Did Christ Literally Bear Our Sins on the Cross?

It’s Easter time when Christians direct their attentions to the Cross and meditate on the redemptive work of Christ. As I listen to young preachers deliver their messages this Easter season, it has come to my attention, and is increasingly obvious to me, that many do not seem to have a firm footing in Orthodox theology and do not appear to have a firm grasp of the doctrine of atonement and the implications surrounding the redemptive work of Christ. They simply have not studied enough or meditated on the implications of the event.

What seems to be the cause of confusion for many unstudied preachers is Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:21 which states:

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 5:211

On the surface, the English translation of this ancient text appears to say that Christ actually became sin for us. One young preacher actually suggested that “Jesus took on all of the evil of humanity…[and] took upon Himself our sin like a disease allowing Himself to be infected so he could be our cure.”

So, here’s the question, “Did Christ actually bear in His body the sins of humanity on the cross?”  This is the question this article will venture to answer. What we will find is that when we apply the appropriate hermeneutical concerns, we find this verse says something quite different from what we may have originally believed it to say.

Scripture Asserting the Sinless Nature of Jesus Christ

The Scriptures assert the absolute purity and holiness of God’s anointed Messiah, the Christ. Moreover, the biblical writers of the New Testament maintain the sinless nature of Jesus Christ, as it was necessary for the lamb to be slain for the sins of the world to be spotless, blameless and without sin.

Scriptures asserting the sinless nature of Jesus Christ are:

You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

–1 John 3:5

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

–Hebrews 4:15

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.

–Hebrews 7:26–28

The New Testament writers, upholding the deity of Christ, were in agreement about the sinlessness of Christ and His pure and holy nature. Even so, Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21, asserts the sinless nature of Christ, and the same with the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:19. The concept of a sinless messiah also appears in other extant texts such as the Psalms of Solomon (17:36) and Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (T. Jud. 24:1; T. Benj. 3:8).2

Paul held the Christ to be the image and glory of God. And through the epithet “Lord” in the primitive confession of the early Jesus movement, Jesus Christ is associated with the divine name found in the Hebrew Bible, Yahweh (yhwh, יהוה) the proper name of Israel’s deity, and the Septuagint, kyrios (κύριος) master, and Lord (deity).3

With this, it is surprising to find a rising number of “next generation” preachers who based on their misinterpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:21, forcefully assert that Jesus “took on the evil of humanity” and like a disease allowing Himself to be infected with sin. On the surface without much study, one may believe these conclusions to be accurate; however, we must ask ourselves when drawing these conclusions, Does this make sense intertextually with the whole of Scripture? Is this what the volume of the book, the Bible, tells us about Christ?

Did Jesus Take Upon Himself the Evil of Humanity?

The Bible does not set out to explain evil, nor is it interested in philosophical answers to the problem of evil. When we are faced with evil, or suffering, or pain, or injustice, what most of us want is not clever arguments, but action. And this is the approach the Bible takes. It sets out to tell us not so much what God says about evil, but what God has done about evil.

The Bible tells the story of the one event in history where these themes all converged. It is the story how God sent his son, Jesus Christ, and how the powers of evil did their worst to him on a cross hanging on a Judean hillside. Because of his great love for us, Jesus chose to submit to the worst that evil could do to him. Suffering and pain led to death. In the death of Jesus, God condemned evil and passed sentence on it (Romans 8:3). Evil did its worst to Jesus and was exhausted, death had no more power (1 Cor 15:54). This is why Jesus rose from the dead (2 Tim 1:10). Jesus’ resurrection was no random miracle. The resurrection happened because evil had been defeated, sin forgiven, and forgiveness and freedom made possible.4

Through Christ’s atonement on the cross, evil was exhausted, but at no time did evil enter into the body or nature of Christ. Evil was judged on the cross but did not enter into Jesus. If Christ had taken upon Himself the evil of humanity, He would have been disqualified from the position of Messiah, the sacrificial paschal lamb (the lamb sacrificed at Passover), as He would have been an unworthy sacrifice.

In our subject text, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul begins with “the One who has never known sin.” The verb “known” connotes knowledge that has been acquired by personal participation; while the expression presents a timeless truth, the emphasis rests on Christ’s sinlessness in his incarnation.5 Presented another way, Christ did not know sin—He had not experienced it or committed any sin—of any kind. The significance of this fact for the present verse has to do with Christ being a fit, an “unblemished,” substitutionary sacrifice for sins. If Christ had been imbued with the evil of humanity, it would have disqualified him from being “the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world” (Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19). The quality prerequisite for the paschal lamb sacrifice was to be spotless and without blemish of any kind (Lev 5:18; Numbers 6:14; Ezekiel 46:4, 6; cf. Colossians 1:22). It simply would not make sense, and is a gross overstatement, to say that Jesus Christ took upon Himself the evil of humanity.

Did Jesus Take Our Sin Upon Himself like a Disease Allowing Himself to be Infected?

Did Jesus take our sins upon Himself like one is infected by disease?

