A Dichotomy of Golgotha

We may evaluate the cross dichotomously. First, consider the judicial experience of Christ – what occurred legally on the cross. Second, consider the substantive experience of Christ – what occurred ontologically on the cross. These two categories are also in temporal order.

 

Declared a Sinner

On the cross, Christ was declared by God to be a sinner. The courtroom of Heaven found Christ guilty of sin and God the Judge said, “This man is a transgressor of my law – he is utterly guilty.” In being declared a sinner, Christ did not yet suffer anything. This declaration was entirely legal, dealing only with Christ’s position and relation to God.

First, Scripture reveals this in Leviticus, where Christ’s death was prefigured by the sacrifices of the Old Covenant (Hebrews 10:1-10). Normatively, an animal sacrifice would include the laying-on-of-hands by either the priest or Israelite who provided the sacrifice. For example: “Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins” (Leviticus 16:21). The ritual was symbolic of a legal contraction that took place in that moment. The animal was receiving credit for the sins of a certain Israelite(s). The animal was then guilty.

Hebrews 10 says plainly that these rituals were symbolic and non-substantive – meaning that no Israelite was actually forgiven through the sacrifice of an animal. Instead, as mentioned above, these sacrifices pointed forward to the death of Christ. The Levitical sacrificial system implied that Christ, as the True and Greater Lamb, would in His death be declared a transgressor of God’s law. This correlation is strengthened by Biblical references to Christ as Lamb (Isaiah 53:7, John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:18, Revelation 4:4-8, 6:16, 12:11, 17:14, 21:27, 22:3).

Second, Scripture reveals this in the absence of imputed sin to certain people. Abraham, after placing His faith in God, was not considered by God to be guilty of iniquity: “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6; cf. Romans 4:1-25). “Impute” is a legal term meaning “to reckon; to account.” If Abraham disobeyed God, how is it that God would not call him guilty of disobedience?

The Psalmist continues this theme: “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!” (Psalm 32:1-2). Would it not be unjust for God to cover over evil, to not impute iniquity? “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). Would it not be unjust for God to fail in keeping a record of a man’s iniquities?

This dilemma is found throughout the Bible. How can God be just and yet merciful? How can God forgive sin, yet still punish sin? The answer is found in Christ: that God as Judge would pronounce Christ guilty of sins which He elsewhere passed over. Sins left un-imputed to some were imputed to Christ. This solves the dilemma of God as merciful judge.

Third, Scripture reveals this pointedly in several individual texts. Isaiah wrote, “The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:6b). The evil things that God’s people do fall upon Christ. Because sin is not a physical entity, we understand this language to be somewhat poetic. What does it mean for iniquity/sin to fall upon Christ? In context (vv.4-6), it results in him being stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted (v.4b). If Christ received a sinner’s wage from a just God, it is only appropriate that we estimate a judicial sentence of equivalent character – namely, he was pronounced guilty of sin in the courtroom of Heaven.

Paul wrote, “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). God commissioned Christ to be 1) incarnate, 2) an offering for sin. Christ as a man dying as an offering for sin had this effect: the condemnation of sin in the flesh. A true son of Adam – a human – truly suffered for sin, being truly condemned under the Law. Christ, then, was pronounced guilty by God.

Again from Paul: “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 Corinthians 5:21). Here we again find poetic language in reference to what occurred on the cross. A literal reading of this text would render Christ as sin and the church as righteousness – but because sin and righteousness are non-physical entities, we understand that Paul is pointing us to something different.

Christ never sinned (Hebrews 4:15) nor became anything other than the spotless Lamb of God (13:8). The only sense in which Christ became sin – in light of the corpus of Scripture – seems to be in a sense of treatment and not ontological fact. So: Who Christ was did not change, but for some reason He was treated differently on the cross. If God is just, then Christ must have been judicially found guilty prior to such treatment.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). This verse works similarly to 2 Corinthians 5:21. Christ becoming a curse is somewhat poetic, meaning that He was accursed. Curses of the Law are reserved for those who transgress the Law (Deuteronomy 27:1-26). If Christ bore such a curse, He must have been judicially reckoned as a Law-breaker.

