Covenant Theology

Solus Christus – Through Christ Alone

Faith Theological Seminary Christ & Culture Seminary, 2016
in preparation for the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017

Session 4 – Solus Christus – Through Christ Alone by Stephen Hague

(for pdf file, click here solus-christus-by-stephen-hague)

Contents

  1. Ancient heresies are mostly Christological 2
  2. Prior to, and the catalyst for, the Protestant Reformation we find in Roman Catholicism views that diminished Christ: consider his centrality and sufficiency. 3
  3. Modern heresies are also mostly Christological 4
  4. The diverse Jesuses of our times. 4
  5. Modern views that do the same: see Ligonier survey “Our favorite heresies”. 5
  6. The Biblical Theology of Christ Alone in Scripture. 7
  7. Biblical Texts on Christ. 10
  8. Historic Confessions of Faith. 12

Introduction

The historical problem of religious faith has always been the question, “Will you serve and worship the Baals or will your serve, love, and worship YHWH?” The problem Israel faced in the land of the promise was perpetually that of not just worshipping and trusting in the Canaanitish idols, but so often presuming to add them onto the worship of YHWH, the true and living God. It was a kind of Yahwism plus, or YHWH plus Baal (as trivializing as “Coke plus”). The belief that they could have it both ways reduced the Almighty Lord of all creation to the lowly place of one of the many hundreds of ANE deities. Israel’s consistent failure to accept the all-sufficiency of the one and only true God as their Lord was their well-chronicled, disastrous down-fall and what led to eventual exile from the land, and the loss of the Temple and the Ark of the covenant.

  • This syncretism of faith and works, God plus the Baals, God and other false theological systems has been at the heart of the spiritual battle in all the ages. In the human condition of rebels, all people are prone to reject the purity of biblical faith that trusts in the all-sufficiency of God the Creator-Redeemer, as we see in each of the issues related to the Solas of the Reformation. Is this any less so with regard to Christ in the NT church age?
  • If Christ is our promised salvation, our only righteousness, our only Savior, our only Deliver-Redeemer (Isa 59:20, 21; 27:9; Jer 31:33, 34; Rom 11:26), our friend, our brother, our only true King of all Kings (2 Sam 7:14; 1 Tim 6:15), the Alpha and the Omega (Rev 1:8), the firstborn over all creation (Col 1:15) the Firstborn from the dead (Rev 1:5; Col 1:18), our only true High Priest (Heb 8), our only perfect mediator and reconciler (Heb 9:24-28; Col 1:22), Lamb of God (Jn 1:29; Rev 15:3; 22:3), the true prophet (Mt 10:41), the truly wise man (Mtt 5-7; Rom 16:27), the true Shepherd (Jn 10:11), the divine warrior who conquers death and Satan, the promised branch (Isa 4:2; 11:1; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Zec 3:8; 6:12), the shoot (Is 11:1; 53:2), the Son of David (2 Sam 7), the Son of Man (Daniel 7, 70x in the Synoptics), the Son of God, the Word of God, the Last Adam,  the Suffering Servant (Mk 8:31; Mt 16:21-22; Lu 23:40-43; 24:13-21), and the Anointed One (Ps 2:2; Dan 9:25; Acts 4:26). If Christ is our only mediator between God and humankind, why then do we so frequently seek to add something to him and his works? The big question we need to be clear about is, why only Christ, why is he alone all-sufficient?
  • We have heard from the Reformers how vital it is that we retain Scripture alone as our only rule of faith and practice, from which we plainly learn that grace and faith alone are at the core of the biblical gospel. We understand that we must never add to this: for our authorial revelation from God there is no scripture plus tradition, there is no grace and faith plus works in God’s economy of redemption. Most assuredly, there is no option for Christ plus someone or something else. Especially since the Scripture shows us Christ as the center of all, the all-sufficient Mediator for those redeemed by grace through faith alone (Rom 5:2; Eph 2:8).
  • Why is it then that most all the major heresies ancient and modern (both in the church and beyond) so often are Christological, distorting the Christ of the Bible? Indeed, there have been countless (and blasphemous) efforts to syncretize Christ with many idols of the nations

A.                 Ancient heresies are mostly Christological

  • Christ plus Allah, or Buddah, or Confucious, or Christ plus the Dali Lama, or Christ plus Mary, the Mother of God, the “Mediatrix of all graces” between God and humanity (as in the Roman Catholic theology that the Reformers rejected).
  • An example of syncretism between African animistic religion and Christianity is found in Haitian Voodoo. There are the extreme movements like the Raelian Movement, that believe that members of the Elohim civilization sent different prophets, including Moses, Jesus, Buddha and many others whose role was to guide humanity and to prepare humans for the future, all of whom were created as a result of a sexual union between a human woman and one of the Elohim. To Raëlians, this was possible because the Elohim had advanced DNA synthesis and genetic engineering. Some 100,000 people believe this nonsense. Other syncretisms include movements like Bahai’i that believes through a series of divine messengers, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Krishna, and Buddha religion was created to meet the needs of the time. We have also witnessed the revival of many ancient neopagan religions that draw from Judeo-Christian belief and syncretize it into various pagan belief systems, and this is particularly prevalent in the so-called alternative health movement and its many occultic beliefs and therapies often mixed up with Christian claims.
  • Each of these examples is quite obviously not Biblical Christianity, yet, consider the many aberrations in the history of the Christian church (that are still with us today) that we call Christian heresies, and particularly those concerning Christ Jesus:
  1. Docetists who believe that Jesus was divine, only appearing human
  2. Modalists who reject an orthodox understanding of the Trinity
  3. Arians and Ebionites who believe that Jesus was human but not divine
  4. Gnostics who believe that Jesus becomes a spiritual person, not physical
  5. Nestorians who deny that Jesus is both God and Man in a theanthropic union in his incarnation
  6. Socinians who believe that Jesus was only a man until his exaltation at his ascensionAll of these Christological errors had, of course, serious soteriological consequences (that we cannot explore here), but logically result from wrong premises about the very nature and character of God in Christ.