What Paul stresses is that God made this sinless one to be sin for our sake. Various interpretations have been suggested for this profound statement:

(a) Christ was made a sinner,

(b) Christ was made a sin-offering,

(c) Christ was made to bear the consequences of our sins.

The first suggestion is rightly rejected from the onset for the above reasons. The second proposal can be supported by appeal to Paul’s use of sacrificial terminology elsewhere to bring out the significance of Christ’s death (e.g. Rom. 3:25; 1 Cor. 5:7). It has also been pointed out that in Leviticus 4:24 and 5:12 (LXX) the same word, ‘sin’ (hamartia), is used to mean ‘sin-offering’. However, with only one possible exception (Rom. 8:3), the word is never used in this way in the New Testament, and it is doubtful whether it carries that meaning here.

According to Colin Kruse in his commentary on 2 Corinthians, “The understanding of Christ’s death as a sacrifice for sin is certainly Pauline, but it is probably not the best way of understanding the present statement.”6 Kruse goes on in support of the third proposal in which Christ was made to bear the consequences of the sins of humanity. Kruse states:

That Christ was made to bear the consequences of the sins of humanity is to be preferred and is supported by the fact that Paul in Galatians 3:13 interprets the work of Christ in terms of his bearing the consequences of our sins: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed be every one who hangs on tree” ’. This interpretation is further supported by the fact that the statement, he made him to be sin who knew no sin (v. 21a) is balanced in antithetical parallelism by the words, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. We must construe the former in such a way that the latter is understood as its antithetical counterpart.

Christians are no more, literally speaking, the righteousness of God than Jesus literally became the sins of humanity. When one believes In Christ as their savior they are credited Christ’s righteousness to their account (Phil 3:9), but they do not receive His righteousness in such a way that it is coursing through their veins. When I first heard a young preacher explain the imputation of sin on Christ, as if Jesus was actually infected by disease, it was startling and very troubling indeed. While there are a number of Scriptures that on the surface appear to support the concept of Christ being saturated by the sins of the world, the idea simply cannot be sustained when applying the correct interpretive principles.

Scripture frequently says that our sins were put on Christ: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6), and “He bore the sin of many” (Isa. 53:12). John the Baptist calls Jesus “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Paul declares that God made Christ “to be sin” (2 Cor. 5:21) and that Christ became “a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). The author of Hebrews says that Christ was “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28). And Peter says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). The passage from 2 Corinthians quoted above, together with the verses from Isaiah, indicate that it was God the Father who put our sins on Christ. But how could this be?

The Grammatical Metonymy

1 Peter 2:24 affirms that Christ “his own self bears our sins in his body upon the tree.” But Peter’s declaration can hardly mean that the Lord became infected with sin while upon the cross. The apostle already had declared that Jesus died as “a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:19). If the Lord died, having absorbed sin, Peter’s previous language becomes meaningless. What, then, is the explanation of these passages?

They involve a common biblical figure of speech known as metonymy.7 William Shedd in his Dogmatic Theology defines a metonymy as, “a figure of speech in which one part of something is put in place of another. For example, soul may be referenced when actually body is in view.”8 In this figure, a subject is named when in reality something associated with the subject is intended. Any good textbook on hermeneutics (the science of Bible interpretation) will provide plenty of illustrations for this figure of speech.

There are a number of instances of this grammatical device used by the biblical writers of the New Testament. Since figurative language and typology are not the topic of this article, only a few instances of these will be mentioned.

Luke provides us with Jesus’ telling of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. If you recall, at the end of the story we read Abraham saying, “‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them’” (Luke 16:29). Now, the people did not have Moses with them, or even his bones, nor did they have the prophets literally with them. But here the name “Moses” (the author of the Pentateuch) clearly serves as a metonymy for the writings he produced. Therefore, this was simply a figure of speech used by Jesus calling them to remember the traditions of Moses and the Prophets (Plummer, 2010, p. 229).

Similarly, Paul in his letters would sometimes use, “the cross” as a metonymy for the atoning death of Jesus. In Galatians 6:14, Paul writes, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Now, we know the cross had no intrinsic value in and of itself, but value was attributed to it because of the one, Jesus Christ, and His atoning work performed on the cross. But rather than say all of that, Paul simply refers to the “the cross.” Again, a metonymy—he says one thing, referring to another more detailed concept. Paul does the same thing in Philippians 3:18 where talks about “enemies of the cross of Christ.” We know they are not merely enemies of “the cross,” an inanimate thing, but they are enemies of what it stands for, the atoning work of Christ.

