Tuesdays with Uncle Athanasius: Why did Jesus Die Publicly?

Athanasius

Athanasius, my favorite early church father, fought heretics with all of his soul. I am brought to tears reading his glorious writings. Please indulge with me each Tuesday, as we cozy up at the feet of Uncle Athanasius.

Uncle Ath?

Yes, kids?

Why did Jesus have to die publicly?

An excerpt from chapter 4 of On the Incarnation:

Have no fears then. Now that the common Savior of all has died on our behalf, we who believe in Christ no longer die, as men died aforetime, in fulfillment of the threat of the law. That condemnation has come to an end; and now that, by the grace of the resurrection, corruption has been banished and done away, we are loosed from our mortal bodies in God’s good time for each, so that we may obtain thereby a better resurrection.

Like seeds cast into the earth, we do not perish in our dissolution, but like them shall rise again, death having been brought to nought by the grace of the Savior. That is why blessed Paul, through whom we all have surety of the resurrection, says: “This corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality; but when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?'”26

“Well then,” some people may say, “if the essential thing was that He should surrender His body to death in place of all, why did He not do so as Man privately, without going to the length of public crucifixion? Surely it would have been more suitable for Him to have laid aside His body with honor than to endure so shameful a death.”

But look at this argument closely, and see how merely human it is, whereas what the Savior did was truly divine and worthy of His Godhead for several reasons. The first is this. The death of men under ordinary circumstances is the result of their natural weakness. They are essentially impermanent, so after a time they fall ill and when worn out they die. But the Lord is not like that. He is not weak, He is the Power of God and Word of God and Very Life Itself. If He had died quietly in His bed like other men it would have looked as if He did so in accordance with His nature, and as though He was indeed no more than other men.

But because He was Himself Word and Life and Power His body was made strong, and because the death had to be accomplished, He took the occasion of perfecting His sacrifice not from Himself, but from others. How could He fall sick, Who had healed others? Or how could that body weaken and fail by means of which others are made strong? Here, again, you may say, “Why did He not prevent death, as He did sickness?” Because it was precisely in order to be able to die that He had taken a body, and to prevent the death would have been to impede the resurrection. And as to the unsuitability of sickness for His body, as arguing weakness, you may say, “Did He then not hunger?” Yes, He hungered, because that was the property of His body, but He did not die of hunger because He Whose body hungered was the Lord. Similarly, though He died to ransom all, He did not see corruption. His body rose in perfect soundness, for it was the body of none other than the Life Himself.

My favorite uncle.

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

Athanasius, On the Incarnation, chap. 4, sec. 21, http://www.ccel.org.

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Moral Improvement IS Why God Saved You!

In my last post, I argued that moral improvement is not why God saved you, as if somehow God’s goal in creating humans was to get us to behave correctly.

Be good or else

In other words, Christian salvation according to the Bible is not initiated by God in order to simply clean the mud off our trousers. He saves His people primarily to glorify Himself, and to give us gifts of infinite joy and eternal life with Him. That’s the goal, a la Ephesians 1:3-14 (noting my bold emphases):

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. 11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (NKJV)

His purpose is to glorify Himself. And shouldn’t He? He is the greatest being and Person in all existence, and nothing compares to Him. It’s great news that our salvation is aimed at lifting our eyes to Him; the best gift that grants ultimate joy!

And Yet He Saves Us to Improve Our Moral Standing

God’s love for us (in Christ) is unconditional. Let’s get that straight – He loves us because He loves us because He is love because He is God (cf. Deut. 7:7-8). There’s no way out of that circle of divine, mysterious graciousness. Yet in this unconditional love, He loves in such a way that He will change our inner man. We were, after all, “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29).

Saved to be changed, conformed into an image that was previously marred in us – malformed in sin as we are conceived in Adam the sinner. The image of God in which we were originally created has been overshadowed and defaced by sin – and yet in love God predestines His people to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God. To say it simply, He loves us too much to see us remain in sin and defacement, because He loves His glory too much for us to take His name in vain through unrepentant, sin-filled living (Ezk. 36:16-32ff.; Heb. 12:5-11).

