WCF 11 & 12: Of Justification & Of Adoption

Dear Church Family,

The Psalmist declares: “O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation” (Psalm 95:1-2). Yet, how many Christians fail to find or keep that joy because of their exorbitant meditation and dwelling on their own sin? Certainly, the Scriptures call for us to examine ourselves, confess and repent of our sins; however, inordinate morbid introspection will only lead to despair. It is far better, and brings greater lasting joy, to meditate upon the fact that the Lord is our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6). Charles Spurgeon gives a wonderful exhortation on just this point:

It will always give a Christian the greatest calm, quiet, ease, and peace, to think of the perfect righteousness of Christ. How often are the saints of God downcast and sad! I do not think they ought to be. I do not think they would if they could always see their perfection in Christ. There are some who are always talking about corruption, and the depravity of the heart, and the innate evil of the soul. This is quite true, but why not go a little further, and remember that we are “perfect in Christ Jesus.” It is no wonder that those who are dwelling upon their own corruption should wear such downcast looks; but surely if we call to mind that “Christ is made unto us righteousness,” we shall be of good cheer. What though distresses afflict me, though Satan assault me, though there may be many things to be experienced before I get to heaven, those are done for me in the covenant of divine grace; there is nothing wanting in my Lord, Christ hath done it all. On the cross He said, “It is finished!” and if it be finished, then am I complete in Him, and can rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, “Not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” You will not find on this side heaven a holier people than those who receive into their hearts the doctrine of Christ’s righteousness. When the believer says, “I live on Christ alone; I rest on Him solely for salvation; and I believe that, however unworthy, I am still saved in Jesus;” then there rises up as a motive of gratitude this thought-- “Shall I not live to Christ? Shall I not love Him and serve Him, seeing that I am saved by His merits?” “The love of Christ constraineth us,” “that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto Him which died for them.” If saved by imputed righteousness, we shall greatly value imparted righteousness. (Spurgeon, Morning & Evening, “Morning,” January 31)

 

Introduction

The Scriptures declare that those whom God has regenerated (caused to be born again) and then effectually called to Himself, He also justifies and glorifies (Romans 8:30). So, in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the explanation of effectual calling (chapter 10) is followed by teaching on justification (chapter 11), adoption (chapter 12), and sanctification (chapter 13).

While sanctification is the ongoing work of God’s free grace in the life of the believer, justification and adoption are one-time acts of God’s free grace that occur simultaneously when those who have been predestined unto eternal life place their faith in Christ. So, since justification and adoption go together in this way, we will deal with them together, as well.

Justification

The Definition of Justification (WCF 11.1)

As we’ve already mentioned, God justifies all those whom He effectually calls. By way of clarification, the first paragraph of chapter 11 in the Westminster Confession of Faith offers three “not…but” statements:

(1) God justifies not by infusing righteousness, but by reckoning, or counting, people as righteous (Romans 4:5-8).

(2) God justifies not based on imparted righteousness or personal works, but based on Christ’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

(3) God justifies not by imputing faith or obedience, but by imputing the obedience of Christ (Jeremiah 23:6; Ephesians 2:8-9).

This definition of justification is more succinctly stated in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (WSC 33).

Too often, Christians can fall into the trap of thinking that their acceptance by God is based upon their own merit and good works (or lack thereof); however, the Bible’s teaching on justification reminds us that those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ are righteous in God’s sight based solely on an alien righteousness that is not their own. The prophet Isaiah gives us a beautiful picture of the joy that comes from knowing that one is clothed in the righteousness of Christ: “I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).

The Instrument of Justification: Faith (WCF 11.2)

Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, there are some today who maintain that faith in Jesus Christ is not enough. Some teach that one must add their own good works to faith, others teach that the sacraments are a necessary addition to faith. But, man can do nothing to add to the work of Christ. His work is enough; it is perfect. Therefore, there is no other means by which we may be justified in the eyes of God, other than by receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness (Romans 3:28; 5:1; Galatians 2:16; 3:11, 24). We are justified by faith alone, in Christ alone.