Paul, uses the same grammatical device in Ephesians 6:17 referring to “the sword of the Spirit.” The term and theme of the “sword of the Spirit” has deep roots in Scripture. In Isaiah the prophet writes concerning the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah, who has a “mouth like a sharp sword.” In Hosea 6:5, the prophet, speaking for God, says “…I have slain them by the words of My mouth.” In Revelation 1:16, out of the mouth of the Son of Man “came a sharp two-edged sword…” In each reference a metonymy was employed when the sword is used figuratively to refer to the Word of God. Christians employ the metonymy when they refer to their Bibles as “swords.” Although this term draws from the Scriptural reference in Hebrews 4:12, “The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword…” Nevertheless, modern-day Christians evoke the same grammatical rule today.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard Christ referred to as a “firm foundation,” an “anchor,” or “a rock” (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4). Each one being grounded in church tradition and referring back to Jesus Christ Himself. Most interpreters are in agreement “the rock” (1 Cor 10:4; cf. Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11) comes from a long line of Jewish tradition (see the works of Philo: see Alleg. Interp. 2.86; Worse is Wont to Attack the Better, 118).

Concerning “the rock,” the majority of interpreters see Paul pointing to Christ’s pre-existence prior to His incarnation and showing how Christ served as a source of life for the Israelites in the wilderness. While the water from the rock was no doubt a miraculous work of God, most interpreters view Paul’s comments about the rock to be figurative as “the rock” foreshadowed and pointed to Christ. Even Paul, when he writes says it was a “spiritual drink” from a “spiritual rock” (1 Cor 10:4). Christ Himself did not appear in the form of a rock to provide water to Israel. Although interpretation was varied among earlier interpreters, Augustine provides the clearest statement concerning the substance of the rock. In his City of God, St. Augustine writes, “All symbols seem in some way to personify the realities of which they are symbols. So, St. Paul says, “The rock was Christ,” because the rock in question symbolized Christ” (City of God 18.46.)

According to Spiros Zodhiates, when Peter writes about Jesus bearing our sins in His body, which is a near exact quote of Isaiah 53:6 from the Septuagint, Peter’s intent and meaning of what he is saying is that Jesus was being treated as if He were a sinner.9 Peter’s statement, that the Savior “bore our sins” (1 Pet. 2:24), does not suggest that the Lord carried the “guilt” of human sin in his body personally. Here the term “sins” conveys the sense of the penalty of sin that we justly deserved. Dr. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology explains it in this way:

In the same way in which Adam’s sins were imputed to us, so God imputed our sins to Christ; that is, he thought of them as belonging to Christ and, since God is the ultimate judge and definer of what really is in the universe, when God thought of our sins as belonging to Christ then in fact they actually did belong to Christ. This does not mean that God thought that Christ had himself committed the sins, or that Christ himself actually had a sinful nature, but rather that the guilt for our sins (that is, the liability to punishment) was thought of by God as belonging to Christ rather than to us.”10

The sin with which Christ totally identified himself was extrinsic to him, not intrinsic. He was without any acquaintance with sin that might have come through his ever having a sinful attitude or doing a sinful act. Both inwardly and outwardly he was impeccable.

Dr. Murray Harris, writing about the imputation of sin and righteousness states:

The one who was devoid of sin took the place of those who were devoid of righteousness when he bore the consequences of their sin. As a result, they gain the right standing before God that they lacked. The purpose and result of God’s causing Christ “to be sin” was that in Christ believers “might become the righteousness of God,” i.e., might become justified or righteous in the sight of God by being in Christ, who is their righteousness (1 Co 1:30).11

According to Harris, the imputation of our sins onto Christ and His righteousness imputed onto us is a judicial declaration and not an actual infusing of these characteristics.

Bullinger, interpreting 2 Corinthians 5:21, applying the grammatical function of metonymy, interprets the passage to read, “Christ became a ‘sin offering for us.’”12 Christ could not be sin; He was wholly without sin; and the only way for the language to be true is by the use of this form of metonymy. He became a sin-offering for us.

Gregory of Nazianzus in his Theological Orations 5 put it this way:

But look at it in this manner; that as for my sake he was called a curse who destroyed my curse, and sin who takes away the sin of the world, and became a new Adam to take the place of the old, just so he makes my disobedience his own as head of the whole body.13

My mentors, Drs. Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes, who are both highly respected biblical scholars, both concur:

Jesus was always without sin actually, but He was made to be sin for us judicially. That is, by His death on the cross, He paid the penalty for our sins and thereby cancelled the debt of sin against us. So, while Jesus never committed a sin personally, He was made to be sin for us substitutionally.14

Simply stated, the Scriptures do not teach that Christ died as a sinner or that he in any sense had absorbed the evil of humanity and sin or was infected by it. That theory is an error that results from sectarian theology and incorrect interpretive techniques that fail to properly identify the figurative language used by the biblical writers.