Seeing such evidences in Scripture, I submit to you that on the cross Christ was truly and fully declared by God to be guilty of unrighteousness. He was blamed for a plethora of transgressions which He had no part in committing.

The pronouncement of “guilty” was pursued by a pronouncement of “condemned.” Being found a transgressor, Christ was sentenced to a transgressor’s end. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). Christ, though He had not sinned, was blamed for sin by a Heavenly verdict, and so was dealt a Heavenly edict to receive the wages of said sin.

 

Treated as a Sinner

After God declared Christ a sinner and pronounced the appropriate punishment, He then dealt that punishment out upon Him. God loosed His holy, righteous indignation on Christ as He hung from the wooden beams. This anger was not random or arbitrary: it was provoked by the very sin Christ was blamed for. We may view this treatment from two non-equivocal angles: propitiation and expiation.[1]

First, Christ propitiated the anger God held for the sins which Christ was blamed. “God displayed [Christ] publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Romans 3:25a). A “propitiation” is “a sacrifice that appeases wrath.” God put Christ on the cross (Acts 2:23) in order to publicly manifest Him as a sacrificial lamb satisfying the Law’s demand for the death of sinners.

Old Covenant offerings, as prescribed by God, were a pleasing aroma to God (ex. Leviticus 1:9). In like manner, Christ’s death was a pleasing aroma to God, in the sense that it appeased His thirst for justice. “And walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).

More than the Roman nails, the Jewish scoffing, the thieves’ taunting, Christ suffered the true wrath of God. Isaiah foretold this: “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10a). As a grain of wheat rolled between two great millstones, so Christ was crushed. As a small animal toppled by a bursting dam, so Christ was destroyed. As a lamb strapped to the altar and put beneath the edge of a knife, so Christ was killed.

It is important to see the relationship between Christ being “Declared a Sinner” and “Treated as a Sinner.” He was not aimlessly and accidently treated in such a way. He was crushed under God’s wrath because He was declared guilty for sin. For those sins imputed to Christ, He received full compensation.

I do not know what the full, untampered wrath of God felt like upon the cross. I am at a loss for how to describe it, other than to point you towards Scriptural examples. Consider Nahum:

He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; He dries up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither; the blossoms of Lebanon wither. Mountains quake because of Him and the hills dissolve; indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence, the world and all the inhabitants in it. Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire and the rocks are broken up by Him. (1:4-6)

Secondly, Revelation:

Then the kings of the earth and the great man and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (6:15-17)

Scripture presents Christ as propitiation with the analogy of a cup of wine. A chalice is used in Scripture to represent God’s anger against the wicked and their deeds. “For a cup is in the hand of the Lord, and the wine foams; it is well mixed, and He pours out of this; surely all the wicked of the earth must drain and drink down its dregs” (Psalm 75:8). “Rouse yourself! Rouse yourself! Arise, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the Lord’s hand the cup of His anger; the chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs” (Isaiah 51:17).[2]

In Gethsemane, Christ thrice prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:36-46). Such language correlates Christ’s suffering on the cross with Biblical expressions of God’s fierce and tangible hatred against sin. Christ, in obedience to the will of His Father (Philippians 2:5-8), willing and freely put Himself beneath the full weight of Heavenly justice, as it poured forth from the battlements of Zion. He truly suffered, truly died, and truly appeased the wrath He received in such manner that it does not persist beyond His blood.

Second, Christ expiated the sins imputed unto Him. Blamed for certain misdeeds, His suffering on the cross erased the record of those misdeeds. In His death, He carried them away as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Expiation is accomplished by propitiation – namely, the suffering of Christ “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us… and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).

Expiation is visualized in Leviticus 16.

Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.

So Christ was the goat who bore sins to a solitary land, never to be seen again. With sin out of the picture, God may be reconciled to those who committed sin (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18). John the Baptist saw Christ as the Great Expiator: “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29).

Concluding Remarks

Leviticus 16 actually references two goats. One was a scapegoat, used to expiate sins (vv.20-22). The other was for a sin offering (vv.15-19). The offering-goat was slaughtered on the altar; the scapegoat was loosed into the wilderness. In this dual ritual we see a rough silhouette of what occurred in Christ’s death. He was blamed for sins and thus condemned to a sinner’s ruin. He thus suffered under the knife of God’s justice and in doing so erased forever the sins for which He suffered.


