The whole work of salvation for sinners is a uniquely Trinitarian work. Consider the following passages:
Salvation was His Plan.
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him… I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do…I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.”
He chose us and predestined us.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
This was according to His wisdom and purpose.
…according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will
so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord
He reconciled us.
More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
He redeemed us.
he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
We are adopted through Him.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
We are called into His fellowship.
God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
(1 Corinthians 1:9)
We are justified by His work.
and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
He gives the new birth, renews, and regenerates us.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
(John 3:6-7)he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit
He is the Helper Jesus sent.
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
He dwells within us.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
(1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
He conforms us into the image and likeness of Christ.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
(2 Corinthians 3:18)
He empowers us for Christian living.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
He helps and intercedes.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
He keeps us to the very end.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Several biblical terms express (but do not exhaust) the ministry of Jesus as Substitute—and the meaning of the cross—including (but not limited to):
Jesus as our PROPITIATION.
“He is the propitiation for our sins…”
(1 John 2:2)
Related to the ancient Jewish world of temple sacrifices, the core meaning of propitiation (Greek=ἱλασμός “hilasmos”) speaks of Christ as our “wrath taker” (see also 1 John 4:10; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17).
Jesus as our SACRIFICE.
“But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
Also related to the ancient Jewish system, sacrifice (Greek=θυσίας “thusias”) speaks of Christ as the final and all-sufficient substitute, pouring out His blood for our life, rendering the old system of animal sacrifice obsolete.2
Jesus as our REDEMPTION.
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace”
Related to the first century world of slave trading, redemption (Greek=ἀπολύτρωσις “apolutrosis”) speaks of Christ paying the price to purchase freedom for slaves (like us) incapable of self-liberation (see also Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:12; 1 Corinthians 6:20; Galatians 3:13).
Jesus as our RECONCILIATION.
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
(2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
Related to first century family and social relationships, reconciliation(Greek=καταλλάξαντος “katallaxantos“) speaks of Christ mending the relational rift between God and men resulting in relational peace where there used to be war and a deep love connection where there used to be a vast disconnect (see also Romans 5:10).
Jesus as our JUSTIFICATION.
“who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
Related to the first century legal world, justification (Greek=δικαίωσιν “dikaiosin”) speaks of Christ as the one in whom we are declared legally righteous in the eyes of God, the divine Judge (see Romans 4:25, 5:16, 18). God the Father declared His own Son, who was actually righteous, sinful and punished Him as such, so He could declare us, who are actually sinful, righteous and reward us as such (see also John 11:50-52; Romans 5:8-9;Philippians 3:9; Titus 2:13-14; 1 Peter 2:21-25, 3:18).
Jesus as our ADVOCATE.
“…we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
(1 John 2:1)
Another term from the first century courtrooms, advocate (Greek=παράκλητον“parakleton”) speaks of Christ as our defense attorney arguing our “not guilty” verdict before the Father by appealing to His own completed death sentence as sufficient payment for our law-breaking.
In this manifold work of God, through Jesus, we find the incredible gospel truth of substitutionary atonement. This grace-saturated doctrine reminds us that, in submission to the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ stood as our substitute, in our place, to serve as our propitiation, our sacrifice, our redemption, our reconciliation, our justification, our advocate.
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
(2 Corinthians 5:21)
The cross of Jesus is where the substitutionary atonement happened. On the cross, Jesus served as our substitute and atoned for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).
At the cross, our sin became Christ’s sin, our blameworthiness became Christ’s blameworthiness, the wrath we deserve from an infinitely just Being became the wrath He absorbed from an inﬁnitely just Being. It made salvation possible for spiritually dead sinners wrought with guilt. As if this weren’t good news enough, Christ’s blamelessness became our blamelessness, Christ’s reward became our reward, Christ’s perfection our perfection, and Christ’s conﬁdent standing before the holy and just Father became our confident standing before the holy and just Father.
We can no more improve on Christ’s imputed righteousness than we can count past inﬁnity.
“This is our acquittal: the guilt that held us liable for punishment has been transferred to the head of the Son of God…We must, above all, remember this substitution, lest we tremble and remain anxious throughout life—as if God’s righteous vengeance, which the Son of God has taken upon himself, still hung over us….[To] take away all cause for enmity and to reconcile us utterly to himself, he wipes out all evil in us by the expiation set forth in the death of Christ; that we, who were previously unclean and impure, may show ourselves righteous and holy in his sight.”
(John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 2, pp. 506, 510)
“When we think of such an act of grace on God’s part, we have the answer to our question: how can God justify the ungodly? The righteousness of Christ is the righteousness of his perfect obedience, a righteousness undefiled and undefileable, a righteousness which not only warrants the justification of the ungodly but one that necessarily elicits and constrains such justification. God cannot but accept into His favor those who are invested with the righteousness of His own Son.”
