Ascended to Heaven in Glory

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” – Psalm 110:1

When studying theology, there are certain doctrines in Scripture that seem to not receive as much attention as they deserve. I think the ascension is one of those doctrines. So often Christians focus on what Christ did and what Christ is going to do, but neglect what Christ is currently doing (Peter Orr, Exalted Above the Heavens: The Risen and Ascended Christ, NSBT, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019, 1). Patrick Schreiner, Associate Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, precisely states the issue: the often overlooked doctrine of the ascension “is a key moment in the good-news story and a crucial hinge for Christ’s threefold work as prophet, priest, and king” (Patrick Schreiner, The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press), 2020, xv). In this article, I hope to briefly discuss each part of Christ’s office, the consummation of each part in Christ, and our hope and assurance that rests in Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King.

Christ Our Ascended Prophet, Priest, and King

This may seem confusing, but Christ didn’t resign from his office as Prophet when he ascended into glory after his death and resurrection. In fact, the opposite resulted from his ascension; his influence as Prophet increased. This is because when he ascended into glory to the “exalted [position] at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit,” Christ poured out upon his people the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which marks the birth of the Church (Acts 3:33). Through the work of the Holy Spirit Christ empowers his people to spread the message of the Gospel to every tribe, tongue, and nation.

One of the major themes of the book of Hebrews is Christ rightfully assuming the role of being the Great High Priest of the New Covenant. Since Christ willingly offered himself as a “single offering” to sanctify his people for all time, he rightfully took his office as our Great High Priest (Heb 10:10, 14). In doing so, he “obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the [Old Covenant]” (Heb. 8:6). The sufficiency of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and eternal priesthood gives his people every reason to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22).

The most recognized office of Christ is that he is the Risen King, who sits at the right hand of the Father. Fully pleased with the work of his Son, God the Father “has given” to Christ “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14). What’s unique about the kingship of Jesus in respect to the other offices is that “the other offices flow from kingship and this office encompasses the others” (Schreiner, The Ascension of Christ, 76). It is by Christ’s authority that his servants are commissioned to advance his marvelous Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

King David, one of the members of the Messianic lineage, prophetically writes Psalm 110 to describe the majesty and ministry of the Ascended Messiah:

The LORD [Yahweh] says to my Lord [Adonai]:
“Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
The LORD sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments; from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

In reading this psalm, David highlights all three offices of the Messiah: verses 1-2 and 5-7 highlight the kingship of the Messiah; verse 3 highlights the prophetic influence of the Messiah; and verse 4 highlights the priesthood of the Messiah. In biblical history, the kings of Israel and Judah could temporarily partake in prophetic and priestly roles; however, all three offices permanently, peacefully, and harmoniously rest on Christ because he is worthy and righteous to assume all three offices.

Our Hope and Assurance in the Ascended Christ

My prayer is that you are encouraged by the truth that Christ is our Prophet, Priest, and King. He empowers his people through the Holy Spirit to proclaim the excellencies that are in Christ alone. The message of repentance and faith Christ preached is the same message his faithful ones joyfully proclaim. His empowered people have the joy of having infinite and eternal access to the Great High Priest who (1) is the perfect “mediator of a new covenant” according to the single, final offering made “to bear the sins of many” through perfect atonement; and (2) is fully able “to sympathize with our weaknesses,” who indeed “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15; 9:15, 28). Christ rules over his people as King of kings and Lord of lords; “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [him]” (Matt 28:18). He is the King of a Kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28). Therefore, “let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace [from Christ our Great Prophet, Priest, and King] to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

The Distinction Between the Law and the Gospel

From the confessional Reformed perspective, the Law-Gospel distinction is not a paradigm we impose onto the Scriptures, but something we find within redemptive history, namely through covenant. Every person who has ever lived has either been condemned by the representation of Adam or justified by the representation of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:18). When we think about representation, we think about our federal government, where we elect people to represent us. If they make good decisions, we prosper; if they make bad decisions, we suffer. Representation is the essence of covenant theology since the Latin word covenant literally is foedus. Therefore, it is proper for us to explore the nature of Adam’s covenant and Christ’s covenant.

Law-Gospel Distinction as the Structure of the Bible

In the beginning, God made the “Covenant of Works” with Adam. A covenant is a divinely sanctioned commitment which is designed to bring man beyond what was capable of him by nature. Adam was incapable by nature as a man to obey and somehow force the Almighty God into a debt to reward him. However, in the Covenant of Works, God condescends to Adam to promise him and his offspring an eternal, glorified life with Himself upon the basis of perfect obedience and threatens eternal death and separation from the blessing of God (Genesis 2:16-17). This covenant is based upon works (i.e. the Law). This is not “legalism” because God created Adam with the ability to fulfill this covenant. However, Adam did not fulfill his covenantal commitment and the sanctions fell upon Him and the whole world. (Romans 5:12). Adam’s sin was imputed to the whole world as if we have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We therefore fall short along with Adam in attaining glorified life with God (Romans 3:23).

However there is light, for in the darkness of the broken Covenant of Works, comes the dawn of the Covenant of Grace. After Adam and Eve sin, even before God pronounces a single word of judgement to them, He announces the Gospel in seed form for the first time. He pronounces judgement upon the serpent that contains promise for sinful mankind,

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel. – Genesis 3:15

What makes this promise the first revelation of the Covenant of Grace? Whereas God said to us in the Covenant of Works “You will” (Genesis 2:17), God says to us in the Covenant of Grace “I will.” The Covenant of Works is about what we must do for God to fulfill our commitment to Him, while the Covenant of Grace is about what God will do for us to fulfill His commitment to us, which He purposed before the creation of the world (2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:2). In other words, this covenant is based upon the grace of God, not our own works. This involves God sending a new Adam in the line of Eve to rescue us from Adam’s sin and do what the first Adam could not. This new Adam we know as our Lord Jesus Christ who has imputed His righteousness to us and has given us eternal life as a free gift (Romans 5:17), not because of what we have done or who we are.

The apostle Paul even sees a parallel between the Covenant of Works and Mosaic Covenant in the clearest affirmation of the Law-Gospel distinction in the New Testament:

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. – Galatians 3:10-14

There are multiple ways the Mosaic Covenant echoes the Covenant of Works. In verse 10, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26 to show that the Mosaic Covenant threatens a curse for disobedience to the terms of the covenant. This curse involves being exiled from the land of Israel, where God’s presence resided in the temple in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 28:63-64). This echoes Eden because Adam and Eve were exiled from the presence of God in the garden (the prototypical temple) for their disobedience (Genesis 3:24). Here also we see that the primary function of the Law after Adam is to reveal our sin and that it is foolish to attempt to be justified by works (Romans 3:20). In verses 11-12, we see Paul distinguishing the two ways of righteousness and life: through works or through faith in the grace of God. Paul even says the law is not of faith.

The Law and the Gospel are of two different substances, works and grace respectively. In the Mosaic Covenant, the land of Israel was to be blessed with temporal life, safety from enemies, and glorification among the nations upon the basis of the Israelites’ obedience to God’s Law, which was to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbors as themselves (Leviticus 18:5, Deuteronomy 28:1-7). This was to make Israel look forward to a New Jerusalem, eternal life, safety from Satan and fallen angels, and glory with the nations in the new heaven and new earth which their fathers looked forward to (Hebrews 11:13-16, Revelation 21:1-4). This glorified life with God would not be gained by works but by faith in the true Israel of God, Christ Jesus (Matthew 2:15, Romans 10:6-8, Deuteronomy 30:11-16) who redeems us from the Law’s curse by taking the curse for us and giving us the blessing of eternal life.

