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.

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

A Poem: “I Have Wondered”

I have wondered, Lord, what glory
Shall I enter on high
Will Your gladness, bright as morning
Be the lid of mine eye
Or shall I be left wanting
‘side something else?
Surely e’er my only blessing
Is the gift of Yourself

Crowds of people, shim’ring pavements
Even Mount Zion’s crest
Walls of em’rald, flaming chariots
Even great Seraphim
Could not make me so happy
As when You draw nigh
If you shall not journey with me
Then, my God, let me die

Were it not that You had chose me
I would hate Your good name
On my lips, Your tender mercies
Were a bare, bitter taste
But a sweet resurrection
Has made me rejoice
Holy Shepherd, lend inspection
To my need of Your voice

All my sin heaped as a mountain
I could never traverse
All the vices that I cherished
Were, of men, surely worst
But a fount called, “Salvation”
Burst from the rock
To my soul bringing fruition
From a preordained crop

Mangled, martyred, crushed assunder
By an infinite wrath
Branded, beaten, quickly plundered
On the eve of Sabbath
But a Lamb for my doorframe
There was endued
And a new Sabbath was entered
When His death was approved

While I feel my body ailing
And my cab’nets run dry
I can’t find one promise failing
That I’m given in Christ
For as many as are the
Promises of God
In Christ, ne’er vacillating,
They are ‘yes’ – every one!

Fair and fierce, I see Him coming
As I look now by faith
Hear the wicked’s callous moaning
As the earth is laid waste
Not one sin shall be covered
Lest on the cross
And His judgment will be suffered
And His glory will boast

With the serpent cast in darkness
Our new Adam will rule
Through that Word, new realms appointed
Where His wonders are new
And no shadow will prosper
To make second heist
As our vision e’er is captured
By the glory of Christ!

The Gospel of a Christocentric Cosmos

Two things should be communicated in this blog. First, I would like to tell you how Christ may be seen in all things. Second, I would like to convince you that seeing Christ in anything is a great cause for joy.

Seeing Christ in All Things

What does it mean to glorify God? To glorify something is to publicize it or put it on display. A billboard glorifies a certain product by advertising it; a preacher glorifies something by proclaiming it. To glorify God is to shine a flood-light upon Him and make His characteristics known.

With that in mind, turn to Isaiah. The prophet heard Seraphim cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (6:3). The Psalmist declares a similar point: “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (19:1). From these two texts, we understand that everything beneath us (Isa 6:3) and everything above us (Ps 19:1) glorifies God.

Notice that nothing in creation is excluded from this. The universe can be divided into 1) the earth, 2) everything else. We see, then, that the whole universe broadcasts God’s character. The cosmos is a gigantic mirror pointing to God. You can glimpse Him in everything.

With this in mind, consider what Paul says of Christ: “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Again in Hebrews: “[Christ] is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power” (1:3). It seems that the Father has chosen to be seen in Christ. Rather than stepping into the sight of men, He has decided to be mirrored in all that Christ does. Thus Christ could say, “If you knew Me, you would know My Father also” (Jn 8:19).

Like the Father, the Holy Spirit exalts Christ. Jonathan Edwards famously derived this from 1 John 4:1-6 in his sermon, “Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the True Spirit.” The Spirit’s work can be distinguished from the antichrist’s in that Christ is always glorified in a work of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit convicts men of sin (Jn 16:8), they cling to Christ. When the Spirit resurrects the hearts of men (1:9-13), they love Christ.

So within the Trinity, it has been decided that Christ is to be exalted and glorified. This does not say the Spirit and Father do not have a majesty and glory: every member of the Trinity is equally Divine. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God. God may be described as one being in three persons. The Father and Spirit do not exalt Christ because He is eternally and naturally exalted within the Trinity – rather, they exalt Him freely. The Triune God decided, under no obligation, to exalt Christ. The reasons for this decision will not be discussed in this short book.

In Colossians 1:15-17, notice the relationship between Christ and creation.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Christ being the “firstborn” of creation doesn’t mean that He is the first created thing. It means that He is exalted above creation: before all things. Not only is He above creation in status, but He is involved with creation in its existence. It was through Him that the universe was created. It was for Him that the universe was created. Even more than this, the universe holds together in Him.