At the same time, the gift of faith is always accompanied by all other saving graces that are necessary for the living out of the Christian life. It is not as though God justifies His children by giving them a right standing in His sight, and then leaves them to fend for themselves. No good parent does that. In addition to giving them new life, God gives to His children everything that is necessary for the pursuit of godliness (2 Peter 1:3), faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).

Exact Justice and Rich Grace (WCF 11.3)

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has made full satisfaction of God the Father’s justice (Romans 5:8-10). Christ’s obedience and satisfaction is accepted in our place (Isaiah 53:4-6). We have been saved by grace through faith in Christ; Christ’s work is applied to us by the free gift of God, such that no person may boast in their own works (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Because God is holy and just, He does not simply pass over sins or say that they don’t matter. Payment must be made for the sins of His people if they are to be declared righteous and receive eternal life. To do otherwise would not be just or fair. Thus, in Christ’s paying for the sins of God’s people – discharging their debt – the exact justice of God is maintained (Romans 3:24-26). And, through the free gift of justification, according to God’s mercy, the rich grace of God is displayed, as well (Ephesians 2:4-7).

The Trinitarian Nature of Justification (WCF 11.4)

In eternity past, God the Father decreed to justify all the elect (1 Peter 1:19-20).

In the fullness of time, God the Son died for the sins of His people and rose again for their justification (Galatians 4:4; Romans 4:25).

In due time, God the Holy Spirit applies Christ to the elect (Titus 3:4-7).

Justification and Discipline (WCF 11.5)

It is not as if God forgave the sins of those whom He justified, but then requires something from them to be forgiven for their additional sins. No, God continues to forgive the sins of those who are justified because Jesus Christ continues to stand as our Advocate before the Father, pleading His righteousness on our behalf (1 John 2:1-2).

Our right standing before God is secure because of Christ and His work; yet, as a loving Father, God disciplines those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:7-11; 1 Corinthians 11:30). When we sin, He chastises us and shows us His displeasure. Yet, He also promises that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

The Justification of Old Testament Believers (WCF 11.6)

Some believe that there are various dispensations in redemptive history in which God has different standards for salvation; however, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8) – in God there is no variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17). Thus, there has always been one way of salvation: justification by faith alone. Abraham believed in the LORD; and God reckoned it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Therefore, Abraham is the example and paradigm by which all of God’s people are justified (Romans 4:22-24).

Adoption

Whereas the chapter in the confession on justification (chapter 11) has six paragraphs, the chapter on adoption (chapter 12) contains only one. Just because this chapter is so short, it does not mean that the authors of the Westminster Confession of Faith didn’t think that the doctrine of adoption was important. Rather, it’s brevity probably has something to do with the fact adoption was not a hotly contested issue.

As with justification, adoption is according to the kind intention of God by His predestination in eternity past (Ephesians 1:5). And, adoption is accomplished for us by the perfect work of Christ on our behalf (Galatians 4:4). The gracious privileges of adoption for those whom God justifies are enumerated in the confession as follows:

All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for His only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption: by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; have His name put upon them, receive the Spirit of adoption; have access to the throne of grace with boldness; are enabled to cry, Abba, Father; are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by Him as by a Father; yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation. (WCF 12.1)

 

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

WCF 10: Of Effectual Calling

Dear Church Family,

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope everyone is able to enjoy some time with family and friends, remembering and enjoying every good and perfect gift from our Father above (James 1:17), even and especially for our 'effectual calling.'

Beginning with chapter ten of the Westminster Confession of Faith, we take up an examining of the application of Christ’s redemptive work in the believer. Though this is the beginning of a series of chapters that deal with the application of Christ’s saving work in the believer, it’s important understand that this application is rooted in – and made sure by – God’s decree of election in eternity past. We saw this in our study of chapter of three of confession, but it bears repeating.

God appoints the elect unto glory, and so He also appoints and ensures the means of their obtaining that glory: they are redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved (WCF 3.6; Romans 8:30). This list of the means by which God redeems the elect provides the outline of the topics in the next several chapters of the confession. So, we begin with ‘effectual calling.’