Footnotes

[1] Some theologians will define propitiation and expiation differently than I do. The specific terms used is irrelevant in comparison to the particular points of doctrine exposited.

[2] See also Job 21:20, Psalm 11:6, 60:3, 63:6, Jeremiah 25:15, 49:12, Revelation 14:10, 16:19.

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A Poem: “Give Thanks to God, You Mortal Man”

 

Oh, how the grace of God attends the work of every man
     His rain to fields
     All fruit it yields
And revenue therein

Oh, how the love of God attends the air we ever breathe
     He reckons not
     A foolish plot
To call us patiently

Oh, how the strength of God attends the birth of ev’ry saint
     From death to life
     Eternal sight
Of Christ for sure awaits

Oh, how the wrath of God attends the callous heart that strays
     Take heed, my friend
     For willful sin
May prove you void of grace

Oh, how the joy of God attends the plan He bears in time
     What He creates
     He orchestrates
That He be glorified

//

Give thanks to God, you mortal man
The life you love is from His hand!
     Dare not to sleep in pride
     Consider well your lot
That though His wrath is justified
On Christ it has been wrought!

New eBook, “Eating Crow”

A month ago, I critiqued racism in a 6-part blog series on The Bi-Daily. I have compiled this material into a very brief eBook, Eating Crow: A Brief, Christocentric Critique of Racism for the American Church. This is not an academic work. There likely will be several points where you will inquire for sources that I do not provide in footnotes or a bibliography. The nature of this eBook is more akin to an open letter than a scholarly paper. I have labored to concisely and simply make four exegetical points in relation to racial tensions in America. At the end of the book, I submit five pleas for the Southern, White church.

While I title the work for the American church in whole, I particularly am addressing Southern, White churches. However, given its exegetical back-bone, I pray this book will prove helpful to anyone who reads it. Feel free to contact me with affirmations and critiques.

Download the eBook “Eating Crow” here.

in Christ,

James W. Gunter

A Working Confession of Unconditional Election

Below I have provided my working confession of the soteriological doctrine Unconditional Election. This is a working confession because it still needs serious critical review. Therefore, your input would prove most valuable to me in crafting my understanding of what Scripture teaches. Please feel free to comment below or message me on social media with affirmations and critiques.

A Confession of Unconditional Election

1. Before the world was made, God chose specific sinners to love in a special way:

1.1. according to His sovereign and free will, the right He has as Creator and King of the universe, with no consideration to the conditions of those specific sinners except their great need and therefore in sole respect to the greatness of His mercy in the covenant of redemption;
1.2. to the end that these specific sinners would be conformed into the likeness of His Son, washed of all sinful stain and purged of every vice, saved to sin no more in holiness and blamelessness, brought into an eternal fellowship of joyfully glorifying God;
1.3. by the means of saving them from the consequences of their rebellion through the justification secured in the substitutionary death of His Son upon the cross and the resurrection sealed by the effectual working of His Spirit in time, such that the penalty and power of sin would be laid waste, such that the promise of future glory with Him made sure and evident in the genuine faith wrought in their spiritual resurrection under the covenant of grace;
1.4. with in mind Christ’s merit to be imputed to these specific sinners, won by His active and passive obedience on the earth and secured in His substitutionary death on the cross;
1.5. with implication that those sinners whom He did not choose would continue in their hostility and rebellion, eventually to fall into eternity with no grounds for justification and no delight in His glory, when He then in righteousness should pronounce upon them and subject them to an everlasting damnation for their sin;
1.6. for the purpose of delighting in Himself through the full demonstration of His attributes;

and to Him be the glory forever and ever, amen.