1.                  Prior to, and the catalyst for, the Protestant Reformation we find in Roman Catholicism views that diminished Christ: consider his centrality and sufficiency

  • There are numerous examples in RC theology that convey a mistaken view of Jesus and his works. Even though Christ is exalted to the highest place in the scheme of God’s purposes, we find a long-standing example of Christ plus something . . . That is, it is not enough to exalt the supremacy of Christ yet not his exclusivity and all-sufficiency.
  • Relics and indulgences
  • Mass
  • Christ + works (grace + works) + veneration of saints and icons, seemingly endless prayers on rosaries to Mary, and the salvific addition of suffering now and in Purgatory
    Christ + Mary: Mariolatry — The church plays a mediatorial role as does Mary through the sacraments in which baptism removes original sin, penance deals with sins after baptism.
  • Jesus plus in RC theology: as my Dictionary of Catholic Theology sates it,

“Our Lord is the one adequate Mediator and Redeemer, but He graciously allows others, and Mary in a special and unique way, to have a subordinate share in union with Him, in the work of redemption” (p. 550).

So God’s graces come via Christ through Mary to us, and so with such reasoning, there must be a corresponding new doctrine of her perpetual virginity and sinlessness (her “immaculate conception”). In any heresy, even though the supremacy of Christ may be extolled, his exclusivity is not, departing from the biblical portrayal of Christ and his gospel. As Stephen Charnock states:

Inconsideration of God, or misrepresentation of his nature, are as agreeable to corrupt nature, as the disowning the being of a God is contrary to common reason.[1]
He that denies any essential attribute may be said to deny the being of God.[2]

  • Some of these RC ideas continue today among the billion RC’s in the world, but there is also a bewildering variety of different Jesus’ believed in today that go way beyond the Christ of the Bible. As in ancient times, modern heresies and misrepresentations of God and Christ are also mostly Christological.

B.                  Modern heresies are also mostly Christological

1.                  The diverse Jesuses of our times

These various versions of Jesus all include a divergent addition that seriously departs from the Scriptural presentation of Jesus in the NT:

  • The unknowable, Totally Other God in Jesus (of Karl Barth’s Neo-orthodoxy, the most influential in the twentieth century)
  • Jesus of the Kerygma (of whatever is preached “word” and existential encounter)
  • Jesus the Liberal (of the new religion of Liberal Historical-Critical reconstructions)
  • The dialectical Jesus (of the Process theologians)
  • Jesus the political revolutionary or social revolutionary (of Marxism and Communism)
  • Jesus the hippie and homosexual (of the 1960’s sexual-political revolution)
  • Jesus my buddy and fellow traveler and psychotherapist (of our self-esteemed, psychologized generation)
  • Jesus the hypothesis (of the critical scholars)
  • Jesus the schemer who faked his death (of the book the Passover Plot)
  • Jesus the liberal Jew (of the secular Jews)
  • Jesus the Process theologian (of the Process Theologians)
  • Jesus the contemplative mystic (of the monks and ascetics)
  • Jesus the ethicist (of the moralizers)
  • Jesus, the Christ of Faith (of the History of Religionists)
  • Jesus of “History” (“historical Jesus” of the historical revisionists)
  • Jesus the existentialist (of Bultmann’s existential encounter)
  • Jesus the failed eschatologist blunderer (death was failure)
  • Jesus the Apocalyptist (of the doomsayers and dooms-dayers)
  • Jesus the secular humanist (the exemplar of right living)
  • Jesus of the mystery cults and religions (of the Gnostics)
  • Jesus of the Gnostic myths (as in the DaVinci Code)
  • Jesus of “myth” (the mythological Jesus)
  • The demythologized Jesus (of the History of Religionists)
  • Jesus the peasant and vegetarian-proletariat (of the Vegans)
  • Jesus the nice (effeminate) middle-class teacher of brotherly love and humanitarian ethics, who wandered about in clean white robes spreading good cheer (of the liberal middle-class Protestants)
  • Jesus of the “upper story” (the leap of faith in Jesus, a Nonrational and contentless encounter with Jesus which is a non-propositional, experience Jesus in your heart of many Evangelicals). As I heard recently, that a well-known pastor is teaching that we do not need the Bible, we just need a relationship with Jesus!

These alternative Jesuses all raise the same question we began with: will you serve God or the Baals? They all assume that the Jesus of the NT is inadequate or insufficient.

2.                  Modern views that do the same: see Ligonier survey “Our favorite heresies”

  • There is quit a controversy, even among Evangelicals, that denies the necessity of a substitutionary atonement. We hear that a mainline denomination has removed the lines we just sang from the hymn, “In Christ Alone”: “Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied”).
  • But the question is, can God simply forgive sin without any atonement for sin? If we trace out the entire story-line biblically, it becomes clear that the human condition of total moral depravity (guilt in Adam) and God’s holy and glorious character require of necessity a Savior who is uniquely qualified to bear God’s wrath out of his loving mercy. According to the recent Lifeway and Ligonier survey (“Heresies We Love,” CT, Oct, 2016), 48% of Evangelicals do not believe that all sin deserves God’s punishment, yet this heresy flies-in-the-face of the entire testimony of the story-line of Scripture. Even though 74% of Evangelicals also believe that individuals must contribute to their own salvation, this contradicts the entire story-line of Scripture, wherein we read in “Rom 3:10-11 (NASB95) as it is written,

“There is none righteous, not even one;

There is no one who understands; no one who seeks God.

  • Since no guilty person can declare themselves righteous, nor make themselves righteous (indeed a serious logical contradiction), only one who is entirely innocent of all guilt is able to provide a satisfactory solution. This is why the only solution is in God Himself, and this is why there can be no other Savior, but One who alone is righteous, who is a human descendent of Eve to whom the promise was given; that Someone in their line of progeny would come and crush the serpent’s head and would reverse the curse of death and bring them to life again.
  • Once again, this is why we must correctly identify the Promised One when he comes, and not misrepresent who he is once he does. The history of the world revolves around this anticipation and supreme question, the question that the Old and New Testaments answer: “Who is this man?” . . . “What kind of man is this? . . . that even the winds and the waves, the devils, and the dead obey his voice! (Mtt 8:27).
  • For the many (majority today) who follow a merely human Jesus [as noted in the many Jesuses I listed], and oftentimes weak and sinful Jesuses (they are all ones made in our image), and for the 71% of Evangelicals who apparently believe that Jesus was the first being created by God, we propose that it would be impossible for the Savior of humankind and creation to be a mere created mortal! Indeed, one who is created could never bring redemption to the creation, since its Redeemer must be able to sovereignly reign over creation and have the omnipotent power to reverse his own curse and supernaturally restore every atom to his glorious and holy purposes; only one who is eternal and sovereign and without sin altogether is able and sufficient in himself alone to provide the solution in his most holy and glorious person. This is expressed in Col 2:

Colossians 2:9–10 (NASB95) For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,         10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;

Colossians 1:13–29 (NASB95) 13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15   He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16   For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17   He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18   He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19   For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

C.                  The Biblical Theology of Christ Alone in Scripture

  • If the central theme of Scripture is redemption, then the central Person of Scripture is Christ Jesus who is The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning of creation, who sustains it now and redeems it. He is the hermeneutical key to all of Scripture and reality; there can be none other, since he is the True Prophet/Priest/King/Wise man and fulfills all the promises and typologies in the OT as the Last Adam who completes both the Creation-covenant and Redemption-covenant as our Mediator.
  • In order to get the bird’s eye view of Jesus in the scope of biblical revelation, and to further answer the question of “Why only Christ? Or, “why Christ alone is the only way”? Why do we believe that Christ alone is all-sufficient for salvation and to fulfill God’s purposes?
  • To address this, we must consider the whole narrative of the story-line of the Bible’s Theology (Biblical Theology). This story begins and ends in the Paradise of God’s glorious and holy presence. This presence is in the fullest sense a covenantal relationship between God and his creation. In Eden, that relationship was a creational one within the moral context of God’s glorious perfections; it involved many wondrous qualities, tasks, and conditions. The conditions were in part probationary – a testing – of sorts, in which our fist parents failed miserably. The consequences of that failure were necessary, since all creation and creational activity were within the context of God’s holiness, glory, and love.
  • It is important to define these vitally important characteristics of God (since they are often collapsed into one another):

holiness: the [holy-separate]sinless perfections (purity) of the attributes of God’s glory (his essential being). This is about WHAT he is like.

glory: the [holy-separate]sinless perfections (magnificence) of God’s essential being. This is about  WHO HE IS.

love: God is love, characterizing all of his perfect motives and the perfect expression and application of his holiness and glory in all circumstances for all people (in judgment and mercy).

  • Tracing the following story, we find a story-line of redemption through the entire Old and New Testaments, and we understand the BT of covenant-realities in which God of necessity must hold his creation accountable for all immoral, unholy choices, SINCE HE IS HOLY. And, since God requires covenant-obedience from humanity as the only proper way to live in relationship to his glory (in his glorious presence), then a human must ultimately satisfy this demand, since it stems directly from God’s identity and the identity of humans created in his moral image. It also quickly becomes plain by logical necessity that only God could provide the remedy for this fall from compliance to God’s holy law and glorious presence: that is, a holy and sufficient reversal through redemption, purchasing back those cast into bondage. As Stephen Wellum states it:

o   “Ultimately, the only hope for Adam’s helpless race is found in another Adam, the last Adam, who unlike the first Adam and the entire human race, obeys, and who accomplishes in his life, death, and resurrection our redemption and justification.”[3]

  • Thus, the consequences of the Edenic failure was both wrath and mercy; God demonstrated both his perfect holiness and glory, as well as his perfect compassion, by immediately bringing a judgment curse on them and the earth, while simultaneously promising mercy in redemption (the “first gospel” Proto Euangelion of Gen 3:15). This promise of death and life is the hermeneutical key to all of following revelation in Scripture. This is the Messianic key to everything, as expounded from this point in the story-line unto the end of the age as described in John’s Revelation.
  • The response of God to Adam and Eve is both a promise of judgment and a new covenant of redemption. God’s glorious and holy character necessitates judgment on rebellion, and yet his holy love is free to show mercy. This is the origin of the only two “races” on earth: those who are under the curse “in Adam” and those who are under grace in “the promised seed.”
  • This also explains why it must be a human to satisfy God’s covenant requirements, since he originally created that context for joyful human obedience and love before the Fall. Only a divine person, a holy and perfect human person can fulfil the holy requirements of God for obedience to his covenant of life. That is why only Christ is all-sufficient to reverse the curse of death, since as divine (God incarnate) he represents humanity as a human person who is God in all of his holiness/glory and divinity. His character and his work he shares with no-one. This is why there can be NO Christ plus something else; not even his wonderful mother can have as the Catholic Dictionary stated, “a subordinate share in union with Him, in the work of redemption.”
  • This is the context for the line-promise of a new humanity of those who will be in grace and experience the mercy of God. This line of the promise would necessarily be a human, a man, a seed in the line of Eve who will be bruised, yet would be a victor over the deceiving Serpent, reversing the curse on the creation and their bodies, securing redemption for both the earth and the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. This profound beauty of love from God for his own is the gospel thread we find in every book of the Bible (Rom 5.14 — 12

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”)