Law as a Covenant vs. Law as a Rule of Life

Hence, we see why Martin Luther had an aversion to those who think Christ’s grace made it possible to be justified in part by works as He writes,

But advocates of the Pope and sectarian spirits don’t hold this doctrine. They turn everything inside out. From Christ, they make a Moses, and from Moses, a Christ… The adversaries are so diabolical and perverse that they merge together law and grace. Thus, they create this monstrous monstrosity by transforming Christ into Moses!

What’s wrong with making Christ a new Moses? Ultimately, the problem is the confusion between the Law as a covenant and the Law as a rule of life. Remember our definition of a covenant. A covenant is designed to extend man’s blessings beyond what he was naturally capable of obtaining on his own. The law of God is written on our hearts by nature (Romans 2:14-15). The Law of God is present no matter if there are any covenants, or which covenant we are under, for we are creatures of God, who is our Creator in whom we have the obligation to obey. However, we could not obey God enough to earn eternal life because we are creatures who cannot put God under a debt that He must repay us (Job 41:11). So God made the Covenant of Works with Adam to bring him to eternal life. Adam failed, but Christ succeeded as our representative so we are no longer under the Covenant of Works. However, the Law still remains.
In Romans, Paul talks about how the Law could never justify a sinner (3:20) and that “Christ is the end of the law” (10:4) Yet Paul still commands us to obey the Law, to love God and our neighbors (13:10). The difference is that we don’t obey the Law to get eternal life, but rather obey from an overflow of gladness in receiving eternal life in Christ. As Paul says, we have freedom from the bondage of the Law’s demands and threats (Galatians 5:1). Our obedience can no longer justify us and our disobedience can no longer condemn us. Yet we use that freedom not to sin, but to serve the Lord “without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him in all our days” (Luke 1:74-75). We don’t obey the Law because we are afraid of God as our judge who punishes disobedience, but because God is our Father through the Lord Jesus who loves us and cares for us (Galatians 4:4-5) by grace alone apart from our love for Him or for our neighbors. Now God our Father instructs His children with His Law as a rule of life.

Summarizing the Law-Gospel Distinction

In short, the Law says, “Do!” The Gospel says, “Done!”. The Law requires perfect obedience for eternal life. The Gospel gives you the perfect obedience of Christ and eternal life as a free gift. The Law announces a curse on all who disobey. The Gospel announces the redemption from the curse on all who believe. The Law shows us that we are ungodly. The Gospel shows us that Christ died for the ungodly. The Law requires you to love God and give yourself for Him. The Gospel tells you that God loves you and has given Himself for you. The Law says, “Do this and live.” The Gospel says, “Do this because you live.” The Law says, “Obey or God will cast you away forever.” The Gospel says, “Obey, because God is your Father for the sake of Christ who will hold you forever.”

God the Self-Sufficient One

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” – Revelation 1:8

Think about your needs for a moment. In order to survive, every single person needs food, water, sunlight, and oxygen. Without these basic needs, mankind will perish. On the contrary, God doesn’t need these basic resources for life. In fact, he doesn’t need anything! Acts 17:24-25 explains,“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” Because he doesn’t have a beginning like we do, he is self-sufficient.

Discussing the Self-Sufficiency of God

The exact word used to describe God’s self-sufficiency is his “aseity.” Herman Bavinck, a Dutch Reformed theologian of the late 1800s and early 1900s, defines this term by saying that God “is whatever he is by his own self or of his own self” (Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, 144). God is independent of his creation because he is eternal, whereas all of creation depends on him because he “created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Bruce Ware, a professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, rightfully comments that Genesis 1:1 describes “the eternal existence of God that transcends the entire created and contingent order.” The idea of God having a beginning is never a consideration according to the biblical authors. The Hebrew term for deity (el) automatically makes a “qualitative distinction” between God and his creation, meaning that “God exists eternally by his own will and nature, and his existence is of such a quality as to contain intrinsically every quality in infinite measure” (Ware, God’s Greater Glory, 46-48). When we examine the doctrine of God’s aseity, we must conclude that everything in creation descends from God’s supreme position and absolute authority which is sustained within himself; his position is never under duress. Our God isn’t a “needy” God who is in a frenzied panic if we don’t give him glory, but rather he is the self-sufficient One who, in himself, has all that he needs. He doesn’t need our devotion nor our attention to find sufficient satisfaction. This amplifies his grace all the more. Because of his own infinitely abundant desire, he graciously calls us to himself. What a gift! THIS gives us every reason to worship Him!

How God’s Self-Sufficiency Impacts Our Lives

There is a growing misconception within Christian circles that God needs his people to do his work. This becomes especially prevalent within missionary circles and within the work of evangelism. A.W. Tozer, a well-known twentieth-century theologian, addresses this issue well:

We commonly represent Him as a busy, eager, somewhat frustrated Father hurrying about seeking help to carry out His benevolent plan to bring peace and salvation to the world, but . . . [the] God who worketh all things surely needs no help and no helpers. Too many missionary appeals are based upon this fancied frustration of Almighty God. An effective speaker can easily excite pity in his listeners, not only for the heathen but for the God who has tried so hard and so long to save them and has failed for want of support. I fear that thousands of younger persons enter Christian service from no higher motive than to help deliver God from the embarrassing situation His love has gotten Him into and His limited abilities seem unable to get Him out of . . . A God who must be defended is one who can help us only while someone is helping Him. We may count upon Him only if He wins in the cosmic seesaw battle between right and wrong. Such a God could not command the respect of intelligent men; He could only excite their pity . . . It is morally imperative that we purge from our minds all ignoble concepts of the Deity and let Him be the God in our minds that He is in His universe. The Christian religion has to do with God and man, but its focal point is God, not man . . . That God exists for himself and man for the glory of God is the emphatic teaching of the Bible. The high honor of God is first in heaven as it must yet be in earth.

As Christians, the doctrine of God’s self-sufficiency should be a comfort to us rather than a detriment to our missions and evangelism. Even though we should worry over lost souls and pray vehemently for them that they repent and trust in Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:17; James 5:19-20), we can come to the sweet conclusion that God has called us to be partakers in his efforts by giving us the holy calling of evangelism and missions voluntarily, not out of necessity. He graciously allows our participation in these efforts as means to bring further glory to himself. Christ made the way for us to do so with love and zeal for the Gospel, which means that our anxieties and care can rest in and on Him who bore our sins to fulfill God’s plan of redemption (Matthew 11:29-30; 1 Peter 5:7). God is victorious whether a soul is won for Christ or not. The victory ultimately came through the Cross.

We’re called to rest in his self-sufficiency each and every day; he strengthens us, helps us, and upholds us with his “righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). We can truly find comfort in the truth that he is in control, because he has the power and the authority over the circumstances of life for his glory, his delight, and for our good. We can emphatically pray “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), while resting in God’s aseity. Because God has everything he needs in himself, we can trust in the All-Sufficient One who gives us what we need. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).

