Life, Death, and Eternity

Living GodGod has life in Himself and creates life. Jeremiah said, “the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King” (Jer 10:10). Jesus declared, “the Father has life in Himself” (John 5:26). And the apostle Paul stated, “for in Him we live and move and exist” (Act 17:28). This teaching, that God has life in Himself and is self-existent, is called the doctrine of aseity. God also exists eternally and depends on nothing outside of Himself. Everitt Harrison says that life is “the most basic reality common to God and mankind, native to God and imparted by Him to His creatures, first by creation, then by redemption.”[1] Norman Geisler states, “Theologically, to speak of God as life is to say two basic things: God is alive, and He is the source of all other life. He has life intrinsically; He is Life, while all other things have life as a gift from Him.”[2] Concerning Adam, the first created person, Moses wrote, “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). The word life translates the Hebrew חַיִּים chayyim, and living being translates the Hebrew נֶפֶשׁ nephesh, which can also be translated as soul. The most common Greek terms for life are βίος bios, ψυχή psuche, and ζωή zoe. Harrison writes:

Greek terms for life are principally bíos, psychḗ, and zōḗ. Of these, bíos is limited to the natural order…[and] is used of life span (Prov 31:12, LXX)…Psychḗ denotes self-conscious physical existence, corresponding to Hebrew nep̱eš (Acts 20:10). Zōḗ can mean lifetime (Luke 16:25). It also indicates life as the native possession of God (John 5:26) and as His gift to mankind whereby people are able to feel, think, and act (Acts 17:25).[3]

According to the Bible, God created angelic life (Psa 148:2, 5; cf. Col 1:16), plant life (Gen 1:11-12), animal life (Gen 1:20-22; 24-25), and human life (Gen 1:26-27; 2:7). People reproduce biological life, but God continues to impart soul life (Psa 100:3; Eccl 12:7; Zec 12:1), and this occurs at conception (Psa 139:13; Isa 44:2, 24). Furthermore, God has decreed the time and place of our birth (Acts 17:26), as well as the length of our days (Psa 139:16). He knows each of us personally (Jer 1:5; Gal 1:15), and is intimately familiar with us (Psa 56:8; 139:1-4; Matt 10:30). He is always present (Psa 139:7-10), is aware of our needs (Matt 6:8; 31-34), and asks us to trust Him as we journey through life (Pro 3:5-6; Heb 10:38; 11:6).

God knows how frail we are, “He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psa 103:14). David courageously asked the Lord, “Make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days short in length, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Psa 39:4-5). Job too perceived the brevity of his life and declared, “I will not live forever…for my days are but a breath” (Job 7:16), and James wrote, “you are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jam 4:14b). And the Lord is caring concerning the death of His people, as the psalmist wrote, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psa 116:15).

What we do in life matters to God and others. Every moment of every day is our opportunity to walk with God who gives meaning and purpose to life. And such a life should be marked by truth, prayer, humility, love, kindness, gentleness, goodness, selflessness, and those golden qualities that flow through the heart of one who knows the Lord and represents Him to a fallen world. Furthermore, those who love God are naturally concerned with touching the lives of others, especially as they approach the end of life. As Moses was nearing death (Deut 4:22-23; 31:14; 32:48-50), he gave a farewell address to the nation of Israel. Deuteronomy was his farewell message to the Israelites who were about to enter the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. Moses left them what was important, what would guide and sustain and bring them blessing, if they would accept it (Deut 11:26-28). He left them the Word of God. David, too, thought this way; for as “his time to die drew near” (1 Ki 2:1), he gave a charge to his son, Solomon, saying, “I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man. Keep the charge of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn” (1 Ki 2:2-3).

Jesus Washing FeetOur Lord Jesus, on the night before His death, spent His final hours offering divine instruction to His disciples (John 13:1—16:33). Jesus’ message was motivated by love, as John tells us, “Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Jesus opened His instruction with a foot-washing-lesson on humility and serving each other (John 13:3-17). Here, the King of kings and Lord of lords became the Servant of servants when He laid aside His garments and washed the disciples’ feet. Jesus’ display of humility was followed by a command to love, saying, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). He then comforted His friends, directing them to live by faith, and to look forward to His promise of heaven. Jesus said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus went on to offer additional instruction on how to know the Father, to love, pray, what to expect in the future, and how to live godly in a fallen world (John 14:4—16:33). He then prayed for them (John 17:1-26). Afterwards, Jesus went to the cross and died for them. He died for their sins, that they might have forgiveness and eternal life. What a loving Savior we serve!

The History and Meaning of Death

Death means separation. The most common words for death in the Hebrew OT are מוּת muth and מָוֶת maveth. McChesney writes, “The general teaching of the Scriptures is that man is not only a physical but also a spiritual being; accordingly, death is not the end of human existence, but a change of place or conditions in which conscious existence continues.”[4] The most common words for death in the Greek NT are νεκρός nekros and θάνατος thanatos. The Greek word νεκρός nekros refers “to being in a state of loss of life, dead.”[5] It is used of a dead body (Jam 2:26), as well as the spiritual state of the unsaved (Eph 2:1; Col 2:13). The Greek word θάνατος thanatos basically denotes “the termination of physical life.”[6] Mounce provides a broader explanation of θάνατος thanatos, saying:

It is used in the NT to describe physical death (the separation of the soul from the body) and spiritual death (the separation of a human being from God), though these two concepts can be closely linked in Scripture. The term never indicates nonexistence, and the NT never regards thanatos as a natural process; rather, it is a consequence and punishment for sin (Rom 6:23). Sinners alone are subject to death, beginning with Adam (Rom 5:12, 17), and it was as the bearer of our sin that Jesus died on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24). Since he was without sin, it was our death that he died (cf. Rom 8:1–2).[7]

Death was introduced into God’s creation when the first human, Adam, sinned against God. Adam’s sin immediately brought spiritual death (Gen 2:15-17; 3:1-7), and later, physical death (Gen 5:5). Though Adam was made spiritually alive again (Gen 3:21), his single sin introduced death, in every form, into the world (Rom 5:12-14; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Three major kinds of death are mentioned in Scripture, and these include: 1) spiritual death, which is separation from God in time (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-7; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22; Eph 2:1-2; Col 2:13-14), 2) physical death, which is the separation of the soul from the body (Eccl 12:7; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23-24; 2 Tim 4:6), and 3) eternal death (aka the “second death”), which is the perpetuation of physical and spiritual separation from God for all eternity (Rev 20:11-15).

In contrast to the three major kinds of death mentioned in Scripture, there are three major kinds of life, which are: 1) regenerate life, which is the new life God gives at the moment of salvation (John 3:3; 1 Pet 1:3, 23), 2) resurrection life, which is the new and perfect body we receive when the Lord calls us to heaven (John 11:25-26; 1 Cor 15:42-44), and 3) eternal life, which is perpetual life given at the moment of salvation and extends into heaven and eternity (John 3:16; 6:40; 10:28; Rom 6:23; 1 John 5:11-13).

God has granted that some would not experience death, and these include Enoch (Gen 5:21-24), Elijah (2 Ki 2:11), and Christians at the rapture (1 Cor 15:51-52; 1 Th 4:13-18). However, there have been others who died and were resuscitated, only to die a second time. These include the son of the widow in Zarephath (1 Ki 17:17-24), the Shunamite’s son (2 Ki 4:32-34; 8:1), the son of the widow in Nain (Luke 7:11-15), Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:40-42, 49-55), Lazarus (John 11:43-44; cf. John 12:10), various saints in Jerusalem (Matt 27:50-53), Tabitha (Acts 9:36-40), and Eutychus (Acts 20:7-10). But for most, there is an appointed time to die (Eccl 3:2; 8:8; cf. Deut 31:14; 1 Ki 2:1), and afterwards, to meet God for judgment (Heb 9:27). For believers, this judgment is a time of reward (1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 Cor 5:10), but for unbelievers, it is a time of judgment as they face the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). Though death is inevitable; where we spend eternity is optional. God loves us and sent His Son into the world to provide eternal life for us (John 3:16-17; 10:28).

The Eternal State

What is our eternal future? Scripture reveals every person will spend eternity either in heaven with God (Dan 12:1-2; 1 Cor 15:51–53; 1 Th 4:14–17; Rev 20:4-6), or the Lake of Fire away from Him (Rev 20:11-15). Heaven is the place where God dwells, and Jesus promised we’ll be there with Him (John 14:1-3). Heaven—and the eternal state—is a place of worship (Rev 19:1-3), service (Rev 22:3), and free from tears, pain, and death (Rev 21:3-4). God loves us and desires to have a relationship with us in time and eternity (John 3:16-17; 10:28; 14:1-3). However, our sin separates us from God (Isa 59:2; John 8:24; Rom 5:12). But God, who is merciful (Eph 2:3-5; Tit 3:5), dealt with our sin once and for all when He sent Jesus as a substitutionary atoning sacrifice to die in our place and pay the penalty for our sins (Isa 53:1-12; Mark 10:45; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 10:10-14; 1 Pet 2:24; 3:18). At the cross, God satisfied all His righteous demands toward our sin (1 John 2:2; 4:10). Those who believe in Jesus as their Savior receive forgiveness (Eph 1:7; Col 2:13-14), the gifts of eternal life and righteousness (John 3:16; 10:28; Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9), and will spend eternity in heaven (John 14:1-3; 2 Cor 5:1-5; Phil 3:20-21). Those who reject Jesus as their Savior have no future hope and will spend eternity away from God in eternal punishment (John 3:18, 36; Rev 20:14-15). When we turn to Christ as our Savior, we have a bright eternal destiny assured for us in heaven (1 Pet 1:3-4).

I am the resurrection and the life - squareAll believers anticipate a future time of resurrection in which God will reunite the soul with the body. Job said, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27). The body we have is perishable, but our resurrection body is imperishable. Paul compared our body to a seed that is sown into the ground that God will one day bring to life. Paul wrote, “It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:42-44). Of course, Jesus makes this possible, as He told Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25). To trust in Christ as Savior guarantees us eternal life right now, and the promise of a new body that will live forever, free from sin and decay. By God’s goodness and grace, heaven is open, and the free gift of eternal life is given to those who trust completely in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Our salvation is made possible by Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. He paid our sin-debt and gives us eternal life at the moment we trust in Him.

All believers go straight to heaven when we die, and there we will live forever. God will let us in. He does not have a choice in the matter. The Lord has integrity, and He promised that whoever believes in Jesus as Savior will be forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7) and have eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28). He made the provision for salvation, and He will honor His Word. In fact, God is bound to His Word, for “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18; cf. Tit 1:2). By faith, we trust Him when He promises to do something, and we know that faith pleases Him (Heb 10:38; 11:6).

When the Christian leaves this world for heaven, her last breath here is her first breath there, and what a breath that must be! Scripture reveals, “to be absent from the body” is “to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). Though it is a sad time for us, it is an improvement for the believer, as Scripture states, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). The advantage is that the believer gets to meet the Lord Jesus Christ, face to face, in heaven; and this joyous relationship is forever!

At physical death, all of life’s decisions are fixed for eternity, and what we do with Christ determines our eternal destiny (John 3:16-18; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9). It has been said that procrastination is the thief of time and opportunity, and when one procrastinates about the gospel, it becomes the thief of souls. Please don’t delay. Trust Christ as Savior today and receive eternal life, believing the gospel that He “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). And, like the thief on the cross who trusted in Jesus, you can be assured your soul will immediately go into the presence of God at death (Luke 23:43). Don’t wait another day. The Lord will forgive you all your sins and grant you eternal life. He promised, and He’ll keep His word. He has integrity and cannot do otherwise.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Everett F. Harrison, “Life,” ed. Geoffrey W Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 129.

[2] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 254.

[3] E. F. Harrison, “Life”, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, 129.

[4] E. McChesney, “Death,” ed. Merrill F. Unger and R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[5] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 667.

[6] Ibid., 442.

[7] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 160.

A Look at Grace

“Let your speech always be with grace” (Col 4:6)

The Bible teaches us about the concept of grace. The Hebrew noun חֵן chen appears 69 times and is commonly translated as favor (Gen 19:19; 32:5; 33:8; 34:11; 47:25; Ex 33:12-17). Mounce states, “grace is the moral quality of kindness, displaying a favorable disposition.”[1] The Hebrew verb חָנָן chanan is used 56 times and is commonly translated gracious (Gen 43:29; Ex 22:27; 33:19; 34:6). Yamauchi states, “The verb ḥānan depicts a heartfelt response by someone who has something to give to one who has a need.”[2] God’s loyal or faithful love, חֶסֶד chesed, is used in connection with His demonstrations of grace (Psa 51:1-3). A loving heart tends toward gracious acts.

grace-rock-blueThe Greek word χάρις charis appears 155 times in the New Testament and most commonly refers to the unmerited favor that one person shows toward an underserving other. It is noteworthy that Paul uses the word 130 times. According to BDAG, grace refers to “that which one grants to another, the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.”[3] Chafer adds, “Grace means pure un-recompensed kindness and favor. What is done in grace is done graciously. From this exact meaning there can be no departure; otherwise, grace ceases to be grace.”[4] The word χάρις charis is also used to express thanks (1 Cor 15:57; 2 Cor 9:15), or attractiveness (Luke 4:22; Col 4:6). The greatest expression of grace is observed in the love God shows toward underserving sinners for whom He sent His Son to die in their place so they might have eternal life in Christ (John 3:16-19; Rom 5:6-10). Thank God for His wonderful and matchless grace to us!

God is Gracious

Jesus Healing SickThe Bible reveals God is gracious, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6), and, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15). God the Father is described as “the God of all grace” (1 Pet 5:10), who sits upon a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), who “gives grace to the afflicted” (Prov 3:34), and provides salvation “by grace” through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9; cf. Acts 15:11; Rom 3:24). Jesus is said to be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of grace” (Heb 10:29). Grace is undeserved favor. It is the love, mercy, or kindness that one person freely confers upon another who deserves the opposite (Matt 5:44-45; Rom 11:6; Eph 1:6; 2:1-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5-7). Jesus is an example of grace, in that He cared for others, healing and feeding many (Matt 4:24; 14:15-21), even to those who refused to show gratitude (Luke 17:12-19). He acted out of His own goodness, for the benefit of others, with a full knowledge the majority would reject Him and abuse His kindness (John 3:19; 12:37).

Grace is Undeserved

The Gospel of GraceGrace is given to the helpless and undeserving (e.g., Barabbas; Matt 27:15-26; cf. Rom 5:6-8), and it cannot exist where there is the slightest notion that people can save themselves, or think they deserve God’s blessing. Grace is all that God is free to do for people based on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. I think it was Stott who described grace as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Man-made religion rejects grace and seeks to earn God’s approval through works of the flesh. In grace, God does all the work and unworthy sinners receive all the blessing (Eph 3:7). In man-made religion, people do all the work, and it is falsely supposed that God is pleased with their efforts (Luke 18:9-14). According to Scripture, we are totally unable to save ourselves or others, for “No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever” (Psa 49:7-8). Concerning salvation, grace and works are opposite to each other; for “to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due” (Rom 4:4). But if salvation “is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom 11:6). Biblically, we are helpless and ungodly (Rom 5:6), sinners (Rom 5:8), enemies of God (Rom 5:10), and “dead in our transgressions” (Eph 2:5). Furthermore, our own righteousness has no saving value in God’s sight (Isa 64:6; Rom 8:3-4; 10:3-4; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 2:11; 3:5-7). As having any saving merit, Paul regarded his own righteous efforts as filthy dung (Phil 3:8).[5] But God, because of His great mercy and love (Eph 2:4), sent His Son into the world to die in our place and bear the punishment for our sins on the cross (Rom 5:8). Peter wrote, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). And John stated, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

God’s Grace Leads to Righteous Living

Grace is boundless, and though it covers all our sins (Rom 5:20-21), it does not mean the Christian is free to sin. To draw such a conclusion fails to understand what the Bible teaches about grace, and more importantly about the righteous character of God. Grace never gives believers a license to sin (Rom 6:1-2), but rather instructs us to deny ungodliness, to live righteously, and to look forward to the return of Christ Jesus who is our blessed hope (Tit 2:11-14; cf. Jude 1:4). Grace teaches us to produce good works which God has previously prepared for us (Eph 2:8-10; Tit 3:5-8). As a system of law, the Christian is under the Law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2) and not the Law of Moses (Rom 6:14; 7:6; Gal 5:1-4). As Christians, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), who instructs (John 14:26), and strengthens us to do God’s will (1 Th 4:7-8; Jude 1:20-21). We are directed to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), to walk by means of the Spirit (Gal 5:16), and to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). Divine commands are compatible with grace, so long as they do not become a substitute for it.

Common Grace and Special Grace

Common grace refers to the undeserved kindness or goodness God extends to everyone, regardless of whether they are righteous or unrighteous, good or evil. God’s common grace is seen in His providing for the necessities of life (i.e., sun, rain, air, food, water, clothing, etc.). This grace depends totally on God and not the attitude or actions of others. Jesus said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:44-45). Paul said, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways [in rebellion]; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). Here, God’s grace is most obvious, in that He provides the necessities of life and even blesses those who are unsaved and hostile toward Him. His love and open-handedness toward the undeserving springs completely out of the bounty of His own goodness. And this behavior is what God expects of His people, commanding us to love our enemies and pray for those persecute us. This is accomplished by faith and not feelings.

Special grace is that particular favor God shows to those who have trusted in Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9). Christian theologians have recognized other categories of special grace, but our salvation is the most notable.[6] Paul states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Faith is non-meritorious and the only way to receive God’s grace, as Paul wrote, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:28). When we trust in Christ as Savior, accepting that His death, burial, and resurrection forever satisfied God’s righteous demands concerning our sin (1 Cor 15:3-4; 1 John 2:2), then we receive forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), eternal life (John 10:28), and God’s gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). Furthermore, we are said to be “in Christ” (Rom 8:1; cf. 1 Cor 15:22), having been “rescued us from the domain of darkness” and transferred “to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13), and blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). Once saved, God’s special blessings cannot be forfeited. However, though we are positionally righteous before the Lord, He directs us to surrender our lives to Him (Rom 12:1-2), to learn and live His Word (2 Tim 2:15; Col 3:16), to grow to spiritual maturity (Eph 4:15; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18), and to live righteously as He directs (Tit 2:11-14). But our sanctification requires humility, for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5).