  • This line-promise can only be realized by One Person who is wholly perfect and sinless. By necessity his works must be holy and perfect to be sufficient to fulfill the original Adamic role of complete compliance to God’s holy and glorious character in the original Covenant of Creation. This logical necessity for a representative, One who is without blemish, is inescapable, since no imperfect, unholy, sinful substitute to stand in the place of sinners could ever satisfy God’s holy requirements. To be perfectly just, God must only allow the One who is without sin to pay the penalty for sin, in order to reverse the curse. That is, there can be no final balancing of the moral books in God’s universe unless One who is not under God’s wrath bears the full weight of that wrath in the place of those who cannot do so themselves. This is the marvel of the love of God demonstrated in Christ incarnate, fully human and divine, and what unites the entire story-line of Scripture.
  • The simple hermeneutical key to all of redemption history is the immediate context of every text, in which everything points both back to the past new-covenant-promise of redemption (Gen 3:5) and forward to its future fulfillment. Every biblical text has its context in this story-line of the redemption-promises of God, as well as the necessary eventuality of judgment.
  • From creation to new creation, God has a purpose and a plan for all creation, and his own way to complete his task. As Creator, he alone can be the Redeemer. This is the context of Jesus coming – as God incarnate, to assume in himself the full weight of his own glory, the penalty for guilt. The logic is irrepressible that God alone is sufficient for this task of redemption, and once Scripture establishes that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah promised to Adam and Eve, we know that there can be no other.
  • If that be the case, then here can be no Christ plus something . . . There can be no grace plus works (or penance, or baptism, or Masses, or indulgences, or relics, or anything) for those he vicariously assumes of their guilt and God’s wrath. Shedd writes, “God is the offended party, and he is the one who reconciles the offended party.”[4] There can be no forgiveness or remission of any penalty without proper propitiation (of the wrath of his holiness). There is no remission or release from penalty without full payment of the penalty. That is, there is no arbitrary remission of the penalty in God’s universe, in Scripture or in life. God would not be just, nor would a human judge be just, if crimes were simply pardoned without reason and just cause!
  • In the death of Christ, holiness and love are equally meted out, when “righteousness and peace, justice and mercy kiss each other” (Ps 85:10). No other humans, no saints, not Mary, no priests, nor sinners can fulfill this vicarious, propitiatory atonement which is efficacious and substitutionary, appeasing God’s wrath through penal, forensic purchase and ransom (or expiation for redemption), making restitution that sufficiently satisfies God’s holy standards and glory. This is why and how only Christ’s perfect righteousness is then imputed to the unrighteous by grace through faith and they are pardoned.
  • Lastly, this is why the atonement is of no value without faith; in itself it has no intrinsic power to save, and also why can be no other person involved in the dispensing of the grace of God in turning away his wrath and freeing us from guilt and the power of sin.
  • In conclusion, justice is necessary because of God’s glory, while mercy is God’s free gift of adoption into his covenant of redemption which flows out of his exceedingly great hesed love. That is why the answer to all our questions is SOLUS CHRISTUS! And, it is why we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block and the Gentiles foolishness” ( 1 Cor 1:23). “And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.’” (Acts 17:3).

D.                 Biblical Texts on Christ

Acts 4:12 (NASB95)  “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 20:28  “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

1 Jn 2:2 (NASB95) and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

1 Jn 4:10 (NASB95) In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 Cor 6:20 (NASB95) For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

Gal 3:13 (NASB95) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—

Eph 5:2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

Heb 1:1–3 (NASB95) God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,2  in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Heb 9:12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

Col 1:16–17 (NASB95)  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Col 1:16–17 (NASB95) For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Col 2:13-14 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made youd alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.e

Eph 1:9–10 (NASB95) He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him. 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him

Eph 5:2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Rom 3:24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;

1 Jn 2:2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world

1 Jn 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 Pet 1:2  according to the foreknowledge of God the Father and set apart by the Spirit for obedience and for sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ. May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

1 Pet 1:18-19 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

Rom 8:1–4 (NASB95) Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.3  For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Rom 8:28–39 (NASB95) And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.31  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.35       Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written,“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 Pet 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

1 Thess 5:10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.

Heb 9:26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

Heb 10:12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,

Heb 2:17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

Defining the terms of redemption is essential to Biblical and Systematic Theology:

  • Propitiation
  • Vicarious at atonement
  • Efficacious
  • Ransom (Mtt 20:28)
  • Substitutionary
  • Penal
  • Reconciliation
  • Purchase
  • Redeem
  • Restitution
  • Satisfaction

If time allowed, we should consider also the many confessions of faith over the centuries of the church that beautifully summarize these concerns regarding the absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ.

E.                  Historic Confessions of Faith

Westminster Confession of Faith:

Larger Catechism

  1. 9. How many persons are there in the Godhead? A. There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost;n and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties.o
  2. 11. How doth it appear that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father? A. The Scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names,s attributes,t works,u and worship,w as are proper to God only.
  3. 36. Who is the Mediator of the covenant of grace? A. The only Mediator of the covenant of grace is the Lord Jesus Christ,x who, being the eternal Son of God, of one substance and equal with the Father,y in the fullness of time became man,z and so was and continues to be God and man, in two entire distinct nature, and one person, forever.a.
  4. 1 Tim. 2:5. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. John 14:6. Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.  Acts 4:12. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Christ alone is Mediator

Westminster Confession of Faith (A.D. 1647),

WCF ch 21.2 Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to Him alone;1 not to angels, saints, or any other creature:2 and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone.3

1Mt 4:10; Jn 5:23; 2 Cor 13:14; 2Col 2:18; Rev 19:10; Rom 1:25; 3Jn 14:6; 1 Tim 2:5; Eph 2:18; Col 3:17.

WCF Ch 8I

  1. The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin: being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.  Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.

Belgic Confession of Faith:

We believe that Jesus Christ, according to his divine nature, is the only Son of God— eternally begotten, not made or created,for then he would be a creature.He is one in essence with the Father; coeternal; the exact image of the person of the Father and the “reflection of God’s glory,”13 being like the Father in all things. Jesus Christ is the Son of God not only from the time he assumed our nature but from all eternity, as the following testimonies teach us when they are taken together. Moses says that God created the world;14 and John says that all things were created through the Word,15 which he calls God. The apostle says that God created the world through the Son.16 He also says that God created all things through Jesus Christ.17 And so it must follow that the one who is called God, the Word, the Son, and Jesus Christ already existed before creating all things. Therefore the prophet Micah says that Christ’s origin is “from ancient days.”18 And the apostle says that the Son has “neither beginning of days nor end of life.”19 So then, he is the true eternal God, the Almighty, whom we invoke, worship, and serve.

13 Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3 14 Gen. 1:1 15 John 1:3 16 Heb. 1:2 17 Col. 1:16 18 Mic. 5:2 19 Heb. 7:3

London Baptist Confession:

“Christ, and Christ alone, is fitted to be mediator between God and man. He is the prophet, priest and king of the church of God” (8.9). .

[1] Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996, two volumes in one, vol. 1, p. 90.

[2] Charnock, Existence, p. 89.

[3] Stephen Wellum, “Solus Christus: What the Reformers Taught and Why It Still Matters,” SBJT 19.4 (2015): 98.

