Are Your Conversations with Those of the World the Same with Those of the Church?

 

Does this exchange sound familiar?

Bill: “Hello, how are you doing?”

Steve: “I am good . . . and you?”

Bill: “I am doing well also.”

Steve: “Great! . . . See ya later!”

Bill: “You too!”

This kind of short, being-friendly-but-not-wanting-to-really-talk-about-anything-important, dialogue happens all the time. We have these discussions with people at work, passing by in the grocery store, sporting events, parties, and unfortunately . . . at church.

This has bothered me for some time.

Why do we have these same types of conversations with our brothers and sisters at church? Now, I understand that there are occasions where it is not the best time or the proper setting to have a lengthy conversation. However, our time together is called fellowship (Greek. koinōnia). Koinōnia, in its biblical context, means to “share with someone in something which he has,” and “to have a close mutual association.” It’s a term I never use to refer to hanging out at a work related event, or birthday party with unbelievers, BBQ at a neighbors house, or any other type of gathering that is not with those of the family of God. I am sure no other Christian does either.

How are Christian relationships supposed to be different?

We who are of the family of God have a close, mutual association in Christ. In fact, it is because of Christ that we have been united into one body of believers, a royal priest hood belonging to God (Rom. 7:4; 1 Pet. 2:9). Paul uses the phrase in Christ quite often in reference to Christians.[1] Paul uses the term koinōnia to speak of the direct participation of the believer with Christ, which is a spiritual communion with the risen Lord (1 Cor. 1:9).

Why does he use that phrase and not just call us believers in Christ or fellow children of God?

Because all who are born-again have died with Christ in his death and have been made alive with him in his resurrection (Romans 6:5-10), granted that we share (koinōnia) in his sufferings.[2] We are united into one body, under the lordship of Christ, “having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:2).

Therefore, if we are to be of the same mind and same love, loving others, demonstrating that we are of God,[3] we should seek God’s will together in one mind, which is our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3; cf. Rom. 6:19,22).

How are we to do that, staying the course on the path of righteousness?

Through the fellowship and discipleship within the church, united in Christ and in communion with the Spirit.

The author of Hebrews, speaking about the rest for us in Christ, says

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (3:12-14).

God’s means for keeping believers in Christ is through the body, to keep our hearts from the hardening effects of sin. It is through grace-saturated fellowship, exhorting, encouraging, and praying for each other daily that God uses as the means to sustain us until glorification (Read 1 Cor. 12:1-26). Our sanctification depends on our fellowship with our Triune God and each other.

Ultimately, true biblical fellowship is a relationship, not an activity.

How do we turn our quick, superficial conversations into koinōnia?

A few months back I decided to try something different, to be more intentional in my conversing with believers on Sunday or any other time. So, after the typical how-are-you-doing exchange, I ask, “What has the Lord shown you this week?” The responses I received have been astonishing. Every response gave me a glimpse into the window of a fellow brother or sister’s heart. We got to share in something we both have in common—struggles with sin and a desperate need for Christ.

Over the last few months, many have shared with me their joy in Christ due to a particular situation, whether in prayer, reading the Bible, or through trials. And some opened up in need of guidance, encouragement, or just needed someone to listen. The crucial element in all of this is that the conversations went from the natural to the supernatural. We were talking about something that the world doesn’t have or truly understand—our spiritual lives in Christ. We were experiencing true koinōnia.

Just recently, I ran into a newer family at our church just after our Wednesday night Awanas program. I have interacted with the husband a few times over the last few months but only discussed trivial matters. And our last interaction ended rather awkwardly, because there were no more superficial questions left to ask. So, we just sat there and stared at each other with silly grins on our faces.

This was before I began asking this question.

Well, this time when our trivialities ended, I asked him, “So, what has the Lord shown you recently?” He said, “Nothing.” And we were back at that awkward place again.

What now? You can’t say, “Oh, sorry to hear that. Take care.”

My entire purpose in asking this question was to “share” in another Christian’s life in Christ. And in this moment, here was a man that needed to be encouraged. I asked him if he has been reading his Bible, and he said he hadn’t but then pointed to his wife, letting me know that she reads all the time. I encouraged him to make time daily to be in God’s Word. I told him that he is the leader of his house, and if he wants his children to grow up in a house where the Lord is the head of it (and I now he does), then his kids need to see their daddy reading it daily, guiding the family by its wisdom, and uniting his family to be one in Christ.