Divine Inspiration: What it Means and Why it Matters

All Scripture is breathed out by God – 2 Timothy 3:16

When reading a book, it’s important to know who wrote it. Specifically, you should learn about the author’s beliefs, credentials, their other notable works, and their influences. Even though authors may possess many positive traits, they will always possess negative traits because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). If an author possessed only positive traits, that would make them the perfect author, but “none [are] righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). When we consider this reality on the quest for the perfect author and the perfect book in a fallen world, we must ask, “Is there any book that is perfect? Is there any author that is perfect?” As Christians, we can confidently answer, “Yes! The Bible is perfect because God is perfect!” This exclamation comes from the understanding of “divine inspiration.” In this article, I would like to briefly unpack that term and why it matters for those who delight in God’s Word.

What Does “Divine Inspiration” Mean?

According to renowned theologian Wayne Grudem, “divine inspiration” means that all words in Scripture are “God’s own words.” Another dilemma arises from this statement: “How could God bring forth his Divine Word through sinful, fallen men?” While not denying—as Grudem phrases it—the “completely human volition or personality in the writing of Scripture,” we must acknowledge that “the ultimate source of [every writer’s words in Scripture] was never a man’s decision about what he wanted to write, but rather the Holy Spirit’s action in the [writer’s] life . . . This indicates a belief that all of [Scripture is] ‘from God.’” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 75) In other words, God sovereignly brought forth his inspired, inerrant Word in spite of man’s sinful nature. This can be seen throughout the Old Testament when the prophets would precede their prophecies with the statement, “Thus says the LORD” (Isaiah 49:7-8). New Testament passages such as 1 Thessalonians 2:13 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 also give sufficient evidence for divine inspiration. According to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, God’s purpose in giving us his inspired Word through the prophets and the apostles is “to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.”

Why Does This Matter?

So why did God choose to reveal himself through his inspired Word? Some may ask, “Why does it matter that it’s inspired? Wouldn’t it be acceptable if there were errors in Scripture?” The answer to this is simple: because God is holy and has providentially revealed himself through the Bible, the Bible must be holy like he is holy. If the Bible were to have errors and were not plenarily inspired, then it gives a false testimony of God, who is holy. That’s why on many traditional Bibles the words “Holy Bible” are printed on the spine, because it’s a glorious testimony of the Holy God who wrote Scripture. It’s also important that Scripture is inspired by God because it reveals his plan of salvation for his people: by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, making perfect atonement on behalf of his people. If Scripture isn’t inerrant, then the Gospel message it contains wouldn’t be sufficiently inspired by God. If the Gospel message of the death and resurrection of Christ isn’t fully inspired by God according to his Word, “we are of all people most to be pitied” because of our belief in the Gospel and our allegiance to Christ. Thankfully, we have full assurance in the Gospel because God is holy and he has revealed the good news in his inspired, holy Word.

Delighting in God’s Inspired Word

Now that we examined what it means to proclaim God’s Word is divinely inspired and why it matters for his people, I will briefly discuss how we can delight in God’s inspired Word. God himself uses his Word to pierce the stone-cold hearts of men to convict them of their sin, which causes them to repent and turn to the living God, causing regeneration to happen by the power of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26; Hebrews 4:12). With a new heart of flesh, soft and responsive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, the Word of God gives the new follower the direction and the principles needed in living a life sanctified unto God. Sanctification comes when we meditate on God’s righteousness and holiness according to his Word. Psalm 119:1-16 beautifully illustrates this diligence to love the Lord by following his Word. Based on the delight described in Psalm 119:1-16, the Word is the greatest treasure to those who place their hope in Christ and follow him daily and diligently as Lord and Savior. As seen in other places in Scripture, God brought forth his Word for many reasons: for his people to glorify him in teaching, preaching, worship, discipleship, correction, evangelism, among other ministries of the Word (Romans 10:13-15; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:2-3, 5). God has also used his inspired Word to shame the wise because the Gospel hope that it contains is foolishness to them, but “to [those] who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). God’s life-giving Word is also our comfort in times of affliction. When we feel troubled, stressed, afraid, downcast, or any other emotion, God has given us his wonderful Word. In it, we find counsel for our troubles, medicine for our wounds, and hope in our sorrow. Charles Spurgeon, the beloved Prince of Preachers, said it well:

May God, in His infinite mercy, when you read your Bibles, pour into your souls the illuminating rays of the Sun of Righteousness, by the agency of the ever-adorable Spirit; then you will read to your profit. [Be Bible-readers; Be Bible-searchers.] – (Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons vol 1: The Bible, pp. 34, 44)

Grace is Greater than a Second Chance

This summer, I had the wonderful privilege of being a Sky Ranch summer camp counselor. I worked with high school sophomores who all came from Christian backgrounds. Throughout the week, we walked through six different passages in Scripture, including Ephesians 2:1-10. When we got to verses 4-5, I asked the question, “What is grace?” I asked that question because I knew I shouldn’t assume that just because they came from a Christian background they already knew what grace was. Week after week, I received the same answer from multiple different campers, “Grace is a second chance.” This answer seems like it’s correct. Second chances are great, right? A popular worship band has a song titled “Second Chance” and it has these lyrics:

Your blood offers the chance

To rewind to innocence

Reborn, perfect as a child…

Oh Your cross, it’s where my hope restarts

A second chance is Heaven’s heart

While these lyrics sound wonderful, it is unwittingly leading us back to bondage.

In Socratic fashion, I would then ask my campers, “So it would seem that God forgives our first failed attempt at gaining eternal life because of our sin, but now gives us another attempt to gain eternal life by obedience, correct? God is like a school teacher who takes pity on a student who failed his math test, but now gives him another chance at passing the test.” This is what logically follows from calling grace merely a second chance. This view of grace puts us back in the same position as Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam was created in a state of innocence and perfect like the lyrics above state. Adam had the hope of eternal life and glory in the presence of God on the basis of his perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience (Luke 10:25-28, Genesis 2:9).

My campers would counter, knowing that we continually fall into sin, “Grace is actually an infinite amount of second chances.” The problem with this view is that you have to attempt to attain eternal life an infinite amount of times (or at least until you die). Salvation, in this sense, can never be applied individually to the believer in the past, but only something that can be applied in the future after death. Moreover, this means that God must pardon (in a legal sense, not the familial sense as in the Lord’s Prayer) us every time we sin. We fall from the state of being justified before God every time we sin and need to be re-justified by God. This is fascinatingly similar to the medieval Christian view of salvation. Church historian Carl Trueman explains this view by writing,

God can demand perfection from human beings prior to giving them grace but, in fact, has condescended via means of a pactum (or covenant) to give grace to ‘the one who does what is in oneself.’ In answer to Luther’s question, ‘How can I be righteous [or justified] before God?’ one might respond, ‘Do what is in you,’ that is, do your best.

Understanding What the Law Demands

However, Scripture teaches that the Law does not demand that we merely try our best. It demands that we be perfect. Romans 2:13 says, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be justified.” Scripture offers two categories of humans: doers of the Law or breakers of the Law (James 2:10). Doers of the Law receive glory, honor, peace, and eternal life (Romans 2:7, 10); breakers of the Law receive wrath and fury, tribulation and distress (Romans 2:8-9). There is no third category of humans who try their best to obey the Law. The Law demands that we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all our soul, with all of our mind, and all of our strength and our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:26-27).

