A Close Look at “Sola Gratia” (Part4)

November 20, 2005 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  I have borrowed heavily from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, particularly from chapter 27, “The Atonement.”[1]   We are continuing our study of the third doctrinal pillar, sola gratia (grace alone). To better understand this doctrine we looked at the reason why many people no longer consider grace amazing. The reason is because people fail to understand and feel in their heart the great truths of (1) the sinfulness of sin or total depravity), (2) man’s spiritual inability or total inability, (3) God’s judgment or real guilt, and (4) God’s sovereign freedom.   Total depravity means that every part of our being is affected by sin—our intellects, our emotions and desires, our hearts, our goals and motives, and even our physical bodies. Apart from the work of Christ in our lives, we can’t do any spiritual good or be good in terms of a relationship with God.   Total inability means, not only do we as sinners lack any spiritual good in ourselves, but we also lack the ability to do anything that will in itself please God and the ability to come to God in our own strength.”   Real guilt. Because of man’s corruption and inability to please God, he is deserving of punishment.   Today we will continue to look at God’s sovereign freedom. When we say God’s sovereign freedom, what we mean is that God does not owe us anything. He is not obligated to be good or to bless us. As I’ve said, when angels rebelled against God they were condemned by the Lord and He did not provide any redemption for them. He was not required to save them and He chose not to save them. Neither is He obligated to save fallen humanity. When God saves a sinner, it comes from His own pleasure and sovereign will.  

God’s Sovereign Freedom

  The Bible shows that all of the three Persons in the Godhead are involved in the manifestation of sovereign grace. Last week we looked at the role of the Father. Let’s look at it again first, just for a review.  
  1. The role of God the Father: election.
  According to Wayne Grudem: Election is an act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of His sovereign good pleasure. [2] Eph 1:4-6: For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. Jn 6:37-39: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. Ac 13:48: “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” 1Pe 1:1,2: “…To God's elect, . . . 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” 1Th 1:4,5: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction…”   Now let us look at…  
  1. The role of God the Son: Atonement
  Wayne Grudem writes: Atonement is the work Christ did in His life and death to earn our salvation. (Grudem uses atonement in a broader sense. Sometimes it is used to refer only to Jesus’ dying and paying for our sins on the cross but in Grudem’s definition the work Christ did in His life is included because saving benefits also come to sinners from that too.)  

