Archives For Theological Education

Knowing God the Spirit as Restorer, Part 2

By Drs. John Frame and Steve Childers

In the Applied Theology series of courses, you’ll learn a Trinitarian theology of faith, hope, and love by understanding and applying to your life what the Bible teaches about: 1) Faith found in the Apostles’ Creed, 2) Hope found in the Lord’s Prayer, and 3) Love found in the Ten Commandments. You’ll learn from God’s Word that:

A mind that is renewed by faith and a heart that is aflame with hope results in a life that honors God by loving him and others deeply and well.

In Theology of Faith Course: Lesson 6, you’ll learn how to know and worship God the Spirit as Restorer of all things lost in creation because of the fall of humanity in sin.

About the Applied Theology Project
The Applied Theology Series provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level teaching designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as LORD in all of life. Seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their almost 90 years of teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to life and ministry.

Read the transcript for Theology of Faith Course: Lesson 6 below!


Knowing God the Spirit as Restorer, Part 2

By John Frame and Steve Childers

Christians believe that there is a new world coming when Jesus returns,[1] in the power of his Holy Spirit, to restore fallen humanity and creation by establishing God’s kingdom on earth forever. The Apostles’ Creed affirms three biblical beliefs regarding the age to come when Christ returns: 1) the resurrection of the dead, 2) the judgment of the living and the dead, and 3) the life everlasting in the world to come.[2]

The resurrection of the dead
The concluding affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed is, “[I believe in] the resurrection of the body.” The Nicene Creed added these words to strengthen it: ”We look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” On that final day, Christ, by his Spirit, will resurrect from the dead every person who has ever lived – beginning with all those who have believed in him.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thess. 4:16)[3]

All believers will be raised from the dead, except for those alive at his return, and restored to God’s original purpose by reuniting their glorified souls, that were in heaven, with their glorified bodies, that were in the earth. Paul writes,

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep (die), but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Cor. 15:51-53)

What will happen to believers who are still alive at Jesus’ return? Paul tells us, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).[4]

When Jesus returns, all believers who are dead will be raised and given glorified bodies, and all believers who are alive will also be given glorified bodies. Then all of them will be miraculously and spectacularly joined with Christ forever.[5]

On that day, Jesus will also raise from the dead all who have not believed in him.[6] He calls the coming resurrection of believers “the resurrection of life,” and the coming resurrection of unbelievers as “the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29)[7]

The judgment of the living and the dead
Earlier in the Creed, we find the ancient Christian affirmation that the ascended Jesus, who now rules at the right hand of God, “will come to judge the living and the dead.” The Scriptures teach that following the resurrection of the dead at Jesus’ return, there will be a final day of judgment. Paul writes, “He (the Father) has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man (Christ) whom he has appointed” (Acts 17:31).[8]

In the parable of the weeds, Jesus taught that “The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels” (Matt. 13:39).

On that day, Jesus promises he will send his angels to separate the wheat (the righteous) from the weeds (the wicked).[9] “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers.” (Matt. 13:41) All nations will be gathered before him as the Son of Man judges the whole world. (Matt. 25:32, Rom. 3:6)[10]

Humans will not be the only ones judged on that final day. Satan and his fallen angels (demons) must also appear before Christ’s final judgment seat. (1 Cor. 6:2-3, 2 Pet. 2:4, Jude 6)[11] And the final judgment will include both unbelievers and believers. Paul writes, “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Rom. 14:10).[12]

Although believers must all appear before Christ on the Day of Judgment, they should not fear because God promises them that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). John writes, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment” (1 John 4:17).[13]

To the unbelievers on that day Jesus will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).[14] But to his followers, Jesus will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).

The life everlasting in the world to come
When Jesus returns, he will not only restore fallen and corrupt humanity, in body and soul, to the Father’s original design for their flourishing. He will also restore fallen and corrupt creation. Paul writes, “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).

Jesus describes this coming restored creation, over which he will rule, the “new world” (Matt. 19:28). The Greek term for “new world,” palingenesia (παλινγενεσίᾳ), means regeneration and rebirth. Paul uses this same Greek word to describe the Holy Spirit’s regeneration and rebirth of all believers at their conversion. (Titus 3:5) Just as all believers experience regeneration and rebirth by the power of God’s Spirit, so will all creation experience regeneration and rebirth at Christ’s return.

