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Good News: A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel
Pt 7
The Good News: A New Life of Renewal

Paul pictures the Gospel as a vital force that is advancing and bringing transformation to people and regions (Phil 1:12, Col 1:6, 2 Thess. 3:1). The goal of the gospel is not just to forgive us, but to change us into true worshippers of God and authentic lovers of people.

We know that only God can change us in an ultimate sense, but …

  • WHAT IS OUR PART?
  • WHAT DO WE DO?

… that God normally uses to transform us into the image of his Son?

In the Applied Theology Series, “Good News: A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel, Part 7”, by Drs. John Frame and Steve Childers, you’ll learn how the Bible answers these questions by learning:

  • Gospel Union: Transforming Grace
  • Gospel Dynamics: Means of Grace
  • Gospel Obedience: Disciplines of Grace

In this final session of the series, you’ll also learn the important differences between Gospel ObedienceGospel Repentance, and Gospel Faith as the key disciplines of grace that God normally uses to transform your life.
 

Important Learning Tip: Go deeper by reading the 23 footnotes!
 

Read more articles in this series: Applied Theology Collection I Articles


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Chapter 6: The Good News: A New Life – Renewal!

A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel
Drs. John M. Frame and Steven L. Childers

Introduction
The goal of the gospel is not just to forgive us, but to change us into true worshippers of God and authentic lovers of people.[1] God gives us a new standing and a new heart to give us a new life as part of his redemption all things lost in the fall. Our new life from God includes our transformation into the image of his Son. Paul writes, For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Rom 8:29)

Gospel Union: Transforming Grace
How does God conform us to the image of his Son? The Scriptures teach that God’s law has no power to change us.[2] Only the Triune God himself can transform us through his Son by the power of his Spirit.[3] Just as a stone lying in the sun can’t help but grow warm, so it’s only as our stony hearts are exposed to the warmth and light of our union with God in Christ, that we can’t help but be transformed.

The mission of God’s Spirit is to restore our broken union with God by bringing us back into God’s transforming “face-to-face presence” through union with him in Christ.[4] Experiencing the glory of the Lord’s presence transforms us because it reveals God’s face to us.[5] Throughout the Bible we learn that when people experience God’s presence it’s normally transforming – positive or negative.

Drawing on the story of God’s transforming presence with Moses, Paul writes about the Spirit’s transforming presence with us:

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 Cor 3:18)

To behold the Lord’s glory is to see more fully, by his Spirit, who God is and what he does as Lord in Jesus Christ.[6] This vision deepens our experience of union with the Triune God – God the Father as our Creator, God the Son as our Redeemer, and God the Spirit as our Restorer. As God’s Spirit draws us into our Triune Lord’s presence, he humbles us, fills us with joy, and transforms us into the image of his Son.[7]

When Paul comes before the face of God in worship, he rejoices in the display of God’s love for him in the cross of Christ. As a result, he experiences the power of cross to deliver him from the power of the world. Paul writes, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14) John Stott writes,

Paul’s whole world was in orbit around the cross. It filled his vision, illumined his life, warmed his spirit. He “gloried” in it. It meant more to him than anything else . . . This Greek word translated here as “boast” has no exact equivalent in English. It means to glory in, trust in, rejoice in, revel in, live for. In a word, our glory is our obsession.

To Paul, the cross represents more than a message about our salvation in Christ. It’s also a glorious display of God’s holy justice and holy mercy revealed to us in Christ (Rom 3:26, 5:8). When we learn to live all of life coram Deo – “before the face of God,” God’s presence keeps humbling us in repentance for our sins and keeps filling us with joy because of our Savior. Then, we can’t help but be transformed.[8]

Gospel Dynamics: Means of Grace
But God’s transforming work in our lives does not mean that we have no role in our personal transformation. Instead, our awareness that God is working in us by his Spirit should motivate us to work hard toward our development in Christ-likeness. Paul writes, “Work out your own salvation with fear and tremblingfor it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil 2:12-13)

Paul describes our part in our transformation as learning to keep in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:25). This means learning how to move in the same direction of God’s Spirit at work in our lives.[9] Paul’s command to do this reveals that there are clearly things we can do and cannot do that will affect the Spirit’s transforming work in us.