To put all these thoughts together neatly, we could say that all things glorify God and specifically Christ. The Father and Spirit have chosen to exalt Christ. Jesus, then, is the Mediator of Divine glory to creation. The universe is Christocentric: centered on Christ. Everything in existence points to Him.

Savoring Christ in All Things

You may be thinking, “Great… so what?” Am I just rambling needlessly? Why is it important to you that Christ can be seen in every nook and cranny of the cosmos? It is important because seeing Christ is the Christian’s source of joy, and because a glimpse of Christ is universally available the Christian’s joy is likewise always available.

The believing heart is a creation of God (Jn 3:1-8; 6:40-65). It is distinct from the natural God-hating hearts of mankind (Ro 3:9-18). The heart of a Christian clings to Christ (Jn 1:9-13; cf. 1 Jn 5:1). The change from hating Christ to loving Christ occurs at conversion. Whereas the natural born man is hostile toward God (Ro 8:7) and dead in sin (Eph 2:1-3), the spirit-born man loves God and walks in righteousness.

The greatest Biblical example of this might be Paul (Ac 9:1-19). He persecuted the church and thought he was serving God by doing so. Thus, a man can appear to love God, but if he does not have affections for the true Christ then the God he worships is actually an idol. The make-or-break point is whether or not an individual bends the knee to Jesus Christ. He is the Mediator of God’s judgment, mercy and glory. He is the funnel through which God interacts with humanity. Therefore, no matter how passionate an individual might be for what appears to be the Judeo-Christian God, if that individual has no affections for the true Christ, he has deceived himself with the pride of his own soul.

Paul was powerfully converted into a man who loved Christ. He explains this in Philippians 3:7-11.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may 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, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

He earlier wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). Death has been made a dog at the feet of Jesus and actually serves Paul unto the end of eternal enjoyment of Christ. Life is likewise joyful because it is in the context of Christ that Paul lives on earth. Paul understood his entire existence to be within the confines of Jesus Christ. He saw everything through that lens.

The same is true for you, if indeed your heart has been recreated by God. You don’t need me to present a 50-page defense of why seeing Christ is the fullest source of joy for you. We don’t really care for streets of gold, mansions, or family reunions in Heaven, do we? We look-forward to the wonderful day when, in shades of glory indescribable, the King of Glory steps into view and finally our faith is made sight. We hope in great expectation for that moment when, after decades of toil and sickness on earth, our Savior – with might and terrible beauty – says to us, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matt 25:21).

The silliest things today are those books and films about people visiting Heaven. Aside from eschatological problems, all we need to disprove their accounts are the accounts themselves. They describe Heaven as a utopia-in-the-sky. Rainbow swing-sets, days with family members, wonderful food – and none of these things are bad. In fact, the Biblical description of Heaven seems to suggest that we may have some of these things in Heaven. Redemption is not the destruction of God’s material creation, but the renewal of it.

Yet it is only after all these things that Christ is brought in – as if He is the icing on the cake to all of these others pleasures in Heaven. What a preposterous thing to consider! “And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:23). The glory of Heaven is not the created things, but the Creator Himself – we will not make the former mistake of worshiping the earth instead of its King (Ro 1:24-25).

My friend, Christ Himself is the glory of Heaven, and most professing Christian would find themselves quite bored if allowed entrance to that city. Yet the true believer truly loves Christ, and so he is elated with the news that eternity will hold for him an endless meeting with the Lamb.

So really, if you are not truly a follower of Christ, then this blog will not resonate with you. It was a short but slow read. But if you truly do love Christ, then all I need to do in closing this article is confess with the Psalmist, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (16:11).

Defining Sanctification in Light of Romans 8:29-30

Romans 8:29-30 is famously dubbed “The Golden Chain of Redemption.” Five complete, Divine actions drive the passage: foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified. This overview of God’s work in salvation is referred to as monergistic (meaning “with one energy”) because God alone accomplishes it all.

One striking detail is that Paul seems to skip sanctification. Shouldn’t it be, “justified, sanctified, glorified”? One explanation might be that sanctification is not a monergistic work and so would not be appropriate for Paul’s point in Romans 8:29-30 (i.e. to explain how God works good in believers’ lives [v.28] and that if God is for us no one can be against us [v.31]). Yet this explanation does not seem appropriate. For Paul’s argument to work, the entire work of salvation must be monergistic. Leaving out one facet that doesn’t support his theology would at best be dishonest, at worst an upheaval of Paul’s apostolic integrity.