He was much appreciative of what I said. Praise God.

I could have just shaken his hand and said, “How ya doing?” And I know he would have just said, “I am doing good.” And that would have been the end of the conversation, followed by a wave and a “see ya later.”

But really, he was in a rough patch. If you are not reading the Bible regularly then you are starving yourself (Matt. 4:4). That is an extremely dangerous place to be in. I thank God for that conversation and hope that the Spirit convicts him to be in the Word, and I look forward to asking him the same question when I see him again, Lord willing.

I have never been so blessed in fellowship. Seeking to talk and share what we truly have in common—Christ—is what makes our fellowship different from the conversations we have in the world.

 

Romans 11:36

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1. 86 times; or in him 33 times; Ex. Rom. 6:11; 8:11; 12:5; 1 Cor. 1:30; 3:1; 2 Cor. 1:21; 5:17

2. Phil. 1:29; 3:10; 2 Cor. 1:5; cf. Rom. 8:17

3. 1 John 4:7-8; cf. Rom. 13:8

Penal Substitutionary Atonement a Lie? Part 3

[1756 words = 7 minute read]

Last week, I ended my post with a plethora of biblical texts refuting Ericksen’s statement that penal substitutionary atonement is a lie. Ericksen’s diminutive perspective of God’s holiness demonstrates he doesn’t understand the depravity of man and the deserved wrath stored up for him because of sin.

I continue on.

He writes,

“The whole premise of penal substitutionary atonement is a lie. God didn’t respond to Adam and Eve by mimicking them. God didn’t turn from them. In fact, God went in search for them. “Where are you?” God asked Adam and Eve. That’s the truth of the Adam and Eve story, it’s the truth of the biblical story, and it’s our truth. When we abandon God, God doesn’t abandon us. God doesn’t respond with wrathful anger. Rather, God responds with grace and compassion that seeks to be in relationship with us.”

Ericksen is right on this point. Though Adam and Eve disobeyed God, incurring death for their sin, God came for them and extended grace to them in the shedding of the blood of another animal to cover their sin. We see before a theology of the atonement is fully developed an exchange being made. While God spared their lives at this moment, God told them that they would surely die if they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and they most definitely will, returning to the dust that they came from (Genesis 3:19).

But he spared them.

After God made “garments of skin and clothed them” (3:21), “he drove out the man” (v.24), cleansing the temple-garden and closing it off from sin and death in placing the cherubim and a flaming sword as guards at the east end of it.

God did not respond with the wrathful anger they deserved; if he did, there would be no Christ, the one to come in whom God fully manifests his nature and character in—demonstrating wrath and love through. So, while we see God’s demonstration of grace, his wrath still has to come. A just judge cannot let lawlessness go unpunished. If God overlooked the sins of mankind, he would not be righteous; he would be unjust and a liar (Ps. 9:8).

Adam’s sin brought death into the world (Romans 5:12), and “the judgment following one trespass [Adam’s sin] brought condemnation” (5:16). So while Adam’s sin brought condemnation, Paul tells us that God in his divine forbearance “passed over former sins” (Romans 3:25). Beginning with Adam and Eve, his provision through sacrificial substitution allowed them to live for a while, along with God’s covenant people, Israel. But it did not remove man from his deserved condemnation, reconciling man and God. But in Christ, God put forward a propitiation that demonstrates his righteousness, so that he might be just and the justifier” (Romans 3:24, italics mine), by exacting justice for the sins of the world but also showing his love and mercy in reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18).

The Bible makes it clear—“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36, italics mine). God’s wrath remains on those who have transgressed the law. Christ or no Christ, God’s wrath remains. Paul says to the Ephesians, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world . . . carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature, children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:1-3).

Just because the wicked are still living, it doesn’t mean their just condemnation through God’s wrath won’t be displayed. God will respond with wrathful anger; he already did for those who are his in Christ’s first coming and will do so for the children of Satan at Christ’s second coming.

Ericksen continues, quoting from a . . . Rabbi?

As the great 20th century Rabbi Abraham Heschel explained, the primary point is not our search for God, but rather God’s search for us.