Some Christians Refuse Grace to Others

grace_7One would think that grace would flow from grace. That is, those who are shown grace and mercy by God would show grace and mercy to others. Paradoxically, this is not always the case. I am amazed at Christians who welcome God’s grace, but show no grace to others. Many are mean-spirited, condescending, harsh, unforgiving, and speak with a critical spirit. This is contrary to the character of God and the teaching of Scripture. When it comes to our sin and unworthiness, the truth of Scripture is, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psa 103:10). God has not treated us as we deserve. In fact, He treats us much better than we deserve; but again, that’s grace. The Lord is a God who loves, forgives, and shows great compassion toward the undeserving and has done so toward us. Yet some believers refuse to give grace to others, who are themselves undeserving. Jonah, for example, was a prophet of God who became angry when the Lord showed grace to Israel’s enemy, the Ninevites, and withheld judgment when they humbled themselves and repented of their sin (Jonah 3:1-10). Jonah became angry at God’s display of grace, saying, “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2). The contradiction is that Jonah personally enjoyed God’s grace, but then selfishly wanted God to withhold it from others. I also think of the story Jesus told about a servant who owed a great debt, and when the man could not pay, he pleaded with his master, who felt compassion and graciously forgave his debt (Matt. 18:23-27). However, the man who had received forgiveness from his superior, later refused to forgive another man who owed him a very small amount (Matt. 18:28-30). The man who was shown grace refused to show grace to others, and the Lord called him “wicked” (Matt 18:32). I’ve often pondered why some, who rejoice in God’s grace, refuse to show grace to others? I think there are several reasons.

  1. Ignorance of God and His Word. Some believers fail to understand grace as a characteristic of God (Ex 34:6; Psa 86:15; Prov 3:34; John 1:14; Eph 1:6; Heb 4:16; 10:29; 1 Pet 5:10), and that He directs His people to be gracious and loving to others (Matt 5:44-45; Luke 6:27-28; Col 4:6). Grace is not automatic in the Christian life. It must be learned and actively applied. As believers learn about God’s grace, they can then actively share it with others.
  2. A legalistic mindset. Legalism is the belief that one can earn God’s favor through religious practices and good works. This mindset prevents people from experiencing God’s grace because they don’t think they need it. Why would they? Their religious life and good works lead them to think they’ve earned God’s favor. But this has consequences in relationships with other people. If we earn God’s favor, then naturally we’ll only show favor to those we feel have earned it too.
  3. A judgmental spirit. It seems as though some people come out of the womb with a judge’s gavel in their hand. These stand in the place of God rendering judgment on others according to their own arbitrary standards and expectations. Often this judgmental spirit takes the form of gossip, maligning, and badmouthing others. Such a critical spirit lacks the capacity to show grace because everyone is guilty, and some more than others. In some ways, running others down is a subtle form of self-praise.
  4. Arrogance. Arrogant people don’t show grace. In fact, they lack the capacity because they’re so self-absorbed, consumed with thinking about themselves and their own life, they have no room in their thinking and speech to show grace to others. I’ve heard it said that “arrogant people never see their own faults, only the faults of others,” and I think there’s merit to the statement.
  5. Refusing to forgive. An unforgiving spirit makes it difficult to show grace. Forgiveness means we release someone from an offense or debt they owe us (or a debt we think they owe us). Forgiveness releases them from paying the penalty for their crime (real or imagined). Forgiveness does not mean continuing to tolerate abuse (physical, mental, sexual, etc.), but it means we continue to seek God’s best in their life by prayer and biblical discussion. By refusing to forgive, we end up harboring hatred, and there’s no room for grace in a hate-filled heart.

Bible With PenHow do we overcome these obstacles to grace? First, it starts with knowing what the Bible teaches about the gracious character of God. We cannot live what we do not know, and knowledge of God’s character and Word necessarily precedes living His will. We show grace only as we learn and experience it ourselves. Second, we must learn to see everyone from the biblical perspective, as undeserving of God’s grace and love. Then, with eyes open, we choose to love the unlovely and show them grace. We treat them better than they deserve. We seek God’s best in their lives. Third, learn to discipline the mind and the will daily to think and act in grace. As we encounter unpleasant people, or those who have hurt us (i.e., family, friends, co-workers, etc.), we can consciously extend grace to them by showing love, kindness and mercy. Fourth, be ready to be hurt. Showing grace can be very difficult because it places us in a vulnerable spot where we may be hurt, sometimes on an ongoing basis. By faith we’re okay with absorbing the pain others inflict, much like our Lord (1 Pet 2:21-24). We know God is with us, to shield and sustain us as we do His will (Psa 18:30; 55:22; Isa 41:10; Phil 4:6-7; Heb 4:16). Since we’ve tasted of the grace of God, let us also be gracious to others.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Topics:

[1] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 937.

[2] Edwin Yamauchi, “694 חָנַן,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 302.

[3] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1079.

[4] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Grace (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1922), 4.

[5] Paul referred to his own righteous works as dung, which translates the Greek word σκύβαλον skubalon, which means fecal matter. It would appear that Paul used this word for its shock value, in order to contrast human righteousness as a mean of salvation with God’s gift of righteousness (Phil 3:9; cf., Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21).

[6] Biblically, there are other categories of special grace in addition to saving grace. First is prevenient grace, which refers to the preparatory work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the one who will believe in Christ for salvation (John 16:8-9). Prevenient grace precedes saving grace. Second, provisional grace, which is the provision of God for His children so they might advance to maturity and fully live the spiritual life (Eph 1:3). Third, growing grace, which is the opportunity to learn and apply biblical truths and principles to the situations of life (2 Pet 3:18). Fourth, cleansing grace, which is the kindness God shows His erring children in forgiving their sin after salvation and restoring fellowship (1 John 1:9). Fifth, enabling grace, which is the provision of God that enables the believer to face adversity (2 Cor 12:9-10). Sixth, dying grace, which is the strength God gives His children as they face death (Psa 23:4). Seventh, the rule of grace, which means grace becomes the operating principle that governs our beliefs and behaviors (Tit 2:11-14; cf. Gal 5:4).

Great and Least in the Kingdom of Heaven – A Life of Discipleship

Sermon on the MountWhile discussing eternal rewards in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1-2, 12, 46; 6:1-6, 16-18), Jesus taught there would be varying degrees of placement in the kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 5:19, Jesus said, “whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” In this verse, Jesus talked about two kinds of saved people, both of which will be “in the kingdom of heaven.” This is plainly understood from what Jesus said. The first group will be believers who, after salvation, live a life of disobedience to God, rebelling against His Word, and teaching others to do the same. These disobedient-to-the-Word believers will forfeit eternal rewards and have a low status in heaven. Jesus calls them least, which translates the Greek word ἐλάχιστος elachistos, which refers to being “the lowest in status, least…being considered of very little importance, insignificant.”[1] The second group of believers will be those who live a life of obedience to God, learning and doing His Word, and teaching others to do the same. These obedient-to-the-Word believers will be rewarded by God and be blessed with a high status in heaven. Jesus calls these great, which translates the Greek word μέγας megas, which in this passage refers to being “great in dignity, distinguished, eminent, illustrious.”[2] This gradation of status in heaven is taught elsewhere by Jesus (Matt 11:11; 18:1-4; 20:20-28). To be clear, Jesus is not addressing salvation in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7); rather, He’s addressing the demands of discipleship and rewards.

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_073To explain further, let me draw a distinction between the gospel that saves and the life of good works that should follow. From the divine side, our salvation was very costly: it cost God His Son. Jesus willingly bore our sins on the cross and paid our sin debt in full (Mark 10:45; John 10:18; 1 Pet 2:24). He died in our place, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness requires, and saves us, the sinner, as His love desires. From the human side, salvation is very simple: believe in Christ as Savior. We obtain our entrance in heaven when we simply believe that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). God’s free gift of salvation comes to us by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5).[3] Our salvation comes only through Jesus, who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). The apostle Peter confirmed this, saying, “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).[4]

When we trust in Christ as Savior, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). No human works are required for us to be saved. Scripture reveals we are “not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16; cf. Rom 3:28). Our good works will never make us righteous before God, “for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal 2:21). Once saved, God calls us to learn and live His Word (2 Tim 2:15; 1 Pet 2:2) and to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). As His children, God wants us to grow up spiritually and produce good works (Eph 2:10; Tit 2:11-14). But pursuing spiritual maturity does not mean we’ll reach sinless perfection, as that will never happen in this life (Eccl 7:20; 1 John 1:8, 10). Rather, it means we handle our sin a biblical manner. For further information, see my article, Restoring Fellowship with God).

Salvation cost us nothing. Jesus paid it all. But discipleship will cost us everything. It’s radical. It means nothing less than turning our lives over to God and letting Him direct us in everything. Discipleship is worked out over our lifetime. It starts with an epistemological paradigm shift in which we learn to see life from the biblical perspective. The constant and careful study of God’s Word will unseat a lifetime of destructive human viewpoint and replace it with divine viewpoint. The benefit is a life of meaning, purpose, and blessing as we lay hold of the spiritual assets God has for us, for He “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). This blessed life starts at a moment in time in which we submit ourselves to the Lord (Rom 12:1-2), and continue our advance to spiritual maturity by learning and living Scripture (1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). However, just as God does not force us to be saved, neither does He force us to live in obedience to Him. Sadly, there are many believers who refuse to be the Lord’s disciples, and these choose to live in conformity with the world around them. The believer who chooses to be a “friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jam 4:4). Furthermore, he places himself under divine discipline (Heb 12:5-11), which can eventuate in physical death if his rebellion continues (1 Cor 11:30; 1 John 5:16). For further explanation of this truth, see my article, The Sin unto Death.

layingcrownathisfeetLet’s get back to the subject of rewards. As Christians, we know there will be a future time in which we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Paul said, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10). This judgment seat evaluation is not to determine whether or not we get into heaven. That has already been made secure by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. This judgment seat evaluation pertains solely to eternal rewards. And these rewards are determined by how we live in accordance with God’s revealed will in Scripture. The obedient-believer will produce a life of “gold, silver, and precious stones” which all survive the test by fire and will go with us into eternity (1 Cor 3:12). The rebel-believer will produce a life of “wood, hay, and straw” which will not survive the test by fire and will be burned up (1 Cor 3:12). The quality of work produced by the obedient-believer will remain and “he will receive a reward” (1 Cor 3:14). The quality of work produced by the rebel-believer will be burned up and “he will suffer loss” (1 Cor 3:15). Though the rebel-believer has no rewards, “he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15). For more on this subject, see my article, Future Christian Rewards.

In summary, salvation is free and simple. It’s free to us because Christ paid our sin-debt in full. And it’s as simple as believing in Christ as our Savior, trusting that His death, burial, and resurrection forever satisfied God’s righteous demands toward our sin. However, after salvation, God calls us to a radical life of obedience. How we respond is up to us. If we disobey God’s Word and teach others to do the same, then we’ll experience discipline in this life, forfeit heavenly rewards, and will forever be classified as “least in the kingdom of heaven.” However, if we obey God’s Word and teach others to do the same, we shall obtain God’s approval in this life, earn heavenly rewards, and will forever be called “great in the kingdom of heaven.” I implore you as a Christian writing to Christians—choose the life of discipleship. There’s no better life to be lived, and the rewards in heaven will be worth it! Let’s be great together!

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 314.

[2] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 1207.

[3] Grace means God gives us what we don’t deserve. He is gracious and offers to forgive and save us forever, not because we deserve it, but because He is gracious and kind. Faith means we believe God at His word concerning our salvation. Faith does not save. Christ saves. Faith is merely the means by which we receive God’s free gift. In Christ alone means we trust in Jesus and no one else to save.

[4] Heaven is made possible by the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only Person to have ever lived a perfect life in the Father’s sight as He fulfilled the Law perfectly (Matt 5:17-18). There was no sin in Jesus (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5). Everyone else, without exception, is guilty before God (Rom 3:10, 23). And we are helpless to save ourselves (Rom 5:6). All who trust in Him as Savior are forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7), receive eternal life (John 10:28), and God’s gift of righteousness—His righteousness—which is imputed to them (Rom 4:4-5; Phil 3:9). At the moment we trust Christ as our Savior, we are rescued “from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). As Christians, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). We are saved from spending eternity in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:15).

When Christians Die

When Christians die, they go straight to heaven, and there they will live forever. God must let them in. He does not have a choice in the matter. The Lord has integrity, and He promised that whoever believes in Jesus as Savior will be forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7) and have eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28). He made the provision for salvation, and He will honor His Word. In fact, God is bound to His Word, for “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18; cf. Tit 1:2). By faith, we trust Him when He promises to do something, and we know that faith pleases Him (Heb 11:6).

When the Christian leaves this world for heaven, her last breath here is her first breath there, and what a breath that must be! Scripture reveals, “to be absent from the body” is “to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). Though it is a sad time for us, it is an improvement for the believer, as Scripture states, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). The advantage is that the believer gets to meet the Lord Jesus Christ, face to face, in heaven; and this joyous relationship is forever!

Christ our Hope in Life and DeathFurthermore, all believers anticipate a future time of resurrection in which God will reunite the soul with the body. Job said, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27). The body we have is perishable, but our resurrection body is imperishable. Paul compared our body to a seed that is sown into the ground that God will one day bring to life. Paul wrote, “It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:42-44). Of course, Jesus makes this possible, as He told Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25). To trust in Christ as Savior guarantees us eternal life right now, and the promise of a new body that will live forever, free from sin and decay. By God’s goodness and grace, heaven is open, and the free gift of eternal life is given to those who trust completely in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Our salvation is made possible by Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. He paid our sin-debt and gives us eternal life at the moment we trust in Him.

I implore you to turn to Christ as your Savior. Believe the gospel message, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Don’t wait another day. The Lord will forgive you all your sins and grant you eternal life. He promised, and He’ll keep His word. He has integrity and cannot do otherwise.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

A Brief Look at Slavery in the Bible

artworks-voDsm7rG4udi601g-o7odyw-t500x500Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free…[and] if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:32, 36). The apostle Paul wrote, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery…[and] you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:1, 13). The offer of freedom assumes slavery, bondage, servitude. Everyone is born in sin and enslaved to Satan’s kingdom of darkness. Satan’s slave-market of sin is both positional and experiential. Jesus paid our sin debt and offers us freedom, but we must accept His offer. Jesus’ atoning death is sufficient for all, but effective only for those who trust in Him as Savior (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31; Eph 2:8-9).

Freedom is God’s ideal for humanity. Slavery is a deviation from the Lord’s original design. The first humans—Adam and Eve—enjoyed life and freedom in the garden of Eden. God created them and their world, and He endowed them with the capacity to exercise responsible dominion over the earth (Gen 1:26-28). He also created the garden of Eden, placed them in it, and gave them the task “to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). He assigned them to function as theocratic administrators. God’s directives provided the framework within which their environment and freedom was maintained. God’s directives were intended to protect their relationship with Him, as well as their blessings and freedom. Adam and Eve forfeited their freedom and blessings when they disobeyed God and followed Satan’s directive (Gen 2:19-20; 3:1-7). Satan’s kingdom of darkness was expanded to include the earth at the time when Adam and Eve fell into sin. Subsequent to the historical fall of Adam and Eve, all people—excluding Jesus—are born “slaves to sin” (Rom 6:6), under “the dominion of Satan” (Acts 26:18), who reigns over a “domain of darkness” (Col 1:13). Spiritual slavery became the norm for Adam and Eve, and new forms of slavery followed, which included anthropogenic servitude.

20120710-SlavebeatingHuman slavery has been around for thousands of years and practiced by the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. It continued throughout history in regions such as Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Comanche Indians were known to attack and kill other tribes, steal their land, and enslave some.[1] Slavery was practiced for centuries in Europe, but was formally abolished in Brittan in 1833 and France in 1848. Thankfully, slavery in America was abolished in 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, slavery continues today with more than 40 million victims worldwide and is practiced in countries such as Afghanistan, Africa, Cambodia, Iran, South Sudan, and Pakistan, just to name a few. The highest concentration of slavery today is found in North Korea.[2] Illegal human trafficking still exists in the U.S. with numbers ranging from 18,000 to 20,000.[3] Modern slavery represents a relational power structure between individuals and groups, as one seeks to control the other for personal gain, and this by means of force. The subject of slavery is extremely complex when one considers it throughout history, as not all slaves were treated the same. Even in America, some slaves gained their freedom, attained relative success, and then purchased slaves themselves. One example was William Ellison, a black slave owner who “was one of about 180 black slave masters in South Carolina at the time, most of whom were former slaves themselves.”[4] Often, we hear the ancient horror stories of forced labor in grueling conditions, rape, and early death. These stories are terrible and true. However, in some instances, slaves enjoyed protection within a family unit, married and raised children, engaged in business, and could purchase their freedom. In certain contexts, slaves had more privileges and benefits than many who were free and poor. Bartchy states:

Under Roman, Greek, and Jewish laws, those in slavery could own property, including other slaves! Some well-educated slaves bought children, raised and educated them, and recovered the tuition costs when selling them to families needing tutors. A slave’s property was entirely under the control of the slave, who could seek to increase it for use in purchasing legal freedom and in establishing a comfortable life as a freed person.[5]

In the ancient world, some became slaves when defeated in war, others were illegally kidnapped and made slaves, and many were born slaves. Again, sometimes these served in terrible conditions, whereas others were protected and cared for. In most societies, slaves were purchased to meet household needs, such as making clothes, preparing meals, tilling land, and housecleaning. More educated slaves served as tutors to household children, helping prepare them academically and teaching them social etiquette. It is historically noted that some sold themselves into slavery, and this to secure immediate clothing, shelter, and food, as well as the prospect of future freedom and social and economic advancement. Bartchy states:

Large numbers of people sold themselves into slavery for various reasons, above all to enter a life that was easier and more secure than existence as a poor, freeborn person, to obtain special jobs, and to climb socially…Many non-Romans sold themselves to Roman citizens with the justified expectation, carefully regulated by Roman law, of becoming Roman citizens themselves when manumitted. The money that one received from such a self-sale usually became the beginning of the personal funds that would later be used to enter freedom under more favorable circumstances, e.g., with former debts extinguished. Greek law also recognized the validity of self-sale into slavery, often with a contract limiting the duration of the enslavement. Such sales were frequent in the eastern provinces in imperial times. Temporary self-sale had been known in Jewish circles for centuries. Because of the reputation of Jewish owners for honoring Jewish laws calling for good treatment, many Jews who wished to sell themselves often could not find a Jewish purchaser.[6]

In the OT, slavery was practiced long before Israel became a theocracy after their exodus in 1445 B.C. Joseph was sold by his brothers to Midianite traders (Gen 37:27-28), who sold him to an Egyptian named Potiphar (Gen 37:36). Israel, as a nation, became slaves to the Egyptians (Ex 13:3, 14). Eventually, God liberated His people from their Egyptian captors (Ex 20:2; Deut 6:12; 7:8). But slavery was never abolished as an institution in the ancient world, and Israelites were permitted to purchase slaves from other nations. Moses wrote, “As for your male and female slaves whom you may have—you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you” (Lev 25:44). Unger states, “The Mosaic economy did not outlaw slavery, which was a universal institution at the time. It did, however, regulate and elevate it, imbuing it with kindness and mercy and, like Christianity, announcing principles that would ultimately abolish it (cf. Lev 25:39-40; Deut 15:12-18).”[7]

Moses addressed a form of slavery in Deuteronomy that refers to a voluntary servitude in which a person worked for a period of six years to pay off their debt (Deut 15:12-18). In this situation, Israelites could sell themselves into the service of another for a period of time to pay off their debt. In addition to their freedom, they were to receive a generous severance package of livestock, grain, and wine, which was intended to jumpstart their own economic independence (Deut 15:12-14; cf. Ex 21:5-6). However, some made the choice to become a lifetime servant, and this occurred from a motivation of love, because their employer had been good and cared for them (Deut 15:16-17). The common Hebrew servant who surrendered his/her freedom to serve another was limited to six years labor and was guaranteed freedom in the seventh year (Deut 15:12-14; cf. Ex 21:1-2). And there were laws that protected slaves. For example, kidnapping for slavery was punishable by death under the Mosaic Law (Ex 21:16; Deut 24:7). If a slave was injured by his owner, the law demanded he be set free (Ex 21:26-27). This law would naturally limit abuse. And the Mosaic Law allowed for an Israelite slave to be redeemed by family (Lev 25:47-49a), or he could redeem himself if he acquired the means (Lev 25:49b-53). Lastly, Israelite slaves would automatically go free in the year of Jubilee (Lev 25:10, 40, 54).