[4] Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Vol 1, p. 399

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Who is This Man? Reading Biblical Narratives

See the whole essay at Who is this Man and the Whole Story of Redemption

 Who is This Man?
How To Read Biblical Narratives

Stephen Hague
June, 2016

Table of contents

I.___ The fragmentation of the biblical text by liberals and conservatives 2

II.__ The antidote to fragmentation: Biblical Theology_ 2

  1. To illustrate this definition of Biblical Theology, consider an analogy in music 3
  2. To illustrate our definition of Biblical Theology, consider the analogies found in art 5
  3. To illustrate our definition of Biblical Theology, consider the analogies found in  literature_ 8
  4. To illustrate our definition of Biblical Theology, consider the story of Elijah, a prophet of God: 1 Ki 17:1-24_ 9
  5. To illustrate our definition of Biblical Theology, consider the story the Storm on the Sea of Galilee:  “What kind of man is this?_ 14

III.                   In conclusion, some of the problems with exemplorizing and spiritualizing biblical narratives: 15

IV.___ Biblical Theology bibliography_ 16

V.__ Illustrations 18

See the whole essay at Who is this Man and the Whole Story of Redemption

 

“The time has now come, and is coming”: who we [are] we [are] becoming


DSC1460“The time has now come, and is coming”: who we [are] we [are] becoming
Stephen Hague (thoughts shared in the FTS chapel, Spring 2015)

What do you want to become? Who do you want to be?

I now am old enough to know that many people we meet in life have very definite ideas about who and what we should, or should not, be. That is, who and what they want us to be! Do we try to be or become this person or that person, this rock star or that actor, this philosopher, or the latest sport’s phenomenon? Do we try out this idea or that idea?

Listening to these many voices that mold us, may seem incidental and insignificant, as though they may even be the path to acceptance by others, and success in this world. But these voices and forces are of no small importance, because their cumulative effect can change, or impact, the course of our lives . . .  forever. Even the smallest of such voices can eternally redirect a person’s life.

  • The question is, whose voice are we listening to?
  • The question is, who are we presently becoming?
  • The question I want to consider is simply do we really want to be disciples of Jesus? If we do, then do we really want to become what he desires us to become?

To consider that we must ask:

  • Is it possible to be a Christian without being a disciple of Jesus?
  • Is it possible to be a Christian without being like Christ?
  • Is it possible to become like Christ if we are not his disciples?

We all know the expression, “What would Jesus do?” Dallas Willard thinks that this is an inadequate, and even fatal, guiding principle since it is “not an adequate discipline or preparation to enable one to live as he lived.”[1] Indeed, as it stands it can become nothing more than another burden to our success. Jesus told his disciples that his burden is easy and his yoke is light. According to Willard, the secret of the easy yoke, then is to learn from Christ how to live our total lives, how to invest all our time and energies of mind and body, as he did. [2]“What would Jesus do” can make our “spiritual life” just a series of “special deeds.” That is, we try to be loving by acting loving, but we fail! We try to act like we think Jesus would, but we widely miss the mark.


As Dallas Willard writes with remarkable clarity of insight on this:

 “Spiritual formation is, in practice, the way of rest for the weary and over-loaded, of the easy yoke and the light burden (Matthew 1 1:28-30), of cleaning the inside of the cup and the dish (Matthew 23:26), of the good tree that cannot bear bad fruit (Luke 6:43). And it is the path along which God’s commandments are found to be not “heavy,” not “burdensome (1 John 5:3).
     It is the way of those learning as disciples or apprentices of Jesus “to do all things that I have commanded you,” within the context of his “I have been given say over everything in heaven and earth” and “Look, I am with you every minute’ (see Matthew 28:18, 20).}
      But—I reemphasize, because it is so important—the primary “learning” here is not about how to act, just as the primary wrongness or problem in human life is not what we do. Often what human beings do is so horrible that we can be excused, perhaps, for thinking that all that matters is stopping it.  But this is an evasion of the real horror: the heart from which the terrible actions come. In both cases, it is who we are in our thoughts, feelings, dispositions, and choices—in the inner life—that counts. Profound transformation there is the only thing that can definitively conquer outward evil.
      It is very hard to keep this straight. Failure to do so is a primary cause of failure to grow spiritually. Love, we hear, is patient and kind (1 Corinthians  13:4). Then we mistakenly try to be loving by acting patiently and kindly— and quickly fail. We should always do the best we can in action, of course; but little progress is to be made in that arena until we advance in love itself— the genuine inner readiness and longing to secure the good of others. Until we make significant progress there, our patience and kindness will be shallow and short-lived at best.
    It is love itself—not loving behavior, or even the wish or intent to love—that has the power to ‘always protect, always trust, always hope, put up with anything, and never quit” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8, PAR). Merely trying to act lovingly will lead to despair and to the defeat of love. It will make us angry and hopeless.
      But taking love itself—God’s kind of love—into the depths of our being through spiritual formation will, by contrast, enable us to act lovingly to an  extent that will he surprising even to ourselves, at first. And this love will then become a constant source of joy and refreshment to ourselves and others.  Indeed it will be, according to the promise, “a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14)—not an additional burden to carry through life, as  acting loving” surely would be.[3]


Do we believe that being a Christian is first and foremost about being forgiven for our sins? Do we believe that the primary reason we become a Christian is to get to heaven? Do we believe that human beings are fundamentally spiritual and that our life in the body is just a temporary, necessary evil? Perhaps if we do believe these things, it might explain why we prefer to be saved and born-again Christians, struggling to do what Jesus would do, but just not as his disciples living in this world as he taught us to live and love.

We thus sometimes tell the world through our bumper stickers that “we are not perfect, only forgiven.” But is this to be true of us; that we are only forgiven? Can we imagine the apostles saying such a thing as part of their message? Rather, they insisted, as did Jesus, that if we love him, we will do as he commanded. That means we will not just be people who are only forgiven; we are people who are new creations, and living as such (not just in actions, but in heart, mind, soul). 

Who we [are] we [are] becoming in Christ 

Someone (Woody Allen?) humorously once quipped that “by the time we are forty, we have the face we deserve.” I think the element of truth here is that our hearts and persons are becoming what they are going to be forever . . . (and that perhaps our face may reflect that). Dallas Willard also writes that “We are becoming who we will be forever.” Do we want to become like Christ? Do we really think that we can be Christians without being disciples? We are very adept at being “Christian” without being “Christ-like.” But, is it possible, if we are new creations, to be anything but his disciples? Do we suppose that we could ever do what Jesus did, or would do, without actually being as Jesus is?