Once we grasp the balance here – that we are loved perfectly in Christ no matter our sins, and that we are loved in order to be changed morally – then we can live the Christian life with joy and confidence! We can now live knowing

I am a terrible, wicked sinner who is completely forgiven and loved on the basis of the perfections of Christ. My sin was placed on Him and He owned it in His death on the cross – and His perfect standing before the Father was reckoned to my account when He saved me and justified me. God sees me and counts me as perfect as Jesus Himself!

Well, then we can live however we want! What’s the point of moral improvement? Paul knew you’d think that, and answers

“How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:2-4).

Full circle. God created us and in sovereign grace saves us from eternal wrath and justice in order to (re)shape us into His glorious, holy image… BECAUSE He loves His Name, and therefore extends His love to His people unconditionally, because He loves us!

Expect to be brutally loved by God when He has given you new birth by grace through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. He’s a good Father – He will discipline us if we wander from Him and indulge in sin. Rejoice, Christian! The pleasures of sin are passing and shallow compared to the glory intended for you in eternal life with Christ Jesus our Lord. Resist the deeds of the flesh, renew your mind in Christ Jesus and His Word, and live in light of a dawning eternity of joy and sinless fellowship with an infinitely wonderful God. You are blessed.

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

Moral Improvement is Not Why God Saved You

If you’ve been around American evangelicalism at all, you might have picked up the idea that God saved you in order to put you to work for Him. Justification is that glorious moment of favor that God gives to those who are for the first time believing in Christ, but it quickly fades into a life of hard work, moral improvement, and careful discipline in spiritual matters. Sound like the Christianity you know?

If so, I’m so happy to tell you this: you don’t know Christianity. Here’s the secret to seeking the joy that God intends for His kids… well, let me give the mic to a maestro of grace:

From Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith,

As John Murray helpfully explains, progressive sanctification depends not only on justification but on God’s once-and-for-all act of claiming us as saints. For many Christians, the change in subject from justification to sanctification roughly corresponds to God’s work for us and our work for God, respectively. The result of this assumption, however, is that for a brief moment at the beginning of the Christian life the focus was on Christ and his blessing of justification that was received through faith alone—itself, in fact, a gift of God. But then the rest of our life is a matter of striving for moral improvement. “Having begun by the Spirit,” Paul asked the Galatians, “are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Sanctification, like justification, has its source not in the “works of the law” but in “hearing with faith” (Gal 3:3 – 5). [1]

Were you saved by grace through faith? You are. Striving for moral improvement as a matter of willpower and personal commitment will either land you in the hospital, or you’ll quit Christianity (though you’ll have never actually internalized the real grace of God), or if you can pull it off and become a moral person, you’ll have something to boast in, and you’ve become a nasty little canker on the tongue of the church.

No. No, no, no. Our only strength and hope in the Christian life is to look to Jesus – learn Him, be filled with Him, seek Him in all things. And friends, for heaven’s sake, don’t run from God when you’ve sinned… run to Him.

This blog will re-visit this subject frequently. There is much need in the Christian community for these reminders of grace, for the constant removal of the chains of moralism. Be free[d] in Christ!

Thanks for reading,

Justin

[1] Michael Horton, The Christian Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 650-1.

Terrifying Truth, God is Good: a Paul Washer Video

Has it ever terrified you that God is good? If not, or if so, please enjoy a short video from a man I consider my greatest spiritual mentor, Paul Washer. A well made clip here, I believe you will have a full tank of gospel joy at the end of this.

 

Soli Deo Gloria!

Your Jail Cell is Unlocked, Silly

You find yourself crouched in the dank corner of a narrow cell – the unmistakable outline of steel bars covering the front side. Faint fluorescent light buzzes into your eyes, keeping you awake in the deep sweat of night. What will I do with myself now? your brain asks you. You don’t know. How did you even get here? Where is here? You must have done something wrong. Horribly wrong, from the feel of things. You shift your weight – it’s uncomfortable to sit on your haunches without moving, but somehow the very back corner of the cell feels safest.

There are footfalls coming. Terror. You feel yourself getting smaller, shrinking by willpower. Can’t.. be… seen. Must hide. So guilty. Are you going to send me to the executioner? you wonder. Why do you feel so guilty? The sound of footsteps stops. Voices. Two men are talking about something. They’re talking about you. You hear your name. The details are muffled; it seems they are still a way off from your cell. You hold your breath – what are they saying? Why is your skin so clammy? You break into an uncomfortable soaking sweat that makes squatting in the corner feel even guiltier.

