Category Archives: Christ & The Gospel

Articles on Christ, evangelism, and the gospel

I Know We Are Right!

Margaret and I were in a department store to buy some extra-warm undershirts for Dad Jespersen several years ago when he was 92.

A sale was going on so the store was crowded. As we stood in line to pay, we chatted with an elderly couple, their daughter and granddaughter. Our conversation soon turned to the topic of large families and they proudly informed us that they were Mormons.

The man jokingly said, “I would like to have more wives, but I have only one.”

His wife laughed, but suddenly her demeanor changed as she said, “I don’t care what anyone says about Mormons, I know we are right!”

Even though I am often intimidated by strangers, fearful of arguments and not gifted in evangelism, I replied, “You say you think you are right, but only One is perfectly right, and that is God. He sent His Son, Jesus, in the flesh to this earth, and Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me’ ” (John 14:6, nasb).

At that moment, the store clerk said to me, “Next.”

I hoped Jesus’ words lingered in the ears of those around us. Jesus said clearly that He is the only way to heaven.

Dear Abused, Remember Jesus …

by Paul Tautges

Dear Abused,

In your times of deepest hurt and greatest need, remember Jesus. He understands abuse like no other. He is your soul’s refuge. Remember…

Jesus was verbally abused.
At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words. – Matthew 27:38-44

Jesus was physically abused.
Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified. The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. – Mark 15:15-19

They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified Him… – John 19:17-18

Jesus received strength by trusting God to bring justice.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. – 1 Peter 2:21-23

Jesus empathizes with your abuse and is, therefore, the perfect Savior.
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:15-16

Jesus invites you to come to Him.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

Hermeneutics and Christ

by Graeme Goldsworthy

HERMENEUTICS has been one of the big topics of the last 25 years. A seemingly endless series of books has been produced and academic papers written.

However, ‘hermeneutics’ is not only the preserve of academia. The Christian who says “I’m just a simple Bible-believer” can be just as adept at imposing an interpretation on the text as the most sophisticated theologian. Nor is ‘hermeneutics’ an entirely modern question. Christians have always struggled with how to read and apply the Bible, and have adopted various ways of doing so.

In fact, the history of how Chris­tians have read and applied the Bible is most instructive, especially if we take note of what was really happen­ing in the various historical develop­ments. What we find repeatedly is that when people were asking ‘What do we think about the Scriptures?’ they were really asking ‘What do we think about Christ?’. This is because what we think about the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, will run parallel with what we think about the inscripturated Word of God, the Bible.

1. Apostolic hermeneutics

The apostolic answer to the herme­neutical question is the correct one: Jesus Christ is the God-man, saviour and Lord, to whom the apostles and all the Scriptures testify. This means that the objective historical Jesus is in fact the content of the gospel message and the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16). The apos­tle’s answer comes from taking seri­ously the fact that Jesus claims to be the truth. There is a sense in which the apostles understood the Old Tes­tament as providing the substructure of the gospel – and so the Old Testa­ment helps us understand the New Testament. But the main thrust of the New Testament is on the person of Jesus as the one who makes clear what the Old Testament is all about. So the apostle’s hermeneutical posi­tion is that the gospel is the power of God for interpreting the Bible.

2. Early Christian hermeneutics

The early church was characterised by two streams, one from Alexan­dria and one from Antioch.

Christians at Alexandria followed Hellenistic Jews in adopting Greek ideas. Gnostic influences, which dis­counted the material world as inher­ently evil, led to a spirituality which moved God away from his historical acts. The historical events were seen as just allegorical stories and that inevitably led to the gospel being eclipsed as an historical event.

Antioch, on the other hand, emphasised the historical meaning of the Bible and so preserved the gospel as an historical event in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Out of this grew the historical method of typology which saw the Old Testament events as foreshadowing the gospel without dissolving the Old Testament’s nat­ural, historical meaning. The Anti­och strand’s weakness was its ten­dency towards the subtle heresy of Nestorius, which split Jesus’ divine nature from his human nature and declared him to be not only of two natures, but also to be two persons.

A third development in the early church was interpreting the Bible in the light of ecclesiastical authority and dogma. This is a subtle problem because we all do it and, to some degree it’s right that we do. We all interpret the Bible from inside our own adopted tradition and climb on the shoulders of the believers who have gone before us. The problem is when an ecclesiastical creed or con­fession of faith becomes the external authority by which Scripture is tested and understood. This became a bigger problem in medieval hermeneutics.