“All of human history as described in the Bible,” wrote Heschel, “may be summarized in one phrase: God is in search of [humans].” 

Now, I will have to give him credit here because Heschel shares a glorious truth of the Christian faith: God entering into his own creation coming to man through Christ to restore what was lost. However, I just find it ironic (and sad) that he is quoting a Rabbi who, while making this profound point, ultimately misses it.

Ericksen writes,

“For Christians, Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s search for humanity. In this particular human being we see that atonement has nothing to do with God’s pent up wrath or violence, but everything to do with the truth of God’s grace and forgiveness. The Gospel of John tells us, “’The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth … From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.'”

Yes, Christ is the ultimate revelation of God’s search for humanity, but Ericksen doesn’t demonstrate how what Christ did was not part of God’s wrath. The grace given is that Christ comes to bear our penalty taking the wrath of God for us. Galatians 3:13 says “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law becoming a curse for us.”

What is grace? It is getting something we don’t deserve. Christ came to give his life as a ransom for many, paying the debt we could never repay.

I think Colossians 2:13-14 most succinctly captures this legal exchange:

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

Why do you think we have the earthly example of the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system? (Read Hebrews 9-10)

Why is Christ referred to as the spotless Lamb (John 1:29)?

Peter speaks of “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19), which finds its origin in Exodus 12:5, in God’s instruction to Israel regarding Passover, “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old.”

Ericksen writes,

“In each Gospel we discover that God didn’t need the cross in order to forgive. The truth of God’s “grace upon grace” is that God forgives sinners, tax collectors, and cowardly disciples, in other words, everyone, before Jesus even went to the cross. God has never atoned for sins through wrathful violence. God doesn’t respond to us mimetically. When we abandon God, God doesn’t abandon us. Jesus is the particular revelation of what the Bible generally reveals — God makes atonement, God became at-one with us, not through wrathful violence, but through nonviolent love and forgiveness. It was human wrath that hung Jesus on a cross, not God’s. How does God respond to our wrath? As John wrote, with “grace upon grace.” Jesus revealed that grace as he hung on the cross and prayed, “’Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'”

God did not need the cross to forgive? One needs to look at the statements in the Gospels Jesus makes regarding his purpose and reason for coming (Matthew 16:21; 20:18-19, 22, 28; Mark 8:31; 10:33-34, 45; Luke 11:42; 22:22, 37, 46; John 6:38; 10:17; 12:27) to see the cross was not just needed, it was planned to be used to show his glory. So, whatever God purposes is needed.

Another key element that Ericksen fails to see is what the cup represents that Christ is to drink. In the Old Testament, the cup normally signifies God’s judgment in the outpouring of his wrath (Ps. 75:8; Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15, 16). This means intense suffering for those who drink of it. Christ demonstrated great fear in the moments prior to his crucifixion where he prayed to the Father, asking to not drink this cup (Matthew 26:42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). He was fearful because it was one thing that the Son never experienced: the wrath and separation from his Father as only those under judgment experience.

In those six hours on the cross the Father abandoned the Son (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).

His abandonment led to our adoption.

And then Ericksen uses wrath in a way I have never seen in theological discussion; he says, “It was human wrath that hung Jesus on a cross.” Where in the Bible do we see human wrath? What we do see is that our sin is what hung him up on the cross.

Ericksen concludes saying that we don’t need to feel guilty if we find ourselves abandoning God; God doesn’t respond to human sin with wrathful anger. Now, that is true for those in Christ, for nothing can separate them from his love (Romans 8:38-39). But God responds with wrath, judgment, and fury to those who are still enemies (Romans 2:8; cf. 5:10)

I am not sure if Ericksen assumed that the woman was a Christian who strayed from the faith. I wasn’t there but from what he said about her upbringing and experience in church, I assume that she is not a Christian; rather, she is one coming to the end of her life, feeling guilt wrought about by the Spirit, opening her eyes to the condemnation she is under. She should feel anxious and fearful. Christ says, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Ericksen’s experience tells him that when he “channels God’s nonviolent and nonjudgmental love,” anxiety and fear go away. And that is what manifested in this lady’s demeanor.

Now, maybe he shared more than what he wrote about in his experience, which led to a further discussion about the gospel.