The Law demands everything from us. Our entire being must be dedicated to serving God and neighbor in order to have eternal life (Luke 10:28). If not, then we are under the curse of God as Galatians 3:10 says, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” For all of us who live right now, post-Fall, are born in the bondage to sin. We do not have the ability to obey the Law that we can attain eternal life by our own strength. We do not even have the ability to not sin. No one, by nature, can please God (Romans 8:8). Therefore, the pactum of medieval theology has no validity since there is nothing good in us that we can try our best to obey the Law. We are all born “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), in both a legal (Colossians 2:13-14) and moral sense (Ephesians 2:2). We all by nature exiled from the presence of God as the penalty for sin demands, as all those who touched a dead body were ceremonially unclean and could not participate in the worship of God in the community of God under the Mosaic Law (Numbers 19:11). Our whole person is defiled with sin, as touching a dead body defiled the whole person.

Heaven’s Heart

But a glorious light shines through our spiritual darkness: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” The grace of God in Christ alone initiates and accomplishes our salvation. God alone frees the sinner from the penalty and power of sin. According to this text, this salvation is something that has occurred in the past, not to be gained in the future. Later on in this passage, Paul will argue that we are saved apart from our works (vv. 8-9). This salvation is bestowed upon a sinner apart from anything she does and is something she possesses now and forever more.

Another question I enjoyed asking campers each week was, “How is God just in saving sinners when He demands perfection for eternal life and must punish sin with eternal death?” Does God compromise His just Law to save sinners? He does not. But how can God remain just while being merciful to sinners? The answer is within the text of Ephesians 2: we were raised and made alive in Christ. When Christ was raised from the dead, we were raised from the dead.

The Active Obedience of Christ and Federal Headship

How is it that when Christ was raised from the dead we were raised from the dead? The answer lies in the concepts of the active obedience of Christ and his federal headship. While these are academic terms, they communicate a simple truth: when God sees us, He sees Jesus. When God sees us, He sees us as ones who have perfectly satisfied all of the demands of the Law, both its commands and condemnation.

The active obedience of Christ refers to His keeping of the Law of God throughout His entire life. He loved God and his neighbor perfectly. Because He loved God and neighbor perfectly, He received the reward of the Law: eternal life (Luke 10:25-27). The resurrection of Christ was God’s justification of the perfect life of Christ (Romans 1:4, 1 Timothy 3:16). Jesus was justified by works!

The federal headship of Christ refers to His legal representation of the people He saves. As the Second London Confession puts, “God was pleased, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them, to be the mediator between God and humanity.” The federal headship of Christ means that whatever the Son does, those who believe are counted as ones who did the same. When Jesus obeyed, the believer obeyed, just as when Adam sinned, humanity sinned. God regards the whole world as if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil like Adam did. Likewise, God regards all those believe as if they rendered perfect obedience the Law of God as it is written, “For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).

The federal headship of Christ also means that we are raised, in a legal sense, with Christ. This means that God’s legal verdict upon Christ becomes our verdict through faith for it is written that Jesus was “raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Since the resurrection of Christ was God’s legal declaration of righteousness upon the life of Christ, this legal declaration of righteousness becomes ours through the federal headship of Christ. Since God has counted the obedience of Christ as our own, we receive the reward of that righteousness which is eternal life. Jesus was justified by works so that we may be justified by faith.

Grace is much greater than a second chance. God not only forgives our first attempt at eternal life, but sent Jesus to attempt and succeed as our great champion. Jesus not only died for our sins but lived to be our righteousness. On the cross of Christ, God saw us instead of one who perfectly obeyed the Law. Through faith in Christ, God sees Jesus instead of the sinner. “And to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). For the ungodly who believe, as far as God is concerned, you are Jesus. That is heaven’s heart towards the ungodly.

Jesus Christ as Our High Priest

Before the throne of God above

I have a strong and perfect plea

A great High Priest whose name is love

Who ever lives and pleads for me.

The reality we all face in this sin-stained world is the truth that there is nothing of our own will or action that can remove our innate sin nature. Nothing. Now, you may be asking yourself, “Well where is the hope in that?” The only answer is written in the blood of Jesus Christ that was spilled on the cross of Calvary. It is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who now sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven (Heb. 1:1-4). That is the answer to our sin nature. Jesus as our High Priest sits and watches; He sees and knows everything and intercedes on our behalf.  Unlike the priests from the times of the Old Testament, who never finished making sacrifices, Jesus has finished His sacrificial work. His sacrifice on the cross was final and complete.

Old Covenant – Priests and Temple Sacrifice

In the the Old Covenant, the people of God knew the idea of a mediator only through the shadow of the Old Covenant priests, and particularly the high priest of Israel. The high priest was the only individual who could enter the innermost part of the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, and that was only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). The priests were to offer sacrifices of various kinds- sin, burnt, grain, peace, and trespass offerings- (Lev. 1-7) which all ultimately pointed forward to Jesus and His complete sacrifice for our sins. God specifically set aside the Levites, one of Israel’s twelve tribes, to perform specific daily rituals and duties. However, these chosen Levites were still corrupted because of their sin nature. Some of them worshiped idols and stole from others (Ezek. 22:26; Jer. 2:8). Pastor David Mathis clarifies that,

The first covenant, with its earthly location and priesthood, was good and effective for a season, as God intended. Through animal blood, it brought God’s people, represented by the high priest, into his presence each year. However, the new covenant is better. Through Jesus — the superior priest, who cleanses us fully (inside and out), by means of his superior blood — we are invited to approach the very throne of God himself not just annually but weekly, daily, and at any moment (Hebrews 4:14-16).

The final answer came in the New Covenant, where the priestly line would come from the order of Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20), and the order of sacrifices under the Law would cease in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus would come, not from the fallible order of the Levites, but from Judah. Jesus reigns and He will not be succeeded by another priest; for His perfect life is the resounding end to temple sacrifice and atonement. He is our new and final High Priest.

New Covenant – Jesus as our High Priest

Jesus as High Priest atoned once and for all for the sins of humanity by offering His own life as the substitutionary sacrifice that satisfied the wrath of God. The atonement of the New Covenant is far greater than any atonement that came through the Levitical priests. The Law would no longer need to be fulfilled by earthly practices, but rather would be abolished forever because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice (Gal. 3:10-14). For the Lord declares, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34). Christs’ sacrifice was effective because His life was perfect and He did not remain dead, but rather was raised to eternal life at the right hand of His Father in Heaven to intercede for His people (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 8:1-2).

Both Christ’s full humanity and full divinity are necessary to fulfill this role as the great High Priest. As Christians, our confidence is not in our own abilities or works, but rather in the High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, and was tempted just as we are, yet lived without sin (Heb. 4:14-15). He is our assured hope and anchor for our soul because He alone meets the requirements for a full sacrifice (Heb. 6:19-20). Jesus makes the propitiation for our sins, and by His own blood secures the covenant and enters the most Holy place where He reigns today (Heb. 9:11-12). To be seated at God’s right hand implies the greatest of honor and authority which Jesus possesses in His perfect union with the Father. Jesus’ divinity is further expressed in Hebrews 7:26-28, where it is written,

For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once and for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. – Hebrews 7:26-28

The Truth for Today

So, what does this mean for you today? Well, if you are in Christ, you have a mediator who has secured eternity for you at the price of his own life. It is as Dr. Brandon Crowe, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary writes,

Jesus’ sacrifice provides the solution to a problem that we often find in the Old Testament: even where sacrifices may be offered, people’s hearts (including those of the priests) were often far from God.