One of the most significant ways we can deepen our transforming experience of union with God in Christ is to deepen our experience of union with Christ’s visible body, his church, over which Jesus is now the Head.[10] As the ascended Lord over all things, Jesus continues his transformational ministry of making disciples of all nations by his Spirit and through his Church.[11]

Jesus’ union with his church body is so strong that our transformation into his image depends on our union with him through his visible church community. When the Spirit unites us to God “in Christ,” he also unites us to God’s new community on earth to be the means through which he conforms us to the image of his Son.[12] Therefore, one of the most significant ways we can be transformed into the image of Christ is to be a devoted, responsible member of a healthy local church body.[13]

Theologians use the phrase “means of grace” to describe the elements provided by the church through which God’s Spirit graciously conforms us into the image of his Son. In a broad sense, the church itself is a means of grace. But in a more narrow sense, the church provides us with what are traditionally called the means of grace like the preaching of the Word, sacraments, prayer, ordained church leaders, etc.[14]

When a corporate church body is devoted to the means of grace (e.g. ministries of worship, prayer, preaching, teaching, sacraments, discipleship, fellowship, evangelism, mercy, church planting, and missions) under the oversight of godly, qualified church leaders who promote love, unity, and purity of life and doctrine, the result is normally a healthy, mature church made up of healthy, mature members being conformed into the image of Christ.

Gospel Obedience: Disciplines of Grace
God’s Law (God’s Word) has no power in itself to conform us into the image of Christ. (Rom 3:20, Gal 3:24, Heb 10:1) Only the Triune God himself can transform us through his Son by the power of his Spirit.

So, why does God require us in the Bible to obey all his commands – especially his Ten Commandments? Why does Jesus teach us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) that we must obey all of God’s commandments and “be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48)[15]

Gospel Obedience­­­
The reason God calls us to strive with all our might to be like Jesus by obeying God’s law perfectly is so that when we fail, God’s Spirit will lead us back to Jesus to forgive us, empower us, and transform us more into his image. (Rom 3:20, Gal 3:15-29, Heb 10:12) Our obedience to God’s will in his Word is a necessary and vital part of our experience of knowing him and experiencing his transforming power in and through us.

God calls us to a lifestyle of radical obedience to his commands. But our efforts to obey his commands perfectly (to love God and others perfectly) will inevitably lead us into denial or despair if we do not also learn how to obey Jesus’ command to “repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)[16]

Coming to Christ in repentance and faith is more than a one-time-event by which we are saved from sin’s penalty. Our repentance and faith in Christ is also the process through which we keep coming back to Jesus to be saved from sin’s domineering power and be transformed into his image.[17] The gospel is not just a gate we must pass through one time, but a path we must walk each day of our life.

Gospel Repentance
The reason we’re not more conformed to the image of Jesus is because we’ve allowed the affections of our hearts to be captured by idols that steal our heart affections away from God. The modern idols that capture our hearts are not the graven images of the ancient world. An idol is something from which we get our identity. An idol is making something or someone other than Jesus our ultimate source of worth, happiness, and fulfillment.

Once identified, we must be willing to take radical action against our idols, sapping the life-dominating power they have over our hearts.[18] We must stop finding our ultimate happiness in our idols so that we can start finding it in who Jesus is and what he has done for us. True repentance does not lead us to despair but to joy because it’s only when we see what great sinners we are that we can see what a great Savior Jesus is.

Gospel Faith
In repentance we keep pulling our affections away from our heart idols so that by faith, we can keep putting those affections back on the ascended Jesus Christ in worship. Only when Jesus Christ becomes more attractive to us than the pleasures of sin will our hearts be set free. The enslaving power of sin will never dissipate until a greater affection of the heart replaces it.[19]

True faith involves continually setting our heart affections back on Christ in and through our worship.[20] When we are united to Christ through faith, we’re given a very rich and remarkable spiritual inheritance in him. Like a child born into a royal family, it takes time for us to realize the full extent of the riches of our birthright.[21] Faith requires a continual rehearsing and delighting in the many promises and privileges that are now ours because we are in union with God in Christ.

Each doctrine related to the gospel helps us understand the many facets of all the spiritual blessings we now have in Christ.[22] In the gospel we see the multi-colored splendor of our new life in Jesus Christ and find the divine remedy for our broken lives and world. Here we find the streams of living water that quench our soul’s thirst and well up in our hearts as we keep coming to Christ in faith (Jn. 7:37,38).

As we learn to drink deeply from this well that is Christ we will experience the transformation of our lives into his image and find the living waters of his Spirit flowing through us into the lives of others. This well never runs dry. Here are the springs of personal, church, and world renewal. Here the old hymn-writer calls us to respond:

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.[23]


Footnotes:

[1] When we speak of “the goal of the gospel,” we’re following the example of the Apostle Paul who often personifies the gospel using it synonymously with the person and work of Christ, e.g. “I do all for the sake of gospel.” (1 Cor 9:23, Acts 20:24). Paul pictures the gospel as a vital force that is advancing and bringing transformation to people and regions. (Phil 1:12, Col 1:6, 2 Thess. 3:1)

