Sunday, November 16, 2014

A2. In his death, Jesus showed us the love of God.

This is the second post in a section on atonement in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first set had to do with God and Creation, and I have just finished a section on Christology.
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A2. In his death, Jesus showed us the love of God.

1. John 3:16-17 put it aptly, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

The cross demonstrates the love of God. "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:7-8).

God did not have to atone for our sins. He was under no compulsion to offer us hope, let alone to send his Son to die on the cross. God does not send anyone to hell. The default state of humanity at this time is already one of separation from God. God is not compelled to lift a finger to do anything about it. The gravity of our sinful state will pull us to destruction on its own without God's intervention.

Christ's death on the cross thus took place by God's free act, where the will of God the Father and the will of God the Son were in complete agreement. The cross demonstrates God's love for humanity, his desire to be reconciled to us.

2. This free act of God was potentially for everyone. Not all Christians believe that Christ died for everyone. In 1618-19, the Synod of Dort in Holland concluded that the scope of Christ's atonement was "limited." The "L" in the Calvinist acronym "TULIP" stands for "limited atonement" and issued from this council, where Armininianism was rejected.

The idea of limited atonement is the sense that Christ must have only died for those God predestined or predetermined would be saved. Christ thus only would have died for those whom God unconditionally elected. [1] However, 1 Timothy 2:4 indicates that God would prefer all people to saved. If this is the case, then he must not predetermine who will be saved. If God desired all people to be saved and it was entirely up to him, then all people would be saved. Since the Bible clearly does not teach that all will be saved, God must not predetermine who will be saved.

Christ thus died potentially for everyone. Not everyone has or will avail themselves of this possibility, but God has made it possible by his will, and Christ has made it possible by his free death.

3. Could Jesus have chosen otherwise? This question relates to another question, "Could Jesus possibly have sinned while he was on earth?"

The controversies about the person and nature of Christ concluded that Jesus was one person but that he had two natures and thus two wills. [2] Hebrews suggests that Jesus was tempted in every way like us but that he did not sin (Heb. 4:15). Hebrews is clearly speaking of intentional sin, since the situation presupposed is one in which Jesus had a choice based on temptation.

Could Jesus have chosen wrongly? Certainly we should think of these temptations as real. That is to say, the temptations of Jesus pulled on him but not to the point of sin. We have said in a previous article that the temptation to sin can in some cases be a good desire that is directed toward an inappropriate object, such as when a good sexual desire is directed toward the wrong person. So a person without a "sin nature" can be tempted, as in the case of Adam and Jesus. [3]

So we can suppose that Jesus' human will in itself would have been capable of sinning. However, the orthodox Christian teaching of the centuries suggests that, on this point, Jesus' divine will would have prevented his human will from taking that step. Thankfully, there was no such crisis. Both Jesus' human and divine wills both freely chose to do what was right.

Similarly, both Jesus' human and divine will in concert freely and willingly chose to die on the cross for our sins.

4. I argued in the previous article that God as all powerful had the power to heal us of our sin by divine command and that as sovereign he had the freedom to forgive us by his free choice. It is hard to see how it could be otherwise. We must therefore conclude that God's choice to send his Son to die for our sins was entirely his free choice, since he could have forgiven and healed us by his divine command.

This fact accentuates how great an act of love the atonement was. God chose to identify with our suffering when he did not have to. God the Father does not learn anything on the cross. He created the possibility of suffering, pain, and temptation. He knows everything.

But we learn something on the cross. We learn that, even if we do not always understand why God allows evil and suffering to persist, God the Son has suffered with us. God has identified with our situation.

5. Therefore, while it is not complete, we must consider the "moral influence" theory of atonement to be an important element of the atonement. [4] Some would argue was the most prevalent view in the early church until the time of Anselm in the 1000s. [5] The moral influence approach suggests that one reason for Jesus' life and death was to make us righteous, to "influence" us in a positive moral direction, to empower us to be righteous.

We see this sense of Jesus as the perfect moral example in the slogan, "What would Jesus do?" As 1 John 3:16 says, "Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters." Jesus came to earth to do more than give us a good moral example and to show us how to love each other, but certainly part of what he came to do was to show us how to be the kinds of human beings we should be, indeed were created to be.

Jesus' death on the cross was the ultimate demonstration of God's love because God did not have to heal us and because he freely chose to heal us in this way. He chose to heal us in a way that identified with us in the predicament of our suffering and the consequences of evil. In his humanity Christ showed us how to be fully and perfectly human, and he then gave us the Holy Spirit to become as human as he was.

In his death, Jesus consummately showed us the love of God for us and for the creation.

Next Sunday: A3. In his death, Jesus satisfied the order of things.

[1] A five point Calvinist is someone who accepts all five tenets of the TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverence of the saints. There are "four point" Calvinists who reject limited atonement.

[2] We might call these controversies about Christ, "Christological controversies." The view that Jesus only had one will, which was eventually rejected is called "monotheletism," just as the view that Jesus only had one nature is called, "monophysitism."

[3] As we have argued in a previous article, the idea of a "sin nature" is itself a metaphor rather than an actual thing inside us.

[4] The moral influence theory is often associated with the very weak form of Abelard in the 1000s, when it was directly opposed to Anselm's theory of penal satisfaction. Abelard did not present it a form where it could be combined with the other theories of atonement. It was simply Jesus showing us his love. Similarly, as we will argue in the next two articles, Anselm overemphasized the satisfaction and substitutionary elements in atonement. Both thus reflect significant changes to atonement theory in church history.

[5] Cf. A. J. Wallace and R. D. Rusk, Moral Transformation: The Original Christian Paradigm of Salvation (New Zealand: Bridgehead, 2011). (reference taken from Wikipedia)

1 comment:

thecommonlanguage said...

Thanks for this.
1. But if God had not helped us, would not His lack of action revealed incongruency in His perfectly just and merciful nature? It seems if one agrees that God originally made man to have a relationship with him, then not helping us would show our sin to have power over the will of God.
5. Although God could have simply said to mankind, "I forgive you," and let it go at that, forgiving our actions, alone is not enough to reconcile us to Him in relationship. It seems by itself our dark and dead fallen human nature cannot connect to God's glorious one and live, His glory would annihilate us: what fellowship can darkness have with light? Nor can we, being human, connect with a non-human mediator (a goat or ox, for example, has a different nature than human). It took the sacrifice of a human nature connected to an eternal, divine nature in the person of Christ to re-connect us in relationship with God our Father. And it had to be an eternal nature, because the Logos came to save all mankind for all time, not just the people that were present on earth during His lifetime as the Incarnate Son of God.