Praise be to God who saw us in our affliction and had a plan for redemption before time began. The fruition of this plan was Jesus Christ. Those who come to faith and submit their whole lives to Christ have a changed heart that is filled with the guiding direction of the Holy Spirit. We no longer need to perform ritual sacrifices, but we give our lives in obedient sacrifice to the calling of the Lord. It is through His grace and mercy we are being sanctified through the Spirit to bring others into the loving embrace of the Father and the presence of the priestly King, Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:11-14). He is our confidence and peace so that we, as redeemed sinners, can enter His presence with boldness now and for eternity (Heb. 4:16). This redemption allows us to sing joyfully the song “Before the Throne of God Above,” knowing that Jesus reigns as our loving High Priest. And because of this truth, the Lord will never reject us.

A Defense of Limited Atonement

Since Limited Atonement is so controversial, I thought it might be helpful to discuss a few of the passages people use to deny the doctrine. Hopefully, this will help resolve any seeming conflicts with other Bible passages.

Evidence to the Contrary?

“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” – 2 Peter 3:8-10

Second Peter 3:9 is usually used by deniers of Limited Atonement because of the phrase, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” They reason, “If God truly does not want anyone to perish, how could he refrain from providing a sacrifice for their sins?” However, by reviewing the context of this verse, one will see that the group God does not want to perish is not every human being, but Christians. 

In 2 Peter 3:1-8, which establishes the context for verse 9, Peter the apostle encourages the recipients of his letter to believe that God is truly going to save them. Peter wants to reassure them that the scoffers, who declare that God’s judgment will never come, are wrong and that God will come for his people to bring Judgment Day to pass. Verse 9 begins with the assertion that God is not slow to fulfill his promise of salvation. God has made no such promise to the unbelieving scoffers being discussed here, but instead has made this promise of salvation to Christians. Peter wants the recipients of his letter to understand that God has not forgotten them, and that the blaspheming scoffers’ claims have no merit.

After this, Peter says that God is being patient toward “you.” Whatever patience God has is directed toward the “you,” which is the Christian people to whom he is writing. “You” does not refer to all humanity as some people argue. Peter is saying that God is waiting for all those who will comprise the “you” group (Christians) to come to repentance. God has made no such promise to non-Christians, and Judgment Day will follow soon after this promise is fulfilled (v. 10). It is a mistake to apply 2 Peter 3:9 to non-Christian people because it is an encouragement to Christians against lying unbelievers and not a declaration of God’s desire for everyone’s salvation.

To understand the next few passages, we need to understand how John uses the word “kosmos” or “world” in his writings. He sometimes uses it to mean the entire universe (John 17:5), the evil world system (1 John 5:19), unbelievers (John 15:18), Jews and Gentiles worldwide (John 6:33), the human realm (John 1:10), and even large crowds of people (John 12:19) among other uses. The term “world,” especially in John’s writings, must be interpreted in light of the context in which it is written. He does not use the term as most people would today. 

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:1-2 

The second verse of 1 John 2 seems to deal a decisive blow against Limited Atonement. John calls Christ the propitiation for the sins of the “whole world.” Upon further examination, we will see that this verse cannot be denying Limited Atonement. 

To understand this verse, we need to understand what propitiation means. Propitiation means to appease an offended party. This verse states that Christ actually is the propitiation for the sins of the “whole world.” It does not say that he could be or that he aspires to be the propitiation, or appeasement, to God for the sins of the “whole world,” but that he actually is. If Christ has appeased the wrathful God on behalf of every single person (if that is indeed what “whole world” means here), then neither believers nor unbelievers would have to worry about God’s coming wrath. The whole of scripture is clear, however, that God is going to eventually pour out his righteous wrath on unbelieving sinners. Romans 2:5 says, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing  up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” 

Our solution lies in understanding how John uses the term “whole world.” It might be helpful to consider that in 1 John 5:19, a short three chapters later, John says, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” Here, John excludes Christians, who are “from God,” from the “whole world.” Clearly, “whole world” in this context does not mean everyone living, but only to the many people across the world who are under the power of the evil one. This necessarily excludes Christians because they are no longer under Satan’s power (Eph. 2:1-3, Col. 1:13).

We should view 1 John 2:2 similarly, and understand that “whole world” refers to all those across the whole world who can say Christ actually was a propitiation for their sins, and God no longer has any wrath reserved for them. It cannot mean every single person in the world, because that would mean there is no coming wrath for anyone, and the rest of scripture testifies against that idea. It should be noted that in 1 John 4:10, John refers to Jesus as a propitiation for sins once again, but says that he is a propitiation specifically for believers’ sins.

John 1:29 is another verse that is frequently cited to argue that Christ died for the sins of all people, even those who would never believe. Our understanding of the word “world” is important for understanding this verse too. Referring to Jesus, John the Baptist says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Many people who read this exclaim, “Look! This says he took away the world’s sins. This can only mean that Christ died for all people.” However, if we look carefully at the statement, we will see that John is not speaking of any potential Christ has to take away sins, but that whoever constitutes “the world” actually has their sins taken away. Like I said in my explanation of 1 John 2:2, taking “the world” to include even those who never believe would mean that all people would have their sins taken away and thus be saved. Scripture makes clear that some people will not be saved, and God will pour out his wrath on those who do not turn from their sins (Prov. 28:13). We should also understand the word “world” here to mean Jews and Gentiles across the world rather than every person in the world. 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

This verse is often used to argue that Christ died for all. The word “world” here likely means sinners generally as it does in other places in John’s writings. Regardless of who or what “world” refers to, the verse itself says nothing of the atonement’s extent. All we can deduce from this verse is that God gave his Son so that all the believing people would be saved. To use this verse as a rebuttal to Limited Atonement is to assign a meaning to the verse that is not there. We have to be careful to draw the meaning of a passage from passages and not impose our own ideas on the text. 

Further Study

Because I could not address every argument that opponents of Limited Atonement use in this article, I would like to give some general advice for looking at any scriptures concerning the extent of Christ’s atonement. First, we need to be certain that the passages we are examining are actually talking about what Christ desired to accomplish or did accomplish by his sacrifice. Verses about Christ welcoming all who come to him, and verses concerning Christ’s care for unbelievers do not necessarily tell us for whom he died. Secondly, we must be mindful of the consequences of our conclusions. Would your understanding of the verse you are reading contradict the rest of Scripture’s clear teaching? If so, there is an error in the interpretation. We must always be mindful to interpret less clear scriptures in light of clearer.

Rather than railing against this biblical doctrine as some do, we should happily embrace its truth. Everyone who turns from their sins and asks for God to forgive them in Christ can be certain that Christ suffered and died to secure a relationship with them and to make them holy and blameless before God (1 Peter 3:18, Eph. 1:4). That is where he ransomed you. If you have not yet come to Christ, please understand that he is commanding you to repent from your evil works and to find forgiveness in him by faith alone (Acts 17:30). The relationship with him to which he is calling you is greater than anything you could even fathom (Ephesians 3:14-19).