[2] God’s law can only reveal God’s will to us, show us our failure to keep it, and point us to Jesus to save us and change us (Rom 3:20, Gal 3:15-29, Heb 10:12). Paul writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Rom 3:20) In Galatians 3:24 Paul refers to the Law as “our guardian (tutor) until Christ came.” The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it (keeping the Law) can never … make perfect those who draw near.” (Heb 10:1)

[3] Although God normally uses means, like his Word, to transform us, the means God uses are not what ultimate cause the effect of our changed lives. God alone illuminates his Word immediately by his Spirit in such a way that we can know him, delight in him, and be transformed by him into the image of his Son. For a masterful exegesis of the immediate work of God in the believer, see Jonathan Edwards, “A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God.” Preached at Northampton, and published in 1734

[4] The astonishing good news is that God provides what he commands. Through the Old Testament prophets God promises “I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds. (Jer 31:33, Heb 10:16) In God’s New Covenant, he promises not only the forgiveness of our sins for breaking his law, but also the gift of his Spirit to empower us to keep his law and change us into the image of Christ.

[5] The Aaronic benediction in Numbers 6:24-26 presents the highest, transformative blessing of God as his face and countenance shining upon you: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

[6] Yet, all the transforming visions of God we may see and experience in our worship now will seem like dim shadows compared to the bright clarity of the Lord’s transforming glory we’ll experience for all eternity in the age to come.

[7] But the ultimate purpose of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is not to save and heal our corrupt souls, as wonderful as that is. His ultimate purpose is to mediate the presence of Jesus Christ and glorify him. See J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, Chapter 2, The Holy Spirit and the Bible

[8] We can be confident that God will finish this work of his Spirit he begins in our lives. Paul writes, “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.” (Phil 1:6). Paul describes God’s plan to transform us as having its origin in God’s love for us before creation: “He chose us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:4), and For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Rom 8:29) The same God who planned our conformity to the image of Christ before creation, will accomplish his plan for our transformation in the new creation forever.

[9] Similarly, Paul writes, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit. (Eph 5:18) The Greek word translated “filled” (πληροῦσθε) does not carry with it the idea of being filled up in a spatial sense, as one would fill up a glass with water, but more so to allow us to be filled through or to be permeated by the Holy Spirit’s controlling influence and power. To be filled with the Spirit means to be controlled or to come under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

[10] Irenaeus, the early church Father, wrote “Where the church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the church, and every kind of grace

[11] Jesus promised, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18). Jesus describes how he will build his church in the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20) we he commands his followers to “make disciples of all nations” by doing three things: 1) “Going” to preach the gospel, 2) “Baptizing …” into a local church body the converts who believe, and then 3) “teaching the converts to obey” all that Jesus commanded. Jesus assumes his disciples will be baptized into a local visible church because baptism is a communal sacrament and a sign of admission into God’s covenant community. Therefore the local, visible church is the center of biblical discipleship as the result of “going” and the source of ongoing “teaching to obey.”

[12] For example, Jesus continues his transforming ministry as Prophet, Priest, and King in and through us today as members of his body.

[13] The biblical marks of a healthy church include a devotion to worship that has the preaching and teaching of sound doctrine, the proper use of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and prayer – all under the oversight of godly, qualified church leaders. These marks also include a devotion to love one another shown in a commitment to unity, purity of life and doctrine, and a resolve to make disciples of all nations through ministries of evangelism, discipleship, mercy, and church planting.

[14] According to the Roman Catholic theology, the means of grace include the entirety of revealed truth, the sacraments, and the hierarchical ministry. The principal means of grace are the sacraments (especially the Eucharist), prayers, and good works. In Lutheran theology, the means of grace are instruments by which all spiritual blessings are given to believers, and they include the Gospel (written and proclaimed), the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, and some include confession and absolution. In Reformed theology, the ordinary means of grace are the Word (preached and read), sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and prayer. The Word and Sacraments are not seen as merely symbols but also the means God uses to bring about the reality of his transforming power in the lives of his people.

[15] There is a strong link between our obedience to God’s will and our personal experience of God’s transforming presence in our lives. Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23).

[16] Paul makes clear that repentance and faith are meant to be ongoing in the life of the believer when he writes,”…just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in Him.”(Col. 2:6) Just as we receive Christ by repentance and faith, so we walk in him by repentance and faith.

[17] The first thesis of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses nailed to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral was: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

[18] In Romans 13:14 Paul writes, “…make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires”. All that is idolatrous before our eyes must have its vivid appeal drained out of it. The Puritans called this mortification.

[19] See Thomas Chalmers’ (1780-1847) sermon, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. During his professorship at University of St. Andrews, his passion for global missions was so inspiring that six of his best students dedicated themselves to missions, resulting in 141 years of combined missionary service (The St. Andrews Seven.)