References

  1. All Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
  2. James A. Waddell, The Messiah: A Comparative Study of the Enochic Son of Man and the Pauline Kyrios, ed. James H. Charlesworth, vol. 10, Jewish and Christian Texts in Contexts and Related Studies Series (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 142.
  3. Jonathan Lo, “Deity,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).
  4. Andy Bannister, “‘Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?,’” ed. Wayne A. Detzler, Christian Apologetics Journal 9, no. 2 (2011): 75.
  5. George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians. Edited by Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, p. 313.
  6. Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 8. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987, p. 127).
  7. See Wayne Jackson, “Did Christ Literally Bear Our Sins on the Cross?” ChristianCourier.com, access date: April 11, 2020, https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1512-did-christ-literally-bear-our-sins-on-the-cross
  8. William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 957.
  9. Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).
  10. Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004, 573-574.
  11. Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition), edited by Tremper Longman III & Garland, David E. Vol. 11. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008, p. 482
  12. Ethelbert William Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. London; New York: Eyre & Spottiswoode; E. & J. B. Young & Co., 1898, 584.
  13. Gregory of Nazianzus, “Theological Oration 5,” in Gerald Lewis Bray, ed., 1–2 Corinthians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 253.
  14.  See Ron Rhodes, “How Was Jesus ‘Made’ Sin?” CRI: Christian Research Institute (Oct 8, 2010, accessed on April 10, 2020,  https://www.equip.org/article/how-was-jesus-made-sin/ and Norman L.  Geisler, Thomas Howe, Thomas Howe, and Norman L. Geisler. Making Sense of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009, 2 Corinthians 5:21.

For Further Reading

Ron Rhodes, “How Was Jesus ‘Made’ Sin?” CRI: Christian Research Institute (Oct 8, 2010, accessed on April 10, 2020,  https://www.equip.org/article/how-was-jesus-made-sin/

Kendell Easley, “Jesus Was Not a Sinner But Became Sin,” The Gospel Coalition, Feb 17, 2014, accessed on April 11, 2020, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/jesus-was-not-a-sinner-but-became-sin/

Wayne Jackson, “Did Christ Literally Bear Our Sins on the Cross?” ChristianCourier.com, access date: April 11, 2020. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1512-did-christ-literally-bear-our-sins-on-the-cross

Robert L. Plummer, 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible. Edited by Benjamin L. Merkle. 40 Questions Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2010).

How Does Divine Grace Translate into a Changed Life?

Many recognize that is it God’s divine grace, His unmerited favor, that makes redemption of humanity possible through the Son, Jesus Christ. However, it must also be recognized that it is God’s divine grace working throughout the redemptive process of sanctification to transform us into the image of Christ bringing newness of life to every believer. In this article, I want to talk about some of the ways that divine grace works in the transformation process changing believers to become more Christ like.

Divine Grace Makes It Possible for God to Give You a New Identity

God’s grace makes it possible for God to bestow upon believers a new status as the children of God, as members of His eternal family, so they may relate to God as their heavenly father (Gal 4:4-6). The Apostle John, in his gospel, writes,

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

–John 1:12–13

The Christian’s status as a child of God is far more significant than most realize, for Christians have been given an entirely new identity that not only impacts their eternal destiny but their life on earth as well. Biblical scholar, Klyne Snodgrass, in his book on Christian Identity asserts that the overarching biblical narrative should be considered when defining Christian identity. The biblical emphasis placed on history with regards to identity points to a larger history, the history of God’s effort to have a people of His own, into which we as Christians are born into the family of God. Snodgrass states,

The New Testament stresses that Christians by faith have adopted someone else’s story to be determinative of our own. Our true history is the history of Christ into which we are grafted. His history, within which and to which our personal history is subsumed, is our defining history. That is what faith, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are about. Christians lay the story of their lives—damage and all—in the hands of God, confess that parts of their story are not good, affirm that they do not direct their own story, and ask that their story be taken into and conformed to the narrative of what God is doing in Christ.1

According to Snodgrass, Christians basically trade their history and stories in for the story of Christ, assuming His family heritage and identity for their own; “laying the story of their lives—damage and all—in the hands of God.” Paul asserts in his letter to the church in Rome,

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, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ….

–Romans 8:15–17

Because of God’s grace through the atoning work of Christ, believers have been adopted into the family of God. This adoption is not a forever adopted status, because Christians become fully legitimate Sons and Daughters of God in Christ.

Michael Milton, discussing the hardships of adopted children, writes about the attitudes that go with the concept of adoption and how adopted children are often viewed by society. He writes about the distinctions people make between “real children” and “adopted children” and how people in their minds and hearts make adoption an ongoing identity rather than a single event in life. Milton writes,

They elevate bloodline over covenant, a wrongheaded, human way of thinking in fleshly juxtaposition to the concept of family presented in the Bible. Unchecked and unexplained, this misguided talk about adoption can ultimately lead to the appearance of malignancies of the human soul, mental anguish, a crisis of person-hood, and a host of other diseases of the heart and mind. This is true for both the child and the parent.2

Just as it is emotionally damaging for a child to be considered adopted throughout their lifetime, it is equally damaging for a Christian to continue to consider themselves adopted into the family of God. Christians who continue to view themselves as adopted thrust upon themselves emotional damage that prevent spiritual growth and maturity and prevents them from moving forward in victory in the spiritual life and in the war against sin. We have been adopted (past tense), and are now (present tense), “the Sons and daughters of God in Christ.”

Paul, applying Old Testament prophecy to believers in Christ writes, “’And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ Says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18). According to Scripture, believers in Christ have full placement and are no longer adopted, but rather Sons and Daughters of God.