2. Such ends as God chose these specific sinners unto shall in no way be hindered:

2.1. for every means necessary therein He ordained and ensures in the efficacy of His will, that sovereign and omnipotent purpose which alone governs the universe in time to consummate all things for the ultimate benefit of those specific sinners, to the effect that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, is able to separate these specific sinners from His love;
2.2. to the effect that the sum numeric value of God’s elect persons is never subtracted from or increased, nor are the particular individuals comprising the whole ever so much as shaken from their place among the elect;
2.3. meaning that all creatures and time itself are forbidden witness to a beginning or end to God’s love for these elect persons, His will to redeem them whelming pre creatio ex nihilo and flowing immutably through eternity;
2.4. to such implication that the sufferings of our brethren in Africa and Asia at the hands of ISIS have no effect on their security in Christ, therein such incredible faith they exhibit in the face of bullets, fires, swords, and torture manifests God’s eternal decision to love them, whereas we weep with them in longing for the redemption of our bodies;

and to Him be the glory forever and ever, amen.


3. God follows that eternal selection of specific sinners with the tangible, specific fulfillment of that purpose in the redemption of each person selected.

3.1. Regeneration occurs when God’s eternal purpose for the redemption of a specific sinner intersects with that person in time – a Divine, monergistic work in which God gives that individual genuine and lasting affections for Christ via the creation of a new heart, therein this sinner’s resurrection has now begun spiritually.
3.2. Repentance and Faith are the simple fruits of regeneration – faith alone is the instrument of justification, repentance alone is the vindication of faith.
3.3. Glorification will be the monergistic completion of every saint’s resurrection (having begun spiritually in regeneration) to a state of sinless perfection in the likeness of Christ, the end unto which they were foreknown – therein the ontological divide between Creator and creature is not bridged.

and to Him be the glory forever and ever, amen.


4. Such deplorable implications deduced from this doctrine include:

4.1. the notion that He has no genuine love for those sinners whom He did not choose to save, whereby in no way He takes displeasure in their rejection of or death apart from Him;
4.2. the notion that He requires no labor from mankind, whereby His ordination did not include human labor as a means unto such ends He desires;
4.3. the notion that His church has no reason to evangelize, whereby His sovereign calling advances apart from the preaching of the gospel;
4.4. the notion that such a doctrine has no practical implications for His church, whereby only in academia and philosophic contexts may it be helpfully considered;
4.5. the notion that His decision to love those sinners was arbitrary, whereby no reason whatsoever compelled Him to act as He did;

and these deplorable implications are to be firmly rejected and refuted, having no ground in Sacred Scripture, whereas that congregation which swiftly refuses them is blessed.


Notes

  • I need to provide Scripture references for each section.

Systematic Contemplations on Paul’s Greeting to Thessalonica

It is an elementary error to squeeze texts so tightly that one word of Scripture may yield 2000 words of exposition. I have read that one preacher in the 19th century preached hundreds of sermons on John 3:16. Such treatment of the text is irresponsible. A passage teaches something and the exegete’s role is to communicate this thing and move on, having demonstrated through grammatical analysis why his conclusion is favorable.

That said, I claim from the outset that this article is mainly a practice in systematics. I do not claim that 1 Thessalonians 1:1 communicates all that I communicate below. I have taken Paul’s greeting seriously as Divinely inspired and therefore believe it to be consistent with the larger corpus of Pauline and Biblical teaching. To those who object, “Paul did not mean to teach with verse 1 all that you communicate here,” I say, “amen.” I say bluntly, again, that this article does not serve to draw up from 1 Thessalonians 1:1 only what is communicated therein, but rather to consider how this simple greeting is consistent with the rest of Divine revelation. Having clarified that my work below is primarily in systematics, any refutation proposing or suggesting otherwise is irrelevant and shall not be seriously considered by the author.

1. A Singular Divide

Θεσσαλονικέων – This word identifies which church Paul is writing to. Paul traversed much ground as a missionary. Before Thessalonica, he ministered in Philippi (Acts 16:11-40) – post-Thessalonica, Berea and Athens (Acts 17:10-34). 

1. “Thessalonica” identifies the locality of this congregation, but fails to communicate their identity. For this, Paul must add “in God.” Ethnic, social, genealogical, etc. distinctions among men are, with Christ’s resurrection, to be considered trivial regarding the kingdom of God. In these latter days, the eternal purpose of God has been revealed (Ephesians 3:4-13): that He divides men once and on the basis of Christ’s merit (Galatians 3:27-29). No condition is considered save the blood of God’s Holy One (Luke 4:34) upon the doorframe of one’s soul (Exodus 12:1-13, 21-23; 1 Peter 1:17-19). Even the Jewish/Gentile divide is proven a false means of identifying God’s kingdom. There are those chosen, purchased, sealed by God and there are those who are not. God divides only once: the receptive from rejecting (John 1:9-13) – the narrow from wide (Matthew 7:13-14) – the sheep from goats (Matthew 25:31-33) – the called from uncalled (1 Corinthians 1:21-24) – the honorable from common (Romans 9:21). 