3. The struggle for an orthodox hermeneutic

The two big theological questions over which Christians struggled in the first four centuries were about the nature of God and about the person of Christ. How could God become man? And how could a man be both God and man?

By moving away from the apos­tolic hermeneutic of an historical Jesus, the biblical perspective on the relationship between the divine and the human, and between the eternal and the historical, was lost – both in relation to the Bible and Jesus. With­out this perspective, people came up with all sorts of heresies about the nature of God and Christ, fusing or separating Jesus’ divine and human natures. Ebionism (Jesus is only human), Docetism (Jesus is only divine), Apollinarianism (Jesus is divine but not fully human), and Nestorianism (Jesus is two persons, two natures), were all trying to solve the mystery by dissolving one reality to make room for another. The same happened in heresies about God. The unity of God was preserved by reducing the Son and the Spirit to beings who were less than fully God.

Eventually, in 451 AD, the Coun­cil of Chalcedon set things straight by formulating a way of speaking about Christ which didn’t try to solve the mystery of how God could become man, but instead preserved it by setting the bounds of true state­ments. The Council decided that to keep an orthodox view you should believe that: a. Jesus is true God; b. Jesus is true man; c. the two natures are united in one person, but not fused; d. the two natures remain dis­tinct, but are not separated. This struc­ture of unity and distinction charac­terised the relationships in the Trinity. It also kept the true relationship between the divine and the human, and between the eternal and the historical, both in relation to the Bible (the hermeneutical question) and Jesus (the Christological question).

4. Medieval hermeneutics

Hermeneutics was very complex in the medieval period (500 AD-1500 AD). The influences of Antioch and Alexandria were both struggling for ascendancy and, although the search for the natural and historical signifi­cance of the Bible was never aban­doned, Alexandria won over Antioch.

This lead to a complex method of interpretation being developed which didn’t ignore the natural meaning, but said that the text could be read in a four-fold way – the literal sense, the moral sense, the allegori­cal sense and the anagogical sense (which derived heavenly meanings from the earthly text). Allegorical meaning was at the heart of this approach. Allegory comes out of fus­ing the historical and the eternal, and the divine and the human. They are not kept distinct, and so the basic historical meaning of the text is lost.

Related to this was the idea of the rule of faith – the accumulation of biblical doctrine – which developed into the idea that only the clergy could interpret the Bible correctly. This was really fusing the Christ of history with the body of Christ, the church, so that there was no distinc­tion between Jesus’ authority and the on-going authority of the church through its clergy. It eventually led to the doctrine of papal infallibility.

The other great hermeneutical problem is best seen in the work of Thomas Aquinas. A theological trend that had begun in the second century with Irenaeus, led to the sep­aration of the natural and supernat­ural on the one hand and the fusion of the historical and the divine on the other. Catholicism, as it developed from this through to the late medieval period, came to fuse the ‘Christ who is without’ (the Jesus of history) with the ‘Christ who is within’ (that is, by the presence of his Spirit). The gospel event was redefined more and more in terms of what God does in us rather than as what God has done for us in the historic Jesus. Justification and sanctification were reversed so that a changed life became the basis of acceptance with God. Grace was redefined. It ceased to be God’s atti­tude which makes for the justification of the ungodly, and became the spiri­tual influence which flows (mainly through sacraments) into the soul making it good and, eventually, acceptable to God.

5. The hermeneutics of the Reformation

Luther, and then Calvin along with the other Reformers, abandoned allegorical interpretation and went back to looking for the natural his­torical meaning of the Old Testa­ment. As they did so they also recov­ered the historical gospel, restored justification as the basis of sanctifica­tion, and moved grace from the heart of the believer back into the heart of God.

The Reformation’s hermeneuti­cal principles came out of what the Bible said, and so the gospel returned to being the key to proper interpretation. The unity and distinc­tion of the Old and New Testaments were clearly recognised. Exegesis became a matter of understanding the divine word as it comes to us in human dress. The Christological question “What do you think of Christ?” once more dominated in the interpretation of the Bible. If Jesus was the divine-human word incarnate, the Bible was seen as the divine-human word inscripturate. So, once again, there is unity and distinction. Even though the Bible and Jesus are distinct, they are also the same – they’re both manifesta­tions of the one Word of God.