[20] God does not want a relationship of impersonal, religious servitude. Instead, he wants us to enjoy him and desire him more than all of our idols.

[21] We grow in our experience of God’s transforming presence, power and joy only as we learn to fill our minds with, set our hearts on, and act in accordance with our many spiritual blessings in Christ.

[22] Earlier, we learned that: 1) God’s promise of our new standing before him of forgiveness includes the gospel doctrines of propitiation, justification, and adoption, 2) God’s promise of our new heart from him by his Spirit includes the gospel promises of regeneration, ransom, and sanctification, and 3) God’s promise of our new world with God includes the gospel promises for his kingdom both now and in the age to come.

[23]I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say by Horatius Bonar, 1846, Public Domain


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Good News: A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel
Pt 6
The Good News: A New Heart – Holy Spirit!

The gospel is a multi-faceted jewel that reveals multiple perspectives on the amazing grace of God for all who are in Jesus Christ. Learn 3 biblical perspectives on God’s amazing grace found in the person and work of God’s Holy Spirit in your life:

  • Good News of Regeneration: You are Born Again!
  • Good News of Redemption: You are Set Free!
  • Good News of Sanctification: You are Being Transformed!

In the Applied Theology Series, “Good News: A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel, Part 6” by Drs. John Frame and Steve Childers, you’ll learn the important differences between being born again (regeneration), being set free (redemption), and being transformed (sanctification) by the Holy Spirit.
 

Learning Tip: Go deeper by reading the 23 footnotes!


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Chapter 5: The Good News: A New Heart – Holy Spirit!

A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel
Drs. John M. Frame and Steven L. Childers

Introduction
God the Father is portrayed in the Bible as Creator, God the Son as Redeemer, and God the Spirit as Restorer of all things lost in creation and humanity because of sin. So the biblical concept of the gift of the Holy Spirit carries with it God’s restoration of fallen humanity through his gift of a new heart and God’s restoration of fallen creation through his gift of a new world. Let’s begin with a closer look at God’s gift to us of a new heart by his Holy Spirit.

This is the good news that by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit he transforms our spiritually dead and corrupt hearts by giving us a new nature, a new freedom, and a new life in Christ. There are three biblical terms that can help deepen our understanding of our new heart from God: regenerationredemption, and sanctification. In regeneration God gives us a new nature by implanting his Spirit in us, in redemption God gives us a new freedom by definitively breaking the domineering power of sin over us, and in sanctification God gives us a new life by progressively transforming us into the image of Christ.

New Birth: Regeneration
At the end of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he promises all who will repent not only “the forgiveness of your sins” but also “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2: 38-39). When we become followers of Jesus, we receive God’s indwelling Holy Spirit who gives us a brand new nature.[1] We need not only the vindication of God as Just Judge, but also the healing of our corrupt souls by God as Great Physician. It is as much God’s purpose to save us from sin’s corruption as it is to save us from sin’s guilt.[2]

When Nicodemus, a Jewish leader, approached Jesus to ask about the Kingdom of God, Jesus drew on God’s New Covenant promise of his Spirit in Ezekiel, and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Then Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God … The wind  blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8)

When Jesus speaks of being “born of the water and the Spirit,” he’s not referring to the waters of baptism or natural birth. Instead, he’s referring to God’s promised cleansing renewal of human souls by his Spirit as pictured in Ezekiel 36. Paul calls this work of the Holy Spirit in new birth the washing of regeneration: “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, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5-6).”[3]

The good news is that by a miracle of divine grace–a new life has been implanted in us, and that life is the life of God himself. There is now divine opposition implanted in us to counter the power of sin. God has given us a new nature, a new set of desires, and a new set of dispositions to know him, please him, glorify him and enjoy him as our Heavenly Father.[4]

The good news is that no matter how alone or powerless we may feel, we are not alone and without God’s power to flourish in life according to his design. Through our faith in Christ, God has graciously given us his Holy Spirit to come alongside us, to comfort and encourage us, to convict and teach us, and to empower us so that we will be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. (John 14:18, 25-26, John 16:12-14, Romans 8:29, 2 Cor 3:17-18).[5]

New Freedom: Redemption
When the Holy Spirit regenerates us, he unites us to Christ resulting in a definitive break with sin’s domineering power over us and a new freedom to strive after holiness and righteousness. Paul describes this as a definitive, one-time act of God in the lives of all believers in Christ. (Rom 6, Eph 2:1-6, 2 Cor 5:14-15, and Col 2:20-3:4)[6]

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he changes his focus from the benefit of Christ’s death and resurrection in our justification in Romans 1-5, to the benefit of Christ’s death and resurrection in our sanctification in Romans 6 because of our union with Christ.[7] In Romans 6, Paul refers to this radical change God makes in us as our “death to sin” through our union with Christ in his death and our “newness of life” by our union with Christ in his resurrection.[8]

Therefore, all who are in Christ have been redeemed from their previous bondage, meaning they’ve been delivered from their captivity in Satan’s domain of darkness and death, and they’ve been transferred to God’s Kingdom of light and life (Col 1:13-14).

