Total Depravity, Faith in Christ, and Regeneration

Total Depravity

Total depravity is the biblical doctrine that sin permeates all aspects of our being—mind, will, and sensibilities. For Strict-Calvinists, total depravity means total inability. That is, lost sinners cannot respond to God at all, as they are spiritually unable (dead) to respond apart from God’s granting life and ability to believe. This leads them to conclude two things. First, God sovereignly acts by Himself to regenerate the spiritually dead and make them spiritually alive (monergism). Second, God gives the newly regenerate a special kind of faith whereby they can and will trust in Christ as Savior. According to Wayne Grudem, regeneration is “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.”[1] This argument of a special kind of faith as a gift is largely taken from Ephesians 2:8-9. According to John MacArthur, “Our response in salvation is faith, but even that is not of ourselves [but is] the gift of God. Faith is nothing that we do in our own power or by our own resources…Paul intends to emphasize that even faith is not from us apart from God’s giving it.”[2] The result of these divine actions in God’s elect means they will produce good works and will persevere in those works all their life until they die. John MacArthur states, “The same power that created us in Christ Jesus empowers us to do the good works for which He has redeemed us. These are the verifiers of true salvation.”[3] Thus, good works from regeneration to the end of one’s life are the proof of salvation. Failure to produce ongoing good works until the end of one’s life is offered as proof he was never saved (Matt 7:21). Others who hold this view include notable scholars such as B.B. Warfield, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, John Frame, and J.I. Packer.

However, the Biblicist takes a different view. He understands that total depravity means total unworthiness, not total inability to respond in faith to God’s offer of salvation. He sees regeneration as entirely the work of God in saving lost sinners who cannot save themselves (Rom 5:6-10). The sinner brings nothing of worth to salvation, but receives all that God has to offer by grace. Regeneration follows faith in Christ. John Walvoord states, “Regeneration is wholly of God. No possible human effort however noble can supply eternal life.”[4] According to Lewis Sperry Chafer, regeneration refers to “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.”[5] Paul Enns states, “Succinctly stated, to regenerate means ‘to impart life.’ Regeneration is the act whereby God imparts life to the one who believes.”[6] Regeneration occurs in the one who believes in Christ as Savior. According to Charles Ryrie, “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).”[7] The Biblicist believes there is only one kind of faith, and that only those who place their faith in Christ will be saved. Faith does not save. Christ saves. The Strict-Calvinist believes there are two kinds of faith, one that is common to all, and another that is special and imparted only to God’s elect.

As a prooftext, Strict-Calvinists often point to Ephesians 2:8-9, which reads, “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). Much of the debate centers around the demonstrative pronoun that (Grk τοῦτο touto). In Greek grammar, “A demonstrative pronoun is a pointer, singling out an object in a special way.”[8] The Strict-Calvinist believes it refers back to its nearest antecedent, which is faith. But this fails to hold weight in Greek, as the demonstrative pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender. In Ephesians 2:8, the demonstrative pronoun that (Grk τοῦτο touto) is neuter gender, whereas the nouns grace (χάρις charis) and faith (πίστις pistis) are feminine, thus showing the two are not necessarily connected. Daniel Wallace states, “On a grammatical level, then, it is doubtful that either ‘faith’ or ‘grace’ is the antecedent of τοῦτο.”[9] Greek scholar, A. T. Robertson, states that “salvation does not have its source (ἐξ ὑμων) in men, but from God. Besides, it is God’s gift (δωρον) and not the result of our work.”[10] According to Arnold Fruchtenbaum, “Never is saving faith the gift. The only passage the proponents of this doctrine go by is Ephesians 2:8-9, [whereby] they have to violate the rules of Greek grammar to claim that saving faith is a gift. Grammatically, that is an impossible interpretation. It is the salvation that is the gift, not the saving faith.”[11] What’s ironic is that John Calvin did NOT believe that faith is a gift. In his commentary on Ephesians, John Calvin said, Paul’s “meaning is, not that faith is the gift of God, but that salvation is given to us by God.”[12] John Calvin understood it properly.