I suggest that Paul excludes sanctification because it does not ontologically progress the saint in salvation. In the remainder of this article I will defend and detail this proposition. First, we need to understand “predestined” in 8:29. Second, we need to understand the three terms introduced in verse 30: called, justified, glorified. Third, after this analysis is complete, a definition of sanctification can be arrived upon.

Chosen to Be Conformed

Foreknew” does not communicate that God based His election on foreseen faith. This foreknowledge is relational and is actually the doctrine of Unconditional Election itself (I’m not going to defend this here, but feel free to ask me questions in the comment section below).

Predestined” needs further explanation – unto what did God destine His elect to? “…predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” Conformity to Christ’s image is the end unto which God has determined His elect. “Predestined” is not the act of God conforming us but the decision of God to conform us.

What is “the image of His Son”? Some suggest that it refers strictly to bodily resurrection (ex. see Paul Sloan, around minute 20). I consider this focus to be too narrow because of Paul’s emphasis on a present yet future salvation (Romans 8:12-25) – the “already and not-yet.” “Firstborn” refers to something being preeminent or exalted. Paul is literally saying, “so that Jesus would be the exalted elder brother of many” – or perhaps, “so that Jesus would be glorified among many.”

That being said, conformity to Christ’s image seems to only be possible through resurrection. “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Col 1:18). “Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor 15:49). This seems to be what Paul speaks of in Romans 8:23, “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” This redemption of the body is our resurrection, which Paul refers to as our adoption.

Yet this is intriguing, because Paul earlier wrote, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (v.15-16). So which is it? Are we presently adopted as sons, or do we await a future adoption? The text appears forcing us to answer, “both” – but not in a mysterious sense. I suggest that Paul is actually referring to two resurrections: one of the spirit, one of the body. This would make sense of the “already and not-yet” theology found in Romans 8.

There is first a spiritual resurrection: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgression, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:1, 4-6). There is second a physical resurrection: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, be the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to himself” (Phil 3:21).

Because each resurrection is of the same man and unto the same end (conformity to Christ), we should see this as one resurrection with two facets. 1 Peter 1:3-4 may support this: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” Christ’s physical resurrection in some sense secured for us a birth which we presently experience yet will one day receive in full.

Our resurrection is often called “birth” and thus appropriates the Biblical term of “adoption” and “child of God.” In the complete work of resurrection, we are reborn into Christ’s image. Regeneration would be the spiritual birth, where our hearts are conformed. Resurrection would be the physical birth, where our bodies are conformed. Considering these things, continue with me through Romans 8:29-30.

Judicial and Ontological Conformity

Paul introduces the final three Divine actions in verse 30. The calling pursues and accomplishes God’s purpose without fail (cf. 8:28; 31-39; 9:6-13), so it is effectual rather than invitational. This would be regeneration – the effectual work of God whereby a sinner is spiritually resurrected, given a heart that loves and clings to Christ (Ezek 36:26-27; 1 Jn 5:1). Justification, as Paul so laboriously detailed prior to this, is the Divine declaration that an individual is not guilty. The final action “glorified” must be referring to our physical resurrection and acquisition of heavenly bodies (cf. Rom 8:21). These three actions are distinct from the previous two (foreknew and predestined) because they involve God’s interaction with us in time. While election and predestination occurred prior to our birth, calling, justification and glorification are accomplished after we begin to exist.

I consider it appropriate to view the first two actions as God’s purposing and the final three actions as God’s accomplishing. If this is correct, then calling, justification and glorification comprise God’s work of conforming us into Christ’s image (i.e. what He predestined the foreknown unto). Calling and glorification refer to ontological conformity; justification refers to judicial conformity.

The judicial conformity provides the basis upon which God ontologically conforms us. God never changes and so always deals with men by a consistent standard. This standard has not and will not be broken, even for the purpose of conforming someone into Christ’s image. It is upon the basis of Christ’s obedience and death that God is then able to be just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:26). It is common to say, “I am justified, therefore righteous,” but this statement is false. Justification does not make us righteous, it declares us righteous. We are given Christ’s unblemished record – thus, judicially conformed to His image.

The ontological conformity is the transformation of our being. This is the act in which God literally makes us righteous. Our calling is first, glorification is second. In terms synonymous with the purpose of this article: our spiritual resurrection is first, physical resurrection is second. We are first made inwardly like Christ, second made outwardly like Christ.