6. Enlightenment hermeneutics

The Enlightenment of the late sev­enteenth and eighteenth centuries began more as a tendency to the Ebionite heresy in down-playing God’s influence on humanity. Even­tually it rejected God altogether. Instead of the divine and human being both united and distinct in both writing the Bible and reading the text, they were separated. So, even if the Holy Spirit existed, he had no part in writing the texts and the inspiration of Scripture became a meaningless concept. Nor could the Bible-reading believer count on the Spirit to help them understand what they were reading.

The Enlightenment led to vari­ous developments in the business of interpreting the Bible. Once the the­ory of interpretation was divorced from divine revelation in the Bible, working out what the Bible said came to be thought of as a matter of human scientific advances. Different philosophical perspectives, which had always dogged the question of hermeneutics, took over from bibli­cal views of reality and knowledge (metaphysics and epistemology). Theological hermeneutics gave way to philosophical hermeneutics. Rev­elation by God was replaced by nat­ural processes and independent human thought declared God to be irrelevant.

Even though the structure of unity and distinction was held in the­ory, in practice it was constantly attacked by a tendency to turn dis­tinction into separation. In biblical criticism, the Enlightenment led firstly to a concentration on the his­tory of religious thought and the his­tory of the biblical texts. These are both legitimate dimensions of the Bible to study, but concentrating on them separated them from the Bible’s theological and literary dimensions. When the new hermeneutic turned to consider the nature of the Bible texts, their theology was down-played and the author’s inten­tion ignored.

7. An evangelical approach

As evangelicals we believe in the Bible as God’s word to us, but what does this mean?
a. Unlike the Alexandrian strand, we recognise the Bible as both divine and human. The great diversity of texts in the Bible find unity in their common role of testifying to Christ. We reject all tendencies to a docetic or Gnostic Bible which ignores the human context of the divine word.
b.Like the apostles, we recognise that the Old Testament finds its fullest significance in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. The rela­tionship of the two Testaments is unity and distinction.
c. Unlike the medievalists, we avoid fusing the historic Christ with the Church as the body of Christ. So we recognise that the Church, far from being the Lord of Scripture, is created by the word and must submit to its authority.
d. While welcoming many of the insights of the Enlightenment, we reject its separation of the divine and human. We see Jesus’ incarnation to be the theological reason for all proper critical study of the text and its background. Much modern liter­ary and historical criticism assumes God has nothing to do with the text, but evangelicals refuse to separate the historical and literary dimen­sions of the Bible from its theological dimension. All critical procedures must be tested by the authority of Christ in his gospel.

This is only the beginning of the story, but at least we can recognize that we can’t think about hermeneutics with­out thinking about Christ.

Christ in the Old Testament

by Dr. Horace Hummel

“Search the Scriptures and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). Our Lord’s own words could not be clearer. And note that when He speaks of “the Scriptures,” He is referring to the Old Testament (as is also the case in the Nicene Creed where it states, “And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures”). Later, of course, the term was extended to include the New Testament as well.

There were skeptics and heretics already in the early church. Most (infamous was Marcion, who taught that the Old Testament represented a different god and threw out the whole Old Testament and some of the New Testament. On the whole, though, in the main catholic confession of the church there never was any serious debate about it until relatively modern times beginning with the eighteenth century and the so-called “Enlightenment”. Martin Luther and most of the Reformation were also certainly no exception!

The ordinary believer certainly makes the same confession today, but is sometimes hard put to apply the confession in detail. Let us start with something that I think most Christians do almost automatically. When we read of “God”, “the Lord”, etc. in the Old Testament, we simply assume, as we should, that this is our God or Lord, the same God who in the fullness of time became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth and who still manifests Himself to us through the Holy Spirit.

Let me call your attention to our liturgical usage. Especially when used in public worship, every psalm is to be concluded with the “Gloria Patri” (Glory be to the Father…). While not commanded, this should not be dismissed as simply a pious, but inert custom. It confesses that we do not “Christianize” the psalms by changing their texts, but that we confess their prolongation or extension into the time of the Holy Spirit, that is, our time and until the end of time.

Sometimes the word “typology” is used to describe the predictive meaning of topics in the Old Testament itself without the illumination of the New Testament (sacrifice and priesthood are two major examples). But the deeper meaning of typology is the recognition that the faith of the Old Testament is essentially of the same type as ours, regardless of surface differences. That is, salvation was not available by works or human merit, but was a free gift of God’s undeserved grace evident in His election of an unworthy people and in His promise of a Savior to come.