Regeneration Before FaithThere are numerous passages in the Bible that place faith as the necessary prerequisite to 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 Jesus said, “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. Furthermore, people are condemned, not because God has not made a way for them to be saved, but because of their unwillingness to come to Christ as Savior. The issue is individual choice, not inability. The apostle John said, “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). Jesus, speaking to unsaved persons, said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). Jesus said the Holy Spirit convicts everyone of sin (John 16:8), particularly the sin of unbelief, “because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:9). There is only one sin that keeps a person out of heaven, and that is the sin of unbelief; of rejecting Jesus as the only Savior. Apparently unbelievers may resist the Holy Spirit, as Stephen said in his sermon, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51a).

SalvationScripture reveals that “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30). This means they must not trust in themselves or any system of good works to save, but must trust in Christ, and Christ alone to save. Faith does not save. Christ saves. Faith is the non-meritorious instrument by which we receive eternal life. The Strict-Calvinist believes Christ died only for the elect (Matt 1:21; John 10:15), and only the elect are savable. The Moderate-Calvinist believes Christ died for everyone (John 3:16; Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2); therefore, everyone is savable, though only the elect will believe. Paul said, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (Tit 2:11), and that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). Peter stated, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). Like the apostle Paul, I “beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). You can be saved 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 15:2-4).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 702.

[2] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on Ephesians (Chicago, Ill. Moody Press, 1986), 98.

[3] Ibid., 101.

[4] John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1977), 132.

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

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

[7] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 377.

[8] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1996), 325.

[9] Ibid., 335.

[10] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Eph 2:8.

[11] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, God’s Will & Man’s Will: Predestination, Election, & Free Will (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2014), 70–71.

[12] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1855), 228–229.

Essentials of the Christian Faith

The Bible is God’s inerrant and infallible Word. As such, it defines reality, states truth, and is authoritative on all matters it affirms. Therefore, all Scripture is essential concerning every matter it addresses and should be held in high esteem. There’s no part of Scripture itself that is nonessential. However, within Scripture, we learn that some doctrinal matters are more important than others. The apostle Paul spoke very strongly that if anyone “should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” (Gal 1:8). However, concerning the observance of holy days, Paul taught that “One person regards one day above another, and another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5). Certainly, the gospel message and its clear communication is more important than one’s understanding of holy days and how they are observed in the dispensation of grace. Charles Ryrie states, “Some doctrines are more important than others, so it particularly behooves us not to cut off our fellowship from those who share similar views about these important doctrines. There are few enough these days who believe in the fundamentals of the faith, and to ignore those who have declared themselves on the side of the truth of God is unwise.”[1] 

The essentials of the Christian faith consist of core doctrines taught in Scripture. To depart from one or all of these doctrines is to be outside Christian orthodoxy.[2] Christians may disagree about less-essential doctrines (i.e., spiritual gifts, the rapture of the church, tithing, baptism, church government, etc.), and still be regarded as part of the Church, the body of Christ (Eph 1:22-23). I like the statement, in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love. As an orthodox evangelical Christian, I believe there are six essential doctrines of the Christian faith, and these are: 1) The inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, 2) one God as Trinity, 3) Jesus as fully God and Man, 4) Jesus’ substitutionary penal atoning death on the cross, 5) Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead, ascension into heaven, and physical second coming, and 6) salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

BibleThe Bible – Scripture is God’s inerrant and infallible written revelation that tells us who He is, what He’s accomplished in time and space, and will accomplish in the future. The Bible does not reveal all there is to know about God or His plans and actions, but only what He deems important (Deut 29:29). God’s authority is in the text itself, and is honored by those who interpret it plainly and obey His commands as they are applicable.[3] The Bible is a library of 66 books and letters, written by approximately forty human authors spanning nearly fifteen hundred years. The human authors—without forfeiting their personal literary style—wrote under the direction and superintending care of God the Holy Spirit (Ex 17:14; 34:27; Isa 30:8; Jer 30:2; Luke 1:3; 1 Cor 14:37; Rev 1:11), so that what is written is the inerrant and infallible “word of God” (1 Th 2:13; cf. Psa 12:6-7; Rom 15:4; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20). The human authors wrote in Hebrew, Aramaic, and koine Greek. Some of the various literary styles include historical narrative, law, poetry, psalms, proverbs, parables, and symbolism. Nearly one fourth of Scripture was/is prophecy. The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those who have positive volition (Psa 25:9; John 7:17), and are enlightened by God (Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14). But God’s Word cannot be known or accepted by those with negative volition who suppress His revelation (Rom 1:18-32), nor by the spiritually dead (1 Cor 2:12-14; 2 Cor 3:14-16; 4:3-4). As believers, our spiritual sanctification depends on Scripture (Psa 119:9, 11; John 17:17), and we grow spiritually when we learn and live God’s Word (Psa 1:1-3; Eph 4:11-13; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). Christians do not worship the Bible, but neither can we worship God without it (John 4:24).