Paul often personifies sin as a power by speaking of “sin” in the singular sense rather than “sins” in a plural sense.[9] And he teaches that sin enslaves us primarily through three archenemies of our soul – the diabolical trinity of the world, the flesh[10], and the devil that holds us captive in the domain of darkness. (Rom 5:12, 21; 6:23, 8:2). Satan’s domain of darkness extends beyond individual human hearts to all spheres of private and public life.

The Apostle John writes, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19)[11] This is why we need more than forgiveness for our sin. We also need to be rescued from Satan’s domain of darkness and transferred to God’s kingdom of light.

In order to rescue us and our runaway world under the dominion of evil, God himself took on a human nature in Jesus and entered our story as one of us.[12] As our Warrior King, Jesus then did valiant personal battle for us against all of his and our spiritual enemies that held us captive. Paul writes, “He disarmed the powers and authorities…and triumphed over them by the cross.”[13]

From infancy Jesus did battle with every spiritual enemy that defeated us and held us captive. He faced every temptation known to humanity from the world, the flesh, and the devil. But unlike us he never sinned, so that through his suffering, he could earn a perfect righteousness for us before God, completely obeying all of God’s commands in thought, word, and deed.

Jesus offered himself up to God for us as not only our substitute in his life, but also in his death. When Jesus died on the cross, he did not simply experience the pain of physical suffering and death. He also suffered the full wrath and punishment of God that we deserve because of our sin (Is 53:6).

As proof of our Redeemer-King’s victory over sin’s domineering power in fallen humanity and creation, God raised him from the dead and seated him on his throne in heaven. This signifies God giving Jesus the sole authority and power as Lord and Savior to deliver his people from their captivity to the world, the flesh, and the devil and transfer them into his kingdom of light and life on earth forever.

Paul proclaims  “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:13-14) Through Jesus, God gives us not only forgiveness of sins but freedom from the enslaving power of the world, the flesh, the devil, and even death.[14]

The biblical doctrine of redemption is an all-inclusive concept that refers to the fullness of God’s redemptive work in Christ, but it also refers in a more restricted sense to a deliverance and freedom that comes by the payment of a ransom price. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Luke 10:45)[15] The word redemption may also refer to a deliverance that comes by means of a champion’s victory.[16] John writes, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 Jn. 3:8)

Paul’s freedom imagery is seen in his use of the word redemption (λυτρον) with a focus on how Christ sets sinners free from the domineering power of sin: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.” (1 Tim 2:5-6).[17]

No matter how intense or enslaving our present struggle with sin may be, we no longer need to be in bondage to sin’s dominion over our lives.[18] Although we can never be free from sin’s influence until heaven, the good news is that, because of our union with Jesus in his death and resurrection, we’ve been delivered from sin’s dominion and set free to live a life of righteousness.[19]

New Life: Sanctification
Paul saw God’s gifts to believers of a new nature through regeneration and a new freedom through ransom as just the beginning of his Spirit’s transforming work in their lives called sanctification.[20]

The biblical term sanctify (ἁγιάσαι) has a one-time positional dimension and an ongoing experiential dimension. The Holy Spirit begins the process of transforming believers immediately upon their regeneration. In Titus 3:5 Paul writes, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Paul establishes a strong, organic link between the washing of rebirth and the renewal by the Holy Spirit.

Calvin also affirms that the doctrine of regeneration includes both conversion and spiritual transformation through sanctification.[21] The work of God’s Spirit in our renewal begins by giving us the gifts of regeneration and ransom, but then continues as an ongoing sanctifying process through which “our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor 4:16b) Paul writes: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).[22]

Because of Paul’s confidence in the Holy Spirit’s work in us that he is able to say, “We do not lose heart” (2 Cor 4:16a) while facing various trials of life that are all rooted in man’s sinful nature (2 Cor 4:8-12).

Christians often reduce the gospel to “God’s plan of salvation” for lost people to be saved from sin’s penalty, not realizing that it’s also “God’s plan of salvation” for Christians to be saved from sin’s power. The same gospel message that saves sinners also sanctifies saints.