         2 Cor 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone,
the new has come!

But what does it mean to be a new creation? Is it a passive, “Let go and let God” as some might say? Rather, Paul writes in 1 Jn 3:2 — Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears,a we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Sometimes people watch a great baseball player or musician and say, I can do that, but how often they fail because they are not prepared to do what it takes! How often we say, I am going to do as Jesus would do but we fail! Rather, is not being a disciple more like being an apprentice to a master builder or carpenter? This is the life of the disciple of Jesus; it is training to become like him in every way possible.

Jesus’ often said that “the time is coming and now has come.” What do such expressions mean? In part, they mean that we do not need to, and must not be , conformed to all the many things people in this world expect us to be. We do not have to be burdened to be what we are not now becoming, nor ever will be. Rather, in Christ. we know this in our new birth as disciples of Jesus:

  • We have NOW been rescued from the darkness and brought into his glorious light (Eph 5:8; 1 Pet 2:9).
  • We are NOW a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5:17).
  • We have NOW been “made new in the attitude of our minds, and have put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22-24).

This has begun now. As Jesus said, “The time has now come . . .” We see this in the church of all true believers. You and I together have already become “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9)  for “The time has now come . . .”

  • We ARE NOW tasting of the tree of LIFE: “like living stones being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:5). “The time has now come . . .”
  • The new creation is seen in us, the body of the church who are in Christ, a present spiritual reality, a spiritual house, our present home in this world: we are a holy people of God who form a new priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices to God.
  • We are now the one people of God in the world who together wait that great Day of the Lord. Most importantly, we are those who love one another in such a way that we ‘live in harmony with one another, are sympathetic, loving each other as brothers, compassionate and humble. We do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing . . .’ (1 Pet 3:8-99). Are we living this way? As his disciples, we are expected to, since “The time has now come . . .” And Jesus is calling us to be who we are becoming in Him.

Why would we ever want to be, or become, anything less? As Paul wrote to the Galatian church:

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you . . . Gal 4:19 (NIV)

Willard adds, “A fundamental mistake of the conservative side of the American church, and today much of the Western church, is that takes as its basic goal to get as many people as possible ready to die and go to heaven. It aims to get people into heaven rather than to get heaven into people.”[4] Such a project is self-defeating, since it creates people who may be ready to die, but are not ready to live. Rather, presently, now and increasing to fullness in time, as new creations, we live because . . .

  • To conclude: we have certain eschatological hopes that what we are and are becoming is and will be glorious:
    • As Jesus repeatedly said, “the time is coming and now has come.” What do such expressions mean for us?
    • Jesus taught a great deal on the kingdom of God, and he is telling us that in his coming the kingdom of God had come in a new way, and yet was also going to continue to come. Indeed, his parables often illustrate the progressive and expansive nature of the kingdom come and coming. But, what does it mean to say that the kingdom of God has come, and that the new creation has begun?
    • We presently have hopes of the kingdom that are rooted in the promises of God to the patriarchs. We have hope because we know the promises have already begun to be fulfilled. We have a clear testimony in the scripture to this fact. (This is one reason we so treasure the scriptures.)
    • We also presently have hope of the kingdom, since with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we have greatly escalated eschatological realities of the kingdom of God advancing in our midst. Yet, we also have hope because, as new creations, we presently see and experience the eschatological realities of the kingdom coming:
      • We see these in our new birth; we have been rescued from the darkness and brought into his glorious light. We are a new creation in Christ Jesus. We have been “made new in the attitude of our minds, and have put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22-24). This has begun now! “The time has now come . . .”
      • We see this in the church of all true believers. You and I together have already become ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1 Pet 2:9). Are we declaring his praises?, for “The time has now come . . .”
      • The new creation has certainly begun and we are now tasting its fruits, though we have yet to sit at the table of the great Banquet Feast of the Lamb. We have foretastes, but they are real tastes of true life in God through Christ. We are now tasting of the tree of LIFE: “like living stones being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:5). “The time has now come . . .”
      • The new creation is seen in us, the body of the church who are in Christ, a present spiritual reality, a spiritual house, our present home in this world: we are a holy people of God who form a new priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices to God. We are the one people of God in the world who together wait that great Day of the Lord. Most importantly, we are those who love one another in such a way that we (as we read in 1 Pet 3:8-99): ‘live in harmony with one another, are sympathetic, loving each other as brothers, compassionate and humble. We do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing . . .’ Are we living this way? We are expected to, since “The time has now come . . .”

In sum, our eschatological hopes and our eschatological realities enable us to walk by faith through the battles of this life. Because we have no doubt, we believe that the One who rescued us from darkness will also one day raise us up bodily. The One who has given us a new ‘heart of flesh’ is going to prepare a new body for us, an undying one, when “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:19-21). Are we embracing this hope as we should?, since “The time has now come, and is coming.”

“In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Pet 3:13) at the “renewal of all things” that Jesus promised (in Mt 19:28). “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:1).

We pray to live with these eschatological hopes and to have these eschatological realities in our lives and among us, for
“The time has now come, and is coming . . .”

Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus. Come.

DSC01407

[1] Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 9

[2] Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 9.

[3] Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 24.

a Or when it is made known

[4] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, pp. 238-239

Two covenant peoples of God?

“There are NOT two covenant peoples of God—Israel and the church, with one somehow held in abeyance for a time. The covenant people of God are one!” (A. Morrison, “Two Jerusalems,” SCP Journal 27:2-27:3, 2003, p. 43)

“There can no longer be a geographical land that God is promising to His people because His people are international, from every tribe and nation. To affirm a nationalistic plan of God is to reinstitute the Laws of separation between Jew and Gentile that Christ abolished” (Brian Godawa, “The Promise to Abraham,” SCP Journal 27:2-27:3, p. 60.