That is, we do not “read into” the Old Testament meanings that are not there (although, of course, this is possible). Rather we “read out” of it its full meaning as revealed by Christ in the New Testament. There is no one fully adequate way of expressing this truth but one of my favorites goes back to the church father, St. Augustine, “The New Testament is latent in the Old; the Old Testament becomes patent in the New.”

A common picture or metaphor for visualizing such a confession is the bud and the blossom. Anyone who knows the flower will see in its bud what he knows will eventually open into a beautiful flower. Everything is really in the bud, but what is there will only be revealed in the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). Any attempt to “read” the bud in another way would simply be mistaken.

The Creator has established a genetic connection so that the bud can only become what it is “programmed” to become. We are reminded of Jesus’ frequent use of the word “must” to describe His necessity to fulfill the Scriptures, not only in suffering and dying, but also in rising again (e.g. Mark 8:31; Luke 24:44).

Christians have long spoken of the “pre-existence” of Christ from eternity to eternity (so our Lord Himself in John 8:58; cf., Colossians 1:15ff). But there is no Gospel or Good News in His pre-existence, as such. More to the point is that long before the incarnation, God would sometimes reveal Himself to His people in an “incarnational” way. Among the most obvious are various passages where “angel of the Lord” is used interchangeably with “Lord” or “God” alone (e.g. Genesis 22:15-16; Exodus 3:2).

An incarnational motif is especially prominent in connection with the tabernacle/temple. In various ways God is described as “dwelling” there. The Hebrew word used can refer to anyone’s “dwelling” or “living” in a house or city. In order to distinguish ordinary “dwelling” from God’s “incarnational” presence in the tabernacle, sometimes the rather artificial word “indwell” is used. The Bible, of course, is very aware that God is omnipresent or that His dwelling is in heaven. The paradox of that same God’s “indwelling” on earth is pondered by Solomon in his prayer at the consecration of the temple (I Kings 8:27ff.). In fact, God’s tabernacle presence on earth is localized as between the two cherubim above the lid or “mercy seat” of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Hollies (Exodus 25:22).

When the incarnation itself occurred in Jesus’ birth the tabernacle found its fulfillment there. One of the key passages in making the connection is John 1:14, “The Word (Christ) was made flesh and dwelt among us …” We might also translate “tabernacled among us” to make the connection even more obvious. St. John uses the usual Greek translation for the Hebrew for “indwell” and by a happy coincidence the words in the two languages even happen to sound somewhat alike.

We could trace many other ways where the New Testament shows us how to recognize Christ in the Old Testament. Let us continually pray that the Holy Spirit would take the veil of incomprehension or even unbelief away from our faces when we read the Scriptures (cf. II Corinthians 3:14-18) and that, as with His disciples after the resurrection, He would become known to us in the Lord’s Supper (Luke 24:30-47).

The Rev. Dr. Horace Hummel is a retired professor of Exegetical Theology, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo.

An Introduction to the Gospel

by John Hendryx

How may a sinful man approach God (Exodus 3:5)? Does God require perfect obedience to His law in order to achieve the righteousness He requires of us?

“…Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life? … If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” (Matt 19:15-17) “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them (Ro 10:5). [but] The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me (Ro 7:10). “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (Jas 2:10) …and “the soul that sins shall die” (Ez 18:20). But “…God [sent] his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh … in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us” (Ro 8:3-4).

Notice in the above Scriptures that 1) there is a righteousness based on the law, 2) the commandment promises life, 3) if we were to keep it perfectly but 4) because we fail to do so, 5) Jesus mercifully keeps the law for sinners that its requirement might be met in us. There are two operative principles in the Bible: 1) “Do this and live” (Leviticus 18:5; Romans 2:13; 10:5) and 2) “Trust in the Mediator to do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves.” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 10:6; Galatians 3:11). The first principle is often called “the covenant of works” and the second “the covenant of grace”. The second is possible because the mediator fulfilled the first. John Calvin once said, “The person who wants to be justified by works must do more than produce just a few good deeds. He must bring with him perfect obedience to the Law. And those who have outstripped all others and have progressed the most in the Law of the Lord are still very far from this perfect obedience.”