Therefore, the gospel should be seen as not only a message of good news for lost people to be saved from sin’s penalty, but also as a message of good news for believers to be saved from sin’s domineering power. The goal of the gospel is not merely to forgive us, but to change us into true worshippers of God and authentic lovers of people.

The gospel is not just a gate we pass through one time but a path we are to walk each day of our lives.[23] It’s God’s solution not merely to our guilt, but also our moral corruption—as well as the ultimate solution to all the problems of life both personal and social.

The gospel is not merely a set of propositions to be believed and defended, but it is also a supernatural power to be released in and through our lives and churches for a broken world.

Footnotes:


[1] Regeneration is monergistic: meaning it’s entirely the work of God the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s work precedes and causes our conversion.

[2] Christ’s purpose in our life as Savior is not only to save us from sin’s penalty but also to save us from sin’s power and corruption. The Psalmist praises God for both of these benefits when he writes, “Bless the Lord O my soul and forget none of his benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities and heals all your diseases. (Ps 103:1–3) This is why the old hymnwriter of “Rock of Ages” writes “Be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power.

[3] J.I. Packer writes, “Regeneration is an act of God whereby a soul undergoes a spiritual resurrection into a new sphere of life, in which he is alive to God and united to Him in Christ. God has implanted in the newborn soul a totally new principle of life.” Calvin, whom Packer calls “the theologian of the Holy Spirit”, uses the term regeneration to cover the whole progressive transformation and conformation of the believer by the Holy Spirit, including conversion and sanctification. Calvin writes, “For Christ imparts the Spirit of regeneration to us in order that he may renew us within … and that a new life may then follow the renewal of mind and heart.” – Calvin’s Commentary of Acts 5:31 (CO 48.111)

[4] In the biblical doctrines of propitiation, justification, and adoption, we see God’s gracious, one-time acts on our behalf never requiring repetition. Theologians call these one-time acts definitive acts versus progressive acts. But the doctrine of regeneration includes both kinds of acts. Regeneration is a definitive act of God, referring to a one-time event in history when God’s Spirit performs the miracle of new birth in our souls giving us a new heart. But regeneration is just the beginning, the origin of our sanctification. It coincides in time with definitive sanctification and is the source of our lifelong process of progressive sanctification into the image of Christ.

[5] As we learn to “live by the Spirit,” God promises that we “will not gratify the desires of our sinful nature”(Gal. 5:16).

[6] The biblical doctrine of sanctification refers to the process of our personal transformation into the likeness of Christ that takes place progressively over time. But most of the words in the New Testament that refer to our sanctification do not describe a process of God’s work in us over time, but a one-time, once-for-all definitive act of God. For example, when Paul addresses the believers at Corinth he refers to their sanctification in the past tense as “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and “washed, sanctified, and justified” (1 Cor 1:2, 1 Cor 6:11). When Paul writes Timothy, he refers to believers as those who have been “set apart as holy” (2 Tim 2:21). The New Testament terms for purification are also used with this same meaning, i.e. believers have been purified by a one-time act of God in the past (Acts 15:9; Eph. 5:26; Titus 2:14).

[7] John Murray writes, “But it is a fact too frequently overlooked that in the New Testament the most characteristic terms that refer to sanctification are used, not of a process, but of a once-for-all definitive act. It would be, therefore, a deflection from biblical patterns of language and conception to think of sanctification exclusively in terms of a progressive work.” – Definitive Sanctification Murray also writes about the common neglect of this biblical teaching: “The bearing of Jesus’ death and resurrection upon our justification has been in the forefront of Protestant teaching. But their bearing upon sanctification has not been sufficiently appreciated.” – The Agency in Definitive Sanctification

[8] In Romans chapters 1-5, Paul expounds the good news of our new, legal standing before God in the heavenly court based on the gift of Christ’s forensic, external (alien) righteousness that God imputes to our account when we believe in Christ. Then, in Romans 6, Paul shifts his focus away from God’s external, judicial act in his heavenly court for us to God’s more internal and subjective act in us by his Spirit uniting us with Christ. Paul’s good news in Romans 6 is that because we are now united with Christ in his death and resurrection, God has definitively broken sin’s domineering power over us (“we died with Christ”) and infused Jesus’ resurrection power in us (“we are raised with Christ) to be “instruments of righteousness.”

[9] Paul describes fallen humanity as being held captive under the power of sin (Rom 3:29, 1 Cor 15:56, Gal 3:22), in bondage to the dominion of sin (Rom 5:21, 6:12, 14), and therefore enslaved to sin (Rom 6:6-7, 16-18, 20, 7:14).