This regeneration of our fallen world will include a purging and cleansing of all forms of evil and corruption. On that final day, when Jesus sends his angels to separate all the righteous and the wicked, he teaches that they will gather out of his kingdom “all causes of sin” and all law-breakers. (Matt. 13:41) The Greek term for “causes of sin” is scandala (Σκάνδαλα), meaning “stumbling blocks.” Not only will God’s Spirit purge the world of “all lawbreakers,” but he will also purge the world of all the stumbling blocks to believers that the disobedient have created.[15]

When Jesus returns, the kingdom paradise that the Father prepared for his children before his creation, the kingdom that was thwarted by Satan and sin in the garden, and the kingdom that the Son inaugurated on earth by his death and resurrection, will finally come to earth in all its fullness forever. John describes it like this:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,[16] and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. (Rev. 21:1-5)[17]

Paul describes the blessedness of this eternal “world to come” as the believer’s “inheritance” that God guarantees will one day be ours by giving us his Holy Spirit when we believe. “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” (Eph 1:13-14).

Martin Luther beautifully summarizes the meaning of our belief in God the Spirit as Restorer in these five statements:

  • I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith.
  • In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
  • In this Christian church day after day he fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers.
  • On the last day he will raise me and all the dead and give me and all believers in Christ eternal life.
  • This is most certainly true.[18]

[1] The Scriptures teach that there will be certain “signs of the times” preceding the return of Christ and the end of the age. Theologian Anthony Hoekema gives us a helpful description of these signs as being grouped in three categories: 1) Signs of God’s grace, e.g. the proclamation of the gospel to all nations and the salvation of the fullness of Israel (Rom. 11), 2) Signs of opposition, e.g. the tribulation, apostasy, and the Antichrist, and 3) Signs of God’s judgment, e.g. wars, earthquakes, and famines. Although some of these signs will be dramatic in nature, Jesus warns us not to see them as only spectacular and catastrophic events. (Luke 17:20-21) Jesus also warns us not to use these signs as a way of trying to determine the time of his return. (Mark 13:32; Matt. 24:36) He told his disciples that he didn’t know the time, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt. 24:36). Since the Bible does not give us an exact sequence and order of these signs, we must not try to create a detailed, specific timetable of future events as some Christian traditions have done (Dispensationalism). But Christians should learn how to “see the signs” when they appear and think about how they could be signs of Jesus’ imminent return. Hoekema give us several practical examples of how God means for these signs to help us grow spiritually by thinking more about the return of Jesus. See Hoekema, A. A. (1994). The Bible and the Future, Eerdmans, chapters 11-12.


[2] For a deeper look at the Bible’s teaching on the resurrection of believers and our future life on the new earth, see the Appendix: Why Look Forward to Your Resurrection and Life in the World to Come.


[3] Paul writes, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, (have died) that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). Paul does not want his readers to lose hope about their future with the Lord, simply because other believers have died. Some Thessalonians seem to have believed that Christians would not die before Jesus returned. Paul is reassuring them that those who have died in Christ will be raised from the dead and united with all believers who are living when Jesus returns.


[4] It’s a mistake to interpret this passage as giving us any more specific details about this event and what follows. Paul is not teaching that Jesus will miraculously scoop up all his followers to snatch (rapture) them out of this corrupt world before his final judgment on all who are “left behind.” When he writes, “and so we will always be with the Lord,” he’s not teaching that all the believers who are caught up with the Lord and each other “in the clouds” will be staying up in the clouds forever. Instead, Rev. 21:1-3 shows us the opposite, that heaven (holy city, new Jerusalem) will come down to earth in all its fullness.


[5] The terms that Paul uses in 1Thessalonians 4 for Jesus’ “coming” (parousia, Παρουσίαν in verse 15) and our “meeting” (ἀπάντησιν in verse 17), reflect the political rhetoric of the Roman Empire used to describe military or political dignitaries making official visits. Paul’s words imply that believers will meet the Lord “in the air,” not as an act of departing from fallen creation, but as a majestic act of welcoming their victorious, conquering Lord and King back to the world he created. Paul’s emphasis is on the majestic, final union when Christ’s purified bride is fully united to the groom forever. Apparently, when that final union first takes place, it will not be on the surface of the earth, but above it “in the clouds.”


[6] While the Bible describes much detail about the resurrection body of believers, there is nothing said about the resurrection body of unbelievers. In 1 Cor. 15, Paul says nothing about the resurrection of unbelievers, he is only speaking of the resurrection of believers. So we can only speculate about what the bodies of unbelievers will look like for all eternity and the nature of the “place” of the unbelievers before they’re judged and cast into hell forever.


[7] The Scriptures present a general resurrection of believers and unbelievers as occurring together. (Dan. 12:2, John 5:25-29, Acts 24:14-15, Rev. 20:11-15) Some Christian traditions, e.g. Historic and Dispensational Premillennialists, believe that the resurrection of unbelievers will take place one thousand years (millennium) after the believers’ resurrection.