Ancient Diagram of the TrinityThe Trinity – There is one God who exists as three distinct Persons within the Trinity (Gen 1:26; 11:6-7; Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:2): God the Father (Gal 1:1; Eph 6:23; Phil 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 8:58; 14:18; 20:28; Col 2:9; Heb 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor 2:11-12; 2 Cor 13:14). All three are co-equal, co-infinite, co-eternal, and worthy of all praise and service. The three Persons of the God-head are one in essence (Deut 6:4; Isa 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:5, 18). God is all-knowing (Psa 139:1-6; Matt 6:31-33), all-present (Psa 139:7-12; Heb 13:5), all-powerful (Job 42:2; Isa 40:28-29), sovereign (1 Ch 29:11; Dan 4:35; Acts 17:24-25), righteous (Psa 11:7; 119:137), just (Psa 9:7-8; 19:9; 50:6; 58:11), holy (Psa 99:9), immutable (Psa 102:26, 27; Mal 3:6), truthful (2 Sam 7:28; John 17:17; 1 John 5:20), loving (Jer 31:3; 1 John 4:7-12, 16), faithful (Deut 7:9; Lam 3:23; 1 John 1:9), merciful (Psa 86:15; Luke 6:36; Tit 3:5), gracious (Psa 111:4; 116:5; 1 Pet 5:10), and eternal (Deut 33:27; 1 Tim 1:17). Cults such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the doctrine of the Trinity.

Hypostatic Union DiagramThe Deity/Humanity of Jesus – At a point in time, the eternal Son of God added humanity to Himself, simultaneously being God and man, Creator and creature, theanthropic (John 1:1, 14:18; 8:58; 20:28; Col 2:9; Heb 1:8). Jesus is the God-man and exists in hypostatic union, as a single Person with a divine and human nature (John 1:1, 14; 1 John 4:2-3), both natures being distinct and preserved, not mixed or confused, fully God and fully man. The hypostatic union is forever, from conception onward. Jesus was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary (parthenogenesis – Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23; Luke 1:26-38), who is the mother of Jesus’ humanity (Christotokos – bearer of Christ). Some see Mary as the mother of God (Theotokos – bearer of God), and though Jesus is God, His divine nature is without origin, but is eternal. This honors Mary without elevating her to a place beyond what the Scriptures teach. Jesus was a Jew, born a son of Abraham, in the line David (Matt 1:1), the promised Messiah (Matt 1:17). The baby Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:40, 52), and lived a perfectly righteous life before God and man. The biblical record is that Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), was “without sin” (Heb 4:15), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). In His humanity, Jesus walked in perfect conformity to God the Father’s holy character and divine revelation. Cults such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the full humanity and deity of Jesus.

Christ-on-the-crossPenal Substitutionary Atonement – God the Son became man that He might redeem fallen humanity from sin and death (Mark 10:45). The Bible reveals, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7; cf. Col 1:13-14; 1 Pet 1:18-19). In Jerusalem, on April 3, A.D. 33, Jesus willingly laid down His life and died a penal substitutionary death on a cross (John 3:16; 10:11, 17-18). That is, Jesus bore the penalty for our sin and died in our place, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). Jesus’ death forever satisfied every righteous demand God had toward our sin (Rom 3:24-25; Heb 10:10-14; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and is the basis for forgiveness and reconciliation to God (Rom 5:1-2; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 1:7; Col 1:13-14; 20-22). Christ died for the sins of everyone (John 3:16; Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2), but only those who trust Jesus as their Savior will receive eternal life (John 3:16, 20:31; Acts 4:12). Salvation is never accomplished by what we do for God, but rather, what God has accomplished for us through the Person and work of Jesus Christ who died for our sins (John 3:16), and gives us eternal life and righteousness (John 10:28; Phil 3:9).