Here come the footfalls again. Heavy shoes. Is there anyone else locked up in here? It feels empty. Your own personal prison, maybe. You wouldn’t dare utter a sound – could be dangerous people around. Voices again, with the footsteps this time. You feel your heart beating like a tympani drum, taut, deep, booming. They might hear it. Shhhh. Stop that.

The figure of a policeman appears in the fuzzy light outside of the bars. Your heart catches in your throat – you can’t see the eyes, but you feel them. Examining you. Checking your thoughts. You’re paralyzed in the grip of his gaze. The other man peeks around at you from over the examiner’s shoulder. A word is mumbled. What was that? What are they saying about you? You caught a syllable, but not enough to piece anything together.

Then you notice it: the cell door is open all the way. When did that happen? The policeman shifts and takes a few steps toward you, into your space. You can see his face now. What is that? A young man – he looks… friendly? Who is this?

“Rrrr” you croak. You meant to say something. His friendly face is now in full view as he bends down in front of you. “Rrrr, rrrRrRrrr…” you try again. Only noises. The other man now is standing over behind the policeman, looking down at you. Your lungs are burning with pent up words. You fearfully meet his gaze. Friendly. “RRrr.. whhh… wwwhhooo?” You’ve said a word now. “Who.” The iceberg of fear around your heart breaks apart a little bit. These men haven’t come to hurt you. They can see your fear, your guilt. Your sense of doom, even. But your fears are melting. What is that now? More than friendliness? Their eyes are full of… care for you? Care? For you? You feel so guilty – so dirty.

A hand is on your hand, which is still greedily gripping your shin. A moment of terror returns, but is instantly vaporized by the warmth and softness of the policeman’s hand on yours – he is speaking. What? I’m sorry, what are you saying, sir?

He pauses, and speaks again – “well?”

“Well”? Well what?

“Why are you here again?” He smiles.

What is this? Are you dreaming? You begin to recall something, like seeing the faint outline of a road sign through a hazy night fog. You’ve been here a long time. A very long time.

“Whh… where am I?” Both men chuckle softly.

“Forgotten again?” asks the policeman.

The policeman fills your view, crouching now himself – right in your face. His eyes are full of light… “how many times do we need to find you in here before you will believe us?” His breath is sweet, you notice.

You look up at the other man. Judge’s robes. File in hand. Your name on the file. A stamp across your name. “Cleared”.

“That’s right,” says the policeman. Now you’re remembering, aren’t you? Your hands loosen from your legs, you blink wildly. You’ve been here before. Many times. All the time. The policeman turns his head to look at the judge. They seem to exchange something without words as he stands up again, and both men look back down at you – you’re feeling like the corner of this cell is the very silliest place in the world to be crouched.

“You don’t belong in this prison,” the judge says to you – his voice is also warm, friendly.

They take you by the hands and begin to lift you to your feet. All sense of doom and fear is faded: an embarrassing memory now, quickly losing any last bits of a hold they had on you just a minute before.

What were you doing here, again?

The judge slings his robe over your head – you had been naked. “Why do you keep losing your clothes?” he asks gently, a hand now on your shoulder. “Let’s go home, son (daughter).”

The Silliness of Re-imprisoning Yourself in the Cell of Guilt

My dear Christian, what are you doing in that unlocked cell of guilt? The Law has no power to condemn you any longer – it is rendered powerless over you because the Judge has declared you innocent. You are cleared of all charges. The Law is now your friend, your guilt is a feeling that truly indicates true sins, no doubt, but it is no longer your proper home. It is no longer the place for you to live.

Why do you insist on living here?

Why do you insist on living here?

The Judge of the universe sent His Son to bear your punishment. He willingly became your sin and guilt, and executed your death for you. Your death has been executed in the body of Jesus Christ (1. read again and internalize 2. repeat 3. give thanks!).

You are free to live in the Judge’s home now, wearing His robes (Matt. 19:28-9; 1 Cor. 6:3).

Don’t be caught trembling like an amnesiac in the prison of guilt, whose warden is surely the Deceiver. All he has as a power against you is a lie. He accuses, you point to the cross of Christ.

Be freed! That door is unlocked, silly.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Rom. 8:1-4 ESV

“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man [Jesus] is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” Acts 13:38-9 NKJV

Need I go on, or is your amnesia lifting again? Return to the cross!