For Whom Did Christ Die?

Is Limited Atonement biblical? This doctrine states that at Jesus’ crucifixion, he only paid for the sins of those he intended to save. He purchased their salvation through his death, and it is guaranteed that each person for whom he died will come to saving faith and continue walking in faith until he or she safely enters into God’s presence. Jesus was able to atone for the sins of as many people as he wished, but he chose to pay only for the sins of Old Testament believers and those who would become Christians. Keep in mind, I am not trying to find verses that explicitly refute those who disagree. Instead, I am working from a neutral standpoint to learn what Scripture says about the extent of the atonement.

Clear Biblical Support 

To start, let’s look at some of Jesus’ statements from the Gospel of John:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
– John 10:11, 25–28

In this passage, Jesus speaks clearly about his intentions to sacrifice himself for a specific group of people; his sheep. Not only does Jesus declare that he will lay down his life specifically for the sheep who will follow him, but in verse 26 he makes a distinction between his sheep and those who are not his sheep. Since Jesus committed to sacrificing himself for his sheep and he explicitly excluded some people from that group, it is only reasonable to conclude that he does not intend to die for those who are not included in the group of his sheep. In verses 27–28, he says that he will grant his sheep eternal life, they will never perish, and they will not be removed from his care. Because Christ only died for his sheep and only gives them eternal life, it can be said that Christ only died for Christians.

Despite Jesus’ clear statement, some may still object, “Well, the passage does not explicitly reject the idea that Jesus died for his sheep and those who would never repent and believe in him.” Those who reject Limited Atonement may want this explicit statement, but it is unnecessary. When one says they will perform an action for a specific group of people, they do not need to explicitly state that the action is not being performed for people outside the identified group. For example, if one says, “I will pay for the food of everyone in my house,” it is unnecessary to clarify that they will not pay for the food of people outside of their house. Similarly, Jesus’ assertion that he will lay down his life for his sheep is sufficient for communicating that the laying down of his life was only for his sheep. No additional statement is needed, but the fact that Jesus clearly says some people are and his sheep removes any ambiguity. 

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
– Romans 8:32

Following his discussion of God’s unstoppable plan to save and sanctify his people in Romans 8:1–30, the apostle Paul explains how these truths reveal the love of God to believers. Verse 32 emphasizes the great love demonstrated by God the Father in his sacrifice of the infinitely valuable Son of God, Jesus. According to this verse, all those for whom the Son was given up can rest assured that God will give them “all things.” Can those who will spend eternity in Hell for their sins (people who never repent and trust in Jesus alone) say that God has “graciously given them all things?” Absolutely not! All who do not repent and believe will suffer an eternity of weeping, moaning, and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:36–43). It will be evident that Christ died for someone by the spiritual blessings they receive from God (“all things”). “All things” are received by everyone for whom Christ died. Therefore, those for whom Christ died can only be those God chooses to save and bless with “all things.” Clearly, this excludes those who are not saved and consequently condemned to Hell.

I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours… I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
– John 17:6–10, 20–21

In his prayer, Jesus identifies his apostles as individuals given to him by God the Father. He has revealed to them the truth that he is the Messiah, and they believe that he is the Christ. Not only does Jesus pray that the apostles would be saved and perfectly unified, but he prays for all future Christians who would believe through the proclaimed Gospel. While praying for this group, he explicitly states that he is NOT praying for the salvation of anyone outside of that group (John 17:9). Only the people he is praying for belong to God (John 17:10).

If Christ is not willing to pray for the salvation of these people, is it reasonable to believe he would be willing to die for them? It is clear that his intention is to save only those whom the Father has given him for the purpose of saving. Christ’s intentions in atoning for sins are not conflicting with the Father’s will because Christ perfectly did the will of the Father (John 5:19, John 6:37–44).

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
– Revelation 5:9–10

In this excerpt, we see that Jesus “ransomed people for God” by his blood. The word “ransomed” means to have purchased something, and the “blood” that was used to ransom the people for God refers to the bloody sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus actually ransomed for himself, people by his sacrifice at the cross. This means that he did not merely make a provision for people to accept if they wanted to, but he actually secured certain individuals who would definitely become God’s people. If Jesus chose to ransom all people by dying for all people, they would be his and become Christians. However, this verse does not teach that he ransomed all people, but only some. Notice that the passage says that Jesus ransomed people from every tribe and language and people and nation, and not that he ransomed every tribe and language and people and nation themselves. Those who are ransomed are really his and will be made into a kingdom by God (Revelation 5:10).

Why Is This Important? 

While acknowledging the truths above, we must not forget that God does all these things in love. Christ did not suffer with an indifferent attitude, but with a deep love for each individual that the persons of the Trinity agreed to save before creation (Eph 1:4).  When I first understood that the doctrine of Limited Atonement was biblical, I almost shed tears because of how clearly it revealed God’s love for me.

If you are a believer, rejoice that Jesus had you in mind at the cross. He knew you by name, and he suffered the outpouring of God’s wrath on your behalf. And he did it out of love. The triune God demonstrates his love in this way: the Father gave up the Son for you, the Son suffered for you, and the Holy Spirit has sealed you for the day you will fully enter into God’s presence. All three persons of the Trinity are delighted to have fellowship with you through Jesus Christ. 

If you have not yet received this blessing by repenting of your wicked rebellion against God, do that now. Ask the Lord for forgiveness, acknowledging that you have broken his commands, and come to him believing that Christ paid the penalty for your sins at the cross. There are no good works for you to do to please him. Although you should pursue these things in response to your relationship with God, they are not the foundation of your relationship. If you do repent, you can rest assured that he died for you and ransomed you for a relationship with him.

The Deity of the Holy Spirit

Whether you were raised in a Christian household, have grown up in the Church, or have recently become a Christian, I would be interested to ask what your view is on the Holy Spirit. Can you support with biblical evidence the triune divinity of the Spirit and His role in the Father, Son, Spirit relationship? Not to mention, how would you begin to explain who the Holy Spirit is to a non-believer? I too had to wrestle with these questions as I came to terms with the reality that the Holy Spirit is a person of depth and the roles of the Spirit need to be addressed by looking at the narrative of Scripture.

The deity of the Holy Spirit is essential to understand as a Christian and recognize its various roles in the history of Scripture, as well as its active role in the world today. As a Christian, the Holy Spirit may prove to be a challenging topic to be fully cognizant of; yet we must challenge ourselves to think critically and rely on wisdom from the Lord to gain understanding. 

The Hebrew word for Spirit is Ruakh, meaning an invisible, powerful energy, necessary for life. The Holy Spirit is invisible but is an indwelling person, and the biblical authors refer to the Spirit as God’s personal presence. Jesus, Himself, says, 

He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
-John 16:14

Jesus uses a singular, masculine pronoun to establish that the Spirit is a “He,” not an “it.”

Being honest with ourselves and others about the importance of the Holy Spirit is crucial to our Gospel witness. The Gospel mandate is to go into the world preaching the Good News to all creation. To do this, believers must first understand the Scriptural basis for the Holy Spirit and the roles this third person of the Trinity fulfills.