To comprehend the significance of full inheritance in Christ can be liberating opening up doors and possibilities and setting our hearts and imaginations free. In Christ, our earthly family is no longer our primary family, for we have been placed in God’s household and are His beloved children. Regardless of what family history we may have previously been held, and no matter how dysfunctional our earthly family, our new family in God’s household is perfect and we are perfectly loved. Therefore, through God’s grace, believers find a new identity as Sons and Daughters, heirs to God’s eternal kingdom by which we can throw off the yolk of bondage and live in freedom. When temptation comes, we do not have to fall back into the worthless things of the world, but we can respond in the newness of life found in our new identity. We are no longer without a home, for we have a home as the beloved children of God (Galatians 4:9).

Divine Grace Changes Our Character and Relationships

God’s grace changes both our character and relationships with others. The believer’s reception of God’s grace is conditioned upon our humble submission to the Lordship of Christ and growing in the knowledge of Him (James 4:6). God’s grace, as it is reflected in the life of Christ, is to also be reflected in the lives of believers through their character and relationships. It is for this reason Peter writes, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;” (2 Peter 1:2) and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ….” (2 Peter 3:18). As such, believers grow in grace as they grow in the knowledge of Christ because Christ is the embodiment of God’s grace. As we grow in the knowledge of Christ and God’s grace, our character changes and we become more like Christ. With this, our relationships are also transformed as we learn to respond to others with grace, humility, love and respect (1 Peter 2:17).

Most people, whether they will admit it or not, spend much of their life looking for a place to belong. The want to be part of the club, whether it’s at work, gym or church, they have this sense of wanting to belong to something and be part of the group. C. S. Lewis spoke much about this human need and sense of belonging. Lewis says that he believes that in all “men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local ring and the terror of being left outside.”3

The good news is, through God’s grace, Jesus comes to us and He tells us He’s answered that desire. This is what he says in John 15:15: “No longer do I call you servants.” So, we are no longer on the outside. We’re no longer on the outer circle. Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.” That’s shocking that the Son of God calls us His friends. “For all that I have heard from my father, I’ve made known to you.” In other words, you’re in on what’s going on with the secrets. You are now in the “in” crowd. You’re now “in the know” so to speak. Jesus says, because of your association with Him, you’re part of that inner group, and you no longer have to strive to be popular or part of this group or that group. This is such good news. The striving to be noticed is over.

Because of this, we can be free from feelings of alienation and isolation. Why? Because we are no longer alienated or isolated because God the Son became one of us and calls us His friend. Much more, we are now free to love our neighbor because we’re not trying to work our way into the “in” group, so we are free to reach out and embrace others and bring them into our group because we’re no longer worried about our own popularity with men because we are already popular with God. This is a work of the Holy Spirit because of God’s grace working in us and through us changing us from the inside-out and our relationships with others.

Divine Grace Changes Our Behavior

Grace has an ultimate purpose by grounding the origin of the Christian life in predestination to its end in glorification (Rom 8:29-30). In Ephesians 2:10 we read that good works have been prepared by God beforehand for believers to perform. This tells us that being saved by grace is more than just a notion or a passing idea. The gracious work that God has done in Christ has real implications toward the ultimate goal of our future glorification.4 Moreover, this work of growing and changing has already begun if we, by faith, pursue God and allow Him to do this work in us. Peter admonishes believers to, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…” (2 Peter 3:18). Paul, writing to Titus, admonishes believers, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,” (Titus 2:11–12)

The grace of God not only saves, it “instructs” or “teaches.” The paideia word group used by Paul for the Greek word “instructing” is the comprehensive Greek term for education. The specific term from the Greek manuscript is παιδεύουσα or paideuousa and the meaning focuses on the forming of habits for godly behavior.5 It conveys the meaning of a disciplined kind of formational type of training for life. Yet even our modern concept of education and training still fail to communicate the breath of meaning loaded into this Greek term. The description contained in verse 12 of what this training should accomplish demonstrates the meaning of the verb better than any single English word. There are two goals: to renounce ungodliness and worldly desires; and to adopt sensible, righteous and godly living in the present age (v. 12).

God’s grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to pursue righteous living. It trains us to positively embrace the Christian life in a way that is self-controlled, upright [or just] and godly with our relationship to self, others and with God. Grace instructs us to live godly lives here and now in anticipation for the soon return of Christ.

In Hebrew thought, memorizing facts, learning history, and mastering the teachings of the Law were all intended to provide the means to live for the God who delivered their ancestors from Egypt. This had immediate implications in obedience to the Law God had taught them. Behavior was the necessary fruit of knowledge. As Walter Liefeld states, “The goal was not to be an educated person, even in the best Greek sense, but to be a good son or daughter of the covenant.”6 Instruction in Jewish thought, then, was not merely an academic venture, but rather was centered on the Exodus narrative and focused on the grace that saved and instructed them.

Divine grace, then, has a much larger meaning and role in the life of the believer than what most understand it to have, for it extends well beyond the definition of “God’s unmerited favor,” and it serves to instruct believers so they may forsake worldliness and grow in sanctification.