2. Though this counsel was not manifested with such clarity until these latter days, it is yet present pre-incarnation. To be clear: God has always revealed Himself to be One Who splits humanity on the basis of who they are in reference to Christ (i.e. with no respect to fleshly differentiation). God’s agenda is not determined by what man fancies. Rather, it is determined in reference to Christ. He has installed Christ as preeminent above all things (Col 1:15) and in relation to Him the Divine counel has prescribed and procured its sentiments. God will not bless (2 Corinthians 1:20; Ephesians 1:3-14) or curse (Acts 2:33-35; Philippians 2:9-11) outside of Christ.

All Divine self-revelation is consistent manifestly, but also because God does not lie. Therefore, the N.T. proposition will prove true in the Old Testament – that these pre-Messianic writings reveal God to be no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35). The witness of the prophets is consistent with Christ’s (Hebrews 1:1-2). The foundation to which they contributed was the very same as the apostles – with Christ as their cornerstone, perfect harmony exists between their ancient stones and the apostles’ latter day stones (Ephesians 2:19-22). Consider now this theme of God dividing once among the sons of men.

2.1. Enoch is honored exclusively for having walked with God (i.e. material characteristics did not differentiate him from other men; Genesis 5:21-24). The Deluge (Genesis 6:1-9:29) prefigured the consummation of all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10) by separating men once: the righteous (Noah) from unrighteous (Genesis 6:9-12). Christ (the Ark) alone sanctifies His people from the wrath to come (the flood): there are no further divides among men relevant to how God relates to them. God demonstrated disregard for anthropocentric distinctions with Israel’s Patriarchs, choosing the younger sons of Abraham and Isaac (Romans 9:6-13). Joseph was far from firstborn, and even between his sons Jacob favored the younger (Genesis 48:17-20). Disregard for what man values and regard for what God values is perhaps a theme of holiness itself. Circumcision (Genesis 17:1-8) symbolizes all of this by dividing men once: circumcised from uncircumcised – God’s people from the world. The things considered valuable by men are to be cut away and cast aside, God’s agenda is to be given supreme attention.

2.2. All of this, beloved, only from the first book. Need we continue? God’s supreme delight in the singular divide among men, and persistent disregard for what wicked men esteem worthy of distinguishment, is a Penteteuchial theme, with Moses perhaps as the hallmark case (Exodus 3:1-22) and Leviticus the hallmark piece. The Law divided once: law-keeping from guilty (Deuteronomy 27:1-28:68; cf. Romans 1:18-3:20). 2.3. What of the poetic works? The Psalms and Proverbs work around a theme of dividing men once: righteous from unrighteous. Psalm 1 is the catalyst: “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the wicked will perish” (v.6). The great teacher’s wisdom in sum is to obey God, for He judges by one divide (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) and takes no bribes (Proverbs 11:1). Beyond these genres, need I provide further evidence?

3. The materialistic bribes of social status, ethnic association, genealogy, monetary affluence, etc. cannot tempt Yahweh’s gavel – nor can Zion’s honey be purchased by these. There is but one Divine consideration when blessings or curses are to be given: has this person the righteousness of Christ? If they are God’s people, righteous in the fruit of His Spirit, then yes, they possess His papers. These fruits, beloved, ripen only by Christ’s goodness. Heaven’s tulips only blossom by Christ’s sweet aroma. The Father, then, only divides by Christ.

Therefore, it is of no eternal or eschatological significance that this church is in Thessalonica. But Oh how brightly they are distinguished by residing in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! The contrast is full between inclusion to and exclusion from Christ. Thus we read Θεσσαλονικέων but wait in eager hope for ἐν θεῷ πατρὶ καὶ κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ.

2. The Position and Possessions of the Church

Here we have simply stated the church’s position and possessions: where she rests and what she has – the sphere of her existence and the sum of her equipment.