ResurrectionThe Bodily Resurrection, Ascension, and Return of Jesus – After His death on the cross, Jesus was buried and resurrected bodily on the third day (Matt 20:18-19; Acts 10:39-41; 1 Cor 15:3-4, 20), never to die again (Rom 5:9).  The resurrection of Jesus is essential for our salvation, for “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, He ascended bodily to heaven (Acts 1:3-10), with a promise of a physical return (Acts 1:9-11). Jesus will return to earth bodily at His second coming (Rev 19:11-21), and afterwards will judge all unbelievers (Rev 20:11-15), and then make a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13; cf. Rev 21-22).[4]

The Gospel of GraceSalvation by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone – Jesus is the only Savior for mankind, for “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). God’s provision of salvation from eternal death was paid in full by the Lord Jesus Christ who willingly shed His blood and died on a cross, atoning for every human sin. Because of sin, every person is spiritually dead and powerless to change their situation (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3). Good works have no saving merit (Isa 64:6; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). Salvation is offered to helpless, ungodly, sinners (John 3:16-18; Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-2; 8-9), and is received by grace alone (Rom 4:1-5; Eph 2:8-9), through faith alone (Gal 2:16; 3:26; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5), in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 15:1-4). Salvation is “the gift of God” (Eph 2:8), and is “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; Tit 2:11-14), 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 only comes to those who believe in Christ as their Savior (John 3:16; 14:6; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Rev. and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), 247.

[2] It may difficult to accept, but it is possible for a believer, after being saved, to depart from sound teaching and pursue a life of sin, even becoming a worshipper of idols. Such a one does not forfeit his/her salvation, but comes under divine discipline, which can eventuate in suffering and death (1 Cor 11:30; 1 John 5:16), as well the forfeiture of eternal rewards (1 Cor 3:10-15). Though possible, this is never what God wants from His children. King Solomon is a good example of such a one. Solomon was a believer, of whom God said, “he shall be My son and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever” (1 Ch 22:10b). God worked through Solomon to build the Jewish temple (1 Ch 22:10a), write Scripture (Song of Solomon, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), and lead the nation of Israel as God’s theocratic representative. However, because of sinful disobedience, Solomon eventually turned away from the Lord and worshipped false gods to the end of his days (1 Ki 11:1-8). The final word on Solomon was, “Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully” (1 Ki 11:6). However, as a believer, Solomon is in heaven today. To deny that Solomon is in heaven today, one must either say he was never saved at all, or that he forfeited his salvation because of sin. The first view might be argued by those who hold to Lordship Salvation, and the second view by those who deny eternal security, both of which are wrong (Matt 5:19; John 10:28).

[3] The historical-grammatical hermeneutical approach to interpreting Scripture is the best method, as it seeks to understand the Bible from the author’s perspective as he wrote within his particular historical and cultural setting (German sitz im libensetting in life).

[4] This writer is a classical dispensationalist who believes the rapture of the church precedes Jesus’ Second Coming and is the next prophetic event to occur in history (1 Th 4:13-18; Tit 2:13). The rapture of the church is a world-changing event in which the bodies of deceased Christians are resurrected (1 Th 4:13-18) and the bodies of living Christians are transformed and removed from the world (1 Cor 15:51-52; 1 Th 4:17), both meeting the Lord in the air and going to heaven to be with God forever (John 14:1-3). The rapture will be followed by seven years of worldwide tribulation (Dan 7:23; 9:24-27; Matthew chapters 24-25; Revelation chapters 6-18), in which Satan focuses his attacks on Israel (Rev 12:4-6). The seven-year tribulation will culminate in the triumphal return of Jesus as the King of kings, and Lord of lords (Rev 19:11-16), at which time, “when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne” (Matt 25:31). When Jesus returns at His second coming, He will put down all rebellion, both angelic and human, and will judge the nations of the world (Matt 25:32-46), and afterwards establish an earthly reign in righteousness in Jerusalem, on the throne of David (2 Sam 7:12, 16; Psa 89:36-37; Isa 9:6-7; Jer 23:5-6; Luke 1:31-33). Jesus’ reign on earth will last a thousand years (Rev 20:1-7). Afterwards, Jesus’ earthly kingdom will become the eternal kingdom, “when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor 15:24).