Therefore, God’s saving grace does not end at the point of salvation but accompanies us on the further journey of our new life, providing the wisdom and direction needed to grow in the knowledge of Christ and be transformed into His image.

Food for Thought

  • What is your understanding of grace? Is your understanding limited to conversion, or do you see it playing a larger role instructing believers so they may grow in Christ?
  • Have you been living in a state of adoption, or full placement into God’s family?
  • Are you growing and do you continue to grow in the knowledge of Christ, or have you stalled and stopped growing in spiritual maturity and Christ likeness?

  1. Klyne R. Snodgrass, Who God Says You Are: A Christian Understanding of Identity (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 74.
  2. Michael A. Milton, What Is the Doctrine of Adoption?, ed. Sean Michael Lucas, Basics of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2012), 8.
  3. C. S. Lewis, The Inner Ring Commemoration Oration delivered at King’s College, University of London, December 14, 1944 in Sehnsucht: The C. S. Lewis Journal 2, no. 1 (2008), 60.
  4. Carl R. Trueman, Matthew Barrett, and R. Kent Hughes, Grace Alone—Salvation as a Gift of God: What the Reformers Taughts…and Why It Still Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 44.
  5. paideuousa Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 413.
  6. Walter L. Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 342–343.
  7. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is quoted from The New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

The Lamb of God

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

 

John 1:29

 

 

In one sentence we have the essence of the Christian message. It is difficult for Western ears to appreciate the power of John’s announcement, but these words brought an avalanche of meaning to the Jews’ minds.

 

For centuries Israel’s consciousness had been programmed with the idea of the sacrificial lamb. With John’s statement, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” their Jewish minds went as far back as Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22) when Isaac said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham replied, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” John’s hearers undoubtedly also thought of the Passover lamb, the application of its blood over the door, and those beautiful phrases from Isaiah 53:6–7:

 

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

 

John’s statement made it clear that Jesus would be a sacrifice for sin. God had provided the Lamb for their deepest need!

 

Our message too must be the sacrificial death of Christ! It is dangerously easy to move away from the blood of the atonement in our thinking. We love and sing William Cowper’s great hymn, “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” Yet I have heard Cowper excoriated and that hymn almost spat upon by those who consider themselves to be Christians. How easy it is to abandon the essential! But the words of his hymn are true:

 

There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,

And sinners plunged beneath that flood

Lose all their guilty stains.

 

Christianity is a bloody religion—the blood of Christ cleanses us of all sin! This reality must be primary in our witness and in our thinking! Yes, Christ came to give abundant life. Yes, Christ worked miracles, and he can work miracles in our lives today. But these are benefits of the gospel, not the gospel itself. The gospel centers upon Christ as the sin-bearer—“the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Most of us understand what John is saying. However, our salvation does not depend on our formulation of the doctrine of the Atonement, but on our experience of it! Is he our Lamb? Do we really believe he died for us? If we keep the wonder of the Atonement before us, we will be different people!

 

The Lamb is our eternal message. Abraham and Isaac prophesied his sacrifice. The Passover applied the principles of his sacrifice. Isaiah 53 personified his sacrifice. John 1 identified the sacrifice. And it is magnified in Revelation 5:9–14. The sacrificial death of Christ—this is the essence of our message.

 

But a faithful witness must also tell others how to appropriate the benefits of the Lamb. John the Baptist points this out in verses 31–33. In verse 31 he says, “I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” John’s water baptisms were baptisms of repentance. That is how he prepared the way. People had to turn from their sins so that they might receive the Messiah and the benefits of his salvation. Christ brought a new, different baptism.

 

The Bible

The Bible: Consisting of the Old and New Testament it is God’s written Word to us. All Scripture is authoritative and able to judge the thoughts and intensions of the heart. It is “God Breathed” as the Holy Spirit moved men to pen His message to us. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16).

 

Studying the Bible is an absolute must for Christians.  The Bible instructs, us to “Study to show thyself approved unto God . . .” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV).  The systematic preaching of the Bible is impossible without the systematic study of the Bible.  We are not to skim a few verses in our daily Bible reading, nor are we to study a passage only when we’re about to share it.  We need to immerse ourselves daily in God’s Word, like the Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11).

The Bible was “written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).  We find hope through learning about God, His ways, and His plans for our lives.  When we discover the promises of God, we recognize there is more to life than merely existing.  We discover there is life beyond this life.  Through the Bible, we obtain hope, encouragement, comfort, strength, wisdom, and much more.  Best of all, we gain an understanding of how to know God personally and how to live for Him righteously.

To find our way through the dark, we need a flashlight.  Only then can we see clearly and avoid stumbling.  The psalmist described God’s Word as “a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).  As we allow the Bible to direct our lives, God will keep us from stumbling and falling.