So What is Sanctification?

In light of these things, how might we define sanctification? It is not a creative work of God whereby an individual is made into Christ’s likeness. This creative work occurs in regeneration and resurrection. However, sanctification clearly depends on God’s work within us (Jn 15:1-9; Phil 2:12-13). As God works within us, these two passages clearly state that we must work-out this Divine grace. Sanctification is synergistic because both our energy and God’s energy are necessary. “But doesn’t that mean salvation is by works?” No, because sanctification is not a creative conformity to Christ’s image.

Regeneration and resurrection completely conform us to Christ’s image. Absolutely no work is needed on our part in order to bring these two things about. Sanctification must by nature be a different kind of work than foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. In sanctification, what is already conformed to Christ’s image? Our heart. What has yet to be conformed? Our body.

Sanctification, I propose, is the progressive discipline of the flesh to conform to the affections of one’s regenerate heart. The energy to accomplish such discipline is only found in God, but the action of discipline is done by the individual. Further, the monergistic work of salvation (Rom 8:29-30) in no way hinges upon the amount of sanctification one experiences. Conformity to Christ’s image is accomplished in the resurrection of the spirit and body. Consider these texts that seem to support my proposition:

But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. – Hebrews 5:14

But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:27

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. – Galatians 5:24-25

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. – Ephesians 4:1

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and wo work for His good pleasure. – Philippians 2:12-13

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. – 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

This understanding of sanctification is congruent with the semantic use of the word. “Sanctify” means “to make holy,” or “to set apart.” Israel was commanded to sanctify itself from the world and to God. The sanctification clearly occurs only as far as an individual is obedient: “You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. You shall keep My statutes and practice them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Lev 20:7-8). So here we see the synergistic work of sanctification. The Israelites were responsible to be holy – but God had already done a work to make them holy. God monergistically separated them from the world and to Him, then He told them to live in that separation. New Testament believers have the same responsibility. Our sanctification is essentially our work of setting ourselves aside for God – and this work is only possible by the power of God (again: Jn 15:1-9; Phil 2:12-13).


So why is sanctification excluded from Romans 8:29-30? Because it is not a creative, salvific act of God whereby we are made into Christ’s image. Sanctification is rather the synergistic, progressive discipline of our body, whereby it is conformed to righteousness while we await a physical resurrection.

A Poem: “Wrath upon the Head of Christ”

Wrath upon the head of Christ
Not a drop shall touch me
How the bloody sacrifice
Looks to me so lovely
Never would I wish Him pain
Yet I need His suff’ring
Lamb for certain sinners slain
Knit for me a cov’ring

Tide of wrath upon His chest
Condemnation muted
As I surely enter rest
He was surely wounded
Stream of mercy from the cross:
Bathe me richly in it!
Bitter with the righteous cost
Sweetened by His merit

Blade of God upon His brow
Anger there abiding
Drawn to take His life, and now
Mine is there presiding
Severed from the root of peace
Cut away from Heaven
The Lamb of God was robbed of fleece
The Bread of Life, unleavened

See the hammer born of God:
Jesus in its pathway
Made an anvil for that rod
Beaten, yet not crumb’ling
Yes, my Savior bore the load
Yes, my Savior perished
Yet upon the final blow
Death was made impoverished

Jesus – O how dear the name!
For when I was naked
Jesus dressed my feeble frame
With His righteous garment
Then He took my muddy shirt
Draped it on His glory
As if He had wrought the dirt!
As if He weren’t holy!

How to Love Like a Trinitarian

The orthodox Trinitarian doctrine states that God exists as three persons (Father, Son, Spirit) in one being. There is only one God in terms of ontology, but there are three distinct persons that share this Divine essence. So the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father or the Son – but the Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God.

…baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 Cor 13:14)

To those…who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work o the Spirit, to obey jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood” (1 Pt 1:1-2)

Though it can be confusing, it is fundamentally important to recognize that Christianity is monotheistic.

A Trinitarian Salvation

It can be helpful to examine how each member of the Trinity operates. For example, the Father ordained the universe but created it through the Son. The Spirit convinces the dead-heart of Scripture but in a way that exalts the Son. Specifically for this article, I would like to consider the soteriological work of God. What actions has each member of the Trinity taken to redeem a people?