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

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.

God’s Grace to Save

For by grace [charis] 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)

       Charis is the Greek word that is commonly translated grace and it means undeserved favor or unmerited kindness. It is a generous, loving, charitable act that one person does toward another who would otherwise deserve the opposite. It is love shown to one’s enemies. Grace has its greatest manifestation in the Cross of Christ where Jesus, as a substitute, bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to the human race (Rom. 5:6-10). Peter 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. 3:18). Christ died in place of the sinner. That’s grace. None of us deserved what Christ did when He went to the cross nearly two thousand years ago, when He hung between heaven and earth and bore the sin of all mankind and was judged in our place, bearing the wrath of God that rightfully belongs to us. How dark the sky must have been that day when, for three hours, Christ bore our sin and propitiated the Father. God’s righteousness and love intersect at the cross at the same time. Righteousness in judging our sin in His Son, and love toward the sinner He desires to save. Grace is manifested every time God offers the free gift of eternal life to sinners. Salvation is received when sinners believe in Christ as their Savior.

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)

Therefore they said to Him, “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)

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. (1 John 5:1)

       All four Gospels record the prisoner exchange between a notorious criminal named Barabbas and the Lord Jesus (Matt. 27:16-26; Mark. 15:7-15; Luke 23:18; John 18:40). Barabbas was in jail for insurrection, murder, and robbery, and was surely going to face death for his crimes (Luke 23:18-19; John 18:40). Jesus, on the other hand, was innocent of all the charges brought against Him. Pilate, the Roman Governor who presided as judge over the two men, knew it was “because of envy” that Jesus had been handed over to him to be scourged and crucified (Matt. 27:18; cf. Mark 15:10). Pilate knew Jesus was not guilty of the charges leveled against Him and sought to have Him released (Luke 23:20), but he proved himself a weak leader by surrendering to the insane demands of a mob who kept shouting “crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21). All of this occurred according to God’s predetermined plan (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28).

       Barabbas was in his jail cell when a Roman guard came, unlocked his door and informed him he was free to leave. I suppose Barabbas was puzzled because freedom was not what he expected. Barabbas was in a dark place with no ability to save himself. Outside the prison walls, Jesus was being led away to die in his place, the innocent for the guilty, the just for the unjust. I am Barabbas. You are Barabbas. Spiritually, we are all in a dark place without hope, facing eternal death, and with no ability to save ourselves. But there’s good news! Outside our prison is a free and innocent Man who has died in our place, who bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. Today, our prison cell is open, and we are free to leave because another man bore our penalty for us.

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. (Rom. 5:6-8)

       How wonderful it is to read and learn of God’s grace in the Bible. But we must see ourselves as prisoners of sin, enslaved and unable to liberate ourselves from the chains of sin that weigh heavy upon us. If we could save ourselves by works, then Christ died needlessly. If works save us, then grace is no longer grace. It is the humble soul who knows he cannot repay God for His wonderful gift of salvation. It would be an insult of the highest magnitude to offer feeble works of self-righteousness to God in place of the work of Christ. Don’t ever tarnish the glory of the cross by trying to add your dirty human works to it (Isa. 64:6). Don’t ever try to rob God of His wonderful grace by offering cheap works as a means of salvation (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Salvation is what God does for us through the death of His Son. Salvation is never what we do for God, or even what we do for ourselves. Christ died for us, to save us, and that was an act of God’s grace. It is the empty hands of faith that welcome God’s free gift of salvation. Trust in Christ alone and let your faith rest completely in Him and His work on the cross (John 3:16).

Dr. Steven R. Cook