(John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 124)
“Religion says, ‘attain’; the gospel says, ‘obtain.’ Religion says, ‘attempt’; the gospel says, ‘accept.’ Religion says, ‘try’; the gospel says, ‘trust.’ Religion says, ‘do this’; the gospel says, ‘it is done.’”
(Ajith Fernando, The Supremacy of Christ, 144)
The redemptive suffering of Jesus stands in stark contrast to the following sub—biblical theories:
Origen’s Ransom Theory: Alexandrian thinker Origen taught in the 3″’ century that Jesus’ death was a ransom paid to the devil. As Wayne Grudem points out, “it falsely thinks of Satan rather than God as the one who required that a payment be made for sin and this completely neglects the demands of God’s justice with respect to sin. It views Satan as having much more power than he actually does, namely, power to demand whatever he wants from God.”
(Systematic Theology, 581)
Abelard’s Moral Influence Theory: French thinker Peter Abelard taught in the 12″“ century that Jesus’ death was just God’s way of saying “l love you” to the human race, but there was no payment for sin involved. Although the cross is a powerful “I love you” from God to humans to influence us to a moral life, this view leaves us without a solution to our problem of our objective blameworthiness before a just God. This view has witnessed a resurgence in today’s church as God’s wrath and our guilt have been downplayed (to appease consumers) so that the cross becomes merely an expression of God’s love rather than of God’s love and justice. The cross-work of Christ is the ultimate display of God’s retributive justice and His redeeming love. If either God’s justice or love is compromised, so is the gospel.
Socinus’ Example Theory: Italian thinker Socinus taught in the 16th century, Jesus’ death does nothing more than give us with an example of the kind of obedience God desires from His creatures. While the cross does serve as a powerful example of costly obedience we ought to mirror, this view, along with the Ransom and Moral Influence theories, overlooks that God requires payment for the offense of sin against His holy nature.
Leo X’s Penance Theory: As Pope Leo X and John Tetzel taught in the 16th century, the crosswork of Jesus is not sufficient to save sinners. We must supplement the work of Christ by purchasing indulgences, gazing at relics, and committing acts of penance to work off whatever sins were not payed for on the cross. This view resorts to our own religious performance in a futile attempt to gain God’s favor. It reduces “good works” to insecure attempts to become saved rather than grateful acts because we are saved thanks to Christ’s work as our Great Substitute.
When the church loses sight of the good news of Christ’s substitutionary death we slide into performance-based spirituality, embracing the bad news (the anti-gospel) that man must save himself.
“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”
Jesus Christ, the God-man, committed the most scandalously humble act in human history: He made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born as a man who was obedient to the point of death, slaughtered by His own creation (Philippians 2:7-8). Try to wrap your mind around that one.
Shamefully, man was so proud to have done it. Sin blinded our eyes to the beauty of this Christ. And those who hated Him cried, “Crucify Him!!!” again and again. They would not settle for any ordinary death; it had to be one of intense suffering and shame. As Jesus, an innocent man, hung there, He opened his lips not to curse his oppressors but to plead with the Father on their behalf.
I love A.W. Pink‘s words on this:
The first important lesson which all need to learn is that we are sinners, and as such, unfit for the presence of a Holy God. It is in vain that we select noble ideals, form good resolutions, and adopt excellent rules to live by, until the sin-question has been settled. It is of no avail that we attempt to develop a beautiful character and aim to do that which will meet with God’s approval while there is sin between him and our souls. Of what use are shoes if our feet are paralyzed. Of what use are glasses if we are blind. The question of the forgiveness of my sins is basic, fundamental, vital. It matters not that I am highly respected by a wide circle of friends if I am yet in my sins. It matters not that I have made good in business if I am an unpardoned transgressor in the sight of God. What will matter most in the hour of death is, Have my sins been put away by the Blood of Christ?
Every single one us us is born dead in our sins (Ephesians 2) and without life. There is no one perfect. Because of this sinful nature, you and I cannot justify ourselves before God. We can try, but we will fall short, every one of us. And guess what. God would still be a good God if He left us in this state, ushering each of us to suffer under his righteous wrath. The only ground on which a Holy God will forgive sins is this: One had to satisfy his good and righteous wrath in our place. And One did. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. Through Him, we have the forgiveness of sins.
Divine forgiveness is complete forgiveness. It is not half-hearted. It is not in need of additional labor or recompense. We don’t need to purify in purgatory. We don’t have anything to add to this free gift of salvation. It is finished.
If you are reading this as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, then rejoice! Rejoice in the forgiveness of God which you have received through the finished work of Jesus Christ.
You are completely and eternally forgiven!
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,t he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Kevin DeYoung wrote an article in 2006 titled, “Divine Impassibility and the Person of Christ in the Book of Hebrews.” I recommend the article. I’ve included a summary below, followed by my response.
DeYoung, Kevin. “Divine Impassibility and the Passion of Christ in the Book of Hebrews.” Westminster Theological Journal 68 (2006): 41-50.