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

Repentance From Sin Includes Restoration of Joy

For each and every person who believes in Jesus the Christ; for every one that believes He is who the Bible says He is, and believes what the Bible says He has done (and is doing, and will do in the future), 1 John 5:1 says this:

Everyone believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. (ESV)

We are born from above, born of God’s Spirit, regenerated in the inner-man, made a new creature, justified in God’s court of law, adopted into God’s family and inner-circle, and seated with Christ in the heavenly places, to name just a few of the identification markers of being a Christian.

But what about when we sin? The Lord’s Word speaks to His sinning, stumbling children:

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:8-14

He knows our sins, and He does not deal with us accordingly. He dealt with Jesus Christ according to our sins! Oh wondrous gospel of love and grace! God’s omnipotent forgiveness has reached the most wretched of us – and remember, weak  and fearful Christian, that He has removed your sin from you as far as the east is from the west. Indeed, before the world was formed Jesus had decided to die for your sins; past, present, and future (Romans 5:6-8; Rev. 13:8).

So then, my brothers and sisters, what happens when we sin? We do not lose the love of God – He loves us unconditionally. He favors us in all our frailty. He is ready to extend the word of forgiveness to us, the forgiveness already applied to us in Christ. What has happened to us in our sins? We lose our own sense of joy. We lose our sense of intimacy with Jesus our Lord. This is not His punishment, but rather, His discipline as a loving Father who ensures our perseverance in faith to the end.

My dear friends, wait no longer when you have sinned: confess it to your heavenly Father, and seek the Lord Jesus Christ. This is repentance. Turning to God, hoping in His grace – repentance from sin… away from sin.

As David prayed in his own hour of confession,

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Psalm 51:12 (NKJV)

Whose salvation is it? It is God’s salvation. Restore to me the joy of YOUR salvation, my beloved Lord, and rid me of the shame of my sins. Set me on a course to make sinners to know this love and mercy You have poured out on me and my family. I worship You, Lord Father God. Be magnified!

That right there, beloved Church universal, is our home base. We return to Him in our sins, and He restores the joy of His salvation. Hallelujah!

So, what are you waiting for? Seek the restoration of your joy… in Him!

Soli Deo Gloria

-Justin

Slaves of Christ are Free

Slaves are free when they are slaves of a perfectly loving Master. If you are a Christian; if you are one who has been born of God’s Spirit and are on your way to the New Jerusalem, then you are a slave of Christ Jesus. This kind of slavery is the freest of all, and is the very thing we were created for. Sound like an ugly idea to you? Then you must learn Christ better! He is the worthy Master, the Master who loved us so that He gave His life for His slaves… even redefining slave as being “friends” (John 15:15).

R.C. Sproul gives us the details on being slaves of Christ, commenting on Paul’s introduction of himself in Romans 1:1 –

The Greek word Paul used here is doulos. A doulos was not a hired servant who could come and go as he pleased. A doulos was a person who had been purchased, and once purchased he became his master’s possession.

The idea of the doulos in Scripture is always connected to another descriptive word, kurios . . . The supreme use of kurios [in the New Testament] refers to the sovereign God, who rules all things. Kurios, “the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9), is the name given to Jesus, whom the Father calls the King of kings and the Lord of lords. There is yet a middle usage of the term kurios in the New Testament. It is used to describe a slave owner, which is an apt description of Jesus, and it is from this that Paul describes himself. He is not just a servant but a slave.

Paul, in addressing believers, said, “You are not your own. For you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19). We have been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28). There is a paradox here: when the New Testament describes our condition by nature, as fallen people, it describes us as slaves to sin . We are by nature in bondage to sin, bondservants of the flesh, and the only remedy for that, according to the New Testament, is to be liberated by the work of the Holy Spirit. For “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). Everyone born of the Spirit is set free from slavery to sin.

There is also irony here: when Christ sets us free from slavery to the flesh, he calls us to the royal liberty of slavery to him. That is why we call him Master. We acknowledge that it is from him that we get our marching orders. He is the Lord of our lives. We are not our own. We are not autonomous or independent. Unless people understand their relationship to Christ in these terms, they remain unconverted.[1]

Is Jesus your Master? In other words, are you free?

RC Sproul

RC Sproul

[1] R.C. Sproul, Romans (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 16-17.