The Necessity of the Atonement

… [It] is important to realize that it was not necessary for God to save any people at all. When we appreciate that “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment” (2Pe 2:4), then we realize that God could also have chosen with perfect justice to have left us in our sins awaiting judgment: he could have chosen to save no one, just as he did with the sinful angels. … Once God, in His love, decided to save some human beings, then several passages in Scripture indicate that there was no other ways for God to do this than through the death of His Son. . . . In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays, “If it possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39). . . . [This] prayer, which Matthew takes pain to record for us, shows that it was not possible for Jesus to avoid the death on the cross which was soon to come to Him. . . . If he was going to accomplish the work that the Father sent to do, and if people were going to be redeemed for God, that it was necessary for Him to die on the cross. He said something similar after His resurrection, when He was talking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were sad that Jesus had died, but His response was, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” Lk 24:25-26). [3]   The Nature of the Atonement There are two aspects of the atonement: (1) Christ’s obedience for us, in which he obeyed the requirements of the law in our place and was perfectly obedient to the will of God the Father as our representative, and (2) Christ’s suffering for us, in which He took the penalty due for our sins and as a result died for our sins.  
  1. Christ’s Obedience for Us (Sometimes Called His “Active Obedience”).
  If Christ had only earned forgiveness of sins for us, then we would not merit heaven. Our guilt would have been removed, but we would simply be in the position of Adam and Eve before they had done anything good or bad and before they had passed a time of probation successfully. To be established in righteousness forever and to have their fellowship with God made sure forever, Adam and Eve had to obey God perfectly over a period of time. Then God would have looked on their faithful obedience with pleasure and delight, and they would have lived with him in fellowship forever.   For this reason, Christ had to live a life of perfect obedience to God in order to earn righteousness for us. He had to obey the law for His whole life on our behalf so that the positive merits of his perfect obedience would be counted for us. Sometimes this is called Christ’s “active obedience,” while His suffering and dying for our sins is called his “passive obedience.” Paul says his goal is that he may be found in Christ, “not having a righteousness of [his] own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness form God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:9). It is not just moral neutrality that Paul knows he needs from Christ (that is, a clean slate with sins forgiven), but a positive moral righteousness. And he knows that that cannot come from himself, but must come through faith in Christ. Similarly, Paul says that Christ has been made “our righteousness” (1Co 1:30). And quite explicitly says, “for as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Ro 5:19).  
  1. Christ’s Sufferings for us, (Sometimes Called His “Passive Obedience”).
  In addition to obeying the law perfectly for his whole life on our behalf, Christ also took on himself the sufferings necessary to pay the penalty for our sins.   In a broad sense the penalty Christ bore in paying for our sins was suffering in both His body and soul throughout His life. Though Christ’s suffering culminated in His death on the cross, His whole life in a fallen world involved suffering. . . In predicting the coming of the Messiah, Isaiah said He would be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3). . . . It was especially on the cross that Jesus’ sufferings for us reached their climax, for it was there that He bore the penalty for our sins an died in our place.   The death of Christ is a complex event that has several effects on us. It can therefore be viewed from several different aspects. The New Testament uses different words to describe these:   Christ’s death meets several needs that we have as sinners:
  1. We deserve to die as the penalty for sin
  2. We deserve to bear God wrath against sin.
  3. We are separated from God by our sins.
  4. We are in bondage to sin and to the kingdom of Satan.
  5. We are accused by God’s law because of violations of His commands.
  These needs are met by Christ’s death in the following ways:  
  • To pay the penalty of death that we deserved because of our sins, Christ died as a sacrifice for us and as a substitute to take our place. And Christ did this while we were yet totally depraved and totally unable to save ourselves.
  1. Sacrifice
  • Ro 5:6-8 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
  • Heb 9:26: … But now [Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.
  • 1Jn 3:16a This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
  1. Substitution
  • Isa 53:4-6, 8 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all...By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
  • 2Co 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • Heb 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
  • To remove us from the wrath of God that we deserved, Christ died as a propitiation for our sins. (To propitiate means to placate, pacify, or appease. Propitiation describes that aspect of the saving work of Christ whereby He appeased the Father’s wrath against the elect through the merits of His blood.)
  • Ro 3:25: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (NIV: Ro 3:25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, [Or as the one who would turn aside His wrath, taking away sin] through faith in his blood.)
  • 1Jn 4:10: Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (NIV: 1Jn 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for [Or as the one who would turn aside His wrath, taking away sin] our sins.)
  • To overcome our separation from God, we needed someone to provide reconciliation and thereby bring us back into fellowship with God. (To reconcile means to bring together again and restore to fellowship those who are alienated by removing that which hinders agreement and fellowship.)
  • Ro 5:10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
  • 2Co 5:18-21 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • 1 Pet 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
  • Because we as sinners are in bondage to sin and to Satan, we need someone to provide redemption and thereby “redeem” us out of that bondage. When we speak of redemption, the idea of a “ransom” comes into view. (A ransom is the price paid to redeem someone from bondage or captivity.) When Jesus died on the cross He purchased the elect out of the slave market of sin through the merits of His blood.
  • Mt 20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
  • 1Co 6:20 you were bought at a price.
  • Eph 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace
  • Heb 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.
  • Rev 5:9 And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.
  • Because of our indebtedness to God for having violated His law Christ cancelled the written code (a business term, meaning a certificate of indebtedness) that stood opposed to us.
  • Col 2:14 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.
    We must remember that when Christ did all of these, He gave His life as a sacrifice, he became our substitute, He took our place to receive the penalty for sin; He died as a propitiation, he reconciled us and redeemed us—we were still in our sins and helpless.   Ro 5:6-8 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, pp. 568-581. [2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, p. 670 [3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 568-569