Slavery continued into NT times. There were Christians who were both slaves and slave owners (Eph 6:5-9). Paul wrote, “Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that” (1 Cor 7:21). He then stated, “he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise, he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave” (1 Cor 7:22). All Christians in the early church, whether slave owners or slaves, were to regard themselves as slaves to Christ. Writing to slave owners at the church in Ephesus, Paul instructed them to “give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him” (Eph 6:9). Paul told Philemon to regard his slave, Onesimus, “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Phm 1:16).

Biblically, God does not call for Christians to reform society. This does not mean that societal transformation is not a concern for Christians. It is a great concern. However, we realize true and lasting transformation must occur from the inside out, as people are regenerated through faith in Christ and mature spiritually through learning and living God’s Word. Where Christianity prevails in a society, institutions of slavery will naturally dissolve, and freedom will be maintained by a moral and just people. John Adams knew this very well and said, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Sadly, we know from Scripture that the majority of people in the world will not accept Christ as Savior (Matt 7:13-14). Therefore, they will choose to live as slaves in Satan’s world-system where his philosophies and values will predominate until Christ returns and establishes His kingdom on earth. As Christians, we are called to share the Gospel that people might receive new life and be liberated from Satan’s slave-market. If a person rejects Jesus as Savior, then that person chooses to continue as a slave to Satan and his world-system. It’s unfortunate, but it’s their choice, and it must be respected. We cannot force them to be free.

Slavery to sin is both a positional and experiential reality. Positionally, it means unbelievers belong to Satan and are referred to as his children (Matt 13:38; John 8:44; Acts 13:10; 1 John 3:10). Experientially it means unbelievers are slaves to Satan’s philosophies and values which predominate in the world, as well as being in bondage to the sinful passions that spring from the fallen nature. Passions born of the sin nature can lead to various forms of bondage such as alcoholism, drug addition, gambling addiction, power-lust, approbation-lust, etc. Ultimately, unbelievers who reject God’s offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; 16:31; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5) will spend eternity with Satan and his angels in the Lake of Fire (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10-15). Sadly, believers, who belong to Christ, can also fall victim to the passions of their sinful nature (Rom 13:14; 1 Pet 2:11; 1 John 2:15-16). Though believers are saved forever (John 10:28-30), they can forfeit their eternal rewards (Matt 5:19; 2 John 1:8). Those who are born again are saved the penalty of sin (John 5:24; Rom 6:23; 8:1), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; 8:13; 2 Cor 5:17), and ultimately the presence of sin (Phil 3:21; 1 John 3:2).

jesus-paid-it-all-jesus-21291422 The reality is we are all born into Satan’s slave-market of sin and helpless to liberate ourselves (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3). But God desires our freedom from Satan’s domain, and He sent Jesus into the world to be our Liberator. Jesus was born without sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), which meant He was born free. Furthermore, He maintained His freedom from Satan’s domain by living righteously in the Father’s will (Matt 5:17-18; Heb 10:5-8). Finally, Jesus willingly went to the cross and died a death He did not deserve. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He willingly shed His blood on the cross as payment for our sin-debt. Jesus purchased our freedom. Paul told the Christians at Corinth, “You have been bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20a; cf., 1 Cor 7:23a). Peter said our redemption was not “with perishable things like silver or gold…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18-19). We can be free from Satan’s tyranny if we accept Jesus’ payment for our sin, believing He died for our sins, was buried, and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). Freedom belongs to those who turn to Christ as Savior and who walk in His will (John 8:36; 2 Cor 3:17; Gal 5:1, 13; 1 Pet 2:16). Our salvation and entrance into the family of God introduces us to the possibility of greater freedoms and blessings, but only if we make good choices according to God’s Word and advance to spiritual maturity. Our freedom is protected and maintained when we possess and live morally as God directs.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles: 

[1] Native American History, Comanche War Raids, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGA_18W1U0Y

[2] Helen Gibson, Modern-Day Slavery by the Numbers, https://lifewayresearch.com/2019/02/07/modern-day-slavery-by-the-numbers/

[3] The Women’s Center, https://www.womenscenteryfs.org/index.php/get-info/human-trafficking/statistics

[4] University of Richmond, Blacks Owning Blacks: The Story of William Ellison, https://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/6699

[5] S. S. Bartchy, “Slavery,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 544.

[6] Ibid., 543.

[7] Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN., AMG Publishers, 2002), 130.

The Gospel Explained

The Cross     The gospel is the solution to a problem. It’s the good news that follows the bad news. There are two parts to the problem. First, God is holy (Psa 99:9; Isa 6:3; Rev 15:4), which means He is positively righteous and separate from all that is evil. Being holy, God can have nothing to do with sin except to condemn it (Hab 1:13; 1 John 1:5). Second, all mankind is sinful and separated from God (Rom 3:10, 23). We are sinners in Adam (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and sinners by choice (Isa 59:2; Jam 1:14-15). Some who experienced God’s holiness automatically saw their sinfulness (Isa 6:5; Luke 5:8). To further complicate the problem, we are helpless to solve the sin problem and save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3). Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa 64:6; Rom 4:1-5; Gal 2:16, 21; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5; cf. Phil 3:4-9). We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon. But God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph 2:3-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is the cross of Christ (1 Cor 1:18). God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35; John 1:1, 14), lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt 5:17-21), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins. Jesus solved both problems: 1) He lived the righteous life that God demands and committed no sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and 2) He died for us on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins (Isa 53:1-12; Mark 10:45; Rom 5:6-10; 1 John 2:2). Peter informs us that Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). The cross is God’s righteous solution to the problem of sin, as well as His greatest display of love toward sinners. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness required, and pardons the sinner as His love desires. To understand the cross of Christ is to understand the heart of God toward a fallen world He wants to save.

Scripture reveals that after Jesus went to the cross and died for our sins, He was buried, and raised again on the third day (Matt 16:21; 17:22-23; Luke 24:6-7; Acts 10:38-41; 1 Cor 15:3-4). After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to numerous persons over a period of forty days, namely, Mary Magdalene and other women (Matt 28:1-10; John 20:10-18), two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32), the disciples without Thomas (John 20:19-25), the disciples with Thomas (John 20:26-29), the disciples by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-23), Peter, James, and more than 500 brethren at one time (1 Cor 15:5-7), the apostle Paul (1 Cor 15:8), and lastly, to the disciples at the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9-12). Jesus’ resurrection means He conquered sin and death and will never die again (Rom 6:9).

In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; 20:30-31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31). The gospel message is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), and receive the righteousness of God as a free gift (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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The Gospel We Share

Christ-on-the-cross     The apostle Paul made a clear presentation of the gospel message when he wrote to the church at Corinth. He stated, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel [εὐαγγέλιον euaggelion – good news message] which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1-2).[1] The gospel is information that is communicable from one person to another, whether by spoken or written means. It is received as factual information that benefits the recipient who accepts it by faith. Paul then provided the content of the gospel, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).

The gospel is best understood as the solution to a problem. There are two parts to the problem. First, God is holy (Ps. 99:9; Isa. 6:3), which means He is positively righteous and can have nothing to do with sin except to condemn it. The Scripture states, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor” (Hab 1:13), and “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Second, all mankind is sinful and separated from God (Rom. 3:10-23). This separation occurred when Adam sinned and brought death into the world. Scripture informs us that “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12; cf. 18-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22).[2] The idea is that Adam served as the federal and seminal head of the human race, and when he fell, we fell with him. Because of sin, every person is spiritually separated from God and helpless to change their situation (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1), and good works have no saving merit before the Lord (Isa 64:6; Rom 4:1-5; Gal 2:16; 3:21; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon. But God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph 2:4-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided His own solution to the problem of sin, and this was worked out through His Son, Jesus, who became human and accomplished what we could not.

IC1876488_l     Jesus solved both problems: 1) He lived the righteous life that God demands and committed no sin, and 2) He died for us on the cross, as our substitute, and paid the penalty for all our sins. God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35), and lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt 5:17-21). Scripture informs us that Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet He did not sin” (Heb 4:15), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). Being sinless qualified Him to go to the cross and die for us. No one forced Jesus to go to the cross; rather, He willingly laid down His life and died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). Jesus said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). We are redeemed, not by anything this world can offer or by anything we can do, but His “precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:19). The blood of Christ is the coin of the heavenly realm that pays our sin debt and liberates us from the slave-market of sin. But we must trust in Jesus as our Savior. We must accept His good work on our behalf. Though Jesus’ atoning work on the cross is sufficient for all (John 1:29; Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), it is effectual only for those who believe in Him (John 3:16-18; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31). If we reject Christ as Savior, the result is that we will be forever separated from the Lord (Rev 20:11-15). For “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). At the cross, He judged my sin as His righteousness requires, and saves me, the sinner, as His love desires. He did this out of His own goodness and mercy, and not because of any worth found in me. To comprehend the cross of Christ is to understand the heart of God toward a fallen world He wants to save.

Salvation is completely the work of God and comes to us as a free gift (Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5), for we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14), positionally identified with Him (Rom 5:14-18; 1 Cor 15:22), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), given the gift of God’s righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9), and have the power to live righteously (Rom 6:1-13). God saves us from the penalty of sin (John 5:24; Rom 6:23; 8:1), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; 8:13; 2 Cor 5:17), and ultimately the presence of sin (Phil 3:21; 1 John 3:2). God has prepared good works to follow our salvation (Eph 2:10), but they are never the condition of it. The matter is simple: Salvation comes to us who believe in Christ as our Savior, believing He died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] The word vain translates the Greek word εἰκῇ eike, which denotes, “being without careful thought, without due consideration, in a haphazard manner” (BDAG, p. 281). The main thrust of 1 Corinthians chapter 15 concerns the resurrection of Jesus, which is an essential part of the gospel message. Yet, there were some within the church who were saying “there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:12). Paul asserts, “if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Cor 15:13-14). The point is, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; [and] you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). Denying the resurrection of Jesus meant they had believed in a Jesus that could not save them, because the object of their faith was dead, and therefore powerless to help them. Getting the gospel message right matters.

[2] Being born in Adam, we also possess a sin nature which is the source of our rebellious heart (Rom 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and we produce personal sin each time we yield to temptation (Jam 1:14-15).

God’s Imputed Righteousness

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Rom 4:3-5)[1]

     Like most people in the world, I work for a living. I work for an agency that agrees to compensate me for my labor. Each day I work, I put the agency into debt. The agency relieves its debt every two weeks when it deposits money into my checking account. For a brief moment, my employer owes me nothing. However, when I go back to work, I put the agency back into debt, and we repeat the process. In this arrangement, my paycheck is never considered “as a favor, but as what it due” (Rom 4:4). I do the work and my employer pays me. That’s it. There’s no grace between us. My paycheck is NEVER considered a gift, but what is owed to me. Sadly, many apply this same way of thinking to their relationship with God. The assumption is that if they do good works, God will compensate them with salvation. And, as long as they continue to do good works, He keeps them saved. This is a works-salvation. There is no grace here, only the repetition of work, work, and more work. And if they stop working, the pay ceases. There’s no more salvation; only the fearful expectation of judgment.

     But there’s good news. The Bible reveals that God offers salvation, not by good works, but by grace. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9), and, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit 3:5). The amazing truth of Scripture is, “the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom 4:5). Did you catch that? Don’t miss it. God gives something to “THE ONE WHO DOES NOT WORK.” Do you want what God has for you? Stop trying to work for it! It’s a gift. Freely given and freely received. How is it received? By faith. We simply trust God at His word. We believe God when He tells us our salvation was accomplished in Christ, who died for our sins, was buried and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). And who receives it? Not the good person, but the ungodly; the one who deserves it the least. That’s me and you. And what is given? What is credited to our account? Righteousness. God’s own righteousness is given to the ungodly person who does not work for it, but simply believes in Him. That’s grace!

The gift of righteousness     But some might raise the question: how can a holy God justify unworthy sinners? How can He give something to someone who deserves the opposite? How is this just? Well, I’m glad you asked. The answer is found in Jesus and what He accomplished for us at the cross. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness requires, and saves the sinner as His love desires. At the cross Jesus voluntarily died a penal substitutionary death. He willingly died in our place and bore the punishment that was rightfully ours. Our guilt became His guilt. Our shame became His shame. The result of the cross is that God is forever satisfied with the death of Christ. There’s no additional sacrifice or payment needed. Jesus paid it all. When we believe in Jesus, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; Heb 10:10-14), and then God imputes His righteousness to us. The apostle Paul calls it “the gift of righteousness” (Rom 5:17; cf. 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). God’s righteousness is not earned; rather, it is freely gifted to us who believe in Jesus as our Savior.

The Meaning of Imputation

     The word “imputation” itself is an accounting term used both in the Old Testament and the New Testament (Gen 15:6; Ps. 32:2; Rom 4:3-8; Gal 3:6).[2] Moses wrote of Abraham, saying, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned [חָשַׁב chashab] it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). David writes, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute [חָשַׁב chashab] iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Ps 32:1-2). Moses and David both use the Hebrew חָשַׁב chashab, which in context means “to impute, reckon to.”[3] Moses uses the verb in a positive sense of that which God imputes to Abraham, namely righteousness, and David uses the verb negatively, of that which God does not credit to a person, namely iniquity. Allen P. Ross comments on the meaning of חָשַׁב chashab in Psalm 32:2 and Genesis 15:6:

Not only does forgiveness mean that God takes away the sins, but it also means that God does not “impute” iniquity to the penitent: “Blessed is the one to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity.”  The verb (חָשַׁב) means “impute, reckon, credit”; it is the language of records, or accounting—in fact, in modern usage the word is related to “computer.” Here the psalm is using an implied comparison, as if there were record books in heaven that would record the sins. If the forgiven sins are not imputed, it means that there is no record of them—they are gone and forgotten. Because God does not mark iniquities (Ps. 130:4), there is great joy. The same verb is used in Genesis 15:6 as well, which says that Abram “believed in the LORD, and he reckoned it (וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ) to him as (or, namely) righteousness.” The apostle Paul brings that verse and Psalm 32:2 together in Romans 4 to explain the meaning of justification by faith: when people believe in the Lord, God reckons or credits them with righteousness (Paul will say, the righteousness of Jesus Christ), and does not reckon their sin to them.[4]

     The apostle Paul cites Abraham’s faith in God as the basis upon which he was declared righteous before Him, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] to him as righteousness’” (Rom 4:3).[5] Paul uses the Greek verb λογίζομαι logizomai, which means “to determine by mathematical process, reckon, calculate, frequently in a transferred sense.”[6] Abraham believed God at His Word, and God reckoned, or transferred His righteousness to him. After pointing to Abraham as the example of justification by faith, Paul then extrapolates that we are justified in the same way, saying, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited [λογίζομαι logizomai] as righteousness” (Rom 4:4-5; cf. Gal 3:6). Paul then references David, saying, “David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits [λογίζομαι logizomai] righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. ‘Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account [λογίζομαι logizomai]’” (Rom 4:6-8). 

     Paul twice uses the Greek verb ἐλλογέω ellogeo to communicate the idea of an exchange between persons (Rom 5:13; Phm 1:18). The verb ἐλλογέω ellogeo means “to charge with a financial obligation, charge to the account of someone.”[7]  Paul tells his friend, Philemon, concerning his runaway slave Onesimus, “if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge [ἐλλογέω ellogeo] that to my account” (Phm 1:18). Paul has not wronged Philemon, nor does he owe him anything; however, Paul was willing to pay for any wrong or debt Onesimus may have incurred.  

Paul is giving us an illustration of that which God has done for us in Christ Jesus. As the Apostle assumed the debt of Onesimus and invited Philemon—who had been wronged—to charge that debt to him, so the Lord Jesus Christ took the debt that we owed to the injured One—to God—and He charged Himself with our debt and set His righteousness down to our account.[8]

     In a similar way, Jesus paid for our sin so that we don’t have to, and in exchange, we receive God’s righteousness. This idea of an exchange between persons means that one person is credited with something not antecedently his/her own. Our sin is our sin, and Christ’s righteousness is His righteousness. When Jesus took our sin upon himself at the cross, He voluntarily accepted something that belonged to another, namely us. Jesus took our sin upon Himself. On the other hand, when we receive His righteousness as a gift, we are accepting something that belonged to another, namely Christ. By faith, we accept that which belongs to Jesus, namely, His righteousness. Jesus’ righteousness becomes our righteousness. Paul references the exchange that occurred at the cross when Jesus died for our sin, saying, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21), and he personally spoke of the righteousness “which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil 3:9).[9] Once we receive God’s righteousness, we are instantaneously justified in God’s sight.

Justification is a divine act whereby an infinitely Holy God judicially declares a believing sinner to be righteous and acceptable before Him because Christ has borne the sinner’s sin on the cross and has become “to us … righteousness” (1 Cor 1:30; Rom 3:24). Justification springs from the fountain of God’s grace (Titus 3:4–5). It is operative as the result of the redemptive and propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, who has settled all the claims of the law (Rom 3:24–25; 5:9). Justification is on the basis of faith and not by human merit or works (Rom 3:28–30; 4:5; 5:1; Gal 2:16). In this marvelous operation of God the infinitely holy Judge judicially declares righteous the one who believes in Jesus (Rom 8:31–34). A justified believer emerges from God’s great courtroom with a consciousness that another, his Substitute, has borne his guilt and that he stands without accusation before God (Rom 8:1, 33–34). Justification makes no one righteous, neither is it the bestowment of righteousness as such, but rather it declares one to be justified whom God sees as perfected once and forever in His beloved Son.[10]

     It is sometimes difficult to accept this biblical teaching, because our behavior does not always reflect our righteous standing before God (even princes sometimes fail to live by the royal family code). However, God’s Word defines reality, and we are justified in His sight because of His righteousness that has been gifted to our account. The righteousness of God that is credited to us who have trusted in Jesus as our Savior.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. Biblical Righteousness: A Word Study  
  2. The Righteousness of God  
  3. Theological Categories of God’s Righteousness 
  4. God’s Righteousness at the Cross 
  5. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer
  6. A Dispensational View of God’s Righteousness 
  7. God’s Righteousness in the Future 

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible (1995).