[8] The final judgment will take place at the end of the present age (2 Pet. 3:7), the time of Christ’s return (Matt. 13:40-43, 2 Thess. 1:7-10), and following the general resurrection (Rev. 20). What the Bible teaches about the general resurrection for the saved and lost implies that there will also be only one final judgment for the saved and lost, since the final judgment is presented as following the resurrection. Dispensationalists believe there will be several judgments, including: 1) the rapture and judgment of believers at Jesus’ return (Parousia), 2) the judgment of gentiles before a one thousand year rule, 3) the judgment of ethnic Israel just before the millennium, and 4) the judgment of unbelievers after a one thousand year rule.


[9] In this parable, Jesus teaches that “the enemy (Satan) came and sowed weeds (the wicked) among the wheat (his Church)” (Matt. 13:25) Then Jesus says, “Let both grow together until the harvest (the end of the age), and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matt. 13:30) Prior to the final judgment day, there will be many professing Christians within the church who are not true believers. But when Jesus returns, his visible Church (the wheat) will finally be purged of all unbelievers (the weeds).


[10] John records this remarkable vision God gave him of the final judgment day, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it … And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne … and the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done” (Rev. 20: 11-12).


[11] Glorified believers will also participate in the judgment of Christ on the world and the angels. (Matt. 19:28) Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (1 Cor. 6:2)


[12] Paul also writes, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Cor. 5:10) See Heb. 10:30; James 3:1; I Peter. 4:17. The Bible teaches that everything a believer has done, including thoughts, words, and deeds, will be taken into account on the Judgment Day. (Matt. 25:35-40, 1 Cor. 3:8, Eph. 6:8, 1 Pet. 1:17, Rev. 20:12; 22:12) Paul describes the believer’s judgment with this imagery: “Now if anyone builds on the foundation (Christ) with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer lossthough he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Cor. 3:12-15) The loss referred to here is not a loss of salvation but the loss of eternal rewards. Leon Morris writes, “Here and now the man who gives himself wholeheartedly to the service of Christ knows more of the joy of the Lord than the half-hearted. We have no warrant from the New Testament for thinking that it will be otherwise in heaven.” Biblical Doctrine of Judgment, p. 67.


[13] See how Answer 52 of the Heidelberg Catechism reflects this: “In all my distress and persecution  I turn my eyes to the heavens  and confidently await as judge the very One  who has already stood trial in my place before God  and so has removed the whole curse from me. All his enemies and mine  he will condemn to everlasting punishment:  but me and all his chosen ones  he will take along with him  into the joy and the glory of heaven.”


[14] John writes, “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire … and if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:11-15). Similar to how believers will receive degrees of eternal rewards (1 Cor. 3:12-15), Jesus seems to indicate that unbelievers will receive degrees of eternal punishment. (Luke 12:47-48)


[15] The Apostle Peter describes the coming day of the Lord as a time when “the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Pet. 3:10) The Greek word heurethēsetai (εὑρεθήσεται), translated “exposed,” is used in the earliest Greek manuscripts and can be translated “found, revealed, and discovered,” possibly conveying the exposure and revelation of the righteous and unrighteous works that have been done on the earth. Peter is teaching that God’s final judgment of the whole earth with fire, will be like God’s earlier judgment of the whole earth with water during the times of Noah (2 Pet. 3:5-7). During the flood, the earth was not completely annihilated but purged of all its wickedness. So, when Peter writes that “we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13), he’s not referring to a totally new earth that is completely different than the present one. Instead, he’s referring to a gloriously renewed and restored earth that remains in continuity with the present one – but is completely without any form of corruption. In the same way that God will make us recreated bodies from our dust, God will also make a new, recreated world after being “burned up” and “dissolved”. The world will be a new creation, but not a totally new creation. We’ll still recognize the earth and the world as we know it, but it will be fully redeemed, restored, and glorified to flourish according to God’s design – just like our new bodies.


[16] Heaven and earth will no longer be separated with God “up in heaven,” where his will is done perfectly, and man “down on earth” where God’s revealed will is not done perfectly. When Jesus returns, the “first heaven and the first earth will pass away.” In 1 Peter 3:5-13, the Apostle Peter describes the “passing away” of the “old world” and its transformation into the “new world.” When Jesus returns, heaven will come “back down” to earth like it was in creation before the Fall, when God’s presence was with his people (Immanuel) on earth. But it will be far better than Eden.


[17] The Greek word John and Peter use to designate the “newness” of the new earth is not neos (νέος), meaning new in time or origin, but kainos (καινὸς) meaning new in nature or in quality. Similarly, when Paul says in Romans 8:20-21 that creation waits with eager longing to be set free from its bondage, he’s referring to how the present corrupt creation will be delivered from all its corruption when Christ returns to make all things new – not become a totally different creation.


[18] Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: The Creed, The Third Article.


