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Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Cross of Christ - Chapter 7 (Part One)

The Cross of Christ by John Stott is the current Challies' choice for his "Reading Classics Together" series. As I read through the book, I thought I'd share highlights from each chapter with you and include a link to Challies' full review. After having a taste, I hope you will want to spend time in this influential book yourself! 

Just as Scripture adopts various images to describe different aspects of a believer's relationship to God [e.g. Gentiles grafted into the vine, adoption by the Father as adult sons with certain rights & responsibilities,  slaves/servants (same Greek word) owned by our "Lord"), so it uses various images to describe different aspects of an individual's salvation.

I was mystified to recently read a comment on amazon critiquing MacArthur's new book, Slave. The reviewer boldly advised MacArthur should study his Bible more carefully, because he, the reviewer, was not a slave, but an adopted son! It was actually the reviewer who needed to study the Word more carefully! Both terms are used extensively in the New Testament to describe a believer's relationship with God. Each describes a different aspect of the same experience. They are not mutually exclusive! Stott also warns, "We must not deduce from this that to have understood the images is to have exhausted the meaning of the doctrine."

In Chapter 7, he examines God's salvation of sinners by focusing upon four key terms which look at salvation from four different aspects, utilizing four different images: propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation. In any conversation, whether face-to-face or when reading a book, definitions of key terms is absolutely crucial! It is not uncommon to perceive agreement where no actual agreement exists! A basic tenet to remember in any discussion is, "Define the terms." For a believer, it's crucial to define all terms on a biblical basis, which Stott takes great care to do. Also, keep in mind that Scripture draws these images from the 1st Century AD Greco-Roman world.

There is so much here to wrap our minds around, I have split this chapter into two posts.
"The Salvation of Sinners" (Part One)

Propitiation   [Rom.3:24-25 hilastērion; 1Jn.2:1-2; 4:10 hilasmos]
To 'propitiate' somebody means to appease or pacify his anger. ...Such concepts sound more pagan than Christian. Crude concepts of anger, sacrifice and propitiation be rejected. They do not belong to the religion of the Old Testament, let alone the New. ...What is revealed to us in Scripture is a pure doctrine (from which all pagan vulgarities have been expunged) of God's holy wrath, his loving self-sacrifice in Christ and his initiative to avert his own anger...

The reason why a propitiation is necessary is that sin arouses the wrath of God. ...God's anger is poles apart from ours. What provokes our anger (injured vanity) never provokes his; what provokes his anger (evil) seldom provokes ours.

In a pagan context it is always human beings who seek to avert the divine thought to placate the offended deity. But the gospel begins with the outspoken assertion that nothing we can do, say, offer or even contribute can compensate for our sins or turn away God's anger. (Isa.64:6; Rom.3:10-12; Mt.5:3) ...The initiative has been taken by God himself in his sheer mercy and grace. ...God's love is the source, not the consequence, of the atonement. ...God does not love us because Christ died for us; Christ died for us because God loved us. ...His character is unchanging. What the propitiation changed was his dealings with us. ...He forgave us and welcomed us home...

It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating, and God himself who in the person of his Son died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us. There is no crudity here to evoke our ridicule, only the profundity of holy love to evoke our worship.

Redemption   [Mt.20:28; Mk.10:45; 1Tim.2:6]
In seeking to understand the achievement of the cross, the imagery changes from temple court to market-place, from the ceremonial realm to the commercial, from religious rituals to business transactions. For at its most basic to 'redeem' is to buy or buy back, whether as a purchase or a ransom. ...The emphasis of the redemption image is on our sorry state - indeed our captivity - in sin which made an act of divine rescue necessary. 'Propitiation' focuses on the wrath of God which was placated by the cross; 'redemption' on the plight of sinners from which they were ransomed by the cross...

The Greek words usually translated 'redeem'...and 'redemption' are derived from lutron ('a ransom' or 'price of release')...usually at a great cost. ...There was the cost of the incarnation, of entering into our condition in order to reach us. (Gal.4:4-5) ...Beyond the incarnation, however, lay the atonement. To accomplish this he gave 'himself' (1Tim.2:6; Titus 2:14) or his 'life' (Mk.10:45), dying under the law's curse to redeem us from it. (Gal.3:13) ...In addition to the plight from which, and the price with which, we are ransomed, it draws attention to the person of the redeemer who has proprietary rights over his purchase. Thus Jesus' lordship over both church and Christian is attributed to his having bought us with his own blood. (Acts 20:28) If the church was worth his blood, is it not worth our labor? The privilege of serving it is established by the preciousness of the price paid for its purchase.

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