First, the Father chose whom He would redeem (Eph 1:4-6). In eternity past, He set His love on certain sinners. This love did not look for a difference among people (as if He chose the best and brightest) but made a difference. Though none of these rebels deserved to be chosen for such a glorious end, the Father mercifully decided to love them.

Second, the Son suffered in the place of these specific rebels (Eph 1:7-12). The Son took the form of a man and lived a perfect life on earth. In living a perfect life, He earned righteousness before God. On the cross, the Father smote the Son with the righteous indignation meant for His people whom He chose, and His people receive the credit for the Son’s righteousness.

Third, the Spirit awakens these certain sinners from a life of hating God to a life of loving God (Eph 1:13-14). This is when the benefits won on the cross are applied to God’s people. These sinners are sealed in the Holy Spirit, never to be taken out of God’s salvific love.

A Trinitarian Ethic

In salvation, these are the distinctive works of each member of the Trinity. I want to briefly explain how my belief and experience of the Trinity affects the way I love others.

First, as the Father’s love for His people, my love for people is not dependent upon their actions but upon my decision to love. I do not aim for the ones who seem to benefit me the most, or the individuals whom I best get along with. My desire instead is to mirror the Father’s love by unconditionally serving those around me. This type of love is truly the strongest because the dispositions of other people are not variables to be considered. The only consideration is whether or not I choose to love them.

Second, as the Son’s love for His people, my love for people is self-sacrificing. Paul addresses this in marriage: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). Based on my decision to love those around me, I should be willing to give of myself freely for their benefit. The consideration is not, “Do they deserve this?” but rather, “Am I able to help?” My action is motivated by my prior choice to love them, and determined on the greatness of their need rather than the merit of their lifestyle.

Third, as the Spirit’s love for His people, my love is active and pursuing. Rather than wait for our response, the Spirit seeks and powerfully awakens God’s people to His truth. Similarly, my love for others should not hinge on them reaching out to me. I do not mean a pestering love, but an active love. My service is always at-the-ready, to be deployed whenever I see the need arise.

My belief in the Triune God compels me to unconditionally, sacrificially, actively love others. In this, I mirror God’s own love for His people.

A Brief Confession of the Doctrines of Grace

There are several distinctive truths of Calvinism. These principles in sum separate the Doctrines of Grace from other systems of theology. A person who believes these doctrines is typically described as Reformed in their soteriology. This article is a confession of the Doctrines of Grace. It is not a defense. I simply want to bear witness to these convictions that are very dear to me.

The Wickedness of Every Man

I believe that every human is born with a heart naturally inclined to sin. “There is none who seeks for God” (Rom 3:11). It is not that man literally cannot come to God, but rather that he will not come to God. Yet because his hostility for God is so strong, it is true to say that he will never seek for God nor submit to God in love. Thus, it is in that sense that every man is unable to come to God due to the depravity of his evil will (Mk 10:24-27). His will is bound to his own wicked affections (Rom 8:6-8).

The Father’s Merciful Choice

I believe that God chose specific sinners to redeem from sin and bring into an eternal enjoyment of His glory. “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4). Salvation does not depend on the will of man, but rather on God’s will to have mercy (Rom 9:16). God’s will to save an individual is the dependent factor in that individual’s salvation. There was no condition that any person had to meet prior to God’s decision to save that person. God’s salvific love is thus unconditional.

The Son’s Redeeming Sacrifice

I believe that Christ’s work on the cross definitively secured salvation for all those whom God chose to save (Eph 1:4). The atonement is unlimited in power yet limited in the scope of individuals to whom it is applied. No one for whom Christ bore sin will fall into eternal damnation (Rom 8:32-33). The intention of God at the cross was not to simply make salvation possible but rather to secure redemption through His blood for the saints (Eph 1:7). Christ literally was substituted for the saints as a sacrifice to appease God’s wrath (Rom 3:25).

The Spirit’s Resurrecting Power

I believe that all those whom God chose and redeemed, He powerfully seals by His Spirit. “You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:13). He resurrects their dead natures and gives them a heart that loves Him (Ezek 36; Jn 3:5; Rom 8:30). Only the Spirit gives such life (Jn 6:63; Eph 2:8-9). The most basic fruit of this regeneration is an affection for Jesus Christ (Jn 1:9-13; 1 Jn 5:1). The saint’s heart now has “taste buds” for God in such a way that he is removed from the bondage of wicked desires and effectually drawn to God (Eph 2:4-5).

