Category Archives: Basics Of Faith

If Jesus was God Incarnate, Did God Die on the Cross?

A basic doctrinal truth held by all orthodox Christians—including Catholics and evangelicals—is that in Jesus Christ God became incarnate in human flesh (Matthew 1:16-25; John 1:14; John 20:26-29; Romans 8:3; Philippians 2:4-8; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 10:5).

Even though Scripture clearly describes the passion of Jesus Christ, many Christians are unwilling to acknowledge that the divine Son of God suffered and died for our sins. While they affirm that Jesus Christ was truly one human/divine person, they say it was only Christ’s human nature—not His divine nature—that suffered and died.

But if God was truly incarnate in Jesus Christ, how could only Jesus’ human nature suffer the agony, separation, and death described in the Gospels? If only Christ’s human nature experienced suffering, agony, spiritual and physical death, how can we speak of a true incarnation; and how can we be assured of the infinite value of His suffering and death on our behalf?

The Bible makes it clear that we could not be saved if Christ Himself hadn’t borne our sins on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 9:28). In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea strongly affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ, realizing that our salvation depends upon the incarnation. If Jesus Christ were not both truly God and truly man, His death couldn’t atone for our sin. Only God would be capable of the infinite sacrifice necessary to the sins of the world. (See the ATQ articles, Is it necessary to have a clear understanding of Jesus Christ’s deity in order to be saved? and How can it be morally right for Jesus Christ to die for our sins?)

One of the most fearful truths taught in Scripture is that physical death is not the greatest evil. The greatest evil is “the second death” (Rev. 21:8). Spiritual death is the second death. It is separation from God.

What Jesus dreaded when He said “Let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39) could not have been merely death by crucifixion. Other martyrs have faced equally horrible deaths with composure. Nor could it be a premature death in Gethsemane at the hands of the devil. Our Lord said that this cup came from God—“Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” (John 18:11). Moreover, Jesus expressly declared that He wouldn’t die until He voluntarily laid down His life. He said, “I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17-18).

Scripture makes it clear that the Son of God suffered most when He was experiencing separation from the Father. This “cup” is the agony of hell Jesus had to endure on the cross. It was the experience of God’s wrath, as in Psalm 75:8, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down.” On the cross, God made His Son “who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). He poured upon Jesus Christ His wrath against all sin, causing Him to endure the desolation of hell. This sense of abandonment began to sweep over Jesus in Gethsemane. On the cross, it finally caused Him to cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). The cup that Jesus dreaded, therefore, was the abandonment by God, which makes hell, hell.

Although most classical theologians taught that Jesus Christ suffered only in His human nature, a distinguished minority, including Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, Martin Luther, A. H. Strong, Jurgen Moltmann, and D. A. Carson, disagree. Charles Wesley wrote:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’ Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace!
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Scripture itself speaks of God’s capacity to suffer (e.g., Judg. 10:16; Jer. 31:20; Hos. 11:8). Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that the Creator knows less of suffering and emotion than His creatures.

Perhaps the assumption that Jesus Christ’s divine nature couldn’t experience suffering and death is based on faulty reasoning rather than Scripture and reality. Any argument used against Jesus Christ’s divine nature experiencing death can be applied against the incarnation itself. How could the eternal God be incarnate in a time-bound, finite man? How could the eternal God set aside His omnipotence and omniscience? We don’t doubt these things, so why should we doubt that in some sense the second person of the Trinity suffered and died on the cross of Calvary?

While we raise these questions, we acknowledge the need for humility No one should assume they have an absolute answer to this question any more than they can pretend to understand the Trinity or the incarnation.

 

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If a Christian Believer is Already Saved, Why is Ongoing Repentance Necessary?

Jesus linked repentance with salvation (Matthew 4:17; Luke 13:3; 17:3).

In Acts 2:38, the term repentance includes the element of faith. Paul in Ephesus preached turning “to God in repentance” and “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Repentance is an ingredient of faith. It is a change of mind that involves both a negative aspect (a turning from sin) and a positive one (a turning to God). On Mars Hill, Paul declared that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a Man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31 ESV).

Even the most mature Christian harbors unconscious sin (Proverbs 20:9; Isaiah 53:6; 1 John 1:8) and will be corrected by the Holy Spirit as hidden sin is brought to the surface. When Christians come to the realization that they have been committing serious sins, there are two reasons they should repent. The first is to express the genuineness of their faith. (A person who is unwilling to renounce continuing, conscious, serious sin may not be a genuine believer.) The second reason is to maintain a close relationship with their Father in heaven.

As Judge, God declared us pardoned and accepted into His family when we put our trust in Jesus. But as God’s children, we can remain in close fellowship to Him only when we daily acknowledge our sins and ask His help in overcoming them. Jesus said that a person who has been bathed doesn’t need another bath; his only need is to have his feet washed.

Jesus . . . rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean” (John 13:3-11 NKJV).

The bath of which Jesus spoke is that once-for-all, complete cleansing received at salvation. Foot washing symbolizes the family forgiveness maintained by daily repentance and confession.

First John 1:9 declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (NKJV). By practicing the words of this verse, we enjoy our relationship with our heavenly Father and we grow in likeness to Him. The daily cleansing we receive through repentance and confession will also make us less vulnerable to temptation and readier to do His will.

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Do the Same Kinds of Prophets Exist Today as did in Biblical Times?