The doctrine of divine impassibility has lost favor within Christianity today. Most believe that God suffers. There are four main theological reasons why God’s impassibility is being rejected: 1) A suffering God is the only possible theodicy. 2) God is love, and if God is love He must enter into the pain of His creatures—anything less would be diabolical. 3) The biblical description of God in His passions must be taken at full face value and not diminished as anthropopathic language. 4) When Jesus Christ—the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form—suffered, He showed the true suffering nature of God Himself. The concern of this paper is with this fourth reason. According to those who argue for God’s passibility, the suffering of Christ must entail the suffering of God. I disagree. By looking at Hebrews, especially 2:5-18, I hope to demonstrate that God remains impassible even though the Impassible suffered in Christ.
This passage directs us towards two points crucial in our understanding of how Jesus Christ can suffer while God does not: 1) The incarnation involved some sort of change. Christ the exact representation of God was made a little lower than the angels. Not every thing Jesus did or felt revealed the character of God since He is fully human. Jesus ate, slept, drank, etc. Christ suffered not to reveal suffering in God, but rather, God had to be made a little lower than the angels so He could suffer. The reason Christ’s suffering is so highly exalted is because He was doing what God as God had not and could not do, namely, suffer. 2) Jesus truly suffered and died. Some may ask how if in the hypostatic union both Christ’s divine and human natures were united in the Person of God’s son, then how could the divine nature not experience suffering? The answer lies in Cyril’s communication of idoms, namely that what is predicated to the Son cannot be automatically predicated to the human or divine nature, and what is predicated to one nature cannot be automatically predicated to the other. God as a man knew human pain and anguish first hand and in the same human manner that we experience it, but God does not suffer as humans do.
Furthermore, the incarnation was necessary to make Christ perfect; not morally perfect or any other form of perfect. The incarnation was necessary so Christ could fully identify with His brothers so that He might be their high priest. For the writer of Hebrews, Christ’s suffering had nothing to do with the suffering of the eternal heart of God and everything to do with perfecting Christ as part of the completion of the process of redemption. In other words, Christ’s sufferings were not revelational but eschatological. The perfecting of Christ achieved, in time and space, what was necessary for God’s historical redemptive plan, that is, that the Son would become a full sharer in the sufferings and all the limitations of humanity and so be qualified to lead many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10). The suffering of Christ was unique. Therefore, the Son of God knew no suffering prior to the incarnation, because prior to being made a little lower than the angels he was not completely adequate to serve as high priest. And because the purpose of His sufferings has now been realized (Heb. 5:7-9), we know that the Son of God does not continue to suffer. Yet, the logic that says if Christ was passible, God must be passible seems to demand 1) that if God has been suffering throughout history, Christ was suffering throughout history, and 2) that if God continues to be passible, Christ continues to be passible. Neither statement can be true, for Hebrews evidences that Christ has not been suffering repeatedly since the Foundation of the world (Heb. 9:26) and his experience of suffering on earth was a one-time, once-for-all occurrence (Heb. 9:23-28; 10:12-14). Christ’s suffering goes beyond solidarity with a suffering world, to an understanding and conquering love. Christ is our sympathetic high priest who truly understands human suffering. And as we see in Heb. 2:14-15, the end of the suffering is that Christ might not merely know human pain, but that in victorious love he might destroy the devil and deliver those who had been held in fearful bondage. Ultimately, Christ was made like his brothers so that He might propitiate God’s wrath. Through Christ’s suffering, He achieved for others what they could not achieve for themselves.
Moreover, Christ is our sympathetic high priest (Heb. 2:18). The precise setting of Hebrews is unclear, but we understand that the Christian community to whom Hebrews was written was filled with confusion, struggle, and pain. Hebrews and the rest of Scripture look, not at some sort of present divine possibility for comfort, but to the past, to Christ’s sufferings, that according to His ongoing sympathy we might have hope for the future (Heb. 4:15). Christ, because He suffered as a man, can now help us as the exalted One. Additionally, believers are perfect by the perfecting of Christ not the other way around. That is, we need to look at our sufferings through Christ instead of looking at God through our sufferings. So, as we share in the sufferings of Christ (Phil. 3:10), we look to him not as the revelation of divine passibility, but as the sympathetic one who shared in our humanity and as the example of steadfastness we ought to exhibit in the midst of our own suffering (Heb. 5:9; 12:2ff).
I appreciated DeYoung’s Scriptural and philosophical response to those who affirm that God suffers continually. I fear that an overemphasis on the passibility of God molds God into our own image. The main point I gathered from DeYoung is that if God has suffered throughout history, then Christ suffered throughout history, which diminishes the incarnation. This continual suffering of God also diminishes Christ’s victorious work over suffering. Thus, the resurrection is diminished as well. The suffering of Christ was unique, and we cannot keep the uniqueness of the Christ and His work, and hold that suffering is common to God. Finally, I appreciated DeYoung’s point that Christ’s suffering is great for us, not mainly because of His empathy for us (although some comfort is found in this empathy), but because of His victory over suffering. Through Christ, we too have the victory!