The Role of the Spirit in the Trinity

To begin addressing some of the questions posed above, there must be a clear presentation of how the Holy Spirit is involved in the Trinity. This starting point must be concrete knowledge in the heart of the Christian. Michael Horton presents a clear, foundational explanation of the Trinity in his book, Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story. He writes,

So the essence is one. The persons are God in exactly the same way and to exactly the same degree. They are equally omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, loving, just, and holy. The Son and the Spirit share the same essence (homoousios) as the Father. But the persons are three. Each has his own personal attributes that distinguish him from the others. The Father is the unbegotten source of all things, the son is the only-begotten Son, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Father gave his Son, and the Spirit unites us to him.
-Michael Horton

The doctrine of the Trinity was secured during the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 and later finalized at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381. The doctrinal statement of one essence in three persons is established in the recognizable Nicene Creed. Today, the Church recognizes the overwhelming importance of the Holy Spirit in every born-again believer.

Pastor and theologian, John Piper, establishes two key truths about the Holy Spirit in his message, The Holy Spirit: He is God! that succinctly describes who the Holy Spirit is: 1) the Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force (John 14:15-17), and 2) the Holy Spirit is God, not a creation of God (1 Cor. 2:10-13). The Spirit is “of God” not because God created Him, but because He shares God’s nature and comes forth eternally from God. It is by the Spirit that Christ’s followers comprehend the Scriptures as well as speak and preach the good news of the Gospel.

The triune relationship of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is complex and yet each person is equal first and foremost in power, knowledge, and divinity. Acts 10:38 gives a glimpse of this relationship,

“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”
-Acts 10:38

God himself provided Jesus with the Holy Spirit and the full power to complete His commands and purposes. Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, is our example to work towards our high calling (Phil. 3:14) and to fulfill our role as ambassadors for His Kingdom on earth (2 Cor. 5:11-21). The presentation of the roles of the three persons in Acts 10:38 proves evidently that each divine being engages equally together according to their respective characteristics. As Michael Horton puts it, 

The Father is the source, the Son is the mediator, and the Spirit is the one at work within the world—and within us—to bring the work to completion.
Michael Horton

The history of redemption that spans the course of Scripture progressively evolves the triune relationship. The Trinity, specifically the Spirit, has been and will continue to be imperative to the work of the Gospel.

The Spirit’s Divinity Evident in Scripture

Since the very beginning, the Spirit has been presently involved in the biblical narrative of Scripture.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and the darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
-Genesis 1:1-2

The triune God is the Maker of heaven and earth: the Father speaks creation into being through the Son and by the operation of the Holy Spirit (Psalm 104:30; John 1:1-3; Heb. 11:3). Realizing the Spirit was present, hovering, and actively participating during the formation of the world verifies His divine quality. 

Advancing into the New Testament, the Spirit continues to be present and declarative in the life of Jesus Christ. For the birth of Christ was by and from the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18; 20) and the Spirit was present at Jesus’ baptism, descending like a dove as Jesus arose from the water (Matt. 3:13-17; Mk. 1:9-11; Lk. 3:21-22; Jn. 1:32-34). The Spirit of God came once again in the person of Jesus Christ to transform and commission people to love the Lord God and others more completely. Jesus Himself as part of the Trinity was in a relationship with the Spirit as God saw accordingly fit. John Piper states that, 

Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River was God’s Spirit empowering Jesus to begin the new creation; healing and forgiving sins.
-John Piper

Today, the Spirit is continuing to work among the hearts of believers and non-believers to bring about the great multitude promised in Revelation 7:9-12. Two of the Great Commission accounts (Luke 24:44-53 and John 20:19-23) acknowledge the gift of the person of the Holy Spirit. Luke refers to the disciples being “clothed with power from on high” while John expresses the receiving of the Holy Spirit by being breathed on by Jesus. In particular, the Johannine Commission records Jesus appearing to His disciples after the Resurrection. This receiving of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ disciples is the same Spirit believers receive today when they confess, repent, and believe in God.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then, the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
John 20:19-23

The Holy Spirit is a gift upon becoming a new creation in Christ and as a follower of the Lord you are given the Holy Spirit as a Helper and Teacher and peacemaker as you live in the world for Christ’s glory (John 14:15-17, 25-26). When we ask the Spirit to direct and guide us daily, we are asking in the power of Christ to engage with the Father so we can honor Him in all that we say and do. For we know we are to love one another, and through the Spirit, God’s love is perfected in us as we abide in Him (1 John 4:12-14). 

Spurred on by the Spirit

Ultimately, each Christian’s life is to be lived empowered by the Spirit, who is not just a figure of the imagination, but is a fully divine being—the third person in the Trinity. The Spirit was present at Creation, in a communal relationship with Jesus Christ in the New Testament, and now is living in the hearts of Christians all over the world. Theologian John Piper articulates in The Holy Spirit: He is God! by saying,

There is only one power that can break the spell of Satan, waken the armies of the Lord, and rout the god of this age—the power of the Holy Spirit.
-John Piper

The Spirit has the power to right unbelief with trust, shatter hate with love, and awaken wayward hearts to the Gospel of grace. The reality is the Holy Spirit is what allows us to understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:12-14) and because of Him, we have true wisdom to understand rather than reject the Gospel. 

The question now becomes do you believe the truth of the deity of the Spirit found in Scripture, and can you recognize the various roles the Spirit has and will continue to fulfill until the day of Christs’ return? I pray the Spirit will work anew in your heart and awaken your mind to the power living inside you if you are in Christ. If you have not given your life to Christ, I ask that you repent and believe in the saving power of Jesus’ death on the Cross and by faith come to Him, recognizing that it is by the Spirit your heart was awoken to your sin. May the peace of Christ fill you as you live as a Christian in tandem with the Spirit who is our indwelling ability to enjoy and glorify God forever.

Faith vs. Belief: A Study on Salvation

Ever since 1517 and the nailing of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door, Protestants have been known for a commitment to salvation by grace through faith alone. This Reformation was a call for the Church to return to its roots because it recognized that biblical salvation is a direct result of faith alone as it is attributed to faith alone over 50 times within the New Testament. Despite the beauty of this biblical doctrine, “Sola Fide” has been often marred and manipulated by a modernized Western church seeking a “cheap faith” that is, in reality, a mere form of intellectual assent. 

Regardless, the Bible preaches salvation by faith alone, so we must also. Again, we preach salvation by faith alone. Not belief alone. We, as Americans, have been inadvertently and falsely taught that faith and belief are, for all practical purposes, in fact one in the same. But maybe there’s more to “faith” than simply the acknowledgement of what is true.

Faith From the Perspective of a New Testament Writer

In the Greek, the word that translates into the English as “faith” is πίστις. As defined by the NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon, πίστις is understood to be “conviction of the truth of anything” and includes with it the idea of “trust and holy fervor.” Surprisingly, the technical modern day definition has hardly changed, and it is generally defined by Merriam Webster as a type of “allegiance” or “loyalty.” 

However, because the word “faith” in everyday conversation has become so overused in referring to a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”, this is the way we typically envision it. More significantly, this is the way we read the word “faith” when we see it in Scripture, but this was not the intention of the writer then and therefore is still not the intention today. 

With this in mind, “faith alone” and “conviction of the truth, trust, and holy fervor alone” should theoretically invoke the same mental image when we hear each phrase. So yes, salvation is by faith alone, but it is extremely important to know what the writer originally meant when he said “faith.” A misunderstanding here can be dangerous.