 

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit, the third member of the godhead and trinity, fulfills an ongoing but invisible role of connection and communication between people and God. Awareness of the Spirit’s presence differs in expression between the OT and NT, but reliance upon the Spirit as a signal of the presence of God is constant. I believe that there is an experience of the empowering of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer that is distinct and separate from the indwelling of the Spirit that takes place at conversion. Paul asked the Ephesians if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed, or since they believed.

No matter which translation you choose, the Scriptures clearly teach that there is an experience with the Holy Spirit that is separate and distinct from that of salvation. When Philip went to Samaria preaching Christ unto them, many believed and were baptized. When the church in Jerusalem heard that the Samaritans had received the Gospel, they sent Peter and John, “Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)” (Acts 8:15-16). Once again we see an experience of the Holy Spirit that was separate and distinct from conversion.

In the second chapter of Acts, when the people said, “Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:37,38). Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, but Ananias came to him and laid hands on him that he might receive his sight and receive the Holy Spirit. (Acts 9). I believe there is an empowering experience with the Holy Spirit that is separate and distinct from conversion and there is a three-fold relationship between the Holy Spirit and the believer that is represented by three Greek prepositions – ‘para’, ‘en’, and ‘epi.’

In John 14, Jesus told the disciples, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (John 14:16-17). ‘With you’ speaks of the ‘para’ relationship, the coming alongside. The ‘en’ in the phrase ‘in you’ is equivalent to our English preposition ‘in’ as in “He is going to dwell in you.”

I believe that the Holy Spirit is dwelling with a person prior to conversion. He is the One convicting him of his sin, convincing him that Jesus Christ is the only answer. The Holy Spirit is constantly testifying of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come. I also believe that the moment a person receives the witness of the Holy Spirit, Jesus takes away his sin. When anyone invites Jesus to come into his heart, to take over the rule and control of his life, I believe that the Holy Spirit then comes into that person’s life. He is with each one of us to bring us to Christ, and when we come to Christ, He begins then to dwell in us.

 

a few thoughts about Baptism

Baptism serves as a public testimony of faith in Christ. When asked if one has to be baptized to be saved, my answer is “Yes and no.” A person doesn’t have to be baptized to be born again. A person can go to heaven without being baptized, as evidenced by the thief who was saved even as he hung on a cross (Luke 23:43). But he would not experience the full orb of that which God intends a person to enjoy in liberty, maturity, and ministry.

 

Baptism is illustration. As spoken of in Romans 6, baptism illustrates the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. This is why I believe the accurate mode of baptism is immersion. After all, we don’t bury heads. We bury entire bodies.

 

Baptism is identification. The Greek word translated “baptize” is baptizo, which speaks of immersing cloth into a dye. The word “baptize” means, metaphorically, a change of identity, or, to identify. It might have been well if every usage of the word “baptize” had been translated instead of transliterated. Then we would have read, “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, identifying them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). And, “One Lord, one faith, one identification” (Eph. 4:5). Or, again, we would understand the words of the forerunner, John the Identifier. “I indeed identify you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall identify you with the Holy Wind, and with fire” (Luke 3:16).

 

Baptism is association. In being baptized, I am not only identifying with Jesus, but with those all over the world presently and down through the ages of history who, regardless of doctrinal or denominational distinctives, are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. We might not agree on the timing of the Rapture, the meaning of Communion, or the use of tongues. But we are all wonderfully, powerfully associated in the waters of baptism (Ephesians 4:5).

 

Baptism is impartation. When Jesus was baptized and emerged out of the waters of the Jordan, the Holy Spirit came upon Him in the form of a dove, empowering Him to minister, to preach, to work miracles. So, too, I believe that the time of baptism is the ideal time to receive by faith the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. “Repent and be baptized,” Peter declared, “and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Thus, embracing by faith the filling of the Spirit as one emerges from the waters of baptism is what is seen in the baptism of Jesus and the teaching of Peter.

 

The Rapture of the Church

I believe every Pastor and Bible teacher should know where he stands on eschatological doctrine, end times and the future for himself and the Church. I believe it is very important in the life of the believer of Christ to hold a pre-tribulation rapture view to have a proper perspective in their Christian walk and life as a believer. Although it is not appointed unto men to know the time or the hour of Christ’s return, I believe it is of utmost importance for every believer to be resolved to a pre-tribulation rapture view. Why? Because only when we embrace a pre-tribulation view will we be looking for Christ’s return as we’re exhorted by the apostles. Only then will we be looking for Jesus. If we’re not looking for the soon return of Christ and the rapture, we’ll be looking for the tribulation; we’ll be looking for the antichrist. So, for these reasons, I hold the believer’s end times, pre-tribulation rapture view as an essential necessity for the spiritual health to the perspective of faith for the individual believer as well as the body of Christ.

Although we do not know the exact time of the Rapture, in I Thessalonians 5 Paul said,

But of the times and seasons, brethren, you have no need that I write unto you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord is coming as a thief in the night. For when they will say, Peace and safety; then comes sudden destruction… But ye, brethren, are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief.

The Bible is saying that the Rapture shouldn’t come to you as a surprise.