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Knowing God the Spirit as Restorer, Part 1

By Drs. John Frame and Steve Childers

In the Applied Theology series of courses, you’ll learn a Trinitarian theology of faith, hope, and love by understanding and applying to your life what the Bible teaches about: 1) Faith found in the Apostles’ Creed, 2) Hope found in the Lord’s Prayer, and 3) Love found in the Ten Commandments. You’ll learn from God’s Word that:

A mind that is renewed by faith and a heart that is aflame with hope results in a life that honors God by loving him and others deeply and well.

In Theology of Faith Course: Lesson 5, you’ll learn how to know and worship God the Spirit as Restorer of all things lost in creation because of the fall of humanity in sin.

About the Applied Theology Project
The Applied Theology Series provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level teaching designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as LORD in all of life. Seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their almost 90 years of teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to life and ministry.

Read the transcript for Theology of Faith Course: Lesson 5 below!


Knowing God the Spirit as Restorer, Part 1

By John Frame and Steve Childers

To know God means to know who God is and what God does as Triune Lord – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[1] In the first part of the Creed, we learn the biblical teaching on the person and work of the Father as Creator. In the second part, we learn what the Bible teaches about the person and work of the Son as Redeemer. And in this third and final part, we learn the biblical teaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit as Restorer:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,[2]
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Christian belief in the person of the Holy Spirit, who he is, is stated in one simple phrase, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”[3] Belief in the work of the Holy Spirit, what he does, affirms the Holy Spirit’s work as the Restorer who:

1) creates the Church as God’s new humanity,
2) applies forgiveness of sins to the Church, and
3) resurrects believers’ bodies and gives them life everlasting.[4]

The Spirit’s Person and Nature
The phrase, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”, is a profession of faith in the person of the Holy Spirit himself. To strengthen the biblical teaching on the deity of the person of the Holy Spirit, the Nicene Creed (381 AD) adds several phrases to this one phrase in the Apostles’ Creed,

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,[5]
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.

The eternal third person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit.[6] The Creed’s description of the Holy Spirit as “the Lord,” refers to his fully divine nature as equal to the Father and the Son who are also called Lord. For the ancients, breath in the body (which is what “spirit” literally means) was seen as the sign and source of life.[7]

The work of the Spirit is giving and restoring life by imparting God’s transforming presence. Beginning with his work in creation when “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2, Ps. 33:6). The Spirit is the source of all true life from God, both physical and spiritual.

The Creed’s statement that “He spoke through the prophets” reflects the Apostle Peter’s teaching that “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Pet. 1:21)

The Spirit also acted as the divine agent in Jesus’ virgin birth (Luke 1:35), the one who descended on Jesus as a dove at his baptism (Matt. 3:16-17, Mark 1:10-11), and the one Jesus referred to in his first sermon, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18).

Peter attributes the Holy Spirit as the divine source of the power that Jesus displayed in his ministry. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

Just prior to his death, Jesus comforted his disciples saying, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18) by promising them that he would return to them soon through the ministry of his Holy Spirit whom the Father would send in his name. (John 14:25–26; 15:26–27; 16:7–15)

Following his resurrection, Jesus commands his followers to make disciples by “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Then Jesus immediately reminds them of his promise: “I am with you always (by the Holy Spirit), to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).

In the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36), Peter saw the fulfillment of God’s New Covenant promises to Israel – to give his people a new heart and a new spirit by putting his Spirit within them. (Acts 2:38, Jer. 31:31-34, Ezek. 36:26-27, Luke 22:17-20, 1 Cor. 11:25, Heb. 8:6-13)[8]

The Bible describes the Holy Spirit as a person, not a mere force. He can be grieved (Eph. 4:30), he can be quenched (1 Thess. 5:19), he has a will (1 Cor. 12:4-7), he uses his mind to search the deep things of God (1 Cor. 2:10), and he has fellowship with believers (2 Cor. 13:14).[9]

This strong testimony in Scripture about the person of the Holy Spirit as the divine “Lord and giver of life” is the reason the Nicene Creed affirms the biblical teaching that the Holy Spirit, “with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.”

After expounding the affirmation of faith in the person of the Holy Spirit, the Nicene Creed also expounds the Apostles’ Creed’s affirmation of faith in the work of the Holy Spirit.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and the life in the world to come. Amen.[10]

The Spirit’s Creation of the Church
Belief in “one” holy catholic and apostolic church affirms that God’s Church is made up of one worldwide fellowship of believers whose Lord and Head is Jesus Christ.[11] It’s “holy” because it’s set apart for God’s purposes in the world. It’s “catholic” because it includes all Christians. And it’s “apostolic” because it’s devoted to the sound doctrine in the Apostles’ teaching. (Acts 2:42)

Although God the Father chose his people in Christ before creation (Eph. 1:1-4), and God the Son redeemed his people in the first century, it is God the Holy Spirit who actually gives life to and empowers God’s people in both the Old and New Testament times.[12]