The first Gospel-promise

interlace pattern (2)In the Life of Christ SundaySchool class today we discussed the first promise given immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve:

Gen 3:15 (NASB) And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

It is this promise that lays the foundation for all of subsequent biblical history of redemption. It is this promise that is fulfilled in the birth, circumcision, baptism, life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus. It is this promise that begins the New Covenant. The new covenant does not begin in the New Testament; it begins immediately after the covenant of creation is broken in Eden. The life of Jesus illustrates in all of its details an unpacking of this promise with signs and wonders, escalating the fulfillment of the promise. Each of the subsequent OT signs are reminders of this original covenant-promise, and each reiterate and reaffirm that promise, that God will reverse the curse on creation and crush the head of the one who began the deception that led to the fall of humanity. The one (a human) who would bring this about would be from the line of the woman, the one first deceived by the serpent. This would also include the “bruising of the heel” of this progeny of the woman. Nevertheless, that bruising would eventually conclude with a new creation, a redemption of the earth and God’s people. This final mercy of God would come through this One promised here, in both his first and second appearings. Therefore, we read the life of Jesus in light of the initial proto-euangelion (“first gospel”) to Adam and Eve, and in light of all the subsequent covenant-promise reaffirmations. Therefore, each event and miracle-sign in Jesus’ life are affirmations that the curse is being reversed, and the Kingdom of has come and will come. We also read the story of Jesus in the Gospel accounts as a fulfillment of the many other Messianic OT prophecies and promises and motifs and typologies and symbols and prefigurations that help unify the history of redemption (as in a complex thematic interlacing), such as the following examples:

Alpha  and Omega (Is 44:6: Rev  1:8, 17; 21:6; 23:13
Ancient of Days
Branch
Bread
Bridegroom
Cornerstone
Deliverer
Divine Warrior
Eden
Healer/Great Physician
I Am
Immanuel
Immanuel/God present
Israel/son (of God)
Lamb
Liberator
Lion of Judah
Life, light, water, rock
Logos/Word/Wisdom
Master Builder (creation/temple/new creation)
Melchizedek
Messiah/Anointed (One)
Morning Star
Presence
Prince of Peace
Prophet, Priest, King
Redeemer (Kinsman)
Rock
Root/offspring (of David)
Sacrifice-propitiation
Savior
Seed/son/man
Shepherd
Son of David
Son of Man
Suffering Servant
Teacher/Master
True Temple
The True Image/exact representation
Wisdom/Wise man/Wisdom of God
Victor
Vine

Christ restores all . . .

“Christ restores all things and all relationships. In terms of our macro-typology, Christ is the antitype of every aspect of reality: nothing exists outside this relationship. Everything the Bible deals with comes within this relationship. To put it another way, the incarnate God-man is the representative embodiment of every aspect of reality in perfect relationships. What God has done in Jesus is made to involve us as we are related to Jesus by faith and, by involving us, has ultimate implications for the whole of creation (Romans 8:19-23).” Graeme Goldsworthy, Christ-Centered Biblical Theology, p. 224.

God’s signs and seals of the covenant-promise


(etching) Rembrandt, The Circumcision

God’s signs and seals of the gospel-promise (Stephen T. Hague, 2014, revised Sept, 2014)

  • The sign and seal of the covenant-promise to Adam and Eve was a seed, a Son.
  • The sign and seal of the covenant-promise to Noah was a rainbow.
  • The sign and seal of the covenant-promise to Abraham was circumcision.
  • The sign and seal of the covenant-promise to Moses was the Sabbath.
  • The sign and seal of the covenant-promise of atonement for sin was the Passover meal.
  • The sign and seal of the covenant-promise to David was an eternal throne.
  • The signs and seals of the covenant-promise to the church are the sacraments of water baptism and the Lord’s Table of Passover remembrance.

The promises of God were always given with a sign and a seal, and were from God not from their recipients, because the signs of the covenant and its promises are God’s initiatives that are fulfilled and completed by God himself, and not by those who receive them.

The first gospel-promise was given to Adam and Eve of a seed (descendent) who would crush the head of the serpent, though being “bruised,” was pictured in the seed motif that was a sign from God of that covenant-promise of redemption (Genesis 3:15; Luke 24:27; Hebrews 2:14; Romans 16:20). The “everlasting” sign and seal of the covenant-promise to Noah was a rainbow that recalled the judgment on the earth through a global flood and pointed forward to the eventual removal of the curse from the earth (Gen 7 8:21f; Gen 9:16-17). The sign and seal of the covenant-promise to Abraham was circumcision (Genesis 17:13-14, 23-27). There was a close correlation with the circumcision sign of the covenant and the covenant-sign of the Passover, since all (including foreigners) who wanted to celebrate the Passover had to be circumcised (Ex 12:48). This was important, because of the backward reference to the seed-promise to Adam and Eve pictured in circumcision, and also because of the redemption from Egypt (passing over the sons), as well as the other frequent motif of redemption that this sign illustrated in the spiritual (regeneration) circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16). The other sign and seal of the covenant-promise to Moses and Israel was the Sabbath as God’s promise of shalom, and the renewal of creation, and the redemption of those who receive it (Ex 31:12; Ezek 20:12; Heb 4:9). The key theological theme in this important covenant-sign was that they would remember that “I am the Lord, who makes you holy,” reaffirming the seed-promise to Adam and Eve and to Abraham, ultimately pointing forward to the Messiah who would fulfill it by redeeming his people from among all the nations. King David also received a sign of the covenant in the promise to have a son on his eternal throne (2 Samuel 7:13-16; 1 Kings 2:33; 1 Kings 2:45; 1 Kings 9:5). This sign wonderfully portrays the everlasting, kingly reign of the one who fulfills the Messianic seed-promises to Adam and Eve and to Abraham (Psalm 89:36; Isaiah 9:7). This person would also be divine, since only God is eternal (Lamentations 5:19; Matthew 25:31). Luke tells us plainly that this King in the line of David is Jesus (Luke 1:32-33; Acts 2:30-36; see also Hebrews 1:8; Revelation 4:10; 5:6, 10). The King of kings fulfills all of the covenant-signs of the promise of redemption, uniting all of the motifs we find in each of those signs.

It can therefore be said that the signs are never from those who receive them, since they are all from God to those of us who embrace them. They have never been God-ward signs, since they are from God to us, not from us to God. This is the beauty of the signs; they are human-ward, and from God who fulfills them (since he always keeps his promises). Not even our faith in believing the signs is a sign, nor is our baptism a sign of our promise to God or of our faith in him. No, even baptism is God’s sign that he is saving his people, the seed of Eve and Abraham; it too is a sign that the covenant-promise is being fulfilled in us and our children, since he is faithful.

Yes, all of the signs picture poetically his covenant and covenant promises to reverse the curse and to restore his creation, wherein those who believe will dwell forever in his shalom of Sabbath rest. All of the signs, as all of the covenants, represent and reaffirm the one covenant of redemption that began with the promise to Adam and Eve of a redeemer who would reverse the curse and crush the serpent’s head.