[2] Biblically, there are three major imputations that relate to our standing before God. First is the imputation of Adam’s original sin to every member of the human race (Rom 5:12-13; cf. 1 Cor 15:21-22). Every biological descendant of Adam is charged/credited with the sin he committed in the Garden of Eden which plunged the human race into spiritual and physical death. Jesus is the only exception, for though He is truly human (Matt 1:1; Luke 3:23-38), He was born without original sin, without a sin nature, and committed no personal sin during His time on earth (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Adam is the head of the human race and his fall became our fall. This is the basis for death and for being estranged from God. Second is the imputation of all sin to Jesus on the cross (Isa 53:4-6, 10; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 2:9; 1 Pet 2:21-24; 1 John 2:2). God the Father judged Jesus in our place (Mark 10:45; 1 Cor 15:3-4; 1 Pet 3:18), cancelling our sin debt by the death of Christ (Col 2:13-14; 2 Cor 5:18-19). This was a voluntary imputation on the part of Christ who freely went to the cross and took our sins upon Himself (John 1:29; 10:11, 15, 17-18). Third is the imputation of God’s righteousness to those who believe in Jesus for salvation (Rom 4:3-5; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:8-9). The righteousness of God imputed to the believer at the moment of faith in Christ results in the believer being justified before God (Rom 3:22, 24, 28; 4:1-5).

[3] Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson, et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 360.

[4] Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 2011), 710-711.

[5] The translators of the Septuagint use λογίζομαι logizomai as a reliable synonym for חָשַׁב chashab both in Genesis 15:6 and Psalm 32:2. Paul then uses λογίζομαι logizomai when making his argument that justification is by faith alone in God (Rom 4:3-5; Gal 3:6).

[6] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 597.

[7] Ibid., 319.

[8] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 40.

[9] Though the word “impute” is not used in some passages, the idea is implied. Isaiah writes of the Suffering Servant Who “will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:11), and of God as the One Who “has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness” (Isa 61:10). And Paul writes of “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Rom 3:22), and of being “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24; cf. 5:17; 9:30; 10:3-4; 1 Cor 1:30; Gal 2:16; 3:11, 24).

[10] E. McChesney and Merrill F. Unger, “Justification,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 729.

Faith or Regeneration – Which Comes First?

Faith or Regeneration     I’ve been teaching through the Gospel of John at the federal prison near my house over the past few months. As with any expositional study, certain theological issues will naturally arise, and the issue of election has been popping up in our discussions. One of our conversations got a little heated one evening regarding the ordo salutis, or the order of salvation. The discussion focused primarily on whether regeneration precedes faith, or faith precedes regeneration. I was pleased to see them struggling with the issue and trying to work it out in their thinking. After nearly forty-five minutes I brought the discussion to a close, not because we’d resolved the matter, but because I needed get back to the expositional presentation of the Gospel of John, which is what the class is about. After I went home that evening, I spent a few hours writing this article, which I delivered to the inmates the following week. Though I take a position on this subject, I try to present both sides fairly.

     It’s important to keep in mind that there are good and loving theologians who stand on either side of the debate. Some believe regeneration precedes faith in Christ, and others that faith in Christ precedes regeneration. These are not dogmatic on the issue, stating the possibility that faith and regeneration may occur at the same time. Careful study through the Bible does not yield a step by step order concerning God’s salvation process in the life of His elect; rather, many of the arguments are predicated on logical reasonings. Below are a few quotes from top scholars who fall on either side of the debate. Though there are more teachers I could have chosen, I selected a few strong representatives from each side in order to keep the discussion focused and brief. A few opening remarks are important.

In view of the fact that the Bible does not specify the exact order that applies in the application of the work of redemption, there is naturally considerable room for a difference of opinion. And as a matter of fact the Churches are not all agreed as to the ordo salutis. The doctrine of the order of salvation is a fruit of the Reformation. Hardly any semblance of it is found in the works of the Scholastics. In pre-Reformation theology scant justice is done to soteriology in general.[1]

We should be flexible as to what goes into the ordo and what does not. The Bible itself doesn’t use the phrase ordo salutis any more than it speaks of an order of the decrees. And Scripture does not include anywhere a list of all the events theologians typically include under that label. Myself, I think that the ordo is mainly a pedagogical device.[2]

In the Reformed statement of the ordo salutis, regeneration precedes faith, for, it is argued, a sinner must be given new life in order to be able to believe. Although this is admittedly stated only as a logical order, it is not wise to insist even on that; for it may as well be argued that if a sinner has the new life through regeneration, why does he need to believe? Of course, there can be no chronological order; both regeneration and faith have to occur at the same moment. To be sure, faith is also part of the total package of salvation that is the gift of God (Eph. 2:9); yet faith is commanded in order to be saved (Acts 16:31). Both are true.[3]

A definition of regeneration:

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration [παλιγγενεσία paliggenesia = regeneration, renewal] and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5)

And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration [παλιγγενεσία paliggenesia = regeneration, renewal] when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt. 19:28)[4]

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [γεννάω gennao + ἄνωθεν anothen = born again, or born from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

     The word “regeneration” occurs only twice in the Bible (Matt. 19:28 and Titus 3:5). In both places the Greek word used is παλιγγενεσία paliggenesia, which means the “the state of being renewed… [the] experience of a complete change of life, rebirth of a redeemed person.”[5] Dr. Charles Ryrie states, “The word, used only twice in the New Testament (Matt. 19:28; Titus 3:5), means to be born again. To be born from above (anothen) occurs in John 3:3 and probably includes the idea of being born again also (see the use of anothen in Gal. 4:9). It is the work of God that gives new life to the one who believes.”[6] Dr. Paul Enns would agree, saying, “Succinctly stated, to regenerate means ‘to impart life.’ Regeneration is the act whereby God imparts life to the one who believes.”[7] The Greek word ἀναγεννάω anagennao can be added as well. The word appears twice in Peter’s first epistle (1 Pet. 1:3, 23). The basic meaning is, to begat again, and is translated born again in both instances and has the idea of imparting new life.

The argument that regeneration precedes faith in Christ:

     There are many Christians who believe that regeneration precedes faith in Christ. The reasoning is that an unregenerate person has no ability within himself to do anything, and even believing is made possible by means of the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit. J.I. Packer states, “Jesus’ point throughout [John 3:3-8] is that there is no exercise of faith in himself as the supernatural Savior, no repentance, and no true discipleship apart from this new birth.”[8] In this formula, Packer places faith in Christ after regeneration. At another point he states, “Regeneration is a transition from spiritual death to spiritual life, and conscious, intentional, active faith in Christ is its immediate fruit, not its immediate cause.”[9] Discussing John 3:3-8, Dr. Wayne Grudem takes the same view as Packer, stating:

Using the verses quoted above [John 3:3-8], we have defined regeneration to be the act of God awakening spiritual life within us, bringing us from spiritual death to spiritual life. On this definition, it is natural to understand that regeneration comes before saving faith. It is in fact this work of God that gives us the spiritual ability to respond to God in faith. However, when we say that it comes “before” saving faith, it is important to remember that they usually come so close together that it will ordinarily seem to us that they are happening at the same time. As God addresses the effective call of the gospel to us, he regenerates us and we respond in faith and repentance to this call. So from our perspective it is hard to tell any difference in time, especially because regeneration is a spiritual work that we cannot perceive with our eyes or even understand with our minds.[10]

Dr. John Frame argues that regeneration is the first act in our salvation, saying:

When God calls us into fellowship with Christ, he gives us a new life, a new heart. Regeneration is the first effect of effectual calling. And regeneration is the first item on the list that occurs inside of us. The presupposition of Scripture is that apart from God’s grace we are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1–3), as we saw in chapter 8. That means that in and of ourselves, we can do nothing to please God. Just as conception and birth bring new physical life, so the work of regeneration brings new spiritual life. Through the new birth we gain new desire and new ability to serve God.[11]

Arguing that the new birth precedes faith in Christ, Frame further states:

So, the new birth comes before our faith, bringing it about. People sometimes say, “Believe in Jesus, and you will be born again.” This expression is biblically inaccurate. It is true that believing in Jesus is the path to blessing. But the new birth is the cause of faith rather than the other way around. Again, you cannot give birth to yourself, even by faith. Rather, God gives new birth to you and enables you to have faith. It is always God’s sovereignty, isn’t it?[12]

The argument that faith in Christ precedes regeneration:

     Regeneration is completely a work of God, for fallen persons have no ability to produce spiritual life. Dr. Lewis S. Chafer believes regeneration is a work of God alone, in which God the Holy Spirit produces new life in the believer, completely apart from any human merit or worth, and occurs at the moment of faith in Christ.

On the basis of this text [Tit. 3:5], the word “regeneration” has been chosen by theologians to express the concept of new life, new birth, spiritual resurrection, the new creation, and, in general, a reference to the new supernatural life that believers receive as sons of God. In the history of the church, the term has not always had accurate usage, but properly understood, it means the origination of the eternal life which comes into the believer in Christ at the moment of faith, the instantaneous change from a state of spiritual death to a state of spiritual life.[13]

     Dr. John Walvoord argues that regeneration is completely a work of God, saying, “Regeneration by its nature is solely a work of God. While sometimes considered as a result, every instance presumes or states that the act of regeneration was an act of God.”[14] And he comments again, “As the word itself implies, the central thought in the doctrine of regeneration is that eternal life is imparted. Regeneration meets the need created by the presence of spiritual death.”[15] Further, Dr. Walvoord states clearly that eternal life is received by faith, saying:

The important fact, never to be forgotten in the doctrine of regeneration, is that the believer in Christ has received eternal life. This fact must be kept free from all confusion of thought arising from the concept of regeneration which makes it merely an antecedent of salvation, or a preliminary quickening to enable the soul to believe. It is rather the very heart of salvation. It reaches the essential problem of the lack of eternal life without which no soul can spend eternity in the presence of God. Regeneration supplies eternal life as justification and sanctification deal with the problem of sin specifically. It is a smashing blow to all philosophies which hold that man has inherent capacities of saving himself. Regeneration is wholly of God. No possible human effort however noble can supply eternal life. The proper doctrine of regeneration gives to God all glory and power due His name, and at the same time it displays His abundant provision for a race dead in sin.[16]

     Dr. Charles Ryrie writes concerning the means of regeneration, stating, “God regenerates (John 1:13) according to His will (James 1:18) through the Holy Spirit (John 3:5) when a person believes (1:12) the Gospel as revealed in the Word (1 Pet. 1:23).”[17] Ryrie then defines faith, saying, “Faith means confidence, trust, to hold something as true. Of course, faith must have content; there must be confidence or trust about something. To have faith in Christ unto salvation means to have confidence that He can remove the guilt of sin and grant eternal life.”[18] And finally, addressing the necessity of faith, he states, “Salvation is always through faith, not because of faith (Eph. 2:8). Faith is the channel through which we receive God’s gift of eternal life; it is not the cause. This is so man can never boast, even of his faith. But faith is the necessary and only channel (John 5:24; 17:3).”[19] Dr. Paul Enns would agree, saying:

John 1:13 indicates the new birth is not effected by the will of man. Regeneration is an act of God, not a cooperative effort between God and man. That is not to say, however, that faith is unnecessary in salvation. It may be suggested that although regeneration and faith are distinct, they occur simultaneously. The two are set side by side in John 1:12–13. In John 1:12, at the moment of receiving Christ (believing), the person becomes a child of God; in John 1:13 it indicates that at that very moment the persons have been born of God. Surely there is a mystery here that surpasses human comprehension.[20]

     I find myself more in agreement with Lewis Chafer, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, Paul Enns, and many others who teach that regeneration occurs either just after faith in Christ, or at the same time. This discussion is not intended to resolve the issues surrounding the ordo salutis. Though I love and appreciate the writings of theologians such as R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, J.I. Packer, John Frame, and many others, yet I am unconvinced—at least at this time—by their arguments that regeneration precedes faith in Christ. My current position is based more on the evidence of Scripture rather than well-crafted theological arguments.

     Biblically, there are numerous passages that place faith as the necessary prerequisite to having new life, or regeneration. It is written, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), and “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 6:40). In these and other instances, “eternal life” is given after we believe in Jesus as our Savior. Faith is never the cause of our salvation, but rather, the means by which we receive it. Scripture clearly states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

     I would also like to say in closing that I do not consider this theological issue as central to the Christian faith; therefore, disagreement on this issue is not a basis for breaking fellowship. I agree with the statement: in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, love.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel in Two Minutes  
  2. Not of Works  
  3. Soteriology – The Study of Salvation   

Cited Sources:

[1] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 417.

[2] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 183.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 376.

[4] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Bible, 1995.

[5] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 752.

[6] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 376.

[7] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 338.

[8] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 157–158.

[9] Ibid., 158.

[10] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 702.

[11] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, 185.

[12] Ibid., 186.

[13] Lewis Sperry Chafer; Major Bible Themes (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 2010), 97-98.

[14] John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapds, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1977), 130.

[15] Ibid., 131.

[16] Ibid., 132.

[17] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 376.

[18] Ibid., 377.

[19] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 377.

[20] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 340.

Not of Works

     One of the things I emphasize when presenting the gospel is that salvation is completely the work of God and not the work of people. We are saved by what Jesus accomplished for us at the cross and not by any good works we produce. Good works should follow salvation, but they are never the condition of it. The following Scriptures reveal that good works have no saving merit before God.

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. (Rom. 3:28)

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Rom. 4:5)

Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Gal. 2:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity (2 Tim. 1:9)

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5)

     The Bible reveals that we are helpless to save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3), and human works, however noble or great, have no saving merit in God’s sight. How then are we saved? We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Grace is God’s unmerited favor toward us. Grace is sometimes used as an acronym for God’s riches at Christ’s expense. This is correct. God richly provides our salvation through the death of Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18). There is nothing we bring to God to be saved. He is completely satisfied with what Jesus did for us at the cross. By faith we trust in Christ alone to save us from our sins and eternal separation from God (John 3:16-18; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14). The challenge for us is to stop trusting in human works to save us and to cast ourselves completely on Christ as our Savior.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

The Meaning of Sin

     The MeaningThe word sin is found throughout Scripture, and both the Hebrew and Greek share the same basic meaning. The Hebrew word חָטָא chata means “to miss the target, or to lose the way,”[1] and the Greek word ἁμαρτάνω hamartano is defined as “miss the mark, err, or do wrong.”[2] In Judges 20:16 the Hebrew word is used of skilled soldiers who do not miss their target, and in Proverbs 19:2 of a man who hurries and misses his way.[3] Sin is when we transgress God’s law and depart from His intended path.[4] The apostle John states, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). “Sin may be comprehensively defined as lack of conformity to the law of God in act, habit, attitude, outlook, disposition, motivation, and mode of existence.”[5]

     Divine laws are a reflection of the righteousness of God. The righteousness of God may be defined as the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates. God’s character is the basis upon which all just laws derive; either divine laws from God Himself or human laws which conform to His righteousness.[6]

The underlying idea of sin is that of law and of a lawgiver. The lawgiver is God. Hence sin is everything in the disposition and purpose and conduct of God’s moral creatures that is contrary to the expressed will of God (Rom. 3:20; 4:15; 7:7; James 4:12, 17). The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves (Gen. 39:9; Ps. 51:4).[7]

     God permits sin, but is never the author of it. Sin is the expression of a creaturely will that is set against God. The sin we commit may be mental, verbal, or physical. It may be private or public, impacting one or many, with short or lasting results. Below are biblical examples of sin:

  1. Lucifer sought to place himself above God (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:11-18).
  2. Adam and Eve disobeyed the command not to eat the fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:1-7).
  3. Lot’s daughters got him drunk and had sex with him (Gen. 19:30-38)
  4. Aaron led the Israelites to worship an idol (Ex. 32:1-6).
  5. Moses struck the rock when the Lord told him only to speak to it (Num. 20:8-12).
  6. Samson slept with prostitutes (Judg. 16:1-4).
  7. David had an affair with Bathsheba and conspired to have her husband, Uriah, murdered (2 Sam. 11:1-21).
  8. Solomon worshiped idols (1 Kings 11:1-10).
  9. Peter tried to prevent Jesus from going to the cross (Matt. 16:21-23).
  10. Peter publicly denied the Lord three times ( 26:34-35; 69-75).
  11. The Christians at Corinth engaged in quarrels (1 Cor. 1:11), jealousy and strife (1 Cor. 3:1-3), fornication (1 Cor. 5:1-2), selfishness and drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21). 
  12. The Apostle John twice worshiped an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).

     The above list is a just a sampling of sins in the Bible. Biblically, every person is a sinner in God’s sight. Jesus is the single exception.[8] We are sinners in Adam (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom. 7:18-21; Gal. 5:17; Eph. 2:1-3), and sinners by choice (1 Kings 8:46; Prov. 20:9; Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:9-23). Sin separates us from God and renders us helpless to merit God’s approval. We are helpless to solve the sin problem and save ourselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3). Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa. 64:6; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon. Sadly, many people buy into the lie that they can help save themselves by doing good works. The biblical teaching is that salvation is never based on good works or adherence to law, but by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 16:31). Scripture states, we are “not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16; cf. Rom. 3:20, 28), for “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21).

The Good News of the Gospel

     It does no good to talk about sin if we don’t also address God’s solution. God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph. 2:3-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:18). God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35), lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt. 5:17-21; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins. The gospel message is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Rom. 5:6-10). Biblically, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24), and “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28; cf. 4:5), “for by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9), for “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:5-7). In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), and given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 305.

[2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 49.

[3] G. Herbert Livingston, “638 חָטָא,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 277.