The Apostles’ Creed also affirms belief in “the communion of the saints” listed immediately after the affirmation of belief in “the holy catholic church.” The church is made up of believers who share a mystical union with Christ and each other. This “communion of the saints” includes a real union in Christ of both believers who are alive today on earth and those who have died but are alive with Christ in heaven.[13]

The Spirit’s Application of Forgiveness
Peter ended his preaching of the gospel at Pentecost by promising two things to all who would repent and be baptized: 1) the forgiveness of sins, and 2) the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Repent and be baptized[14] every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)[15]

As a result of sin, all people stand before God with a two-fold problem: 1) a bad standing as guilty and condemned, and 2) a bad heart that is corrupt with an inward moral disease. But the good news is that God promises all who believe in Christ not only God’s forgiveness (a new standing before God), but also God’s Holy Spirit (a new heart from God).[16]

The way we actually receive God’s forgiveness is by God’s Holy Spirit mysteriously applying it to us when we believe in Christ. The forgiveness that Jesus accomplished for us on the cross in the first century, is applied to us at the moment we believe.[17]

The meaning of forgiveness in the Bible is rich and multifaceted. There are several biblical words and images used in the New Testament to help us deepen our understanding of God’s forgiveness in Christ.[18]

The Apostles John and Paul sometimes use the word “propitiation” to describe God’s forgiveness in Christ. 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).[19] No matter how great our sins may be, we can be forgiven because Jesus’ shed blood propitiates all of God’s just wrath against us for our sins.[20]

One of the most significant words Paul uses to describe God’s forgiveness is “justification”. 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 teaches that when we believe in Christ, a great exchange of records takes place in the heavenly court.

For our sake he (Father) made him (Son) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).[21]

The Father considers the sinful, guilty record we earned by our disobedience to God’s law to be the record of his Son, and he considers the righteous record Jesus earned by his perfect obedience to God’s law to be our record in the heavenly courts. Therefore, 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.[22]

Christians believe in the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ shed blood (propitiation) and Jesus’ perfect righteousness (justification) received by faith alone. When we believe in Jesus we are forgiven by God through Jesus’ blood and righteousness. 


[1] The biblical concept of “knowing God” is holistic, including the understanding of our minds, the affections of our hearts, and the behaviors of our lives.


[2] The word catholic used in the Creed is derived from the Greek adjective καθολικός (katholikos), meaning “on the whole”, “in general”, or “universal”. The earliest use of the term “catholic” referring to the Christian church was by the church father Saint Ignatius of Antioch (circa 110 AD). The creedal words “catholic church” (lower case “c”) in English refer to the universal, historic Church regardless of denominational affiliation. Many Christians use the words “Catholic church” more narrowly (upper case “C”) in reference to the Roman Catholic Church from which the Protestant Church emerged in the 16th century.

[3] Whereas the Father is the Creator and the Son is the Redeemer, the Spirit is the Restorer who sets apart God’s people to be holy. Throughout the Old and New Testaments God commands his people, “Be holy because I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44, 1 Pet. 1:16) Paul tells us the reason God the Father chose us before the foundation of the world is so that we would “be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:3-4). To make us holy, the Holy Spirit applies to us the benefits that Jesus Christ accomplished for us in his redemption. So the benefits he brings to us are in accord with his name, the Holy Spirit.


[4] We should not understand the third and final section of the Creed as merely giving us a list of remaining doctrinal topics, among which our belief in the Holy Spirit is simply the first of several others –  including the church, salvation, the resurrection, and the life everlasting. Instead, we must see this entire last section of the Creed as one section presenting the biblical teaching on the Holy Spirit’s person and work as Restorer of all things lost in humanity and creation because of the Fall.


[5] This translation of the Nicene Creed is the one used in the Western church. The Eastern church version does not include the statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father “and the Son” – the so-called “filioque.” The Eastern Orthodox Church still contests this phrase as an unwarranted addition to Nicene theology. The Western church added this phrase to affirm that the Spirit was one with Father and Son against the Arians who continued to maintain earlier heretical beliefs that the Spirit was subordinate to Father and Son – teaching that the Spirit was the greatest of the angels. This controversy caused the Great Schism in the 11th century. The Council of Florence in 1438 explains: “The Holy Spirit is eternally from Father and Son; He has his nature and subsistence at once (simul) from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one ‘spiration’ … And, since the Father has through generation given to the only-begotten Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom he is eternally born, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.”