1. The Definition of Effectual Calling (WCF 10.1)

According to Merriam-Webster, ‘Effectual’ simply means “producing a desired result or effect.” So, when we speak of God’s ‘effectual calling,’ we mean that when He calls a person to Himself, He is successful in doing so. Because He is sovereign and all-powerful, when God calls someone to salvation, it works.

As Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet indicates (Matthew 22:1-14), there is a difference between the external (or universal) call by which men proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ and the internal (or effectual) call by which God rescues people from the domain of darkness and transfers them to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13-14): “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).

According to Scripture, God effectually calls those whom He has chosen by doing certain things. He enlightens their minds (1 Corinthians 2:10-13), takes away their heart of stone and gives them a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), renews their wills, determining them to that which is good (Deuteronomy 30:6), and effectually draws them to Jesus Christ (John 6:44-45).

In all of this, we find by the saving and special grace of God, that those whom God effectually calls come to Him freely and willingly. God’s people freely volunteer to come to Him (Psalm 110:3) because God has made them new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Thus, Jesus declares, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).

2. What Effectual Calling Isn’t (WCF 10.2)

Because there is often some confusion concerning how God’s election relates to His effectual calling, and because man is wont to cling to his claims of independence and self-determination, some clarifications with regard to effectual calling are in order.

First – as we’ve already seen – God’s effectual calling is based in His own free choice, not man’s. He does not look forward in time to see who it is that might choose Him or do good works and then base His calling upon their own work or merit. Rather, God’s choice is according to His own (mysterious or unknown) purpose (Romans 9:11).

Second, man is entirely passive when He is quickened (or made alive) by the Holy Spirit, and thus enabled to answer God’s call and embrace the grace offered him. God saves according to His holy calling, not according to our works or anything that we have done or will do (2 Timothy 1:9). We can take no credit – not even a little bit – for our salvation.

3. Effectual Calling and Those Uncapable of Being Outwardly Called

The third paragraph of chapter ten of the confession addresses those who are uncapable of being outwardly called, specifically elect infants dying infancy and the mentally handicapped (those without the cognitive ability to understand or profess faith in Christ). One of the most difficult and heart-wrenching sorrows for a parent is the loss of a child. In seeking to understand the spiritual state and eternal destiny of such, there are several theories.

On the one hand, some believe that all infants dying in infancy and the mentally handicapped are elect and therefore saved. Those who think this way often argue that these particular instances are the actual evidence of God’s election. On the other hand, some believe that infants dying in infancy and the mentally handicapped are unable to obtain salvation because they lack the intellectual ability to express faith, thus limiting God’s saving work to the reasoning ability of the individual.

Unfortunately, the Scriptures do not give us a clear answer regarding the salvation of infants dying in infancy or the mentally handicapped; however, we do know some things about the work of God in salvation that helps us to formulate some answers. First, we know that the elect are saved by Christ through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, and that the Spirit works when, where, and how He pleases (John 3:3-8). Second, we know that in the Scripture’s teaching on salvation, the emphasis is on the power of God’s call (Acts 2:38-39).

Thus, we may say with the confession that elect infants dying in infancy and those elect persons who are uncapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit (WCF 10.3). We may not go beyond the teaching of Scripture – which is relatively silent on this issue – but we may speak in terms of election: God regenerates and saves all those whom He elects. And, we may find comfort and rest in the grace and love of God who causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

4. Effectual Calling and the Non-Elect

Continuing to root effectual calling in God’s decree of election, the last paragraph of this chapter in the confession speaks to how the doctrine of effectual calling relates to those who are non-elect. At this point, it might go without saying, but there are at least three points in this paragraph.

First, even though they may hear the outward call of the gospel in the ministry of the Word, those who are not elect will not respond and cannot be saved. This point is made very clear in Jesus’ explanation of the meaning of the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:18-23). There are those who hear the word and may perhaps even seem to respond, but either do not believe or eventually fall away. In Jesus’ parable, these who fall away are the seed sown beside the road, on rocky places, and among the thorns. Others, however, will hear the word and then respond and bear fruit (receive the blessings and benefits of salvation). These who hear and bear fruit are the seed sown on the good soil.

