Tag Archives: salvation

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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Is the Issue of Eternal Security Worth Arguing About?

Many Scripture passages support the security of the believer (See the ATQ article, Should I believe in the Doctrine of Eternal Security?), while a few passages can be interpreted to imply the possibility of falling from grace. Overall, Scripture seems to support the view that genuine believers can backslide and experience discipline, but never fall from grace.

There is no way of knowing for sure whether a professing believer caught up in deep sin or apostasy was ever truly converted. So, practically speaking, when we consider our responsibility to God, it makes little difference whether we believe apostasy could lead to loss of salvation or whether someone who thinks they are a believer might be mistaken. Whichever view one takes, there is no grounds for living carelessly and irresponsibly.

Regardless of one’s view of eternal security, anyone self-satisfied and insensitive to sin in his life should be on guard. It is more important to pursue spiritual growth than to resolve the theoretical question of whether an apostate has never been saved or has lost his salvation.

Self-examination and re-dedication are important not so much to ensure that our salvation has not departed (or that we have truly been converted) as to keep our hearts tender and sensitive to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. True spirituality isn’t based in fear but in our confidence in a heavenly Father who has already demonstrated His love for us (Isaiah 53:6; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9).

Whether we identify with Calvin or Arminius, our main concern should be relieving the fears of the insecure believer while confronting sinners (whether inside or outside the church) with their need for repentance.

Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19 NKJV).

Practically speaking, eternal security isn’t worth arguing about.

 

 

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Does Teaching the Doctrine of Eternal Security Encourage People to Believe They are Saved?

It’s true that some people are self-satisfied and insensitive about the sin in their lives. Such persons may misuse the doctrine of eternal security to justify a false sense of security. On the other hand, there are those who are oppressed by an overly active conscience, sincerely wondering whether sin in their lives reveals a lack of saving faith. These persons can be rightly comforted knowing that salvation depends entirely on our acceptance of what Christ has done for us, rather than on what we have done for him.

Many Bible passages underline the reality of our security as believers in Jesus Christ: John 10:28-30; Romans 8:29-39; 1 Corinthians 3:15; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:20; Jude 24.There must be a reason.

The doctrine of eternal security is taught in Scripture, but it should only comfort true Christians who are earnestly concerned with living faithfully for Jesus Christ. Professing Christians living sinfully without remorse shouldn’t assume that their profession of faith guarantees their salvation. Banking on a past “decision” can be dangerous. They need to be reminded that if their present lifestyle is out of keeping with their profession, they are either not true children of God or are living in a manner inconsistent with who they are and with what God has done for them. If they are genuinely saved and continue in sin, God will bring corrective influences into their lives (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 3:19).

Professing Christians need to seriously consider the consequences of living in a manner that is inconsistent with their commitment. Even if they believe in eternal security, their continuing sin could be an indication that they never were truly converted. If they are children of God, continuing to sin will result in correction that according to the Scriptures can result in either physical death or a painful condition designed to lovingly bring them to their senses (Psalm 89:31-32; 1 Corinthians 11:29-30; Hebrews 12:5-11).

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Is Fear Ever an Appropriate Motivation for Conversion?

When walking on the edge of a great chasm, perhaps hiking in the Grand Canyon, a healthy fear keeps us from getting too close to the edge or distracted by the scenery.

True, fear isn’t the only thing that keeps a Grand Canyon hiker on the trail. The trek offers the companionship of friends, gorgeous scenery, natural wonders, good exercise, and adventure. But a good hiker also has a healthy sense of danger.

According to Scripture, every member of the human race lives on the edge of a spiritual chasm much more terrible than the sheer cliffs of the Grand Canyon.

Just as natural laws of gravity dictate fear of a precipice, natural laws relating to the inevitable consequences of sin should cause us to fear the abyss that brings spiritual death. If we were in our right mind, awareness of sin and its consequences would be just as vivid as our awareness of the inevitability of gravity.

Tragically, because of our natural spiritual state, we aren’t in our right mind (Ephesians 2:1-3).

  • How else could people callously shed innocent blood, prey on the defenseless, and even on their deathbeds have a single-minded focus on wealth and power?
  • How else could people have such unquestioning confidence in the propaganda of the principalities and powers of this world that they sacrifice their children to demons of ideology and greed?
  • How else could people be contemptuous of monogamous couples, as though the submission of husbands and wives to their creaturely roles in procreation and parenting diminishes the meaningfulness of their love?

For these people a healthy, Spirit-given fear would probably be the first step towards conversion. Fear is closely related to awe. The person who is alive to the wonder of existence and the infinite significance and unending ramifications of every action is familiar with both fear and awe.

Although fear isn’t the only thing that keeps us close to the shepherd of our souls, it is important. The great hymn “Amazing Grace” resonates with the hearts of many generations because of its declaration that grace “taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” The writer of Proverbs wrote that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (1:7), and the Old Testament stresses the importance of a healthy fear of God (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:24-33; Ecclesiastes 12:13).

When we truly understand what we are and what we have done, we realize we deserve judgment. Fear will either trigger self-justification and rebellion or drive us to Christ.

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