God has given to us the warnings that would precede the coming of Jesus Christ. One of the greatest signs to the world today is the re-establishment of the nation Israel. For years Bible scholars had looked forward to the regathering of the nation Israel based on many Scriptures (including Matthew 24:32), and applying expositional constancy (fig tree or figs in parables symbolize the nation Israel). Skeptics ridiculed this prophecy. Never in history had a nation been born out of the past, but a miracle has taken place and a nation has been reborn. God has reestablished Israel among the family of nations on the earth. God has fulfilled His promise even as He said He would.

Psalm 102:16 declares, “When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory.” Because the Lord is building up Zion, the orthodox Jew today is looking for his Messiah. We are too! We’re looking forward to this fulfillment of God’s promise the coming again of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when its branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, you know that summer is nigh even know that it [My coming] is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:32-35).

Not the generation Christ was talking to, because they’ve passed – but the generation that saw the fig tree budding forth. The coming of Jesus Christ is “even at the doors.” The rebirth of Israel should be a sign to every child of God!

Jesus said throughout the rest of Matthew 24, “Watch… be ye also ready.” That was the constant warning to the Church: watch and be ready. In Luke 21:28 when Jesus was speaking of these same things, using again the parable of the fig tree, He said, “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”

There are arguments and Scriptures that people can present for pre-, mid-, and post-Tribulation theories. My personal opinion is that Jesus will come before the Great Tribulation to rapture His Church. I don’t believe that the Church will go through the Great Tribulation period.

In I Thessalonians 5:9 Paul wrote, “For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul said the same in Romans 5:9 – we’ve not been appointed to wrath. Jesus, in the whole context of the Tribulation, said, “Pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). My prayer is that I will be accounted worthy to escape all of these things that are going to come to pass upon the earth.

The Lord divided the Book of Revelation into three sections: “[1] Write the things which thou hast seen, [2] and the things which are, [3] and the things which shall be after these things [meta tauta]” (Revelation 1:19). John, in obedience to the commandment, wrote in chapter I the vision of Christ that he saw on the island of Patmos. In chapters 2 and 3 he wrote of the Church and the message of Jesus to the seven churches. Let’s look at two of these messages where Jesus made reference to His coming again.

1. The church of Thyatira had introduced the worship of idols within the church. Jesus said,

I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel… to seduce my servants to commit fornication… I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds (Revelation 2:20-22).

The unrepentant church of Thyatira. which had gone into spiritual “fornication” (idolatry and saint-worship), was to be cast into the Great Tribulation unless, the Lord said, she repented.

2. To the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:10 Jesus said, “Because you have kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation which is coming to try them who dwell upon the earth.” The Rapture can happen at any moment – and it’s exciting to realize that as a Christian you may never finish reading this article! After the close of the messages to the churches, Revelation 4:1 begins and ends with the Greek phrase meta tauta. “After these things,” John said, “behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was a trumpet saying unto me, Come up hither, and I will show you things which must be after these things [meta tauta]”

Jesus spoke of Church things in chapters 2 and 3. These must be the things that will take place after the Church is taken out of the earth. I believe that 4:1 of the Book of Revelation, is the place of the Rapture of the Church. That “voice” in heaven and “trumpet” are the same as in I Thessalonians 4:16. With the trump of God and the archangel saying, “Come up hither”, we the Church will be gathered together with the Lord in the heavens.

John describes the heavenly scene in chapter 4. In chapter 5 he saw the scroll with seven seals in the right hand of Him Who is sitting upon the throne. An angel proclaimed with a loud voice. “Who is worthy to open the scroll, and to loose its seals?” John began to sob convulsively, because no one in heaven or earth nor under the earth was found worthy to even look upon the scroll (Revelation 5:2-4).

Then one of the elders said, “Weep not, behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” John turned and saw Jesus as a Lamb that had been slain, “and He came forth and He took the scroll out of the right hand of Him Who sat upon the throne.” Immediately, they brought forth the “vials full of odors which are the prayers of saints. And they sang a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open its seals; for Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and people, and tongue, and nation; and made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign with Him upon the earth” (Revelation 5:5-10). Notice the song that is being sung.

It’s not the song of Israel and the covenant relationship with God. People from all the families of the earth, not just one family of Abraham, are singing. It’s a people who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Only the Church can sing that song.

In Revelation 5:11 after Jesus takes the scroll, John said that innumerable multitudes, “ten thousand times ten thousands” worship the Lamb, declaring His worthiness to receive the honor, and the authority, and the glory. In Revelation 6 Jesus proceeds to loose the seals of the scrolls. With the very first seal there comes forth the white horse rider, “going forth conquering, and to conquer.” This, I believe, is the entrance of the Antichrist, because he’s followed by wars, death, famine, and desolation. Certainly, the Second Coming of Christ isn’t going to be followed by such events, but by the glorious establishment of the Kingdom.

Before the Tribulation ever begins the Church is in heaven singing and praising the Lord for His worthiness to take the scroll and loose the seals. The Tribulation doesn’t start until the seven seals begin to be broken.