[6] The Greek term for holy (Ἁγίου) signifies being set apart. There are many kinds of spirits mentioned in the Bible, including heavenly spirits, evil spirits, and human spirits. But only the third person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit. The Bible calls the third person of the Trinity several names, including the “Spirit”, “Spirit of God”, “Spirit of Jesus”, “Spirit of Christ”, “Holy Spirit”, “Spirit of Adoption”, “gift” of God, and the “comforter”. (John 14:18-26, Acts 16:7, Gal 4:6, Rom. 8:9,15, Phil. 1:19, 1 Pet 1:11)


[7] Certain symbols are associated with the Holy Spirit in Scripture. At his baptism the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. (Matt. 3:16) The Spirit is also associated with wind, fire, and prophecy. (John 3:5-8, Acts 2:1-3)

[8] When God announced, through the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, that he was making a New Covenant with Israel, God promised to give his people a new heart and a new spirit by putting his Spirit within them. (Ezek. 36:26-27). “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek 36:26-27). See also the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of God’s Spirit, including Isaiah’s “last days” (Isaiah 2:2) and Joel’s promise that the Lord will “pour out his Spirit on all flesh” (Joel 2:28-32).


[9] When Ananias lied to the church about the price of a piece of property, Peter said that Satan had filled Ananias’s heart to “lie to the Holy Spirit” and concluded by saying that Ananias had “lied to God” (Acts 5:3-4). Peter referred to the Holy Spirit and God as one and the same.


[10] The words in italics were added to the Apostles’ Creed by the Nicene Creed. The statement “[I believe in] the resurrection of the “body” was changed to “We ‘look forward to’ the resurrection of the ‘dead.’”


[11] When God determined to save his people, he determined to create a new humanity. Paul teaches that God in Christ takes off our old man (our old humanity in Adam under the old age of sin, death, and judgment) from his people and puts on our new man (our new humanity in Christ with the blessings of righteousness, life, and salvation). Paul teaches this new humanity transcends all distinctions between humans (e.g. between Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave, free, etc.) without obliterating them. (Rom. 6:6, Eph. 2:15, 4:22-24, Col. 3:9-11) Because of Paul’s corporate use of these terms, we should be careful not to interpret them as individualistic terms that only refer to a believer’s “sinful nature” and “fallen human flesh”. (Rom. 7:18) Likewise, we must also be careful not to divorce the corporate nature of these terms from their individualistic application to our “sinful nature” e.g., the crucifixion of our “old man” refers to our definitive, corporate break with our past in Adam – that we are to “consider (reckon)” as true of us in order to be free from sin’s enslaving power in our lives. (Rom. 6) There is an “already” and “not yet” eschatological tension in these terms communicating that: 1) we’ve already been decisively and completely brought into this new humanity in Christ, but 2) we’re also continually striving to escape the old humanity in Adam until Jesus returns.


[12] Just as the Holy Spirit empowered Christ to be God’s True Israel on earth, the Holy Spirit is now creating and empowering Christ’s Church from all nations to be God’s New Israel on earth by uniting his Church to the True Israel – Jesus Christ. (Exod. 19:6, Gal. 6:16, James 1:1, 1 Pet 2:9)


[13] Theologians refer to believers who are alive today on earth as the “church militant” and those who have died but are alive with Christ in heaven as the “church triumphant”. In Hebrews, the writer refers to “the church (assembly) of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:23). “Communion of the saints” may also refer to believers’ communion in holy (set apart) means of grace like worship that includes the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and prayer.


[14] The affirmation of “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” does not mean that Christian water baptism saves us, but that it is the outward sign required by God that represents the inner reality of Holy Spirit baptism that alone can save us. Peter uses this same language at Pentecost. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). In 1 Peter 3:21, Peter writes, “Baptism … now saves you,” but then he clarifies that the saving power of Christian baptism is not in the outward sign, but in the inward reality. “Baptism … now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body (not water baptism), but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21). When Paul teaches that in one Spirit we are all baptized (by Christ) into his one body, he also presents water baptism and the gift of the Spirit as two complementary aspects of Christ’s one single act of incorporating and engrafting us into one vital union with himself by the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 6:1-3, 1 Cor. 12:13, Rom 11:17-24) In Scripture, water baptism and Spirit baptism are joined. So converts who’ve received Spirit baptism should always seek water baptism, and all those who’ve received water baptism (e.g. infants of believers) must always be converted to receive Spirit baptism.


[15] Peter’s message reflects God’s New Covenant promises to Israel to forgive them and give them new hearts by putting his Spirit in them. (Jer. 31:31-34, Ezek. 36:26-27, Joel 2:28-32)


[16] The New Testament refers to believers in Christ and their benefits in several ways, including: “new creation”, “new heart”, and “new birth.”


[17] See John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied.

[18] Some of the biblical words and images include propitiation (temple shrine), justification (law court), regeneration (washing/birth), and redemption (battlefield/marketplace). See Leon Morris’ The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross and John Stott’s The Cross.