Second, there are those who have never heard the gospel or the word preached. Even though some may seek to live good lives according to the light of nature or sincerely follow the tenets of their own religion, those in this category, may not be saved because they are not of the elect. There are many passages of Scripture that speak to the necessity of the preached Word and salvation through Jesus Christ alone (Romans 1:18-20; Acts 4:12; John 14:6; Romans 10:12-14).

Third, to teach or maintain that the non-elect or those who do not profess faith in Christ may be saved is something which is damaging to the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul warns that those who preach a different gospel then that which he preached, are actually preaching a different gospel; and therefore, it is not good news, at all. That person is to be accursed (Galatians 1:6-8). Likewise, the Apostle John warns that anyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ is not to be listened to or received for they participate in evil deeds (2 John 1:9-11). These are strong warnings that we must heed and follow.

Conclusion

The salvation of God’s people begins in eternity past when God the Father chose a people for Himself (John 10:29-30); their names are written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8; 17:8). In the fullness of time, God the Son was born of a woman and born under the Law in order or redeem for Himself a people (John 3:16; Galatians 4:4-5; Titus 2:14).

Thus, for those whom God chose and for whom Christ died, God redeems and saves. Beginning with effectual calling, we can be confident that He who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). That is truly something to be thankful for!

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

WCF 9: Of Free Will

Dear Church Family,

A Brief Recommendation: 365 Free eBooks!

A friend recently sent me a link to a resource of 365 free eBooks on theology and the Christian life: https://www.monergism.com/365-free-ebooks-listed-alphabetically-author. There are many classic works available from people like Augustine, John Bunyan, John Calvin, A.A. and Charles Hodge, Martin Luther, John Owen, A.W. Pink, J.C. Ryle, B.B. Warfield – as well as more contemporary works from the likes of Ligon Duncan, J. Gresham Machen, and J.I.  Packer (imagine my surprise to find my own study of the book of Revelation amongst these books!). Additionally, there are systematic and reference works that are available in e-format.

In my cursory perusal of the many solid theological works available for free at this site, I put together a list of those that I am most familiar with and that I can personally recommend. Again, there is so much available here that I’ve only scratched the surface, but here are just a few recommendations:

Berkhof, Louis Systematic Theology
Boettner, Loraine The Reformed Faith
Bridges, Charles Proverbs
Bunyan, John The Pilgrim's Progress
Calvin, John Institutes of the Christian Religion
Dietsch, Peter M. The Book of Revelation - A Study
Fisher, Edward, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (modernized and annotated)
Hodge, A. A. The Westminster Confession: A Commentary
Machen, J. Gresham Christianity and Liberalism
Murray, John The Covenant of Grace
Packer, J. I. Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ
Ryle, J. C. Thoughts for Young Men
Spurgeon, C. H. Lectures to My Students
Warfield, Benjamin Counterfeit Miracles
Watson, Thomas A Body of Divinity
Williamson, G. I. What is the Reformed Faith: The High Points of Calvinism

(Now back to our continuing study of the Westminster Confession of Faith.)

WCF 9: Of Free Will

When speaking to those who deny the sovereignty of God in salvation (i.e., the doctrine of election and predestination), eventually the topic of ‘free will’ will come up. The argument is made: but if God chooses some for salvation and not others, then man’s will cannot be said to be free. In response, we may be tempted to deny the freedom of man’s will since the fall, and argue that because of our sinful condition (total depravity), man no longer has free will. This line of thinking is not entirely off base; it’s a shorthand way of speaking about how man is dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) and contributes nothing to salvation – it is entirely of the grace of God.

Yet, in chapter nine of the Westminster Confession of Faith that defines and explains the nature of ‘free will,’ the Westminster Divines take a slightly different tact. They different between the ‘will’ of man and the ‘ability’ of man. But first, it begins with a definition of ‘free will.’