[4] Other Hebrew and Greek words related to sin include: evil (רָע ra – Gen. 3:5), wicked (רָשָׁע rasha – Prov. 15:9), rebellion (פָּשַׁע pasha – Isa. 1:2), iniquity (עָוֹן avon – Isa. 53:6), error (שָׁגָה shagah – Lev. 4:13), guilt (אָשַׁם asham – Lev. 4:22), go astray (תָּעָה taah – Ps. 58:3), bad (κακός kakos – Rom. 12:17), evil (πονηρός poneros – Matt. 7:11), ungodly (ἀσεβής asebes – Rom. 4:5), guilty (ἔνοχος enochos – 1 Cor. 11:27), sin (ἁμαρτία hamartia – 1 Cor. 15:3), unrighteousness (ἀδικία adikia – Rom. 1:18), lawless (ἄνομος anomos – 1 Tim. 1:9), transgression (παράβασις parabasis – Gal. 3:19), ignorance (ἀγνοέω agnoeo – Acts 17:23), go astray (πλανάω planao – 1 Pet. 2:25), trespass (παράπτωμα paraptoma – Rom. 5:15), and hypocrisy (ὑπόκρισις hupokrisis – 1 Tim. 4:2). 

[5] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).

[6] If there is no God, then there is no absolute standard for right and wrong and we are left with arbitrary laws based on manufactured values.

[7] Merrill F. Unger and E. McChesney, “Sin,” ed. R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1198.

[8] Jesus, because of His divine nature (John 1:1, 14; Col. 2:9), and the virgin conception (Isa. 7:14; Luke 1:30-35), is the only person ever born without sin and who committed no sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). His perfect humanity and sinless life qualified Him to go to the cross and die in our place. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

God’s Righteousness at the Cross

     The subject of the cross addresses God’s righteousness, man’s sinfulness, and Jesus’ substitutionary death which satisfied God’s righteous demands toward our sin and reconciles us to the Father.  Certainly other characteristics of God are seen at the cross such as love, mercy, and grace; however, this article will primarily be concerned with His attribute of righteousness.  The cross makes sense when we see it in connection with God’s attribute of righteousness. 

     RighteousnessGod is revealed in Scripture as a “God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4); and elsewhere it is stated, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne” (Ps. 89:14a).  Because God is righteous, He can only accept that which conforms to His righteousness and He cannot approve of sin at all.  Scripture reveals, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with You.” (Ps. 5:4), and “everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deut. 25:16b).  Habakkuk states, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13), and John writes, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). 

Everyone is Sinful

     The problem between God and man is a problem of separation caused by sin (Isa. 59:2).  It’s not a problem that originates with God, for He is immutable and His righteousness is constant.  It is people who have sinned and moved away from God.  And it’s not just a few people who have sinned, but everyone.  Scripture reveals, “there is no man who does not sin” (1 Ki. 8:46), and “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20).  Furthermore, “there is none righteous, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10, 23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).  The subject of sin is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments.  The Hebrew חָטָא chata and the Greek ἁμαρτάνω hamartano are the two most common words for sin, and both have the basic meaning to miss the mark.  God’s laws are a reflection of His righteous character, and when a person sins, he/she misses the mark of God’s character and will.  “The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves (Gen. 39:9; Ps. 51:4).”[1] 

     People are sinners in three ways: first they are sinners by imputation of Adam’s original sin (Rom. 5:12-21), second, they are sinners by nature (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 7:19-21; Eph. 2:3), and third, they are sinners by choice (1 Ki. 8:46; Rom. 3:9-18).  Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden is the first and greatest of them all, for he incurred the penalty of spiritual and physical death that God righteously and sovereignly promised would come if he ate the fruit from the forbidden tree.  “The LORD God commanded the man [Adam], saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’”  (Gen. 2:16-17).  Both Adam and Eve “took from its fruit and ate” (Gen. 3:6); however, Adam alone was held responsible by God for the disobedience that occurred in the Garden of Eden, for he was the spiritual head of the marriage.   Because of Adam’s rebellion against God, sin and death entered the human race (Rom. 5:12, 18-19) and spread throughout the universe (Rom. 8:20-22).  “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned [when Adam sinned]” (Rom. 5:12), for “through one transgression [of Adam] there resulted condemnation to all men” (Rom. 5:19a), and “by a man [Adam] came death, by a man [Jesus] also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22).  All of Adam’s descendants are born into this world spiritually dead in “trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), and are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), “separate from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12), “alienated” from God (Col. 1:21), helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies (Rom. 5:6-10). 

     Sin permeates the thoughts, feelings and volition (i.e. will) of every person.  This does not mean that people are as sinful as they can be, but that all are equally in a state of sin and their sinful condition has completely separated them from God and rendered them helpless to save themselves.  “All are under God’s wrath and in need of salvation.  The religious and nonreligious, the educated and uneducated, the rich and the poor—all are in need of God’s saving grace and are hopelessly lost without it.”[2]  Admittedly, this dark picture of the sinfulness of mankind is difficult to accept; however, God’s estimation of mankind set forth in Scripture is true. 

People are Helpless to Correct the Problem of Sin

     The problem is not only that everyone is marked by sin, but they are helpless to correct the problem of sin.  Sin is a stain that cannot be washed away by self-effort; however, throughout history, many have tried to win God’s approval through a moral lifestyle and good works.  Scripture reveals that good works and/or adherence to laws can never win the approval of God.  In the sight of God, “all our righteous deeds [צְדָקָה tsedaqah] are like a filthy garment” which have no saving value whatsoever (Isa. 64:6).  The words translated “filthy garment” in Isaiah 64:6 literally means a “menstruation garment”[3] which conveys in strong and offensive language the “best deeds of guilty people.”[4]  If people were to gather all their “righteous deeds” and bring them to God and demand their trade-in value, the results would be rejection and eternal separation from Him in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:12-15). 

     Many unbelievers fallaciously hold to the strange notion that if they follow the Mosaic Law (or follow any system of good works) they will win God’s approval and be accepted into heaven.  This is wrong.  The Biblical teaching is that we are “not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Gal 2:16), for “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21).  Rather, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24), and “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28; cf. 4:5).  Salvation is “the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8b-9), for God saves us “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5).

     If human works make people righteous, then credit belongs to those individuals for the work they accomplished on their own behalf in bringing themselves to God.  But human works never save.  The credit for our salvation belongs completely to the Lord Jesus Christ because of His substitutionary atoning work on the cross.  The cross of Christ is an offense to the arrogant self-made man who must admit his helplessness and sinfulness before a righteous God. 

The Cross is a Place of Judgment

     It is true that the cross represents the love of God toward a fallen world He wishes to save (John 3:16).  However, we must also see the cross as a place of judgment, darkness and wrath.  Matthew writes, “from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour” (Matt. 27:45).  This was a physical darkness that one could see with the eye, though the spiritually blind could not see it for its true significance.  This darkness that overshadowed the cross was a picture of wrath that flowed from God’s righteousness as He judged the sin of mankind.  “Darkness in Scripture often represents judgment and or tragedy (cf. Exod. 10:21–22; Amos 8:9–10).”[5]  Christ on the cross was made to bear the Father’s wrath for our sin. 

It was during that time that He bore the indescribable curse of our sins. In those three hours were compressed the hell which we deserved, the wrath of God against all our transgressions. We see it only dimly; we simply cannot know what it meant for Him to satisfy all God’s righteous claims against sin. We only know that in those three hours He paid the price, settled the debt, and finished the work necessary for man’s redemption.[6]

     It was on the cross that God’s righteous judgment for our sin was dealt with in the Person of Jesus, for “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5).  “When the servant bore the guilt of our sins, we are saying that he bore the punishment that was due to us because of those sins, and that is to say that he was our substitute. His punishment was vicarious.”[7]  Isaiah writes, for “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a Guilt offering” (Isa. 53:10).  The cross was not forced upon Jesus, and it would be wrong to see Him as a helpless victim of His Father’s wrath.  It is simultaneously true that God sent and Christ went.  Jesus was willing to die in our place, as the Scripture reveals “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2).  Jesus said, “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18).  The cross would reflect injustice if Jesus were forced there against His will.  But this is not the case.  Rather, Jesus went to the cross willingly and laid down His life and bore the punishment that belonged to us.  He bore God’s wrath and died in our place. 

     Paul states that Jesus “was delivered over because of our transgressions” (Rom. 4:25), as “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21).  Peter writes that Christ “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).  This was the time when God the Father poured out His wrath upon the humanity of Christ; for “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24).  “His body” refers to His humanity, for deity cannot bear sin.[8]  God sent Jesus to the cross to satisfy His righteous demands for our sin, and He is satisfied with the death of Christ.  We did not ask for this, nor do we deserve it.  The cross is God’s solution to the problem of sin. 

God Justifies Sinners Because of the Work of Jesus on the Cross

     God would be fully justified to condemn every person to the Lake of Fire.  However, He created a plan to satisfy His righteous demands toward sinners, and He did this without compromising His love toward those He wished to save.  The wisdom of God is seen at the cross where righteousness and love intersect.  Righteousness demands punishment for sin.  Love seeks to show grace and mercy to the undeserving.  The cross is where that happens simultaneously.  The result is that sin is judged and sinners are saved by grace through faith completely apart from any human works they might produce.  Jesus purchased our freedom with His blood that was shed on Calvary.  The Father is propitiated and sinners are justified because of the work of Christ on our behalf.  We are forgiven.  Jesus is the Hero. 

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:21-26)

     Paul uses several theologically rich words throughout this short section of Scripture such as righteousness, faith, justified, grace, redemption, and propitiation.  In the above section, righteousness refers to God’s righteousness.  It is a righteousness apart from the Law (Rom. 3:21a), but witnessed to by “the Law and Prophets” (Rom. 3:21).  It is the “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe” (Rom. 3:22).  No one can, by their own efforts, merit the righteousness of God, and it is futile to try.  God’s righteousness is given freely, as a gift, to those who trust in Jesus as Savior.  The recipients are those who “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23; cf. Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3).  God’s justification of sinners comes “as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24a).  To be justified means that God declares someone is in perfect conformity to His righteousness.  The sinner who believes in Jesus as Savior is justified instantly, fully, and forever.  Justification and sanctification are sometimes confused.  “Justification describes a person’s status in the sight of the law, not the condition of his or her character. The condition of one’s character and conduct is that with which sanctification deals.”[9]  God’s justification is a “gift”, from the Greek word δωρεά dorea, which refers to something “freely given, as a gift, without payment.”[10]  Think about that.  God’s justification is a gift, freely given and freely received, without any expectation of compensation from the recipient.  This is God’s grace to the undeserving.  Grace, from the Greek word χάρις charis, refers to “the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.”[11]  God justifies sinners freely, by grace, because of the work of Christ on their behalf. 

     By faith we trust that what Christ accomplished on the cross forever satisfies God’s righteous demands for sin.  We simply believe in Jesus for salvation.  A mute quadriplegic, who can never speak or act, can be forever saved because of the work of Christ.  Jesus paid it all.  No one has the means to redeem his own soul, nor the soul of another.  Jesus asked, “what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).  The answer is “nothing”!  If Jesus had not paid our sin-debt to God, there would be no hope of ever being liberated from spiritual slavery, for “no man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever” (Ps. 49:7-8).  However, Paul writes of the “redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24b), and this speaks of the payment He made on behalf of sinners.  “Redemption” translates the Greek ἀπολύτρωσις apolutrosis which means to “release from a captive condition.”[12]  Redemption refers to the payment of a debt that one gives in order to liberate another from slavery.  Jesus declared “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom [λύτρον lutron] for many” (Mark 10:45), and the apostle Paul tells us that Jesus “gave Himself as a ransom [ἀντίλυτρον antilutron] for all” (1 Tim. 2:6).  When we turn to Christ as our only Savior “we have redemption [ἀπολύτρωσις apolutrosis] through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph. 1:7; cf. Col. 1:13-14).  Because Jesus died in our place, He is able to set us free from our spiritual bondage and give us eternal life, but it is only because of His shed blood on the cross that He can do this, for we “were not redeemed [λύτρον lutron] with perishable things like silver or gold…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).  The blood of Christ is necessary, for “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). 

Redemption implies antecedent bondage.  Thus the word refers primarily to man’s subjection to the dominion and curse of sin (see Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor. 15:56).  Also in a secondary sense to the bondage of Satan as the head of the kingdom of darkness, and to the bondage of death as the penalty of sin (see Acts 26:18; Heb. 2:14-15).  Redemption from this bondage is represented in the Scriptures as both universal and limited.  It is universal in the sense that its advantages are freely offered to all.  It is limited in the sense that it is effectual only with respect to those who meet the conditions of salvation announced in the gospel.  For such it is effectual in that they receive forgiveness of sins and the power to lead a new and holy life.  Satan is no longer their captor, and death has lost its sting and terror.  They look forward to the redemption of the body (see Heb. 2:9; Acts 3:19; Eph. 1:7; Acts 26:18; 2 Tim. 2:26; 1 Cor. 15:55-57; Rom. 8:15-23).[13]

     All humanity is born into a slave-market of sin.  Jesus came into this world and took upon Himself true humanity and died upon a cross to atone for our sins.  Because Jesus died on the cross and tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9), He rendered inoperative “him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).  Those who turn to Christ for salvation can be set free from the slave-market of sin into which they were born, to which they were “subject to slavery all their lives” (Heb. 2:15).  Once we are saved, we can say with the apostle Paul, “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). 

     What was it that Christ offered as payment for sin?  The answer is His blood that He shed on the cross.  The payment of our debt occurred at the cross by the Lord Jesus, “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Rom. 3:25a).  Propitiation translates the Greek word ἱλαστήριον hilasterion which is defined as, “A sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor.”[14]  At the cross, God effected the removal of all impediments that hindered a restored relationship with Him, and this He accomplished by the blood of Christ, which is the coin of the heavenly realm that paid our sin-debt.  The blood of Christ forever satisfied God’s righteous demands for our sin. 

     The Apostle John also writes about Jesus’ death as a satisfying payment for sins.  He tells us “He Himself is the propitiation [ἱλασμός hilasmos – a satisfactory sacrifice] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. 4:10).  At the cross, God has “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14).  Propitiation means that God’s righteous wrath toward our sin has been appeased.  He is no longer angry. 

Christ’s absolute righteousness alone satisfies (propitiates) the demands of an absolutely righteous God. The Greek term “propitiate” (hilasteerion) is used only three times in the New Testament. John informs us that “He [Christ][15] is the atoning sacrifice [propitiation] for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). He adds, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice [propitiation] for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Thus, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement [propitiation], through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom. 3:25).[16]

     When God judged Christ on the cross, it was a display “of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).  God has dealt with our sin in a righteous manner.  He judged it.  Jesus was the object of that judgment, and the cross was the place where the penalty was paid.  “It demonstrates God’s righteousness, the subject of Romans, by showing that God is both just in His dealings with sin and the Justifier who provides righteous standing for the sinner.”[17]  God justifies the sinner who comes in faith, believing in Jesus as Savior (John 3:16; 20:31 Acts 4:12; 16:30-31; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).  The word faith translates the Greek noun πίστις pistis, which refers to a “state of believing on the basis of the reliability of the one trusted.”[18]  Faith has no saving merit, as the sinner places all trust in the Person and work of Jesus Who has accomplished our salvation in full.  No works are required (Rom. 4:1-5; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).

You can be adjusted to God’s standard, because God made Christ to become sin for us.  The One who knew no sin, the One in whose lips had never been found guile, took upon Himself our sin in order that He might bear our sins to the cross and offer Himself as an acceptable substitute to God for us—on our behalf, in our place.  And when Jesus Christ identified Himself with sinners and went to the cross on their behalf and in their place, He was making possible the doctrine of reconciliation.  He was making it possible for God to conform the world to Himself, to adjust the world to His standard so that sinners in the world might find salvation because “Jesus paid it all.”  You can be adjusted to God, to God’s standard, through Christ, by His death, by His cross, by His blood, and by His identification with sinners.[19]

     Jesus’ death on the cross was substitutionary (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8-10; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18), paid the redemption price for sin (Matt. 20:28; Gal. 3:13; 4:4-5; 1 Pet. 1:15), cancelled our sin debt (Col. 2:14), propitiated the Father (Isa. 53:4-6, 10-12; Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and reconciles sinners by grace through faith (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Eph. 2:8-9; Col. 1:19-20).  The result is salvation to those who accept the free gift of eternal life that was accomplished by Jesus.  In the Bible, it is always God who saves the sinner (John 3:16; Tit. 3:5).  It is God who gives the sinner eternal life and imputes to him a righteousness he does not deserve and could never manufacture on his own (John 10:28; Rom. 4:1-6; 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  The sinner never saves himself.  If the sinner could save himself, then Jesus’s death on the cross would not have been necessary.   

The word salvation is used in the Bible to indicate a work of God in behalf of man. In the present dispensation its use is limited to His work for individuals only, and is vouchsafed to them upon one definite condition. Too much emphasis cannot be placed on the fact that now, according to the Bible, salvation is the result of the work of God for the individual, rather than the work of the individual for God, or even the work of the individual for himself. Eventually the one who is saved by the power of God may, after that divine work is accomplished, do “good works” for God; for salvation is said to be “unto good works” (Eph. 2:10) and those who “believed” are to be “careful to maintain good works” (Tit. 3:8). Good works are evidently made possible by salvation; but these good works, which follow salvation, do not add anything to the all-sufficient and perfect saving work of God.[20]

     Salvation is an all-encompassing provision.  It begins and ends with the work of Christ who satisfied God’s righteous character and demands for sin.  It is all that God does for unworthy sinners because Christ was judged in our place.  He atoned for our sin by His shed blood on Calvary.  He paid the redemption price and liberated us from spiritual slavery and an eternal punishment that was surely ours.  He did this freely, in love, and provides salvation by grace to all those who come by faith, trusting in Him alone as Savior. 

Summary

     God is perfectly righteous and cannot approve of sin.  All humanity is under guilt and condemnation because of sin.  We are sinners in Adam, by nature, and by choice.  More so, we are helpless to save ourselves from the slave market of sin into which we were born.  God, in love, did for us what we could not do ourselves.  He satisfied every demand of His righteousness by judging our sin in the substitute of His Son, Jesus, Who came into the world sinless, lived a perfectly righteous life under the Law, and went to the cross as an innocent Man and died in our place, the just for the unjust.  The result is forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the gift of righteousness to those who believe in Jesus as their Savior, trusting that His work on the cross satisfied every righteous demand of the Father.  This blessing to us is an expression of God’s love and based on His grace.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] Merrill Frederick Unger, R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos et al., “Sin” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 1198.

[2] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 1995), 188-189.

[3] Francis Brown, et al, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon, 723.

[4] Ibid., 723.

[5] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Matt. 27:45.

[6] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, 1309.

[7] Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972), 348.