1. She is ἐν θεῷ πατρὶ καὶ κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ. 1.1. Her origin, sustenance, and future come from God. He made her, keeps her, will glorify her. By the Father’s (θεῷ πατρὶ) ordination and gracious adoption she exists. She needs no liveliness from men: all that the world can give her is dreariness and sluggishness. She has sufficient vitality from God her Father. 1.2. By Christ’s will (κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ) according to the sufficiency of His sacrifice she is ruled. She needs no judgment from men: all that the world can advise her with are fools’ wisdoms. She is sufficiently presided over by Christ her Lord. 1.3. Woe to those men who forget her position in God, who attempt sneaking off with the Father’s handi-work and Christ’s wife.

2. She is greeted by Paul: χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη. First we may ask what grace and peace she could possibly hope for outside of God’s bosom. Second we may notice in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2 Paul makes plain that the grace and peace he desires for the Thessalonians only comes from God. 2.1. Grace is the ultimate request a sinner can make. It is a grace that the church finds herself with her present position in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father graciously chose before the foundations of the earth to place her in Christ. The Son graciously died so as to bring her to God the Father. The grace could be said to be the position she is in. So by “charis humin” Paul means, “May God ever keep you as He now holds you in His palm.” 2.2. Peace is the result of the grace. Because of the grace she receives, the church has ample cause to be at peace. Paul could have in mind the peace that arrives in respect to the Divine and the wicked, where the enmity between God and man is dispersed in the Gospel: Christ bore the Father’s righteous indignation and the Spirit resurrects our unrighteously angery hearts. Yet I favor a Romans 8:28-39 interpretation: Gospel grace is the furtile ground from which Gospel peace grows with fruition.

3. Paul greets a specific people with this verse. He is not speaking in abstract language or of a figurative, corporate body with no identity in the realm of individuality. He speaks to a specific local congregation, knowing them all personally and deeply. He sees each face as he opens this letter. The personal nature of this greeting demands that we recognize the singular application of each point made above. 3.1. The individual believer is in God. 3.1.1. The Christian finds all vitality and meaning in God the Father. He elected and adopted him, keeps him and feeds him, and will one day resurrect him. 3.1.2. The Christian takes all prescriptions from Christ the Lord. His Word is most highly authoritative. His will is superlative in the believer’s life. 3.2. The individual believer is blessed by God. 3.2.1. The Christian is given grace upon grace. According to the Father’s will and Christ’s merit, blessings abound. 3.2.2. Therein, what could possibly shake the believer? What reason has the Christian to lose heart or hope? Peace is his, if he would have it.

A Poem: “The Vineyard”

To the Lord’s vineyard
I’ve been granted access
To His sweet grapes that hang from thick vines
Friends bid me onward,
“Better things await us”
Yet the sweet fragrance drew me inside

Here, though a beggar,
I will not go hungry
One needs but take from the branch ripened fruit
This Lord is gen’rous
Abounding in glory,
Who lets hungry men hasten hitherto

//

In the Lord’s vineyard
There grows ripe a portion
Gated and labeled, “Patience for men”
Here grapes amass for
The wicked’s destruction
Pressed into wine and poured in judgment

Yet in this portion
Is portioned another
Gated and labeled, “Given to Christ
For the salvation
Of whom God the Father
Chose and is keeping safe in the vine”

//

‘Side the Lord’s vineyard
I saw His great dwelling
Built with grey stone and snug in the dirt
Turrets look eastward
Their archers repelling
Any who dare to destroy the Lord’s work

Terrible veng’ance
Poured out from the granite
Whene’er a thief would enter the yard
Yet have I witnessed
The hands of a bandit
Snatch any grape put under this guard

//

‘Neath the Lord’s vineyard
A cellar is resting
Filling this day as He has approved
Now and again, I
Glimpse wine He is pressing
And taking within that costliest room

Oh, for the banquet
I’m sure this will open
And what I now ponder, then, fully displayed
Shall be presented
A rich, lasting gladness
And so to that joy I look now by faith

//

What waits in this wine
To make me so happy
Is what drew me first to enter His field:
The glory of Christ,
That awesome aroma
Wherein the Father was pleased I be sealed

Better one dinner
With wine from His barrel
Than hundreds of meals with wines of the world
Here in the vineyard
No heart is in peril
We all are kept glad by the press of our Lord

A Response to Leighton Flowers on Ephesians 1

This article provides a critique of Leighton Flowers’ treatment of Ephesians 1:3-14 given on March 14, 2015. This is a narrow and specific focus. I am not engaging all of Flowers’ material on the subject.