[19] The Apostle Paul uses this same word when he writes that Jesus is the one “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood” (Rom 3:25). The English word “propitiation” is from the Greek word ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion) that is translated “sacrifice of atonement.” Propitiation is a personal word. To propitiate a person is to placate, pacify, appease, conciliate, and satisfy a person.


[20] John Stott extolls the riches of God’s propitiation, “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.” The Cross of Christ, 1986:175


[21] God treated Jesus like a sinner so he could treat us like Jesus. Paul also 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), and “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). See the broader contextual meaning of justification in Romans chapters 3-5.


[22] Justification must be understood as a legal declaration, not a moral transformation. Righteousness is imputed to believing sinners, not infused or 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. The Father treated Jesus like a sinner so that he could treat us like Jesus.


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Knowing the Son as Redeemer in his Exaltation

By Drs. John Frame and Steve Childers

In the Applied Theology series of courses, you’ll learn a Trinitarian theology of faith, hope, and love by understanding and applying to your life what the Bible teaches about: 1) Faith found in the Apostles’ Creed, 2) Hope found in the Lord’s Prayer, and 3) Love found in the Ten Commandments. You’ll learn from God’s Word that:

A mind that is renewed by faith and a heart that is aflame with hope results in a life that honors God by loving him and others deeply and well.

In Theology of Faith Course: Lesson 4, you’ll learn how to know and worship God the Son as Lord of Redemption in his exaltation.

About the Applied Theology Project
The Applied Theology Series provides you accessible, affordable seminary-level teaching designed to help you learn how to apply theology to your life and ministry in practical ways – with the goal of helping you better know, love, serve, and honor God as LORD in all of life. Seminary professors John Frame and Steve Childers combine their almost 90 years of teaching and ministry experience to help you apply theology to life and ministry.

Read the transcript for Theology of Faith Course: Lesson 4 below!


Knowing the Son as Redeemer in his Exaltation

By John Frame and Steve Childers

Having examined the Son’s work of humiliation as our Redeemer in his birth, life, and death, we turn now to consider his work of exaltation in his resurrection, ascension, and return. 

His resurrection
When describing Jesus’ resurrection, the Creed says, The third day he rose again from the dead. Luke writes:

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (Luke 24:1-3)

Jesus’ tomb was empty and no one could produce his body. During the next forty days, the resurrected Jesus presented himself to the Apostles with “many proofs” as he was “speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3, Luke 24:25-27). Paul describes several of Jesus’ appearances, which were usually to groups from 2 to 500, including his appearance to Paul after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 9:1-9). Paul writes:

He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive … Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor. 15:5-8)

At Pentecost, Peter proclaims the resurrection of Jesus as proof that Jesus is God’s promised Son of King David. (Psalm 16:8-11, Acts 2:14-32) The Scriptures give us several perspectives on the meaning and significance of Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection:

•    declares Jesus to be Lord and God’s Only Son (Acts 2:29-39, Acts 17:30-31, Rom. 1:4)
•    proves Jesus’ atoning death is accepted by the Father (Rom. 4:24-25, Phil 2:8-9)
•    declares Jesus as firstborn from the dead (Rom. 8:29, Col. 1:18)
•    reveals Jesus as the firstfruits inauguration of God’s kingdom on earth (1 Cor. 15:20-28)
•    demonstrates Jesus’ victory over Satan, sin, and death (Acts 2:24)
•    guarantees us forgiveness and justification (1 Cor. 15:17, Rom. 4:25)
•    provides us assurance that Jesus now lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25)
•    brings us, by God’s Spirit, into resurrection life now (Rom. 6:3-5, Eph. 1:18-20, 1 Pet. 1:3)
•    guarantees our future deliverance from death (1 Corinthians 15:18)
•    promises our future resurrection body and everlasting life (Rom. 8:23, 1 Cor. 15:20, 23, 49)

Paul teaches that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is central to our faith. He writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15:7) Because Jesus is risen, God promises all who repent and believe in the resurrected Christ: 1) a new standing before God by forgiving their sins, 2) a new heart from God by giving them his indwelling Holy Spirit, and 3) a new world with God when Jesus returns to raise them from the dead and give them resurrected bodies like his through which they will reign with him on a new earth forever.

His ascension
The Creed’s next affirmation about Jesus Christ is that: He ascended into heaven, [and] he is seated at the right hand of the Father. In Jesus’ last meeting with his disciples, forty days after his resurrection, he tells them that they will receive power to be his witnesses when his promised Holy Spirit comes upon them. (Acts 1:8) After Jesus tells them these things, Luke records:

As they (the disciples) were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” (Acts 1:9-11)

The word heaven in Scripture has several meanings, including the sky with clouds, God’s presence (his dwelling place), and the state of angels and humans as they share God’s presence. In this account of Jesus’ ascension, heaven refers to both the sky and God’s invisible presence.