From beginning to end the Bible has clearly indicated that perfect law-keeping is required to merit eternal life. But the law brings death because we all have all failed to keep it, save for Jesus Christ who was “born under the law” and fulfilled its righteous requirements on our behalf. Praise be to God. Christ’s willing obedience to bear all the sanctions imposed by that law for His people’s transgression is the ground of God’s justification of sinners (Rom. 5:9), an act of Christ by which act they are forgiven. And His perfect obedience to all the prescriptions of the divine law makes available a perfect righteousness before the law that is counted toward those who put their trust in him.

What is the Righteousness of Christ?
Let’s look at a couple of important passages that give us a clue.

“We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” Galatians 2:15-16

In context Paul was dealing with the Judaizers who were imposing the additional requirement of circumcision to the grace of the gospel.  In light of this Paul says, “We are justified not by works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.”  But why not by works of the law? In Gal. 3:10 (a few verses later) Paul says, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” In effect Paul is saying, so you want to live by the law and attain righteousness by keeping the law?  This would mean you would be required to execute an absolute obedience to every minute detail of the whole law.  While the word “all” is sometimes used in a relative sense such as “all Jerusalem went out to see Him”, which obviously does not mean every person without exception.  But in this instance (Gal 3:10) Paul does mean “all” without exception.  He is not saying that if a person wants to be saved he must keep most of the law but he is making sure they understand that he  means they must bear up the entire weight of the law; all 613 commands of the law.  One small covetous thought, therefore, would entirely ruin your chances of being righteous by keeping the law.  Given our sinful, fallen, corrupt nature, this kind of perfect obedience is, of course, impossible for any of us and would lead only to despair. When the lawyer asked Jesus what is the greatest commandment, Jesus said it was to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind and to love your neighbor as ourselves. Knowing this answer intellectually and being able to do it are not the same.  In fact, none of us come close to keeping either of these summaries of the law, but woefully come up short every hour of our life. Remember Paul declares that the purpose of the divine legislation is not to show our ability if we try hard enough, but to reveal our sin – “through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:19, 20).  So, apart from the work of Jesus Christ, because of our woefully inadequate law-keeping, we all justly deserve the law’s curses.

It is only because of Jesus Christ that we are not under a curse for failing to keep God’s holy law. In Gal. 3:13 Paul says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us.”  Apart from absolute perfection we are under a curse from the law.

So how do we become righteous?  Please have a Look at 2 Corinthians 5:21:

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

This is a great summary of the gospel on two important levels: both the forgiveness of our sins (by absorbing the wrath of God for our failure to keep the law) and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us (because of His perfect obedience to the law).   Notice how closely Paul joined Christ’s sinlessness together with our righteousness in Him. This righteousness is not simply because Jesus was inherently righteous from eternity, but because of his perfect obedience a human being to God’s law, not for himself, but on our behalf so he could truly represent us from our side as a man before God. Let’s take a moment to draw out the critical truths which this passage makes clear:

1) Jesus was absolutely sinless. Or to put it another way, Jesus was perfectly obedient to the law. Paul says “he knew no sin”.  We find the same testimony all through the Scriptures:

Hebrews 4:15 says,  “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

(Heb 5:7-10) In the same context a few verse later, Jesus says, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.”

1 Pet 2:22 “He committed no sin.”

1 John 3:5 says, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.”
Further, Jesus himself testifies of himself in John chapter 8 by asking this question,Which one of you convicts me of sin?” He could ask this because he knew he was himself absolutely sinless.

Twice in Jesus’ life; at his baptism and the transfiguration, God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.”  If there had been any blemish on Jesus character or one spot of sin, the Father could not have said this regarding Jesus.

So the first truth we take away from this Text is the absolute spotless obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ in his humanity. This happened after he became flesh and lived among us as a human being in the midst of a physical life in a real family. This is perhaps the main reason for the importance of his incarnation so he could truly represent us as a human being (from our side) as a sinless substitute. Does not the Scripture declare that “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.”? (Gal. 4:4) And Jesus Himself said that he came to “fulfill the law” (Matt 5:17). In other words, someone like us (a man), did what we were unable to do ourselves (obey the law).  Jesus Christ fulfilled the demands of the Mosaic Law, which called for perfect obedience under threat of a “curse”, a destiny we would all face apart from Christ … which brings us to the next point.

2) God made the sinless one “to be sin”.
What Paul means here is that God made Jesus Christ to bear the full brunt of the pain, burden and curse of our sin.  He redeemed us from the curse of the law by being a curse in our place. The expression “He made him sin” emphasizes the fullness of our sins being placed upon Jesus, our substitute. All the sins that we have ever committed were laid upon the Lord Jesus Christ. On the cross Jesus became the very embodiment of sin. He was no sinner in Himself and so could qualify as a human being to be a substitute in our place. As our representative as the last Adam he bore our sins in His own body hanging on the tree. “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6).  All of our sin was charged to Jesus Christ … who paid our penalty in full … all of our debts being cancelled.