Point 1: Verses 3-14, Not Just 13-14, Answer the Question

I recognize this specific blog was not intended to be a grammatical commentary. So we cannot call “fowl” when his starting position is philosophical and not exegetical. This is not an error, but it means this examination of the text is framed by whatever Flowers places it in. A more robust approach, I suggest, would begin with the grammar alone and ask questions regarding systematic theology later on. To Flowers’ credit: “Let’s drop any preconceived ideas we have about this text and attempt to answer the question as honestly as we can.”

He continues: “Some focus so much attention on the first 12 verses that they fail to see the last two verses where Paul gives an answer to this vital question; ‘How does one come to be in Him?'” So in Ephesians 1, we are not told how an individual is placed in Christ until verse 13. By merit of this, verses 1-12 can be excluded from the discussion. The answer to the question, “How does one come to be in Christ” must lie somewhere after verse 12. Flowers’ conclusion depends on this point. There are other propositions to engage, but this seems the most fundamental.

The main point of verses 3-14 is that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (v.3). Verses 4-14 are a zoomed-in look at verse 3. Paul says God has blessed us and he proceeds to explain how He has blessed us. No less than eleven times we see the equivalent of “in Christ.” All of these blessings, then, are within the context of Christ. Further, all of these blessing are summed-up in verse 3: “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

Verse 13 states that after we heard the message of truth, we believed and were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise. So after faith comes sealing. Where does Paul submit that God’s purpose is only to provide a plan and not to save specific individuals? Where is the clause teaching that God’s effectual, salvific pursuit of this individual began after his faith? The text suggests that sealing is appropriated by an individual’s faith, but further conclusions seem eisogetical.

“How does one come to be in Christ?” Flowers provides no grammatical evidence for answering this question from verses 13-14 alone. Given this deficiency, and lack of any discussion regarding verses 3-12, I cannot see any reason to accept Flowers’ conclusion: “This passage is not about God predetermining which individuals will be in Christ. It is about God predetermining what will become of those who are in Christ through belief in His truth.”

Point 2: God’s Choice in Verse 4 is of Persons, not a Plan

Flowers links to an article by Ron Hale on SBC Today. In the article, Hale engages with Hobbs on Ephesians 1:4-6 and Flowers seems to consider this capable commentary: “I strongly urge everyone reading these words to consider the exegesis given by Dr. Hershel Hobbs” (an embedded link followed). Here is the substance of Hobbs’ argument, according to Hale (and I believe he is correct): “In teaching this passage, Dr. Herschel Hobbs saw that God sovereignly chose or elected a specific plan of salvation.”

So the object of God’s choice is an “it” – a plan of salvation. The “who” is left to man’s will, ultimately. God marked out the boundaries of salvation and everyone who steps into those boundaries is saved. Hale and Flowers seem satisfied with Hobbs’ conclusion, as if we can build our theology around the single word proorisas regardless of Greek syntax.

Firstproorisas is taken from verse 5 where God determines the specific end designed for hemas (us). If Hale had quoted Hobbs’ exegesis in relevance, we would be reading comments on verse 4: kathos exelexato hemas en auto pro kataboles kosmou einai hemas hagious kai amomous katenopion autou en agape. Hale (and perhaps Flowers) don’t seem to catch this, because Hale actually cites the verb proorisas (trans. predestined) as being in verse 4, rather than verse 5.

Second, the direct object of the most relevant sentence to this discussion (v.4) is hemas (us). “He chose,” Paul says, and one may rightly ask, “What? Who? What is the object of God’s choice?” The answer: “He chose us.” The object of God’s selection is personal. It is of persons. These articles provide no engagement with this grammatical fact.