[8] Though reference is here made to Jesus’ humanity, this in no way diminishes His divine nature. Jesus is the God-Man.  He is one Person.  He is eternal God (Isa. 9:6; John 8:56-58), yet He was born of a woman in time and space (Gal. 4:4).  He is omniscient (Ps. 139:1-6), but as a boy, He grew in knowledge (Luke 2:52).  He created the universe (Gen. 1:1; John 1:3; Col. 1:15-16), but as man, He is subject to its weaknesses (Matt. 4:2; John 19:28).  We struggle to comprehend the union of God and Man; however, it is with certainty that the Bible portrays Him this way (John 1:1, 14; 20:28; cf. Luke 1:31-33; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15), and this truth is essential to Christianity.  As God, Jesus is worthy of all worship and praise (Luke 24:51-52; John 9:38; 20:28; Heb. 1:6).  As a perfect sinless Man, He went to the cross and died a substitutionary death in my place (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:6-10; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18), and bore the wrath of God that rightfully belonged to me (Isa. 53:1-12), so that I might have the gifts of righteousness and eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). 

[9] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Rom. 3:24.

[10] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 266.

[11] Ibid., 1079.

[12] Ibid., 117.

[13] Merrill F. Unger, “Redemption,” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago, Ill., Moody Press, 1988), 1068-1069.

[14] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 1252.

[15] Bracketed comments belong in quote.

[16] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation, 333.

[17] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Rom. 3:26.

[18] William Arndt, et al, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 818.

[19] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine, 89.

[20] Lewis S. Chafer, Salvation (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1922), 1.

Christianity is not a Religion

     Religion is man, by his own efforts, seeking to win the approval of God. This is true of all religions (Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, etc.). Biblical Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship with God through the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Most think of Christians as people who seek to do good works for God in order to be saved; but this is wrong. Rather, a Christian is one for whom God has accomplished our salvation through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

     From the biblical perspective, unsaved people are marred by sin and cannot cleanse themselves (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3). Human good and morality has no saving merit before God (Isa. 64:6; Rom. 4:1-5; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Work is necessary for our salvation; however, it is not the works we do for God that save us, but rather, it is ONLY the work of Christ that saves.  Only Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life in the sight of God (Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5) and then died a penal substitutionary death on our behalf, bearing the punishment that rightfully belongs to us (John 3:16; Mark 10:45; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21).  The death of Christ forever satisfied God’s righteous demands toward our sin (Rom. 3:25-26; 1 John 2:2).

     Salvation comes to us as a free gift (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-9), paid in full by the Lord Jesus who bore our sin at the cross (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:18), and who offers us eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28-30), and the gift of righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), by a simple act of faith in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 4:12). When the Philippian jailer asked Paul, “what must I do to be saved?” Paul replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). Believing in Jesus means we look to Christ as our Savior and accept His atoning work on the cross as sufficient to make us acceptable in the sight of God. Once saved, the Christian is called to a life of good works (Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:11-14), but such works are the fruit of salvation and never the cause of it.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

The Gospel in two Minutes

The Gospel Message     The Bible is a big book with lots of information. There is information about God, the origin of the universe, mankind, sin, salvation, Israel, the church, the future, etc. It’s my opinion that a good teacher knows the Bible well enough that he/she can delve into its depths and provide solid biblical answers to life’s biggest questions. However, I also believe a good teacher should be able to condense a lot of information and—without compromising accuracy—give a short answer in plain language (Charles Ryrie has impressed me with his ability to do this very thing). Over the years I’ve worked to take the essentials of the Gospel message and present it quickly and concisely. In one sense, the Gospel can be as simple as 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, John 3:16, or Acts 16:31. However, these verses, as wonderful as they are, do not answer some of the issues that stand behind them. For example:

  • Why did God send His Son into the world?
  • Why did Jesus go to the cross and die?
  • What’s wrong with me that God had to act on my behalf?
  • Is there any way, other than the cross, that I can be reconciled to God?

To answer these—and other issues—I’ve condensed my Gospel presentation down to about two minutes. I’m hoping to make it even more concise in the future. Here’s basically what I communicate:

The gospel is the solution to a problem. There are two parts to the problem. First, God is holy (Psa 99:9; Isa 6:3), which means He is positively righteous and can have nothing to do with sin except to condemn it (Hab 1:13; 1 John 1:5). Second, all mankind is sinful and separated from God (Rom 3:10-23). We are sinners in Adam (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and sinners by choice (Isa 59:2; Jam 1:14-15). To further complicate the problem, we are helpless to solve the sin problem and save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3). Good works have no saving merit before God (Isa 64:6; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). We cannot save ourselves any more than we can jump across the Grand Canyon or throw rocks and hit the moon. But God, because of His mercy and love toward us (John 3:16; Eph 2:3-7), did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He provided a solution to the problem of sin, and that solution is the cross of Christ (1 Cor 1:18). God the Son—the second Person of the Trinity—came into the world by human birth (Luke 1:26-35), lived a perfectly righteous life (Matt 5:17-21; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and willingly died in our place and bore the punishment for our sins. Jesus solved both problems: 1) He lived the righteous life that God demands and committed no sin (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5), and 2) He died for us on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins (Mark 10:45; Rom 5:6-10). The gospel message is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).  Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). In order for us to be reconciled to God, we must simply trust in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), and receive the righteousness of God as a free gift (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message  
  2. Heaven Belongs to Little Children  
  3. Soteriology – The Study of Salvation  
  4. Three Phases of Salvation  
  5. Illumination and the Doctrine of Election  

An Ambassador for Christ

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:18-20)

     An ambassador is an official dignitary who represents the country that sent him into a foreign land, and his message is derived from the sending ruler. The Christian ambassador represents the Lord Jesus Christ who has called and equipped him to speak on His behalf to those outside of Christ’s kingdom (John 18:36; Acts 26:17-18; Col 1:13-14). The Christian message is simple, that God reconciles us to Himself through the cross of Christ (2 Cor 5:18-21; Eph 2:13-16; Col 1:19-20; 1 Pet 3:18), providing us forgiveness for all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:13-14), eternal life (John 10:28), and the gift of righteousness which makes us acceptable to Him (Isa 61:10; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9). 

God does not have to be reconciled to man, because that was accomplished by Christ on the cross. It is sinful man who must be reconciled to God. “Religion” is man’s feeble effort to be reconciled to God, efforts that are bound to fail. The Person who reconciles us to God is Jesus Christ, and the place where He reconciles us is His cross.[1]

paul-preaching     As Christian ambassadors, “we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5). God always goes before us and providentially coordinates our meetings with others, working in their hearts to receive our message (John 16:7-11), and rescuing from Satan’s captivity those who believe the gospel (2 Cor 4:3-4; 2 Tim 2:26). God never forces Himself on anyone, but neither does He leave unpunished those who reject the Christian message (Rev 20:11-15). Those who disregard God’s gracious offer of salvation choose to continue in Satan’s world system (John 15:19; Rom 1:18-25; 1 John 2:15-17), selecting darkness rather than light (John 3:19-20), and choosing the path that leads to eternal destruction (Matt 7:13-14). As heavenly ambassadors we are responsible to present a clear biblical message, and though we may passionately seek to persuade, we are not accountable for how others respond to it.

     As an ambassador of Christ, we are to speak and act with dignity at all times. We are to be clear in speaking God’s truth to people who are made in His image (fallen as they are). We are to point them to Christ that they might turn to Him for salvation and be born again to a new spiritual life (1 Pet 1:3, 23). We are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), “with grace” (Col 4:6), and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15-16). There’s no place for hostility in the Christian life, for “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam 1:20). Scripture tells us:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:24-26). 

     Our behavior should be consistent with the One we claim to represent. Our primary message is, be reconciled to God. Reconciliation occurs when a person turns to Jesus as Savior, believing in Him, and accepting that His death on the cross satisfied all of the Father’s demands for our sin, and that Jesus overcame sin and death by His resurrection (1 Cor 15:3-4). 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 649.

The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53

       It is in the understanding of the suffering and death of Christ that the sinner appreciates God’s great love and the price that was paid for his salvation.  Christ suffered in place of the sinner, bearing the penalty that rightfully belonged to him.  Scripture tells us that “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18a).  Perhaps no section of Scripture in the Old Testament bears greater testimony to this truth than Isaiah 52:13 through 53:12, in which the prophet reveals the Messiah as the suffering Servant.  Isaiah 53 is mentioned eight times in the New Testament as specifically referring to Christ, so that there is no mistake in the minds of the New Testament writers that the passage points to Jesus.

The New Testament writers quote eight specific verses as having been fulfilled in Jesus.  Verse 1 (‘who has believed our message?’) is applied to Jesus by John (12:38).  Matthew sees the statement of verse 4 (‘he took up our infirmities and carried our diseases’) as fulfilled in Jesus’ healing ministry (8:17).  That we have gone astray like sheep (v. 6), but that by his wounds we have been healed (v. 5) are both echoed by Peter (1 Pet. 2:22-25), and so in the same passage are verse 9 (‘nor was any deceit found in his mouth’) and verse 11 (‘he will bear their iniquities’).  Then verses 7 and 8, about Jesus being led like a sheep to the slaughter and being deprived of justice and of life, were the verses the Ethiopian eunuch was reading in his chariot, which prompted Philip to share with him ‘the good news about Jesus’ (Acts 8:30-35).  Thus verses 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11 – eight verses out of the chapter’s twelve – are all quite specifically referred to Jesus.[1]

       Though Isaiah 53 is quoted most often in the New Testament, the section about the suffering Servant actually starts in Isaiah 52:13 and runs through to the end of chapter 53.  Isaiah 52:13-15 appears to provide a summary of chapter 53, albeit in reverse order.  Isaiah 52:13-15 reveals the Lord’s Servant first as successful, and then reveals His suffering and the beneficial results that follow.  Then, in chapter 53, Isaiah reverses the order by first showing the Servant’s suffering in 53:1-9, and then His success and the beneficial results in 53:10-12. 

Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were astonished at you, My people, so His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men. Thus He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand. (Isa. 52:13-15)

       God spoke through His prophet Isaiah and declared, “My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Isa. 52:13).  Christ came as God’s perfect Servant, as the One who always accomplished His will.  A servant is one who faithfully executes the will of another, and Christ perfectly executed the will of God the Father.  When God the Son came into the world and added to Himself perfect humanity, He declared “a body Thou hast prepared for Me” (Heb. 10:5); and once in hypostatic union, declared to His Father, “I have come to do your will” (Heb. 10:9).  Regarding the Father’s will, Jesus stated, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (John 8:29).  On the evening before His crucifixion Jesus declared, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4).  And, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42b).  There has been only one perfect Servant in the history of the human race that has accomplished the will of God the Father in every way, and that is Jesus Christ. 

       The word “prosper” (Heb. sakal) has the idea of success based on prudence.  It is God who declares His Servant a success, because His Servant accomplished His will, His way.  From the world’s perspective, Jesus died as a common criminal, defeated and crucified by Roman soldiers.  From God’s perspective, the cross was a planned and controlled event, as Christ was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23a).  Christ knew He was accomplishing the Father’s will when facing His death, and “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).  The result of Christ’s humble obedience to the Father was that “God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9).  Jesus’ death was an intelligent sacrifice, humbly executed.  As a result of His obedience, “He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Isa. 52:13).

       The Scourging of ChristAfter declaring that God’s Servant will “prosper…be high and lifted up and greatly exalted”, Isaiah then gave a stark contrast by saying, “His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men” (Isa. 52:14).  The word “marred” (Heb. mishchath) means to be disfigured.  Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus endured beatings and a scourging that so radically changed His appearance that had we stood at the foot of the cross and looked up, we would not have recognized Him.  It is reported in the Gospel of Mark that when Jesus was arrested that “Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the officers received Him with slaps in the face” (Mark 14:65).  Jesus then faced a corrupt trial before Pilate and “after having Jesus scourged, he [Pilate] handed Him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).  Jesus was then given to the Roman soldiers for more beatings before finally being nailed to the cross. 

The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. (Mark 15:16-20)

       Jesus’ face was bloody and swollen from His beatings and torn ribbons of flesh hung from His body as a result of the scourging.  However, as brutal as it was, it was not His physical suffering that secured our salvation, but His spiritual suffering, in which He bore the sin of all mankind and died in our place.  It should be remembered that Christ made no sound while being beaten, scourged and nailed to the cross (Isa. 53:7) and that it was not until He was on the cross bearing our sin that He cried out to His Father (Matt. 27:46). 

       The result of Christ’s suffering is that “He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand” (Isa. 52:15).  Here is the work of Christ as Priest, cleansing many as the result of His suffering.  The word “sprinkle” (Heb. nazah) was commonly used in connection with the Jewish priests concerning the consecration of objects and the cleansing of people (Lev. 8:11; 14:7).  Through His suffering, Christ will provide cleansing and consecration to the “nations” (Heb. goyim), which is a reference to the Gentile nations of the world.  “Because of the sacrifice of Christ, we can tell all the nations that forgiveness and redemption are offered free to all who will receive Him (1 Peter 1:1–2).”[2]  The rulers of the earth are silenced at the success of God’s humble Servant.  This will be especially true at His Second Coming when Christ returns to establish His millennial kingdom on earth. 

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isa. 53:1-3)

       Human reason leads to incredulity by those who seek to understand God’s strength through the weakness of His Servant.  God’s thoughts and ways are infinitely higher than the thoughts and ways of men (Isa. 55:8-9), and the wisdom and power of God shines through the frailty of His Servant who surrenders Himself to accomplish His will.  God displays His great power through an unassuming Man, His Servant, who is “like a tender shoot…a root out of parched ground” (Isa. 53:2a).

There is quite a contrast between “the arm of the Lord,” which speaks of mighty power, and “a root out of a dry ground,” which is an image of humiliation and weakness. When God made the universe, He used His fingers (Ps. 8:3); and when He delivered Israel from Egypt, it was by His strong hand (Ex. 13:3). But to save lost sinners, He had to bare His mighty arm! Yet people still refuse to believe this great demonstration of God’s power (Rom. 1:16; John 12:37–40).[3]

       A “root out of dry ground” means Jesus had no sustaining benefit from the soil of His human life.  There was nothing in His environment that benefited or carried Him along from day to day.  Jesus found no nourishment or support socially, politically, or even from His human family; God sustained His Servant by the Holy Spirit and the power of His Word (Matt. 3:16; 4:1-11).  This is true for God’s children today, as the world provides no nourishment or sustaining benefit to the believer.  The Christian is nourished spiritually by God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18), and sustained by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16; Eph. 5:18).

       Isaiah tells us Jesus had “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isa. 53:2b).  It seems from this passage that there was nothing in Jesus’ natural appearance that caused men to see anything exceptional in Him.  He apparently had none of the outward qualities one might expect to see in royalty.  He would never catch your eye if you passed Him on the street.  Scripture reveals Jesus was born in a humble place and His youthful years were spent in the uncultured district of Nazareth (Luke 2:7-16; John 1:46), working in a dusty carpenter’s shop (Matt. 13:55).  His poor cultural and educational background, coupled with his average human features, disqualified Him from advancing into any of the human systems of the time in which He lived, a time that put great stock in one’s appearance and education.  One had to hear His words and see His miracles to comprehend His divine essence.  It was only the eye of faith that revealed this “tender shoot” as God’s special Servant.  There were some who accepted Christ during His time on earth, when He came in hypostatic union; however, He was rejected by the majority of those who heard and saw Him.  The simple teaching of Scripture is that Jesus “was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isa. 53:3).  For the most part, Jesus was met with unbelief and rejection throughout His life, and this is still true today. 

The unbelief that Isaiah here depicts is the same unbelief found all about us today. Men say pleasant and complimentary things about the Lord of Glory. They will praise His ethics, His teaching, declare that He was a good man and a great prophet, the only one who has answers to the social problems that today confront the world. They will not, however, acknowledge that they are sinners, deserving everlasting punishment, and that the death of Christ was a vicarious sacrifice, designed to satisfy the justice of God and to reconcile an offended God to the sinner. Men will not receive what God says concerning His Son. Today also, the Servant is despised and rejected of men, and men do not esteem Him.[4]

       When Christ came into the world, He came into a place of darkness and hostility, and in this place “was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).  Christ “came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).  Jesus came as God’s perfect Light into the world, but “men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19b).  However, the rejection of God’s perfect Servant by evil men did not stop the Savior from dying for their sins, and this is the grace of God. 

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. (Isa. 53:4-6)

       Here, the prophet begins to reveal the idea of substitutionary atonement by stating, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried” (Isa. 53:4).  On the cross, Jesus bore our sins, but here the prophet reveals He bore our griefs and our sorrows, which are the consequences of our sins.  “The emphasis in verses 4–6 is on the plural pronouns: our griefs and sorrows, our iniquities, our transgressions…He did not die because of anything He had done but because of what we had done.”[5]

It should be noted that the consequence of sin and not the sin itself is mentioned. Nevertheless, when it is said that he bore our sicknesses, what is meant is not that he became a fellow sufferer with us, but that he bore the sin that is the cause of the evil consequences, and thus became our substitute.[6]

       What is difficult for some to accept is the fact that Christ suffered by the hand of His Father to satisfy His righteous demands toward the guilt of our sin.  Isaiah declares “yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isa. 53:4).  God the Father struck Jesus Christ while He was on the cross with the blows of punishment that rightfully belonged to us. 

When the Servant bore the guilt of our sins, we are saying that he bore the punishment that was due to us because of those sins, and that is to say that he was our substitute. His punishment was vicarious. Because we had transgressed, he was pierced to death; and being pierced and crushed was the punishment that he bore in our stead.[7]

       Isaiah then tells us that “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isa. 53:4b, 5).  The healing here is primarily spiritual, restoring a broken relationship that has been fractured by sin.  The suffering of Christ healed our relationship with the Father, as His death is the basis for the forgiveness of our sins (Eph. 1:7).  The substitutionary death of Christ, that brings glory to God and saves sinners, is a revelation from heaven and not an invention of man.  Paul tells his readers that “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). 

       Isaiah speaks of Israel and all humanity when he says, “all of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6a).  Each of us has failed God; but Christ, God’s sinless Servant, is the only One who has ever perfectly executed His will in everything.  God could have easily judged and condemned us all and been absolutely justified in His actions.  However, God loves us greatly, and so “the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isa. 53:6b).  Here is righteousness and love on display at the same time.  In righteousness, God judged all our sin in Christ while He was on the cross.  In love, God offers complete forgiveness and reconciliation to those who are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-9).  God perfectly deals with sin and seeks to reconcile the sinner, and this is done through the substitutionary death of His Servant who died on the cross in our place.  We deserve God’s wrath but have been shown great mercy through the vicarious and voluntary atoning work of His Son, in whom “the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isa. 53:6b).  While on the cross, Christ absorbed God’s wrath that belonged to us, so that “the iniquity of which we are guilty does not come back to us to meet and strike us as we might rightly expect, but rather strikes him in our stead.”[8]  This is great grace! 

