Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Cross and the Kingdom (8)


There are a significant handful of references in the NT to Christ dying for us, although no where near as many as we should expect if the emphasis given to "the blood of Christ" by many evangelists and preachers was correct.

In fact there are only nine places where the NT explicitly says Christ died for us, or words to that effect.
Romans 5:6
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 14:15
If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.

1 Corinthians 8:11
So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.

1 Corinthians 15:3
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures

1 Peter 3:18
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit

2 Corinthians 5:14-15
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

1 Thessalonians 5:10
He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.

Hebrews 9:15
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
In a previous post I referred to John the Baptist's "lamb of God" sayings and said I would come back to them. John said the lamb of God "takes away the sin of the world". What did he mean?

I think there are three possibilities. He could “take away” our sins by:

(a) cancelling our sin, i.e. paying the price for it, or dying in our place instead of us (but as we've seen from Ezekiel 18 dying in someone else’s place isn’t a Biblical concept), or

(b) by abolishing sin, i.e. remove the Law and it’s no longer possible to break it, or

(c) removing the cause of sin, i.e. taking away whatever it is that makes us sin.

I think (b) and (c) have the strongest Biblical case going for them. The whole point of “grace” is to enable us to overcome. This is where people often get “mercy” and “grace” confused and think that grace is the same as God being merciful and forgiving us, but the distinction is quite clear in Heb 4:16 “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”. Our sins are forgiven because of God’s mercy, and we are enabled to overcome further sin by God’s grace. This is also what Jude 24 says “[He] is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy”.

So to “take away sin” is another way of saying that He will abolish or remove sin by enabling us (by grace) to overcome it. Paul says in Acts 20:24-28 that for him “the gospel of God's grace” was essentially what he taught when he went about “preaching the kingdom”. That would explain why we find him using the word “grace” about 60 times in his letters while hardly using the word “kingdom”. And for Paul the exaltation of Christ was absolutely necessary for the enabling of grace. For example, in Eph 4:7-8 he says “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."

Paul also emphasises Jesus’ exaltation in the “humbling” text in Phil 2 (almost certainly a quotation from an ancient hymn). The climax seems to be in verses 9-11: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place …” The “therefore” connects it with the preceding verse “he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!” The cross was the means to and reason for His exaltation. Incidentally, this means that Jesus’ “humbling” was demonstrated in His death, not His birth (as trinitarians suggest). This text is about exaltation, not incarnation. And He was exalted to a position He had never held before. It was an “exaltation”, not a “return” to a position He had previously held.

Paul follows this quotation of an ancient hymn in Phil 2 with another "therefore" which leads into his practical application. "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed ... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." (v. 12-13). Jesus' humbling was the means to and reason for His exaltation. His exaltation enabled Him to give the gifts of grace to His followers (Eph 4:7-8) and it is this grace which enables God to work in us for our salvation.

The basis of Paul's theology is that Christ died "for us" so that through His death and exaltation we would be given the means to be victorious over sin. That is why the triumphant Christ is a much stronger theme in Acts and in Paul's writings than the sacrificial Christ.

In my next message I will take a look at the texts that say Christ's death was "an atoning sacrifice".

1 comment:

Cliff York said...

Hi Steve

Yet another well thought out and presented post.

Whilst looking at the verses you quoted at the beginning of this article, I was struck by the "Golden Theme" running through them all... namely... the Love of God for us, His children.

Once again, you have demonstrated that the death of Christ demonstrates the lengths the Father went to to demonstrate His love for His children.

I liked the idea that by abolishing the Law, we can no longer be "trapped" into sin... though I agree with you, that it is the Grace given us by the Father through His Son that enables us to overcome sin.

Be careful though... some people think that your emphasis on Grace is altogether dis-proportionate! [Just kidding :-) ]

Celebrating His dis-proportionate emphasis on Grace,