The Hope of Every Saint

I believe that all those whom God chose, redeemed and sealed will be raised with Christ and glorified. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:44). All of Christ’s sheep have eternal life and cannot be snatched out of God’s hand (Jn 10:27-29). No individual whom God sets His salvific love upon is left unglorified (Rom 8:29-30). A saint’s salvation is as secure as God’s will is sovereign: his peace rests on God’s immutable and effectual will to save (Rom 8:31-39).


These five pillars articulate one defining conviction: if it were not for God’s mercy, I would in every sense be lost. The difference made between the “wickedness” of the first and the “hope” of the last, is the Trinitarian work of God. I must confess with Jonah: “Salvation is from the Lord” (Jon 2:9).

I have thought, if God had left me alone, and had not touched me by His grace, what a great sinner I should have been! I should have run to the utmost lengths of sin, dived into the very depths of evil, nor should I have stopped at any vice or folly, if God had not restrained me. I feel that I should have been a very king of sinners, if God had let me alone. I cannot understand the reason why I am saved, except upon the ground that God would have it so. I cannot, if I look ever so earnestly, discover any kind of reason in myself why I should be a partaker of divine grace. If I am not at this moment without Christ, it is only because Christ Jesus would have His will with me, and that will was that I should be with Him where He is, and should share in His glory. I can put the crown nowhere but upon the head of Him whose mighty grace has saved me from going down into the pit. (Spurgeon, “A Defense of Calvinism”)

The Dependence of Grace

I have considered again the suggestion that God’s election of sinners to salvation is actually His response to for-seeing faith in some. I would like to provide my current thoughts on the issue.

Initial Thoughts

If God chose to save me because He foresaw my faith in Christ – what a dishonor this would be to the depths of His mercy. For in this you say that Christ would not die for me had I not chosen Him, as the logical prerequisite for God’s choice to save is my choice to love Him. In this, God is said to not love the most wretched of transgressors, but only those who, being less evil than others, chose to love Him.

I must swiftly and firmly deny this because Christ came for “those who are sick,” (Matt 9:12). If there truly are riches of grace in accordance with the merit of Christ, then shameful is he who diminishes such grace to God’s inclination to only save only the healthiest sinners. If God’s mercy isn’t as rich as Ephesians 1:3-2:10 suggests, then what do we make of David’s remarks? “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, that You may be feared” (Ps 130:3-4).

First, I recognize that there are no healthy sinners. All have the same predicament, of Adam’s seed and burdened with Adam’s lot (Rom 5). “There is none righteous, not even one; there is non who understands, there is non who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one,” (Rom 3:10-12). All of mankind is guilty and wicked, the product of sin.

Second, if the hearts of men could in fact be distinguished between evil and not-so-evil, would I not be chief among the worst? I have hated God and loved false-gods. Do I consider myself more holy than Paul? “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24). Still, I think of David’s confession: “Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps 51:4-5).

Conditioned Grace

Third, I cannot ignore that such grace isn’t grace at all! God’s mercy in Scripture is that which saves the vilest criminal. But if my choice influenced God’s choice, then I have become a condition for grace. Such grace is disqualified to the realm of wages and God must be counted as a liar, having deceived us when He spoke through Paul: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom 9:16).

I would stand in awe of such grace but I would not be baffled, for obviously if God saved any it would be those best of sinners. Yet grace worth swooning over, that confounds even the proudest heart, is this: God took no consideration of my state other than my great need, which He met gladly and abundantly. Grace is only worthy of the title if her sole condition is the generosity of the giver.

Conclusion

Having thus considered the notion, I take great confidence in submitting to you that the gospel is only good news if God sees us at our vilest, meets us at our lowest, knows us at our most wretched state, and yet at that time lavishes mercy upon mercy against our souls. Only that gospel is a gospel worth preaching to all people.

A banquet is only good news to a beggar if he doesn’t need good attire. If he must wear decent clothing to the banquet, he cannot come because he has no clothing. The one who set the feast has been very generous to say, “You may come if you have the clothes.” Yet we cannot say this is good news for the beggar, for he is destitute of the condition. Oh, but how rich is that grace which says, “Dear beggar, come as you are. You need only bring an appetite.”

That’s a gospel I am not ashamed of: a gospel solely dependent upon the generosity of God.

Sola Gratia