3) That we might become the righteousness of God
What does he mean by “becoming the righteousness of God?” Many assume this means the righteousness which God requires of us. That in order to be received by God we must perfectly keep his holy law.  This would be correct since God will damn those who do not come before him with perfect righteousness.  God does require this perfect righteousness from us, but, in the gospel this is also the righteousness which He provides to us in Christ.  Thanks be to God; for none of us would have the least glimmer of hope if we had to provide it ourselves.  That is, God credits to us the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.  The good news of the gospel is that Jesus perfectly lived out and fulfilled the requirements for that righteousness.  Then God takes that righteousness and credits it to us which we receive from Christ through faith.  Those who are trusting in Christ as their Savior are credited with that perfect righteousness by which God is well pleased. We stand before God just as righteous as God’s Son Jesus who perfectly kept the law in absolute holiness.

How does that righteousness come to us?  
Answer: “In Him”.  We are joined or united to Christ. Just as we entered this world united to Adam (dead in trespasses and sin), so now by grace through faith we are united to Jesus Christ.  Just as Adam was our representative in the garden so Jesus was our representative both in His perfect life of law-keeping and in his death on the cross.  As Tim Keller often says, “he lived the life we should have lived and died the death we justly deserve.”  All that Jesus did in His entire incarnate life and death, He did as our representative and substitute; it is counted (reckoned) to those who place their faith in Him.  As we are joined to Him by faith, we benefit, not only from His death on the cross but also from His incarnate life.  So our becoming the righteousness of God is received in our union to Christ and is the righteousness we receive by faith “that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Phil 3:8-9.

Thus in 2 Cor 5:21 it means that God takes our sin and charges it to Christ and takes Christ’s perfect righteousness and credits it to us. God not only washes us clean from our sin but clothes us with the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. That is why both Jesus must represent us in both his life and death.

The result of both of these is called justification.  Just as if you had always obeyed, you are credited with the perfect righteousness of Christ. And just as if you had bore the penalty of your sin on the cross, Christ is credited with your sin. So in light of the promise of life given to us if we obey God’s law (Matt 19:17) we can only cast aside all pride, conceit and self-righteousness for woefully having fallen short of it’s demands. But now that the law has done its job of showing us our sin and spiritual poverty, the gospel then opens our heart to the promise of life through trusting the One who did obey the whole law, fulfilling the covenant from our side and Who bore is covenant curses in our stead.

“The Reformation, however, held to the unity of the covenant of grace in its two dispensations while at the same time sharply contrasting law and gospel. According to the Reformed tradition, law and gospel describe two revelations of the divine will. The law is God’s holy, wise, good, and spiritual will, which on account of sin has now been made powerless, fails to justify, and increases sin and condemnation. The gospel, as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise, has Christ as its content and conveys grace, reconciliation, forgiveness, righteousness, peace, freedom, and life. The law proceeds from God’s holiness, is known from nature, addresses all people, demands perfect righteousness, gives eternal life by works, and condemns. By contrast, the gospel proceeds from God’s grace, is righteousness, produces good works in faith, and acquits. Faith and repentance are always components of gospel, not law. The gospel, therefore, always presupposes the law and differs from it especially in content.”
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4 442

Everyone is in covenant with God and the sanctions are according to which covenant you are in. Covenants are the architectural framework, the superstructure of the Bible. Covenant theology is just biblical theology because we find covenants everywhere in the Bible. Many scholars try to discover what is the center of the Bible … the center of biblical theology? Some of the proposed centers for biblical theology are God, Israel, Covenant, creation, kingdom, salvation, new creation, and so forth. None of these are the center of the Bible though. They lose their meaning without Christ. If there is no Christ, there is no kingdom to talk about. The diversity of the Bible is unified in Christ. He is the center that holds all of the biblical data together. While the covenants night be the vehicle by which God relates to his people and the kingdom of God is certainly his pervasive rule over all people yet the fullest expression of God and His glory come in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ and this is why covenants are important. They teach us about Him.
– Rev Dan McManigal

 

An Introduction to the Gospelby John Hendryx, www.monergism.com, 817/12