Sin is serious. The prophet calls it transgression, which means rebellion against God, daring to cross the line that God has drawn (Isa. 53:5, 8). He also calls it iniquity, which refers to the crookedness of our sinful nature (vv. 5–6). In other words, we are sinners by choice and by nature. Like sheep, we are born with a nature that prompts us to go astray; and, like sheep, we foolishly decide to go our own way. By nature, we are born children of wrath (Eph. 2:3); and by choice, we become children of disobedience (2:2). Under the Law of Moses, the sheep died for the shepherd; but under grace, the Good Shepherd died for the sheep (John 10:1–18).[9]

       God’s righteousness and love simultaneously intersect at the cross.  In perfect righteousness God the Father judged our sins completely in His Servant who willingly died in our place.  In love, God now offers perfect salvation to sinners who deserve only death, and this free gift of eternal life is based on the finished work of Christ who died in our place. 

We were sick unto death because of our sins; but He, the sinless one, took upon Himself a suffering unto death, which was, as it were, the concentration and essence of the woes that we had deserved; and this voluntary endurance, this submission to the justice of the Holy One, in accordance with the counsels of divine love, became the source of our healing.[10]

       The matter of our sin is resolved by the suffering of Christ at the cross.  Jesus paid the price for our sin, and now we can come to God and accept His free gift of eternal life by grace alone through faith alone.  God, who is satisfied with Christ’s death regarding our sin, has opened the gates of heaven to accept sinners as His children.  This is all made possible because of the work of Christ on the cross who suffered for our sin. 

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. 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 for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. (Isa. 53:7-9)

       Jesus made no effort to rescue Himself from those who illegally tried Him, beat Him, and nailed Him to the cross.  Jesus had already appealed to the supreme court of heaven, asking, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).  There was nothing for Jesus to say to His judges and attackers, for He knew it was His Father’s will for Him to go to the cross and die.  Jesus declared, “the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).

Jesus Christ was silent before those who accused Him as well as those who afflicted Him. He was silent before Caiaphas (Matt. 26:62–63), the chief priests and elders (27:12), Pilate (27:14; John 19:9) and Herod Antipas (Luke 23:9). He did not speak when the soldiers mocked Him and beat Him (1 Peter 2:21–23).[11]

       Faced with illegal trials and severe beatings, Isaiah reveals that it was by “oppression and judgment” that Jesus was “taken away” and put to death (Isa. 53:8a).  And, after Jesus was put to death between two criminals, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth” (Isa. 53:9). 

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors. (Isa. 53:10-12)

       Jesus nailed to CrossThe language is plain, “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering” (Isa. 53:10a).  God must punish sin as His righteousness requires, before He can save the sinner as His love desires.  It was the Father’s will for the Son to go to the cross to die for sinners, but we must also realize that Christ willingly went to His death and bore the Father’s wrath in our place.  It is simultaneously true that God sent and Christ went.  Christ was willing to be put to death in our place, for the Scripture declares “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2).  Jesus said “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18).  Several times the Scripture states that Christ offered Himself up to the Father as a willing sacrifice.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (Eph. 5:25)

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Gal. 2:20)

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. (Heb. 7:26-27)

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:13-14)

       Christ was not forced upon the cross, but willingly, through love, surrendered His life and died in our place.  And, as a result of bearing the sin of many, “He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand” (Isa. 53:10b).  When Isaiah says “He will see His offspring”, it means that Christ’s death will bear the fruit of spiritual offspring as people turn to Him as Savior and are born again (cf. John 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23).  Christ was resurrected, never to die again, therefore, “He will prolong His days” (cf. Acts 2:30-32; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).  The “good pleasure of the LORD” most likely speaks of heaven’s prosperity that will be known to those whom Christ will justify and who will share in His riches and heavenly estate (John 14:1-3; 1 Pet. 1:3-4).

       “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11a).  Satisfaction through suffering is the message of Isaiah 53:11.  Isaiah reveals that “by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:11b).  Peter also reveals the doctrine of substitution when he states “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).  It is always important to keep clear in our thinking that Christ bore our sin as well as the penalty for our sin, but this did not make Him a sinner.  On the other hand, sinners are declared righteous in God’s eyes because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them at the moment of salvation.  God gives us the gift of perfect righteousness at the moment we trust Christ as our Savior.  This is what Paul meant when he stated, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).  Paul understood the doctrine of substitution, that Christ died in the place of sinners and that sinners are declared righteous because of the work of Christ credited to their account.  This explains Paul’s words when he expressed his desire to “be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9). 

When the servant bears the iniquities of the many and has been punished for the guilt of these iniquities, the act of bearing the iniquities in itself has not changed the character of those whose iniquities are borne. When the iniquities are borne, i.e. when the guilt those iniquities involved has been punished, the servant may declare that the many stand in right relationship with God. Their iniquities will no longer be able to rise up and accuse them, for the guilt of those iniquities has been punished. Thus, they are justified. They are declared to be righteous, for they have received the righteousness of the servant and they are received and accepted by God Himself. Of them God says that they no longer have iniquities, but they do have the righteousness of the servant. This can only be a forensic justification.[12]

       Justification by imputation is always a matter of grace.  The sinner is declared righteous in the eyes of God, not because of any works which he has performed, but because of the work of Jesus Christ who has died in his place.  God’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner at the moment of salvation, and Paul states this with absolute clarity when he says:

Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation [Grk. hilasterion – i.e. a sacrifice that brings satisfaction] in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:24-26)

       Paul states at another point, “the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5).  It is Christ’s death that secures our so great salvation. 

Grace is love that has paid a price, and sinners are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8–10). Justice can only condemn the wicked and justify the righteous (1 Kings 8:32), but grace justifies the ungodly when they trust Jesus Christ! (Isa. 53:11; Rom. 4:5) To justify means “to declare righteous.” He took our sins that we might receive the gift of His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:17). Justification means that God declares believing sinners righteous in Christ and never again keeps a record of their sins. (See Ps. 32:1–2 and Rom. 4:1–8)[13]

       As a result of Christ’s victory at the cross, the Father speaks of reward, saying, “I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong” (Isa. 53:12a).  Christ is the champion, and He will divide the spoils of war, in which He has overcome sin and death and become the Savior of many.  His victory came “because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12b).  Here is victory in death; victory at the cross. 

       If we had stood at the trials of Jesus, seen His beatings, seen His crucifixion and sat at the foot of the cross, surely we would weep at the injustice and inhumanity of it all.  However, the Scripture reveals that it was the will of God that Christ go to the cross and die for sinners (Acts 2:23; 4:28), for His death is an atoning sacrifice that satisfied every righteous demand of the Father (Rom. 3:25; 1 Jo. 2:2).  As stated previously, the Father sent, and Christ went.  In the willing death of Christ, we have the Father’s righteous anger displayed toward our sin as well as His love toward us, the sinner, whom He seeks to save. 

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Rom. 5:6-10)

       There is a purpose to the suffering of Christ.  He suffered that we might have eternal life.  His substitutionary death propitiated the Father’s righteous anger toward our sin and now we can come to God with the empty hands of faith and receive the free gift of eternal life and be clothed in perfect righteousness.  This was accomplished while were helpless, ungodly, sinners and enemies of God (Rom. 5:6-10).  God graciously acted toward us to reconcile us to Himself, and this was accomplished through the suffering of the cross. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

This article is an excerpt from my book, Suffering: A Biblical Consideration

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, Ill. Intervarsity Press, 1986), 145.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, An Old Testament study (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996), 134.

[3] Ibid., 135.

[4] Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, Mich., W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 344.

[5] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 136.

[6] Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 3, 346.

[7] Ibid., 348.

[8] Ibid., 350.

[9] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 137.

[10] C. F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, Isaiah, Vol. 7, trans. James Martin, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, Mass., Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 510.

[11] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 137-138.

[12] Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 3, 358.

[13] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 140.

Heaven Belongs to Little Children

     Heaven belongs to little children.  Jesus’ disciples did not always understand this, and on one occasion they tried to prevent children from coming to Him for prayer (Matt. 19:13).  But Jesus corrected them saying, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14).  Jesus welcomed little children, and was welcomed by them; and I think this says something about the Person of Jesus.  Little children are transparent and trusting with adults, and we must be the same with the Lord Jesus.  

       One goes to heaven by believing the gospel message that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  However, the command to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation presupposes intelligence and the ability to exercise one’s volition.  Children and those who are mentally disabled lack the intellectual and volitional capacity to make a decision for or against Christ; therefore, they are not held accountable for sin (see my article on The Gospel). 

In the Bible, infants, little children, and others who cannot believe are neither told to believe nor expected to do so.  They are not classified as wicked evildoers and rejecters of God’s grace.  It is always adults who are addressed, either directly or indirectly, regarding these matters.  Because the Bible has so much to say about those who cannot believe and yet says nothing about their being eternally separated from God because of their inability, we conclude that they have heaven as their home.  They die safely in the arms of Jesus.[1] 

       King David had a son who became sick to the point of death (2 Sam. 12:1-15), and David “inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground” (2 Sam. 12:16).  However, after seven days the child died and David learned of the difficult news (2 Sam. 12:18).  Afterward, David got up and washed and changed his clothes and ate food and revived himself (2 Sam. 12:19-20).  David’s servants were somewhat surprised by his quick recovery and asked, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food” (2 Sam 12:21).  David said:

While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me. (2 Sam. 12:22-23)

       While the child was alive, David prayed to God to be gracious, “that the child may live.”  However, after the child died, David expressed optimism by saying, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”  I am convinced David was thinking of heaven, where he knew his infant son had gone.

Life after death was a certainty for David.  That he would be with his son again in the future was his firm belief.  He never doubted that fact for a moment.  David was rightly related to the Lord, and he did not question that he would spend eternity with Him.  Nor did he have any doubt that his infant son, taken in death before he could decide for or against his father’s God, would be there also.[2]

       The death of a child can be a difficult experience.  I know friends and family who have had babies and little children die, and they need to know that heaven belongs to little children.  They need to know their little babies are safe in the arms of Jesus.  

A portion of this article is an except from my book – The Cross of Christ: Sufficient to Save

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.


[1] Robert P. Lightner, Safe in the Arms of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 2000), 15-16.

[2] Ibid., 55.

The Gospel

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel [εὐαγγέλιον euaggelion – good news message] which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Cor. 15:1-4)

       God’s gospel message is simple in its presentation (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  It is a message of love and grace (John 3:16-17; Eph. 2:8-9).  It centers at the cross where Jesus died for all our sins (1 Cor. 1:18, 21; 15:3-4; Col. 2:13-14; 1 Pet. 2:24).  The gospel message only makes sense when we understand that God is holy, all mankind is sinful, and that Jesus necessarily died as our substitute.  God’s holiness means He is positively righteous and completely set apart from sin (Ps. 99:9; 1 Pet. 1:14-16).  Because God is holy, He cannot have anything to do with sin except to condemn it.  The Scripture states, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13), and “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).  

       The gospel is the solution to a problem; it is the good news that follows the bad news.  The bad news-problem is sin, which according to Scripture is a threefold problem: first and foremost is Adam’s original sin which is charged to every person (Rom. 5:12, 18-19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), second is the sin nature which is the source of the rebellious heart (Rom. 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and lastly is the personal sin each person produces every time he/she yields to temptation (Jam. 1:14-15).  Sin brings death and separation from God (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 5:12), both in time and in eternity (Rev. 20:11-15).  Because of sin, every person is spiritually dead and powerless to change their situation (Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1).  All people are helpless to save themselves, and good works are worthless in God’s sight (Isa. 64:6; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.(Eph. 2:8-9)

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit(Tit. 3:5)

       The good news-solution is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).   This is substitutionary atonement.  Jesus died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Rom. 5:6-10).  The gospel teaches that Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for our sin in order to satisfy God’s holiness (Rom. 3:25; 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13).   Jesus “is the propitiation [ἱλασμός hilasmos – satisfaction] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. Rom. 3:25; 1 John 4:10).  Jesus paid the redemption price for our sins (Rom. 3:24), and offers us eternal life if we’ll trust Christ as our Savior (John 3:16-17).  When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), positionally identified with Him (Rom. 5:14-18; 1 Cor. 15:22), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), given the gift of God’s righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9), and have the power to live righteously (Rom. 6:1-13).  God saves from the penalty of sin (Jo. 5:24; Rom. 6:23; 8:1), the power of sin (Rom. 6:11; 8:13; 2 Cor. 5:17), and ultimately the presence of sin (Phil. 3:21; 1 Jo. 3:2).

       Salvation is never what we do for God, but rather what He has done for us by sending His Son to die in our place and bear the wrath for sin that was due to us (Isa. 53).  We are helpless to save ourselves because we are completely crippled by sin (Rom. 5:6-10; 6:23; Eph. 2:1); therefore, salvation comes to us only as a free gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24).  Jesus paid the price for our sin, and we need only to trust Him for salvation (John 3:16, 20:31; Rom. 3:25).  We do not earn or deserve salvation.  Salvation is completely the work of God, and those saved are the recipients of His grace (Eph. 2:8-10; Tit. 3:5). 

       Salvation is said to be “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8), “according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9), and “according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5).  God has prepared good works to follow our salvation (Eph. 2:10), but they are never the condition of it (Acts 16:30-31; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5).  The matter is simple: Salvation comes to those who believe in Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; 20:31; Acts 16:30-31). 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Soteriology – The Study of Salvation

And there is salvation [Grk. noun = σωτηρία soteria] in no one else; for there is no other name [other than Jesus] under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved [Grk. verb = σῴζω sozo]. (Acts 4:12)

Soteriology     The word soteriology comes from two Greek words: σωτήρ soter which means savior, deliverer, preserver[1] and λόγος logos, which means word, statement or speech, but in English means the study of.  Soteriology, then, is the study of salvation as it has been revealed in Scripture. The most common word for salvation in the Hebrew OT is יָשַׁע yasha (sometimes as יְשׁוּעָה yeshuah) which means “deliverance, rescue, salvation, also safety, [and] welfare.[2] Salvation in the OT was primarily physical, as one might be delivered from an enemy in battle or from a plague (2 Sam 22:3-4; 1 Ch 16:23, 35; Job 5:4, 11; Psa 3:6-8; 44:4-8; 85:7, 9; 89:26; Isa 17:10; 45:8; Mic 7:7). Charles Ryrie comments:

The most important Hebrew root word related to salvation in the Old Testament is yasha. Originally it meant to be roomy or broad in contrast to narrowness or oppression. Thus it signifies freedom from what binds or restricts, and it came to mean deliverance, liberation, or giving width and breadth to something…Faith was the necessary condition for salvation in the Old Testament as well as in the New. Abraham believed in the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him for righteousness (Gen 15:6).[3]

The NT writers primarily use the following Greek words:

  1. σῴζω sozo (verb) refers to the act of physical deliverance in some biblical passages (Matt 8:25; 14:30; Mark 13:20; Luke 6:9; John 11:12; Acts 27:20, 31), and spiritual deliverance in others (Luke 7:50; 19:10; John 12:47; 1 Cor 1:21; Tit 3:5). As to our spiritual deliverance, we are saved from the penalty of sin (Rom 5:16; 8:1, 33-34; Eph 2:8-9), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; Col 3:5), and ultimately the presence of sin (1 John 3:2, 5).
  2. σωτήρ soter (noun) means Savior, and refers to the agent of salvation, the one who rescues or delivers another from harm or danger (Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Eph 5:23; Phil 3:20). This refers to the agent of salvation.
  3. σωτηρία soteria (noun) refers to the provision of salvation, rescue, or deliverance brought by another (Luke 1:69; 19:9; John 4:22; Acts 7:25; 13:26, 47; Rom 1:16; 2 Cor 1:6; 6:2; Eph 1:13; Phil 1:28; 2:12; 2 Tim 2:10; Heb 1:14; 9:28; 1 Pet 1:5, 9; 2 Pet 3:15).

Most often, when people think of salvation, they think of deliverance from the Lake of Fire and spending eternity in heaven. This is certainly taught, but is by far the minority usage of both the Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible. Lewis Sperry Chafer comments:

As to the meaning of the word salvation, the Old and New Testaments are much alike. The word communicates the thought of deliverance, safety, preservation, soundness, restoration, and healing; but though so wide a range of human experience is expressed by the word salvation, its specific, major use is to denote a work of God in behalf of man.[4]

The majority of usages of salvation in the NT refer to physical healing or deliverance from what injures, restricts, or threatens harm. For example, when Jesus was traveling between Samaria and Galilee, He healed ten men of leprosy (Luke 17:11-14), and when one of them returned to thank Jesus (Luke 17:15-16), He told the man, “your faith has made you well [σῴζω sozo]” (Luke 17:19). Here, the Greek verb refers to physical deliverance. On another occasion, when Jesus was approaching the city of Jericho, a blind man called out for Jesus to have mercy on him (Luke 18:35-41), and Jesus healed the man, saying, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well [σῴζω sozo]” (Luke 18:42). Again, this refers to physical healing. An example of deliverance from physical danger is observed in the account where Jesus came to His disciples when they were on a stormy sea (Matt 14:22-27). When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, he called out to the Lord and asked to come to Him (Matt 14:28-29). However, as Peter was walking on the water, He took his eyes off Jesus and began looking at the stormy wind, and “he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me! [σῴζω sozo]’” (Matt 14:30). Peter was not asking for forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life; rather, he was asking Jesus to save him from physical harm as he sunk into the sea. And Jesus did save him (Matt 14:31).

What about spiritual deliverance? Spiritual deliverance means we are rescued from Satan’s power and domain, where we are all “held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:26). At the moment of faith in Christ, we are “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). This deliverance means we are saved from the penalty of sin (Rom 5:16; 8:1, 33-34; Eph 2:8-9). But the Bible also teaches we are saved the power of sin (Rom 6:11; Col 3:5), and will ultimately from the presence of sin (1 John 3:2, 5). These concepts are sometimes referred to as our justification, sanctification and glorification. Justification-salvation means we are forever justified in God’s sight because Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for our sin (Mark 10:45; Heb 10:10-14) and imputes His righteousness to us (2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). This justification comes “as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). In this case, God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). Because we are justified by God, we will never face condemnation (Rom 8:1). Our glorification-salvation means we are saved from the presence of sin, and this occurs when we leave this world and are forever located in heaven (1 Cor 15:50-53; 1 John 3:2, 5). I mention justification-salvation and glorification-salvation together because they are monergistic (a work of one), meaning God alone accomplishes both, completely apart from our efforts. Though our justification-salvation and glorification-salvation happen at a moment in time and are monergistic, our sanctification-salvation occurs over our lifetime and is synergistic (a work of two or more). Being synergistic, our sanctification-salvation means we must make good choices to learn His Word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17), rely on the holy Spirit (Gal 5:16; Eph 5:18), walk in His will (Eph 2:10; 4:1-3; 5:8-10), and grow spiritually (Eph 4:11-16; 1 Pet 2:2). When we do this, we not only live the best life we can possibly live—one marked by truth, love and selflessness—we also store up for ourselves treasures in heaven which we will enjoy for all eternity (Matt 6:19-21).