While all Christians have the ability to prophesy in the sense of speaking forth the truth, there was a group of church leaders in the apostolic church who functioned uniquely as prophets. These were apparently next to the apostles in the order of authority within the church (1 Corinthians 12:28-29 ; Ephesians 4:11). The function of the prophets was to edify, console, and exhort (Acts 15:32;1 Corinthians 14:3).

There are no prophets today in the same sense as there were under the old covenant and in the apostolic church. Before the canon of Scripture was complete, God used prophets to maintain order and teach correct doctrine. After the canon was completed, however, prophecy began to be more of a problem within the church than a help. Eventually, the office of prophet died out completely except among heretical groups such as the Montanists.

Today, however, a prophetic word can be spoken in the church in the sense that God’s Word can be proclaimed based on Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit. But there will be no new revelations that will supplant or contradict God’s written Word.

According to 1 Corinthians 14, there are two tests that must be passed by any supposedly prophetic statement. First, verse 29 states that after two or three speak a prophetic message, the others are to “judge” (NKJV) or “weigh carefully what is said” (NIV). In other words, the prophetic message must not disagree with the knowledge of God’s Word and of truth held by the other members of the assembly. Second, verses 37 and 38 demonstrate that just as the apostle Paul submitted his words to the examination of the Corinthians on the basis of their knowledge of the Word of God, any prophecy that is given must be judged by the standard of the truth already known to the church of Christ. In other words, no completely new truth would be revealed, but rather the prophet would expound and explain truths already accepted and recognized by God’s people.

The New Bible Dictionary summarizes the purpose of New Testament prophecy in this way:

It is in this sense that the apostle urged the church of his day, and would urge us also, to desire earnestly to prophesy: not to desire the notoriety of doctrinal innovators, but to contend earnestly for the truth once for all delivered to the saints.

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Can Someone Be Forgiven if They Commit the Same Sin Again After Confessing and Repenting it?

No one who asks God for forgiveness can be confident that they won’t commit the same sin again. In fact, our natures are so contaminated by sin that we often do. When Peter asked Jesus whether we are obligated to forgive a person who sins against us seven times (Peter’s “seven times” more than doubled the rabbinic prescription), Jesus said: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22 NKJV).

Jesus made it clear that God’s primary concern is not mere outward behavior, but the condition of the heart Matthew 23:25-26; Mark 7:5-9; Luke 11:42-44; Luke 11:42-44. Therefore the sincerity of the confession is what counts.

Unfortunately, we can be sincere in our repentance and confession and still fall into sin again. Because believers continue to be influenced by the “flesh”—the fallen aspect of their personalities—in this world they are incapable of perfect sincerity. At times they are more vulnerable to temptation than at other times. With the passage of time, the strong awareness of evil and the ugliness of sin that brought us to repentence often fades.

Sincere confession of sin is a heartfelt acknowledgment that our sin is wrong, that we don’t want to continue in it, and that we are ready to exert ourselves—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—to resist it. God doesn’t expect perfection, because none of us are capable of achieving it, but He does expect sincerity.

Sin is highly addictive, and when we’re not on our guard we can easily succumb to the false sense of relief we experience when we surrender to our compulsions. We need to be aware of sin’s addictive nature. Like someone who is attempting to quit smoking or drinking, the worst thing we can do is to give up on our desire to change or believe we can never change, even though we relapse in moments of weakness.

As we experience increasing freedom from sin, we will experience an increasing awareness of evil and understand more deeply how sin carries its own penalty. Each time genuine believers relapse into sin, they will experience more conviction and a more painful awareness of sin’s destructiveness. Each time they repent and confess their sins, they will be purer, stronger, and less likely to relapse.

Of course, some sins are so serious that even sincere repentance can’t erase their earthly consequences. Sins like murder and adultery can be forgiven by God in the ultimate sense and by fellow Christians in the sense of hoping for a sinner’s restoration, but the damage such sins inflict usually cannot be undone in this life, and consequences such as imprisonment or divorce may be unavoidable.

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Will We Still be Married in Heaven?

Jesus made it clear that no one will be married in heaven: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30 NIV).

But this doesn’t mean that we won’t know each other or will cease cherishing our earthly relationship. The rich man recognized Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom, even though he was in a different place and separated by a “great gulf” (Luke 16:19-31 NKJV). The disciples recognized Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration, even though these two men had lived many centuries before (Matthew 17:1-5). Finally, we recall the striking promise made by our Lord to the repentant thief in Luke 23:43, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise” (NIV).

The apostle Paul said we will have more knowledge in heaven than we have now (1 Corinthians 13:12). This implies that we will know and recognize people more fully in heaven than here on earth. He also said it was “far better” to depart and to be with Christ than to remain in the body on earth (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:22-23).

In all of these passages, heaven is depicted as a place of greater experience than we now know on earth and a place where we will have more knowledge and understanding. This would lead us to believe that we will recognize other members of our family, even though we will not live in family units. Instead, all believers in this age will be united in the bride of Christ and in fellowship with our Savior as the heavenly Bridegroom (Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 19:7,9).

Scripture leads us to believe that we will enjoy such a state of wonderful intimacy with our glorified brothers and sisters that there will no longer be a need for the exclusive relationships that protect us from loneliness and despair in a fallen world. This does not mean, of course, that we will not know and share a perfect love with those with whom we have been especially intimate in our earthly lives. However, all of the joys and ecstasy of marital and family love will be far surpassed by the joys of perfect intimacy and trust in heaven.

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