The Definition of Free Will (WCF 9.1)

The definition of ‘free will’ is given as follows: “God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined, to good or evil” (WCF 9.1). It’s important that we recognize that this definition of man’s free will is not dynamic, but static. That is to say, man always has that natural and unforced ability to do good or evil. As we will see in a moment, there’s more to said with respect to man’s ability to act upon his free will. But, consider Chad Van Dixhoorn’s explanation:

…this first paragraph of chapter 9 is not considering human beings only as they were created, or as they are fallen, or as they are redeemed, or as they will be one day in heaven or hell. It is saying something that is true of the will through every stage of history and at any point in our lives in time or eternity. (Confessing the Faith, 137).

 

The Fourfold State of Man

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) described the fourfold state of man in relation to his free will by speaking about his ability or inability to sin:

(1) Pre-Fall: able to sin, able not to sin (posse peccare, posse non peccare)

(2) Post-Fall: not able not to sin (non posse non peccare)

(3) Regenerated: able not to sin (posse non peccare)

(4) Glorified: unable to sin (non posse peccare)

The remaining four paragraphs of the Westminster Confession of Faith – following the categories of Augustine (and others) –  follow this same progression of thought. It’s important to note that the Confession speaks in terms of man’s free will remaining constant, while his ability to exercise his free will changes.

1. The Will of Man in the State of Innocence in the Garden (WCF 9.2)

In man’s original state of innocence in the Garden of Eden (as God created Him), Adam and Eve had the ability to obey God; however, they also had the possibility of losing that ability to obey God. The confession uses the word “mutable” to describe man’s ability to obey God in the Garden. That is to say, his ability could change; he had the power to obey God, but also to disobey God and fall from that state of innocence.

The Preacher succinctly explains: “Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). We previously examined man’s fall into sin when we explored the teachings of chapter six of the confession.

2. The Will of Man after the Fall (WCF 9.3)

After the Fall, man lost all ability to exercise his free will for any spiritual good to be saved. Man became helpless and ungodly (Romans 5:6), unable to submit and obey the law of God (Romans 8:7). The Scriptures plainly teach that in man’s natural fallen condition, no one seeks after God (Romans 3:11) or can come to Christ unless the Father first draws him (John 6:44, 65). We are all born abiding under God’s wrath, following the lusts and desires of our own flesh and perverted minds, willingly submitting ourselves to the ways of the sinful world and the temptations of the devil (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Walter Chantry explains the loss of man’s ability to exercise his free will through the illustration of a hungry lion:

If fresh meat and tossed salad were placed before a hungry lion, he would choose the flesh. This is because his nature dictates the selection. It is just so with man. The will of man is free from outside force but not from the bias of human nature. That bias is against God. Man’s powers of decision are free to choose whatever the human heart dictates; therefore there is no possibility of a man choosing to please God without a prior work of divine grace.

 

You see, while we may speak of man’s will as being free, it is not all powerful or autonomous. There are external and internal forces at work that constrain our free will. Man may exercise his free will by choosing to flap his arms and fly, but is unable to do so because he is constrained by the external laws of gravity and physics. Likewise, man may have free will to obey God, but he is unable to do so because he is constrained by his internal corruption and depraved nature. Therefore, apart from the redeeming grace of God, man will always choose to rebel and disobey Him.

3. The Will of Man after Conversion (WCF 9.4)

When God graciously pours out His Spirit upon a sinner and regenerates him (giving new birth), He removes his bondage to sin such that he is enabled to exercise his will to do that which is spiritually good. Even as everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34), if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36). Having been freed from sin, the one who is born again and trusts in Christ becomes a slave to righteousness (Romans 6:18).

This is good news, indeed! Yet, there is still a problem for the one who is born again. Because believers retain the remnants of their corrupt nature, they are still susceptible to temptation and so will fall into sin (choose to disobey God). And, even when they do obey God, the believer’s will to do good is imperfect, mixed with sin and bad motives. We shall have more to say about this internal war of the believer when we come to chapter thirteen of the confession and talk about sanctification.

4. The Will of Man in Glory (WCF 9.5)

In the state of glory those who have been born again will have their wills made perfectly free to do good alone. This state of man’s ability to exercise his will to obey God will be better than that of Adam and Eve in the Garden because it will be immutable (unchangeable).