So, how do we start this wonderful journey? We start by believing the gospel message that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). We trust in Jesus who died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col. 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), and receive the righteousness of God as a free gift (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). At this moment we have relational-peace with God (Rom 5:1). Once saved, we know our future is bright and that heaven is guaranteed as our final resting place (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor 15:50-54; 2 Cor 5:8). Lastly, God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3), which means He has provided us with a portfolio of spiritual assets that enables us to live righteously for Him (Rom 6:11-14; Tit 2:11-14). This grace provision enables us to be saved from the power of sin. Won’t you start this wonderful journey by trusting in Christ as your Savior today?

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., rev. and ed. Fredrick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 985.

[2] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 447.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1999), 321.

[4] Lewis S. Chafer, “Soteriology” Bibliotheca Sacra, 109 (1945): 11-12.

I am a sinner

       I am a sinner.  If you don’t know that about me, then you don’t really know me.  I am a sinner by birth (Rom. 5:12-18; Ps. 51:5), by nature (Rom. 7:19-21; Eph. 2:3), and by choice (1 Kings 8:46; Rom. 3:9-18).  You are a sinner.  If you don’t know that about yourself, then you don’t really know yourself.  God loves sinners.  If you don’t know that about God, then you don’t really know God. 

I am a sinner. 

God loves sinners. 

God loves me.   

       How does God love me?  The Bible says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  This is Good News.  God sent His Son into the world to die in my place and bear the punishment for my sin that rightfully belonged to me.  Peter declares, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18a), and Paul says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).  Salvation is simple for us, because Christ paid for all our sins at the cross.  The apostle Paul states, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  This is God’s grace.  We don’t deserve this.  We can never earn this.  All of us are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).  What good news!  Christ has born all our sin and given to us the gift of salvation!  And God did this for us while we were sinners, unlovely, and hostile toward Him (Rom. 5:6-10).  Paul says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5).  That’s good news!

I am a sinner.

Christ died for sinners.

Christ died for me.

       God has made a way whereby sinners can come to Him through the cross of Christ and receive forgiveness of sins (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Eph. 1:7), eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28), and the gift of righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  John writes in his Gospel, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16).  To believe in Christ means we trust Him to save us.  We dare not look to ourselves or our human works in any way, but we rely on Him alone and His atoning work on the cross as sufficient to save us.  Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).  And Peter states, “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Act 4:12).  Salvation is simple for us, because Christ paid for all our sins at the cross and there is nothing more for us to pay.  This is God’s grace.  John writes that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).  Jesus death on the cross satisfied every righteous demand of God the father, and there’s nothing more we can pay.  Jesus paid it all.  It’s pure grace.

       There are some who may want to do good works to be saved, but good works can never save.  Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone.  There were some who came to Jesus and asked, ‘“What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent”’ (John 6:28-29).  Good works should follow salvation, but they are never the condition of it.  It is the will of God that we believe in Jesus for salvation.  Jesus declared, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 6:40).  And when the Philippian Jail asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).  He was met with the simple answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).  Salvation is always by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Paul declares, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9).  How are we saved?  It’s simple…“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Three Phases of Salvation

       Once a person is born again, he is saved from the penalty of sin (Rom. 8:1; Eph. 2:5, 8), the power of sin (Rom. 6:11-14), and will ultimately be saved from the presence of sin when God takes him to heaven and gives him a new body like the body of Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21).  This truth is related to the three phases of salvation: justification, sanctification, and glorification

       Justification is the instantaneous act of God whereby He forgives the sinner of all sins—past, present and future—and declares him perfectly righteous in His sight.  Justification is predicated on “the gift of righteousness” that God freely imputes to the believer at the moment of salvation (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  Justification before a holy God is possible solely on the grounds that Christ has borne every sin committed by the sinner (Heb. 10:10-14; 1 Pet. 3:18), and as an act of pure grace freely imputes His perfect righteousness to him (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9; 1 John 2:2).  Justification is always by grace and never by works, as the sinner is, “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). 

       Sanctification is the process whereby the believer moves from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity over time as he learns God’s Word and makes good choices to live God’s will (Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:14-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  The Christian who advances to spiritual maturity does so only in the power of the Holy Spirit and on the basis of God’s Word daily learned and applied (Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  Sanctification is never instantaneous but is ongoing until the Christian leaves this world and goes to heaven. 

       Glorification is the final phase of the believer’s salvation experience and occurs when he leaves this world, either by death or by rapture, and enters into the presence of God in heaven (Rom. 8:17-18).  The Christian never achieves sinless perfection until he is glorified in heaven, at which time his sin nature is removed and he is given a perfect body (Phil. 3:20-21).  Regarding these biblical truths, Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer has written:Lewis Sperry Chafer

Much of the whole divine undertaking in salvation is accomplished in the saved one at the moment he exercises saving faith. So, also, some portions of this work are in the form of a process of transformation after the first work is wholly accomplished. And, again, there is a phase of the divine undertaking which is revealed as consummating the whole work of God at the moment of its completion. This last aspect of salvation is wholly future. Salvation, then, in the present dispensation, may be considered in three tenses as it is revealed in the Scriptures: the past, or that part of the work which already is wholly accomplished in and for the one who has believed; the present, or that which is now being accomplished in and for the one who has believed; and the future, or that which will be accomplished to complete the work of God in and for the one who has believed.[1]

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.


[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Salvation (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1922), 2-3.

Christ to the Cross – Steven R. Cook

Jesus nailed to Cross

Christ to the Cross ©

I and the Father led Christ to the cross,
Together we placed Him there;
I pushed Him forward, no care for the cost,
His Father’s wrath to bear.
Christ in the middle not wanting to die,
Knelt in the garden and prayed;
Great tears of blood the Savior did cry,
Yet His Father He humbly obeyed.

So He carried His cross down a dusty trail,
No words on His lips were found;
No cry was uttered as I drove the nails,
His arms to the cross were bound.
I lifted my Savior with arms spread wide,
He hung between heaven and earth;
I raised my spear and pierced His side,
What flowed was of infinite worth.

Like a Lamb to the altar Christ did go,
A sacrifice without blemish or spot;
A knife was raised, and life did flow,
In a basin the blood was caught.
Past the incense table and the dark black veil,
To that holy of holy places;
The blood of Christ was made to avail,
And all my sins it erases.

Now this Lamb on a cross was a demonstration
Of the Father’s love for me;
For the Savior’s death brought satisfaction,
Redeemed, and set me free.
Now I come to the Savior by faith alone,
Not trusting in works at all;
Jesus my substitute for sin did atone,
Salvation in answer to His call.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.
May, 2006

Christ to the Cross

The Raising of the Cross     The Raising of the Cross was painted by Rembrandt sometime around A.D. 1633.  In the painting the artist portrayed himself as one among many who placed Christ on the cross to bear the sin of all mankind.  You can see Rembrandt in the center of the painting wearing his painter’s hat.  Rembrandt is telling everyone that it was his sin that sent Christ to the cross, and that it was his hands that lifted Him up to die.  There is a richness of Christian theology in the painting. 

       I understand what Rembrandt is communicating in the picture.  It speaks for itself.  More so, I personally identify with the artist, because I see my hands raising the cross of Christ.  I too am guilty of the sin that put Him there to die in my place.  The cross of Christ is essential to  the gospel message of Christianity (1 Cor. 1:17-18; 15:3-4), and every Christian who believes in Jesus as Savior—at some point in his learning—must see himself at the cross, for Scripture declares, “we died with Him” (2 Tim. 2:11; cf. Col. 2:20). 

       When we think about Jesus, we know from Scripture that He is simultaneously the eternal Son of God and true humanity.  At a point in time, the eternal Son of God took upon Himself sinless humanity and walked among men (John 1:1, 14, 18).  In theology, this is called the doctrine of the hypostatic union.  Though He is fully God, we must always keep His perfect humanity in our thinking as well.  While in the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before the crucifixion, it was the humanity of Christ that struggled to face the cross.  In the Garden, Jesus “fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Matt. 26:39).  Jesus went to the cross as His Father willed.  When we think about the cross, we realize that it was not Jesus’ deity that died for our sins, but His humanity, as Peter tells us, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24).  Peter’s reference to “His body” speaks of the humanity of Jesus. 

       Concerning the death of Christ on the cross, The Bible reveals it was simultaneously an act of God as well as sinful men.  When delivering his sermon about the crucifixion of Jesus in Acts chapter 2, Peter declared, “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23).  In one verse, Peter captures the coalescence of divine and human wills that participated in putting Christ on the cross.  On the divine side, Jesus was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God”, and on the human side, He was “nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men [who] put Him to death.”  Jesus was not a helpless victim, torn between the will of God and sinful men, but a willing sacrifice who chose to lay down His life for the salvation of others.  The prophet Isaiah declares:

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. (Isa. 53:10-11)

       The language is plain, “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering” (Isa. 53:10a).  God punishes sin as His righteousness requires, and saves the sinner as His love desires.  It is simultaneously true that God sent and Christ went.  Christ was willing to be put to death in our place, for the Scripture declares “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2).  Jesus said “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18).  Other passages in Scripture clearly reveal that Christ went to the cross willingly and laid down His life for our benefit (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25; Heb. 7:27; 9:14).  Jesus was punished in our place so that we might have forgiveness of sins and the gifts of eternal life and righteousness (John 3:16; 10:27-28; Eph. 1:7; 2:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:21; Philip. 3:9; 1 Pet. 3:18). 

       We must not see Christ dying at a distant time or place.  Like Rembrandt, we must see ourselves at the place where Christ died.  We should see our hands driving the nails and lifting the cross.  We must see Jesus bearing all our sin, and paying the penalty of the Father’s wrath that rightfully belongs to us.  Afterward, we must see ourselves risen with Him into newness of life.  In May, 2006, while taking a seminary class on the Atonement with Dr. Paige Patterson, I wrote a poem and tried to capture in words what Rembrandt captured in his painting. 

Christ to the Cross ©

I and the Father led Christ to the cross,
Together we placed Him there;
I pushed Him forward, no care for the cost,
His Father’s wrath to bear.
Christ in the middle not wanting to die,
Knelt in the garden and prayed;
Great tears of blood the Savior did cry,
Yet His Father He humbly obeyed.

So He carried His cross down a dusty trail,
No words on His lips were found;
No cry was uttered as I drove the nails,
His arms to the cross were bound.
I lifted my Savior with arms spread wide,
He hung between heaven and earth;
I raised my spear and pierced His side,
What flowed was of infinite worth.

Like a Lamb to the altar Christ did go,
A sacrifice without blemish or spot;
A knife was raised, and life did flow,
In a basin the blood was caught.
Past the incense table and the dark black veil,
To that holy of holy places;
The blood of Christ was made to avail,
And all my sins it erases.

Now this Lamb on a cross was a demonstration
Of the Father’s love for me;
For the Savior’s death brought satisfaction,
Redeemed, and set me free.
Now I come to the Savior by faith alone,
Not trusting in works at all;
Jesus my substitute for sin did atone,
Salvation in answer to His call.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Saved by God’s Grace

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Rom 4:4-5)

      Good works do not justify us before God.  They never have and they never will.  Justification before God is a free gift to the ungodly person who simply believes in Jesus for salvation.  I know that sounds outrageous; but the biblical teaching is that God takes the ungodly sinner and declares him completely justified in His sight for no other reason than that he comes with the empty hands of faith and trusts in Jesus as his Savior.  We don’t deserve salvation.  We don’t earn salvation.  It’s completely by God’s grace, and is paid in full by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Every sinner is “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

       In Scripture we learn that God is holy (Ps. 99:9; 1 Pet. 1:14-16).  Being holy means God is positively righteous and completely set apart from sin.  The Scripture states, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13).  God can only do one thing with sin, and that is condemn it.  The Bible teaches substitutionary atonement.  It teaches that Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for our sin.  He died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).  He paid the redemption price for our sins, and we need only come to Him by faith alone, trusting that His death forever satisfies God’s righteous demands for our sin.  Scripture declares that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. Rom. 3:25; 1 John 4:10).  That’s wonderful grace!  

       The gospel is the good news that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  The biblical reality is that without Christ every person is spiritually dead, under the penalty of sin, and powerless to change their situation (Rom. 5:6-12; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 2:1-3).  The person who rejects Christ as Savior will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire, forever separated from God (John 3:18; 36; Rev. 20:11-15).  The person who believes in Christ as Savior will spend eternity in heaven with God (John 3:16; 14:1-6; Acts 16:31).  Salvation is completely the work of God, and those saved are the recipients of His grace (Eph. 2:8-10; Tit. 3:5).  The salvation provided by God saves from the penalty of sin (Jo. 5:24; Rom. 6:23; 8:1), the power of sin (Rom. 6:11; 8:13; 2 Cor. 5:17), and ultimately the presence of sin (Phil. 3:21; 1 Jo. 3:2).  Once saved, the believer is in Christ and given the gift of righteousness, eternal life, and declared justified before God.  

John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

John 10:27-28  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.

       Salvation is never what we do for God, but rather what God has done for us by sending His Son to die in our place and bear the wrath for sin that was due to us (Isa. 53).  We are helpless to save ourselves because we are damaged by sin (Rom. 5:12; 6:23); therefore, salvation comes to us only as a free gift from God (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).  Jesus paid the price for our sin, and we need only to trust Him for salvation (John 3:16, 20:31; Rom. 3:25; 5:8).  We do not earn or deserve salvation.  Human works are completely excluded from salvation altogether.  Salvation is said to be “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8), “according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9), and “according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:5).  God has prepared good works to follow our salvation (Eph. 2:10), but they are never the condition of it (Acts 16:30-31; Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:5). 

       Too often people ask “how can a loving God send someone to the lake of fire?”  The real question is “how can a righteous God allow a rotten sinner into heaven?”  The answer is simple: because God accepts as perfect the person who trusts in Jesus alone for salvation (Rom. 10:3-4; Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:8-9).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

 

God’s Great Grace

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

     Grace (Grk. charis) is the underserved kindness or favor one person shows to another.  It is “that which one grants to another, the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.”[1]  God was in no way forced to provide salvation for sinners, though He was motivated by His great love to do so (John 3:16).  For God, “being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph. 2:4-5).

Speaking first of His mercy, it is defined as that compassion in God which moved Him to provide a Savior for the lost.  If He had been able to save even one soul on the basis of His sovereign mercy alone, He could have saved every person on that basis and the death of Christ would have been rendered unnecessary.  As for divine love, it is an emotion of infinite character, the motivating purpose back of all that God does in saving a soul.  But since God is holy and righteous too and the sinner’s sins are an offense to Him, He might perfectly desire to save a soul and still be utterly helpless to do so in the light of the claims which divine righteousness make against the sinner.  Not until those claims are met can God’s infinite love realize its desire.[2]

       God loves sinners, but He can only be gracious to them because His righteous demands against sin have forever been satisfied by the cross of Christ (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8).  Theologically, it can be said that “grace is what God may be free to do and indeed what He does accordingly for the lost after Christ has died on behalf of them.”[3]  Because Christ has borne all sin and paid the penalty that was due to the sinner, God is now free to show infinite grace to the worst of sinners and offer them not only eternal salvation, but also bestow the greatest spiritual blessings of time and eternity (Eph. 1:3).  The wondrous cross of Christ has made it possible for the worst of sinners to be “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

       We must be careful that we do not see God acting graciously toward sinners independently of the cross, for that would be dishonoring to Him and all He did for us through the death of His Son.  The perfect satisfaction of His righteous demands against sin had to occur before the display of His infinite grace toward sinners could be manifest.  For “since God is holy and righteous, and sin is a complete offense to Him, His love or mercy cannot operate in grace until there is provided a sufficient satisfaction for sin.”[4]  Christ’s death on the cross satisfied God’s righteous demands toward sin; therefore, grace can be shown towards sinners who do not deserve it.

       Having met the demands of God’s perfect righteousness for sin, the cross of Christ has opened the floodgates of God’s grace!  Because Christ paid our sin debt, we can come to God and receive the free gift of salvation apart from any human works.  Jesus Christ paid the price for my salvation in full.  He paid it all at the cross.  He bore every sin.  He was judged in my place and bore the wrath of God that belonged to me, and now I can receive the free gift of salvation because God is satisfied with His death.  There is nothing I can do to earn my salvation.

Grace is the limitless, unrestrained love of God for the lost, acting in full compliance with the exact and unchangeable demands of His own righteousness through the sacrificial death of Christ.[5]

       Concerning our salvation, Scripture declares, “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).  Salvation is always a gift.  If a person has to pay a price for something, it ceases to be a gift.  A gift means that someone else paid the price, and we receive it freely without cost.  Salvation is a free gift to us, from God, paid in full by Jesus Christ.  What a wonderful gift!

Dr. Steven R. Cook


[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 1079.

[2] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Kregel Publications, 1993), 178.

[3]  Ibid., 178.

[4] Merrill F. Unger, “Grace,” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago, Ill., Moody Press, 1988), 504.

[5] Lewis S. Chafer, Grace (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company, 1922), 22.

Believe in Jesus for Salvation

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

       To be saved means to be rescued from harm or danger. Based on the authority of Scripture, all mankind is under the sentence of sin and death, and in danger of eternal damnation (Jo. 3:18, 36; Rom. 1:18; 3:9-10, 23). The good news, according to Scripture, is that God saves sinners based on the work of Jesus who died in our place. The only true God—according to Scripture—has punished sin as His justice requires, and saves the sinner as His love desires. But the sinner must receive the free gift of eternal life by believing Jesus is the Savior—trusting in Him alone for salvation.

       Some men dare to trust in themselves that they are righteous and good enough to earn acceptance into heaven. This is wrong according to Scripture, which teaches that all men are dead in their “trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), and “helpless” to save themselves (Rom. 5:6). The Scripture is clear that God saves sinners, “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy” (Tit. 3:5). By sending His Son to the cross to die in the place of sinful men, God has rejected human good as a way of earning salvation.

       Some might ask how God can be just and at the same time declare righteous those who are guilty of sin? God is just in dealing with sin because He has judged it in His Son who died as our substitute and bore the wrath that rightfully belonged to us (Isa. 53:6). He is also loving toward the sinner and offers salvation to us who accept His free gift by trusting in Christ who died in our place (Jo. 3:16; Rom. 5:8). God is both just and the justifier of the one who believes in Christ for salvation (Rom. 3:25-26).

       Jesus alone is the Savior, and to trust Him for salvation is to have eternal life, and be rescued from eternal torment (Rev. 20:14-15). Jesus is the only Savior, “for there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus stated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (Jo. 14:6). This is good news to those who accept it.

       The gospel is the good news that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scripture” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). It’s as simple as, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.