forth a detailed definition of who Christ is (search for it and read it!). They affirmed that Christ was both consubstantial with the Father (fully God), and consubstantial with humanity (fully man). Christ’s two natures are “without change, division, confusion, or separation.” Within these four fences we live in the tradition and orthodoxy of the Christian church.

Gregory of Nazianzen wrote, “…that which he has not assumed he has not healed…” regarding the person of Christ. I put it here mainly to point out that the incarnation is vital to our understanding of the atonement. That Christ identified with us in our flesh and made atonement therein, means that he made atonement for us. However, it is easy to look at the incarnation as a means to an end – death. Did Christ come to die? Why did he live for 33 years until he submitted to death (he could easily have stayed in Israel and allowed Herod to kill him as a babe)? Is it possible, as Calvin writes above, that Christ was accomplishing not only atonement through his death by means of his spilt blood at the cross, but also accomplishes all the righteous requirements of the law which he imputes to us in order for us to be considered righteous?

The Atoning One

First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us.”

(Calvin, Institutes, Bk1 Ch1 P1)

Praise God that the atonement needed for final reconciliation was not left to humanity alone, but to the only divine-man who entered our flesh. By his blood and only his blood, our sin is covered and we are given eternal life. Atonement restores to us the marred and effaced relation we have to God into one of love and harmony. It must be pointed out that atonement however doesn’t come in pieces… Christ doesn’t give us atonement, he is atonement. As Calvin writes above, the benefits that Christ obtained here, namely through his death are only given to us in his person. We cannot abstract atonement from Jesus Christ and expect to have any idea what we are really talking about because atonement was accomplished in his flesh right before our eyes. It can be possible to talk about salvation and atonement as a thing that we get, rather than a person whom we receive. Christ did not say he will show us the way, truth, and the life…he said that he was in himself the only way to the Father, the only true Word, and the Life Everlasting.

This atonement is the outpouring of his loving-kindness upon us. Throughout the gospel accounts we encounter expressions of Christ’s self-bestowal, patience, and grace toward us. He gave hope to the adulterous woman at the well; he bore patience with Nicodemus; he stooped and met Thomas’ doubt; he called the greedy Zacchaeus to dinner; with all the effort Peter could muster, Jesus caught his hand as he sank into the sea. This is the Christ who sits in heaven. This Christ is where we find atonement. We, then, rest completely in the comfort and peace of his name.

Check out this quote from Augustine

Select Bibliography

The Person of Christ – Donald MaCleod

Atonement – T.F. Torrance

Calvin’s Institutes – Book 2.12/Book 3.1-12

One with Christ – Johnson

by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his Maker, but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state; in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners, not by constraint but choice; being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil; and therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin, without defense or excuse.

Sin and Salvation

It follows that what is said about sin is what we are saying about salvation; ‘saving’ implies saving from something. That is to say, if salvation is 1) an immediate salvation (justification, adoption, etc…), 2) an ongoing salvation (sanctification), 3) a salvation yet to be fully realized for us in eternity, then what we say about sin and all it entails is what we are saying about salvation in each of these stages. Salvation is of course an act of legal rebellion against God which is immediately resolved through the application of Christ’s sacrifice (justification). Beyond this, we are also immediately given access to God through our brother and High Priest, Christ, to God as our Father (adoption). However, sin also reaches into the depths of our hearts in such a way that the Christian is still encouraged to be holy and to purge herself from the caves of self-admiration until she dies (sanctification). Eternally, sin can also be thought of as a severance of relationship, a continual state of enmity which is reversed as we sit beneath the throne of God and worship him (Rev 22:1-5).

The short definitions just stated aren’t half bad…but what about ‘missing the mark.’ Does salvation include the reversal of this? Do we make the mark now? What is the mark? Who is the subject of this rather ambiguous phrase and what are they doing differently? The problems are evident.

Two explanations of what is at the root of sin are idolatry and shalom (peace/harmony) breaking. Simply put, every act of sin is personally culpable and disrupts the harmony that God named as “good” in his creation (disruption of shalom). The means of ruining this peace is not just the flirtation, but the consummation of something meant for good and making it supreme authority, obeying it instead of God (usually manifested in self definition and authority – idolatry).

The Fall

While the Trinity is toward the top of the list of mysteries we accept, the event of the Fall should not be underestimated. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden in a perfect, harmonious relationship with one another and with him. They trusted in him for everything and knew his good character vividly. Adam enjoyed glorifying God through obedience and by enjoying every part of creation set before his eyes. He knew that God was loving, caring, a God of harmony and peace. He trusted God… And like the flip of a switch it all changed. And this is the mystery: Adam who only knew God as loving Father of all and the God of peace fled. Why didn’t he run to the grace of this loving Father and confess? Why was he all of a sudden so terrified of this God that he did all he could to pass the responsibility off?

“A profound blindness has taken over Adam’s mind. His inner vision is now so terribly alienated – so fallen – that he no longer has a clear perception of the Father’s heart at all. He cannot see the Father’s face. And worse, in place of the Father’s heart, his fallen mind invented a new god, a nightmarish mythological deity… From this moment, the Father’s face will be forever tarred with an alien brush, and his heart, his beauty, his goodness, will be misunderstood. Our darkened imagination will recreate the Father’s character in its own image. Our shame will disfigure the Father’s heart. The projections of our fear will rewrite the rules of his care” (Kruger, C. Baxter. The Hermeneutical Nightmare and the Reconciling Work of Jesus Christ, An Introduction to Torrence Theology).

Universal

We are each of us deeply damaged by the Fall in every part of our being. There is no part of our person that hasn’t been tainted by sin. This is the theological definition of ‘total depravity,’ yet sin is not an amoeba of stuff out there to be examined apart from us. Sin is always related to us. Genesis 3 is not just a story about Adam and Eve, it is our biography. We too suffer the same loss and turmoil that Adam did. In fact we often spend a lot of time and money putting on a masquerade for others to see. We are often (Christian or otherwise) filled with shame, assume self-sufficiency, and flee God’s comfort. We waltz around essentially saying, “Nothing to see here!” This elevates the place of confession both in our interpersonal relationships and in our ecclesiastic environments. We ought to confess to one another, but we ought also to confess together to God in the Sunday liturgy. For alongside the assurance of pardon, we are given complete assurance of our ongoing mediation. In the church, Christ assuages our guilt and brings his life and death to bear on us.

Select Bibliography

Plantinga – Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be (highly recommended)

Beale – We Become What We Worship

Augustine – Confessions

Calvin’s Institutes – Book 2 Ch 1-3

From @immanuelchicago on Twitter

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