[10] The New Testament word σαρκὸς often translated “flesh” is not referring to the flesh of the human body but to our sinful human nature that opposes the work of the Spirit. Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Gal 5:16-17)

[11] Paul refers to Satan as “the god of this world (who) has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor 4:4)

[12] One author wrote, “It’s as if he snuck into the enemy camp, under cover of night, to whisper words of love to his own: I have come for you!”

[13] Throughout history, theologians have formulated several theories about how Jesus’ death was “for our sake,” including Christus Victor [Latin: Christ the Victor]: a perspective toward the atoning work of Jesus that emphasizes his triumph over the evil powers of the world, through which he rescues his people from the domain of darkness to transfer them into the kingdom of God’s light. (Col 1:13-14)

[14] Although Paul speaks of the death of Christ as the basis of our “forgiveness of sins” (Eph 1:17; Col 1:14) and “for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3, Gal 1:4), he also speaks of the death of Christ as the basis for our “deliverance” and “redemption” from the enslaving power of sin revealed in the world, the flesh, the devil, and even death–in which forgiveness of sins is a vital part but not the whole.

[15] Throughout church history, many have promoted unbiblical views of Jesus’ atoning work of ransom, including the view that Satan is the one to whom the ransom of Jesus’ death was paid, and the erroneous view that an angry God afflicts cosmic child abuse on his son to satisfy his cruel demand for justice. Roger Nicole presents the biblical view of ransom: “In common language, the word ransom and its cognates were frequently used with reference to a payment which insured the liberation of prisoners (both prisoners of war and those who were incarcerated on legal grounds) and the emancipation of slaves. It secured a deliverance from the thralldom of servitude or, although more rarely, from the penal consequences of the violation of the law.” (1964:202) This view is also expounded by Leon Morris in The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross.

[16] Nicole writes, “One should also take into consideration numerous passages where Satan is represented as the adversary (this is the meaning of the name Satan), where the struggle occurs between the forces of good and evil, where Christ appears as humanity’s champion, and where Christians themselves are enlisted in the battle royal against demonic powers. It is probably in this universe of discourse that Genesis 3:15, “He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel,” finds its meaning as the protoeuangelion” (1964:204).

[17] Paul also describes Jesus as the one “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14). Leon Morris describes Paul’s freedom imagery: “Christians agree that evil is strong and that they cannot break free from it by themselves. But the wonderful thing about the Christian way is that it is the way of freedom. The evil that is part of human nature has been defeated in Christ. Believers live in freedom. Since the price has been paid the bondage is ended. They are no longer to live in slavery” The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross

[18] Paul’s good news of freedom from sin’s dominion sounds like this: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his …  For one who has died has been set free from sin … For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:1-13) We see here Paul’s biblical ethic that grace motivates obedience. To Paul, the root of salvation is our union with Christ, especially in his death and resurrection. Because Jesus died–we died in him, and because Jesus was raised–we are raised in him to newness of life.

[19] Commenting on Romans 6, John Owen writes, “Wherefore, to be freed from the dominion of sin is not to be freed absolutely from all sin, so as that it should in no sense abide in us any more.” See Owen’s A Treatise of The Dominion of Sin and Grace and A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit V:iii

[20] Paul describes this ongoing process of sanctification through which God transforms believers as being solely a work of God: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.” (1Thess 5:23)

[21] “Many seventeenth century Reformed theologians equated regeneration with effectual calling and conversion with regeneration … later Reformed theology has defined regeneration more narrowly, as the implanting of the “seed” from which faith and repentance spring (I John 3:9) in the course of effectual calling.” J.I. Packer, Regeneration, Elwell Evangelical Dictionary

[22] Paul saw our spiritual process of transformation as a complete reversal of its bodily counterpart: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). Kenneth Prior comments: “Our bodies begin with health and vigor of youth and then gradually decline to the weakness of old age and, ultimately, death. Our spiritual history is the complete opposite. Instead of a healthy and vigorous nature, a Christian begins with a nature corrupted and weakened by sin. From this unpromising start the believer is daily renewed by the Holy Spirit and can look forward to the day when this sanctifying process will be complete.” The Way of Holiness, IVP, p. 57

[23] Tim Keller often writes, “The gospel is not just the ABC’s of Christianity, but the A to Z of Christianity.”


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Good News: A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel
Pt 5
The Good News – A New Standing

The gospel is a multi-faceted jewel that reveals multiple perspectives on the amazing grace of God for all who are in Jesus Christ. Learn 3 biblical perspectives on God’s amazing grace found in our new standing with God in Christ:

  • Good News of Propitiation: You Are Forgiven!
  • Good News of Justification: You Are Accepted!
  • Good News of Adoption: You Are Adopted!

In the Applied Theology Series, “Good News: A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel, Part 5” by Drs. John Frame and Steve Childers, you’ll learn the important differences between being forgiven through Jesus’ blood, being accepted through Jesus’ righteousness, and being adopted as God’s child. 