Heaven is glorious but it is not the ultimate destination of Jesus and his followers. The two men in white robes (presumed to be angels) at the scene after his ascension said, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11b). Heaven is a temporary, “intermediate state,” after the believer’s death, that awaits Jesus’ return and the final resurrection when we’ll have renewed bodies on a renewed earth forever.

Early in his ministry Jesus said, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). As the eternal Son of God, Jesus’ divine nature always has all authority. But the Father did not give all authority to the person of Jesus Christ as the God-man (Greek: theanthropos) until after his resurrection. Before Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, the resurrected God-man told them: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). 

In his ascension, Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father to complete the Father’s mission as his Redeemer-King to redeem and restore fallen humanity and creation. In his divine nature as the eternal Son of God, he always rules sovereignly over all things along with the Father and the Spirit. But now Jesus rules as the ascended God-man at the right hand of God the Father. 

Jesus’ rule at the Father’s right hand reflects the model of kings and emperors in the ancient world where lesser kings would rule as vassals over various portions of a great kingdom, always rendering service and paying tribute to the one great high king. Therefore, at the end of time, when all things have been placed under his feet, Jesus will then subject himself and all things to the Father. (1 Cor. 15:28)

In Acts 2:33-36, Peter proclaims the good news of Jesus’ ascension to God’s right hand by reminding his hearers about Psalm 110 in which David’s promised Son (Jesus) is also David’s Lord who is now seated and ruling at the great high King’s right hand.

When Jesus ascended to the right hand of God the Father in Heaven, he and the Father poured out his promised Holy Spirit on his Church, to make God’s invisible kingdom visible on earth, not only in human hearts, but also in every sphere of life until it reflects the order of heaven. The outpouring of God’s Spirit is both for our personal salvation and for the empowerment of his Church to fulfill God’s mission on earth.

Peter explains that the miraculous outpouring of God’s Spirit which they all experienced at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) was evidence that the resurrected, ascended Jesus is now seated (enthroned) and ruling at God’s right hand, by his Holy Spirit, to bring all God’s enemies under his feet.

Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (Acts 2:33)

Paul’s explanation of the gospel extends beyond Jesus’ death and resurrection in the past (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) to include Jesus’ present and future rule as the ascended King over all things by the Spirit. (1 Cor. 15:25-28) Jesus will continue his rule until he completes the mission that God the Father gave him to make all things new. 

The good news is not only what Jesus did, but also who Jesus is because of what he did. Because of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension, he is now reigning at the right hand of God as Lord and Savior of the world. In the New Testament this fundamental affirmation is that “Jesus is Lord!” (Rom. 10:9, Phil. 2:9-11)

His return
The final section on Jesus’ exaltation in the Creed says, “He will come to judge the living and the dead.” The Nicene Creed later adds the biblical truths: “He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end.”

For forty days after his resurrection, Jesus continued “speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). So just before his ascension, his disciples asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). It was not yet the time for Jesus to restore the fullness of God’s kingdom on earth, so he answered them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:7).

Jesus followers soon learned that they were living in a period between his ascension and return to restore the fullness of God’s kingdom on earth forever. During this interim period, Jesus told them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Earlier Jesus taught them, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14).

As the enthroned Lord and Christ, Jesus is now continuing his Father’s mission of bringing God’s kingdom to earth by the power of his Holy Spirit and through his Church. Jesus will continue his rule until he completes the mission that God the Father gave him at the end of time. Paul writes:

Then comes the end, when he (Jesus) delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Cor. 15:24-26)

At the Father’s appointed time, when the work of his church is done, Jesus will return with glory to restore the Father’s kingdom on earth in all its fullness and his kingdom will never end. Paul describes this glory: “[W]hen the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:7-8). 

God’s final judgment will include both “the living and the dead,” meaning everyone who is alive on earth when Jesus returns, and everyone in all of history who has died. Prior to God’s final judgment, the Scriptures teach there will be a bodily resurrection of everyone. (1 Cor. 15:50-52) 

Then comes God’s final judgment when all people, believers and unbelievers, will stand before Jesus Christ as their Judge. To his followers Jesus will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). But to the unbelievers Jesus will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).

Martin Luther beautifully summarizes the meaning of our belief in God the Son’s humiliation and exaltation as our Redeemer in these five statements:

•    I believe that Jesus Christ—true God, Son of the Father from eternity, and true man, born of the Virgin Mary—is my Lord. 
•    At great cost he has saved and redeemed me, a lost and condemned person.
•    He has freed me from sin, death, and the power of the devil—not with silver or gold, but with his holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. 
•    All this he has done that I may be his own, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. 
•    This is most certainly true.


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