Scripture’s Definition of Faith

It’s always a good idea to enlist the services of the Almighty God who possesses all the authority, wisdom, and knowledge necessary to define a word, especially when that word is the central theme of His own book. So what’s the Holy Spirit’s definition of faith? 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
-Hebrews 11:1

Based upon this verse, I believe that faith is where intellectual acknowledgement and desperation collide. Not only is it the convicted assurance of what we do not physically see, but it is also the assurance of something we are genuinely hoping for – something we genuinely need. This passage assumes that there exists a large capsule of hope within the heart that truly possesses faith, and this kind of hope implies a thirst and desire for something we do not yet have. Paul more fully explains this hope in his letter to the Romans.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. -Romans 8:22-25

To put these things together, biblical faith could be described as hope for the redemption of all creation, including one’s own soul, from the effects of sin and death’s decay, brought about by the convicted assurance of something not yet physically present (2 Cor. 4:16-18). My question is once again this: Does this define the faith of the American church?

Salvation Throughout Scripture

For this section, I have chosen what I believe to be three of the most commonly used “Salvation Verses” in the Bible for further analysis. Upon participating in some brief exploration of each, I quickly discovered the remarkable depth to these verses that we are blinded from seeing by the bright lights of familiarity and cliché. As it has been wisely noted, “the greatest enemy of faith is not fear; it is familiarity.”

because, if you confess with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
-Romans 10:9-10

Sounds simple enough right? Initially, it seems like Paul is saying that to be saved, you must simply say a few words and then acknowledge the validity of a historical event, namely, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. However, with this interpretation, what we miss in the passage is the word “heart.” 

When the word “believe” is used, it is typically defined as an intellectual function of the brain. But if Scripture was trying to communicate academic agreement, it would have instead said “believe in your mind” or maybe even “be fully convinced in your mind” or something more along those lines. 

However, that is not what the passage says. It actually attaches the word “belief” with the word “heart.” The clear distinction we must make is that believing in your heart is in fact different from believing in your head. 

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
-James 2:19

Now, I am under the impression that demons do not possess the faith necessary to obtain eternal life in heaven, and I hope you would agree. So in order to grasp what this kind of heartfelt belief looks like, let’s look at perhaps the most quoted Bible verse in America:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
-John 3:16

As the most popular verse in the entire Bible, John 3:16 has certainly received its fair share of air time, but what most people have never read are the two verses directly before.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
-John 3:14-15

To figure out what the belief in the Son of Man that leads to salvation actually is, we must look at the story that Christ is referencing in the Old Testament. The story occurs within Numbers 21 in verses 4 through 9, while the Israelites are in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land after recently being freed from their slavery to Egypt. The people begin to doubt the goodness of God and sin against Him by complaining that the food that God has given to them is not good enough. Because of this, God sends judgement upon the people in the form of what the Bible calls “fiery serpents.” The serpents bring death to many of the Israelites while also bringing about repentant hearts within others. The members of this second group confess their sin, and God provides a path for their healing by asking Moses to set up a pole with a bronze serpent on it. With one glance at this bronze serpent, those seeking healing will be healed from the effects of the fiery snakes.

From this passage, there are three brief things that are important to notice when interpreting the meaning of John 3:14-16. These three things are repentance of sin, willful seeking of healing, and a trusting in the provision of God as the source of redemption. The people actually felt guilty and understood their need for rescue, they sought healing in something outside of themselves, and they found this forgiveness, mercy, and love from the God who freely offers it to those who seek it. This is the kind of faith and belief that Jesus is teaching in John 3:16, and it is the basis for all other Scriptural teaching on salvation. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
-Ephesians 2:8-9

Other than an explicit teaching against a “faith plus works” theology on salvation, this passage reveals that even the faith we have is a gift from God. Now, does intellectual agreement require an act of God? Certainly not, because, as we have seen, demons believe in God. No work gets us into heaven, including the “work” of believing that no work will get us into heaven. 

It is the faith itself, a gift of God, and not the belief in “salvation by faith” that saves. Belief in something does not require anything supernatural, but Scripture teaches that the faith that brings about salvation does. So what’s the difference? What does the Christian saved through faith possess that the nominal Christian who supposedly believes does not?

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
-Romans 8:14-16

The true child of the living God has the Spirit of God within them and a new heart that cries out “Abba,” the Hebrew word signifying personal intimacy between father and child. As Charles Simeon puts it, 

For a nominal Christian is content with proving the way of salvation by a crucified Redeemer. But the true Christian loves it, delights in it, glories in it, and shudders at the very thought of glorying in anything else.

So, faith is a gift of God. It is planted into the contrite heart and broken spirit that seeks redemption, through the Father’s provision, from the condemnation brought about by sin. It is the point where a correct understanding of truth and heartfelt desperation meet. This truth is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and this desperation finds its fulfillment in the Christian’s hope for future vindication – the freedom of all creation from its temporal bondage to death. 

Faith is expressly seen through an inexplicable trust in God and fervor for his Kingdom that flow from the Spirit of God within the Christian’s new heart that inevitably leads to good works for the glory of God. This is biblical faith (Phil. 4:7).

But What About James 2:24?

This is totally a fair question. After all, the only place in the entire New Testament where you can find the phrase “faith alone” is actually in this verse:

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
-James 2:24

First, we must interpret Scripture with other Scripture by using the 50+ verses attributing salvation to an act of faith. Second, we must interpret Scripture within the context of that specific passage. When James uses the word “faith” in verse 24, he has already defined what he means by this in verse 14, and this is not the kind of faith that we have seen so far throughout the New Testament. The faith that will alone never justify anyone is a “dead faith”, a faith without works. While a “dead faith” justifies no one (with or without works), real faith is a “living faith” that justifies man before God, and good works are simply what externally reveal the inward reality of the faith’s condition.

It is also abundantly clear within Scripture that even the good works you do after receiving salvation are the acts of God working through you (Phil 2:12-13, Eph 2:10, John 15:4-5, Heb 13:21, etc.). So, if you believe that your works justify you before God, remember that your works are not even your own. These righteous works are simply the Spirit’s gift of “faith working itself out through love” (Gal 5:6). While belief has to work, faith longs to do so.

So Then How Is One Saved?

Well, it is definitely worth noting that this conversation is only happening because most people who call themselves Christians today are not actually internally bothered and grieved by their own sin. Instead, they are merely bothered by the idea of going to hell. Faith, therefore, looks to them more like belief, because there is nothing within their heart truly begging for healing. In other words, the good news is just news to those who are not poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3-6). But, when this type of pleading is indeed the case, the gospel is much more simple:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
-Matthew 11:28

So, to those who are weary from the seemingly hopeless fight against sin; to those who are weary from the burdens of bad decisions made in the past; to those who are weary from relentless attempts to be good enough, nice enough, righteous enough, kind enough, perfect enough, or whatever enough; and to those who are heavy laden upon discovering that you will never be; come find rest in Jesus. 

Though the world lies to you in an attempt to ignore the problem by telling you that “You are enough,” Christ instead chooses to love you regardless of the fact that you are not enough. He has paid for all your sin on the cross and has defeated sin, death, and the grave on your behalf. Now, He calls out to you under one simple condition: Follow me. And what a privilege it is to do so.