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Chapter 4: The Good News: A New Standing!

A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel
Drs. John M. Frame and Steven L. Childers

Introduction
We saw in the Apostle Peter’s preaching that God promises the gifts of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and a new world to all who repent and believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

In these gifts, God is graciously reversing the effects of his just curses on humanity and the world and restoring his creation order. God’s gift of forgiveness is our cure for guilt, God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is our cure for personal corruption, and God’s gift of a new world is our cure for the world’s corruption. As the old hymnwriter says, “His blessings flow as far as the curse is found.”

These three cures give us three perspectives on the gospel that can help us deepen its application to our lives. But we must not limit our understanding of the gospel to these three perspectives. In fact, the Bible gives us perspectives on each of these perspectives. The gospel is a multi-faceted jewel that reveals multiple perspectives on the amazing grace of God in Jesus Christ.

New Sacrifice: Propitiation
Jesus, as our “merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God,” has made “propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:17). There are several biblical words used to help us deepen our understanding of God’s love for us through the substitutionary death of Christ on our behalf, including sacrifice, redemption, reconciliation, and propitiation. Jesus is the one “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood (Rom 3:25).”[1] To propitiate means to placate, pacify, appease, and conciliate someone.[2]

John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).” Through Jesus’ death, God’s just wrath against us has been turned away by being poured out in all its fullness on Jesus in our place. God satisfied his own wrath against us by substituting his own Son for us on the cross so that God can look on us without anger and we can look on God without fear.[3] John Stott writes:

It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating, and God himself who in the person of his Son died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us.

This is the good news that believers in Jesus don’t have to live in fear of God’s condemnation anymore. Instead, no matter how great our sins may be, God promises that he can no longer look on us with anger because he poured out all his wrath on Jesus in our place.

New Record: Justification
God also considers all believers in Christ as righteous, perfect law-keepers based on the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness – his record of perfect obedience. The doctrine of personal justification occupies a central place in Paul’s understanding of the gospel.

He writes, “Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Gal 2:16).[4]

When we believe in Christ, a great exchange takes place in the heavenly court. “For our sake he (God) made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21) God treated Jesus like a sinner so he could treat us like Jesus.

Whereas forgiveness through propitiation cancels our liability to punishment; justification is the positive counterpart. Justification bestows on believers in Christ a righteous standing before God. Paul writes, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known . . . which comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. . . . ” (Rom 3:21-25). So the Father now accepts us as righteous in his sight, not because of anything we do for him, and not even because of anything he has done in us, but only because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Justification must be understood as a legal declaration, not a moral transformation. Righteousness is imputed to believing sinners, not infused or even imparted. Believing sinners are to put on the alien righteousness of Christ like a robe, which conceals their continuing sinfulness. Every justified Christian is simul justus et peccator – at one and the same time righteous and a sinner.

This is the good news that believers in Christ don’t need to be crippled by the fear of rejection from God or people anymore, always seeking acceptance by building and defending our reputations. Instead we can love God and people well, risking people’s rejection because we know God’s acceptance of us by counting Christ’s perfect righteousness to be ours through faith.

New Family: Adoption
And God declares that all who are in Christ stand before him as his deeply loved children. The goal of Jesus’ death for us is “that he might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons”. (Gal 4:4-5)[5] Paul writes, “You have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) J.I. Packer, writes:

If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. [6]

We who were once enemies and strangers to God are now in the high position of being his own beloved children in his family. To be right with God the Judge is wonderful, but to be adopted, loved and cared for by God the Father is even greater. 

This is the good news that we don’t need to go on living and feeling like unloved spiritual orphans anymore.[7] We can now experience all the privileges of our spiritual inheritance as beloved children, including the comfort of knowing Jesus as our compassionate older brother “who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Heb 4:15).

This is the good news that, although we can grieve and displease God because of our sin, there is nothing we can do to cause our heavenly Father to love us any less, and there is nothing we can do to cause him to love us any more. The Father’s love for us in Christ is the same eternal love he has always had for his one and only Son. Because we are now his children, God promises to use all the trials of our lives not for our punishment but for our good, to help us grow and mature to be like his Son (Heb 12:10).

Footnotes:


[1] This Greek word ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion) translated “propitiation” is also translated “sacrifice of atonement.” Propitiation is a personal word. Someone propitiates a person.

[2] John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 1986:175

[3] See also Rom 3:21-26 in the context of Romans chapters 3-5.

[4] In Ephesians 1:4-5 Paul also teaches that the ultimate goal of God’s election is adoption. “In love He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ.”

[5]Knowing God, IVP


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