Conclusion: We Need to Look at the Grammar

I found two other links in Leighton Flowers’ article: this short video and this podcast. I have listened to both and see no points going beyond what I have already addressed. Flowers seems sincere and firmly convinced of his position, but what objective evidence does he provide for his conclusion? I cannot see any grammatical argumentation that directs us to accept his conclusion.

If the Bible is our highest authority, our most fundamental question should be, “What does the text say?” Flowers clearly agrees, but his exegetical methods do not reflect his convictions regarding the nature of Scripture. If they did, his question “How does one come to be in Christ?” would have addressed: 1) verses 3-14, not just verses 13-14, and 2) “He chose us” in verse 4.

I understand that Leighton Flowers has produced several other works on Ephesians 1. I will be reading and reviewing this in the future.

A Poem: “Sola Gratia”

Can I labor for my righteousness?
Surely favor waits for me in this
Yet as quickly as the question left my lips
I fell into sin

Wayward pilgrim, in His bosom rest
Peace awaits you in His faithfulness
Every work but His will bear you emptiness
Sola Gratia

Revel in Messiah’s broad effect
Works imputed unto God’s elect
There abides no child His blood does not protect
Sola Gratia

Christ upon an altar is your plea
Make His blood an everlasting creed
Leave no room for any other vein of peace
Sola Gratia

As the fig will grow upon the branch
So your works come from His righteousness
Careful to distinguish fruit from nutrient
Sola Gratia

Bark and timber make a sturdy tree
See it stand in winter without leaves
So this work, of human hands, has not a need
Sola Gratia

“Grace Alone” is where your hope abides
That the Lord has mercied you to life
Let this gospel peace dwell ever in your mind:
Sola Gratia

Thoughts on Reprobation

Affirmation and Definition

Election necessitates Reprobation. However, Reprobation is not the antithesis of Election. Wayne Grudem provides a rich definition: “Reprobation is the sovereign decision of God before creation to pass over some persons, in sorrow deciding not to save them, and to punish them for their sins, and thereby to manifest his justice.”[1] Scriptures pointing to Reprobation include the following: Matthew 11:25-26; Romans 9:17-20, 22-23; 1 Peter 2:8; Jude 4; Revelation 17:8.

Differentiation and Attitude

Reprobation is differentiated from Election in that God is passive toward the Reprobate and active toward the Elect. God’s decree of Election is His eternal choice to chase down and definitively redeem certain individuals from their sinful condition. God’s decree of Reprobation is His eternal choice to pass over and definitively “leave be” certain individuals in their sinful condition. Because of man’s will which is bonded in sin, all God must do to reprobate a man is simply leave him alone. All God must do is not actively pursue him unto saving faith.

Why do we make such a distinction? Isn’t the distinction between passivity and activity mute, considering that God actively made each decision in eternity past? First, the differentiation is in God’s accomplishment of His eternal purpose (ex. Ro 9:6-24), not simply in the decision. Second, it is not a mute distinction because it is a decision that God Himself makes in His Word. Numerous times we read of God’s electing, effectual, regenerating grace. Yet, never in the Bible do we see God effectually chasing the Reprobate into Hell.

The final thing to consider is the attitude in which Reprobation is presented. Scripture tells us that there is a true sense in which 1) God take displeasure in the death of wicked men (Ezek 33:11), 2) men and angels are responsible for their actions (Jn 3:18-19; 5:40). Paul expressed his own sorrow for these: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren…” (Ro 9:1-4).

Emboldened Grace and the Value of God’s Glory

The reader may want to understand why God would choose to pass over certain sinners and not save them. It is not necessary to know why, for “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?… Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:2, 4). Yet I submit that we are given two reasons why. First, to make known to His elect the riches of His glorious grace (Ro 9:23). God’s gospel grace is underscored, emboldened, highlighted, and further glorified, when God demonstrates through vessels of wrath that He truly does not have to save any of us (v.22).

Second, to glorify Himself. God’s glory is the most valuable thing imaginable. God being glorified is a better end than any other possible outcome. It is the superlative to even human well-being. If God was willing to destroy His Son in wrath (Isa 53:10a; Ro 3:23-26) for the greater purpose of glorifying Himself, why is it so unbelievable that He would not also be willing to pass over certain individuals for the greater purpose of glorifying Himself?


[1] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 684