The works and miracles of God in the Old Testament are also signs of his to encourage those who believe his promise to continue in faith:

  •  And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Exodus 3:12
  •  You performed miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt and have continued them to this day, both in Israel and among all mankind, and have gained the renown that is still yours. Jeremiah 32:20
  •  How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation. Daniel 4:3

The miracles of Jesus are also a sign that the covenant-promises were being fulfilled in him, the promised Messiah from the line of Eve and from the promised eternal line of King David:

  •  After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” John 6:14

Yet, many then refused, and still do, to believe God’s clear and sufficient signs:

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. John 12:37

They refuse to believe even though the evidence of the signs he has given is more than sufficient evidence for them to believe:

  •  God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. Hebrews 2:4  

Presently, two of the Old Testament signs particularly carry over for the church today with tremendous theological value, in our sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Those present-day signs of the covenant have deep continuity with the OT signs, since their significance as signs is not negated but rather strongly reaffirmed in the New Testament church.

That is, circumcision was a covenant-sign of the promise but in itself could not procure what it signified, since only the Spirit of God can renew a person’s heart, to which the sign pointed in part. It was a two-fold sign that only God could bring the promised seed of the line of Eve, and that only God could make the heart new (and that this could not be inherited):

  • No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Romans 2:29

Circumcision was a sign in Israel, as is baptism, that God will fulfill his redemption-promises, since it is his sign that he is faithful to his covenant of redemption. Therefore, baptism is an ongoing sign from God to us, not a sign of our promise to him, or of our faith; it too cannot itself produce what it signifies, but only the God who promised:

  • For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. Col 2:9-14

The water of baptism is also sign of the promise that God is the one who saves, and only through the Son of Eve, and it is his resurrection that assuredly sealed it:

  • and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . 1 Peter 3:21

Further, Jesus’ circumcision and purification “according to the law of Moses” surely was not a sign of his salvation, or just that he was a Jewish son (Luke 2:21-30), but rather it was a sign of the fulfillment of the seed-promise that the Messiah would be born of a woman. His circumcision, as all the other signs, pictured graphically that the promise to Eve would be a son (Genesis 3:15) and to Abraham would be descendants more numerous than the sand and stars that would bless “all the nations of the earth” (Genesis 22:17-18). This is beautifully expressed by Simeon when he praised God in the temple while holding the circumcised Christ: “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32). Therefore, this sign powerfully demonstrates the human-ward gospel of salvation for all who believe; it is for all who are the adopted sons of Abraham by faith and not by natural descent (Romans 9:6-7).

Similarly, Jesus’ baptism surely could not have been a sign of his repentance and faith, but was a reaffirmation of God’s promise to redeem his people. It was the initial sign to John the Baptist and Israel that the promised messianic Son of God had come (John 1:32-34) to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). Baptizing both Jews and Gentiles (Mark 1:4), John’s baptism was a sign of the covenant-promise that all peoples would now need the baptism of Christ (Colossians 2:11) to partake fully of the covenant-promises, and thus showing that circumcision only pointed to this new order of the Spirit’s eschatological outpouring fulfilling those promises. Jesus’ baptism thus inaugurated this new emphasis on the covenant-promise to all the nations that the Son of God would baptize in the Holy Spirit, thus sealing that promise. This is why the covenant-promise still holds such meaning for those households who continue placing the sign of the promise on their children through water baptism, and also upon those who enter the covenant-community later in life through embracing and trusting the promises of God. In both cases, the human-ward meaning is the same: it is God, in keeping his promise, who saves his people. Peter at Pentecost proclaimed this truth in saying, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off . . .” when he told the large crowd of those gathered from all the nations (Acts 2:1-11) to “repent and be baptized, every one of you,” and they would then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39).

In relation to this, a good case can be made from the long history of correlation in Jewish practice between the simultaneous circumcision and baptism of Gentile converts that the significance and meaning between both rites was readily understood when John came baptizing in the desert region of Judah. John’s baptism of both Jews and Gentiles sent a strong message to all that physical circumcision was insufficient for salvation, and that if they were going to claim Abraham as their father (the covenant-promise), then they must be truly regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:7-9). This prophetic message of John was entirely in accord with the prophets of old who preached the same message (noted already) that circumcision of the heart (regeneration) was necessary for salvation (Deuteronomy 30:6; 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4; 27:7; see also Romans 2:29).

Lastly, Jesus’ last Passover meal recalls the sign of the covenant so clearly portrayed in Egypt when the angel of the Lord passed over the sons (seed-promise) of Israel but slew the sons of Egypt (Exodus 12:13). The Passover meal (lamb) was to be celebrated as a sign for all subsequent ages (Numbers 9:1-14; Exodus 34:25; Deuteronomy 16:1). This sign was about the promise of atonement, at the heart of redemption, showing what is requisite for salvation. This sign was most profoundly fulfilled in the death of Christ (Lamb of God) who celebrated the Passover with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion (Matthew 26:2; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:14-21; John 13), commanding them to continue to celebrate his substitutionary, atoning sacrifice with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Table of communion to remember him until he returns to claim his everlasting kingdom (Luke 22:19). His Passover death was the fulfillment of the covenant-promise from God that the Priest-King Messiah would reverse the curse of guilt inherited from Adam, and remove the curse on the ground. Earlier, John the Baptist had also reaffirmed this aspect of the covenant-promise when he cried out about Christ Jesus at his baptism, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

In conclusion, all of these gospel-promise signs represent and reaffirm the one covenant of redemption that began with the promise to Adam and Eve of a Redeemer who would reverse the curse and crush the serpent’s head. They are not signs of diverse things, nor are any of the signs presently abrogated, since the signs have the same significance in all ages because they each point towards the completion of the gospel’s covenant-promise of redemption and new creation to be consummated at the return of the Messiah at the end of the age. In sum, Christ fulfills the seed-promise sign, the rainbow-promise sign, the Sabbath-promise sign, the circumcision-baptism-promise sign, the Passover-promise sign, and now reigns forever on the throne of David, having sealed them all by his death and resurrection. This is why we continue to baptize and to celebrate the Lord’s Table: to remember his covenant-promise, and to look forward to its final consummation at his glorious return. This is the good-news of each gospel-promise-sign.