But, maybe his unbiblical understanding of God’s holiness, the atonement, wrath, and judgment only affirmed her in her sin.

There was no discussion here of repentance and faith in Christ for what he did on the cross to save sinners. If she truly saw how amazing it is that God saves wretches, then I would think her fear and anxiety would turn into weeping.

If Ericksen shifted the conversation toward the gospel of Jesus Christ, in which those elements were mentioned, which demonstrated the work of conversion by the Holy Spirit, then amen!

But if demonstrating “God’s nonviolent and nonjudgmental love” only made her feel justified in her own deeds, then that is a pity. Her blood is on his hands.

 

—Romans 11:36

 

Penal Substitutionary Atonement a Lie? Part 2

In this post I am continuing my response to pastor Adam Ericksen’s article on the ‘Nonviolent Atonement.’ If you just got here, click here for part 1.

In the end of last week’s post, it clear that Mr. Ericksen’s emotively prompted response to the woman who felt guilty for abandoning God is misplaced, according to Scripture. As I stated, he should have been expressing joy that a sinner who has abandoned God, feels guilty for doing so.

Ericksen says this turning away from God, which God reciprocates toward us, is a “pernicious theological claim . . . that’s a lie. Don’t believe it.” But what do the Scriptures teach about fallen man’s relationship with God?

Isaiah 59:1-2, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear (italics mine).” So, while we see that God can save, man’s sin has separated him from God.

Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (italics mine).”

Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Romans 3:12, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (italics mine).”

Romans 5:10a, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (italics mine).”

Does it sound like there is a separation between God and man? The amazing thing is that for those who are his, there will never be separation or a time of God turning his back on us, as Paul writes:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

After saying that God turns his back on us is lie, Ericksen clarifies his point further:

Sure, the Bible can be interpreted in that way. People often point to the Adam and Eve story as evidence. Adam and Eve turned their back on God by eating the forbidden fruit, so God turned God’s back on them. Many claim that God has been angry at Adam, Eve, and their children (that’s everyone!) ever since. Strangely, these people continue, God had no other way of dealing with his pent up anger than to inflict violence upon God’s own son.

You’ve heard that story before. It’s called penal substitutionary atonement. Again, don’t believe. It’s a lie.

Wow! I think the most flabbergasting statement is Ericksen attributing God’s holiness and disgust of sin to be nothing but pent up anger. He doesn’t say it, but that is exactly what the implication is.

Has he read Leviticus?

Does he understand the sacrificial system is what made it possible for Israel to be God’s people?

If God did not make provision through the sacrificial system, which only cleaned the outside of the cup (Hebrews 9:1-10), Israel would have been further separated from God; Israel would have been (to use a New Testament expression) as a Gentile and a tax collector to God.

So, did God inflict violence on his Son? “It was his will to crush him” (Isaiah 53:10). He decreed from before the foundation of the world that the Lamb would be slain for the sins of the world. It was violence that God decreed, but it wasn’t the violence Ericksen presumes it to be; it was a righteous giving of oneself for the unrighteous . . . the most honorable of actions. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay his life down for his friends” (John 15:13). It was what Christ came to do (Matthew 20:28; John 10:15, 17; 12:27).

I won’t post the entire foretelling of the Lord as the Suffering Servant from Isaiah 53:1-12, but a few choice verses are needed to demonstrate Ericksen’s error.

Verses 4-5 – “Surely has borne our grief’s and carried our sorrows; yet we esteem him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (italics mine).”

Verse 6b — “and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (italics mine).”

Verse 10 —“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him (italics mine).”

And all of this speaks in regards to Jesus, the Son of God, who was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, [and was] crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).

And what was the reason for this?

Because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). His own blood secured an eternal redemption (9:12b).

His death reconciled fallen man to a Holy God:

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself ” (2 Corinthians 5:18a)

I leave you with what Peter says regarding Christ’s death:

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

So, is penal substitutionary atonement a lie?

Did Christ not die for us, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God?

Well, I am not going to be able to finish responding to his article. My word count is getting up there; however, there is just too much that needs to be said regarding this truly precious doctrine, which our faith hinges on, so I don’t want to give it a light treatment.

I will pick up on where I left off next week.

 

—Romans 11:36