This state of glory is obtained either at the believer’s death or Christ’s return, whichever comes first. The Scriptures speak of those who have died in the Lord as precious in God’s sight (Psalm 116:15); believers who die before Christ’s return are perfected and holy, “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23). And, when Christ appears, all of His people will be made like Him, because we will see Him just as He is! (1 John 3:2)

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

WCF 8: Of Christ the Mediator

Dear Church Family,

Post-Election Thoughts

Well, the elections are finally over, the results surprising most political pollsters and pundits. Whatever one’s personal political opinions on the election, I’d like to suggest a couple of things to read and reflect upon. In the Bible, Christians are described as aliens and strangers in this world (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 13:14), who – at the same time – have a vested interest in the welfare of the city in which they live (Jeremiah 29:7), praying for all those who are in authority so that we may lead tranquil and quite lives in all godliness and dignity (1 Timothy 2:1). So, as we seek to live in that tension, with the proper priorities before us, here are some articles with some food for thought.

First, writing before the election took place, David F. Watson reminds us to not be too elated if our candidate won, and not too despondent if our candidate lost: “Christians have one Lord, and he doesn’t need to run for office.”

Second, writing after the results of the election came in, Russel Moore reminds us that the church of Jesus Christ does not need the influence that comes from being a political bloc, but rather the power of the gospel is in the weakness of the preaching of the cross.

Third, and finally, I’d like to point you to something that I wrote four years ago on the eve of the last presidential election, that explains the three main responsibilities that we as Christians have to the civil magistrate, according to the Scripture: (1) pray for the magistrates; (2) pay tribute to the magistrates; (3) submit and obey the lawful commands of the civil magistrates.

WCF 8: Of Christ the Mediator

r continuing chapter by chapter study of the Westminster Confession of Faith as we consider the ground and source of our eternal hope, the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us that “the only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, for ever” (WSC 21).

This was our lesson in the most recent adult Sunday school class on the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 8: “Of Christ the Mediator. This chapter summarizes what the Bible teaches about the second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God. Basically, there are three main topics that are addressed

1. The Person of Christ

First, we begin with the Person of Christ. This is a very important doctrine of the Christian faith. In fact, most of the controversies in the early church taken up by several ecumenical councils had to do with this doctrine. Indeed, confessing that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is one of the foundations of true faith (Matthew 16:17; 1 John 4:2-3).

The Bible speaks of Christ Jesus as the one and only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Before the incarnation (Jesus coming in the flesh), God raised up individual men for the offices of prophet, priest, and king. Christ fulfills these offices as the final and full revelation of God, the one who intercedes for us by laying down His life, and ruling over us as our supreme King (Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:17).

The mystery concerning how the Son of God took flesh to Himself, thus becoming one Person with two natures (a divine nature and a human nature) is referred to by theologians as the hypostatic union. It is a mystery beyond our comprehension – like two dimensional beings trying to comprehend and explain a three dimensional being. Yet, the Scriptures are clear that Jesus Christ is both fully God (Colossians 2:8-9) and fully man (Galatians 4:4).

Thus, He is the perfect (and only) Mediator who is able to reconcile us to God (Hebrews 12:24), and the guarantee of the promises of the new covenant (Hebrews 7:22).

2. The Work of Christ

We may describe the work which Christ did as our perfect Mediator, in at least two ways:

The humiliation and exaltation of Christ

First, we may speak of the work of Christ according to the historical timeline. Christ experienced humiliation in His being born, His earthly life, suffering, death, and burial. Christ is exalted in His resurrection, ascension, session (being seated at the right hand of God the Father), and His future return. The classic hymn of Christ in Philippians 2:5-11 summarizes this work of Christ in this way. The humiliation and exaltation of Christ is also summarized in the historic Apostles’ and Nicene creeds.

The active and passive obedience of Christ

The ‘active obedience’ of Christ refers to His perfectly keeping the whole law of God, actively fulfilling all righteousness (Matthew 5:17; Galatians 4:4-5). The ‘passive obedience’ of Christ refers to His receiving the punishment for sin that we deserve in His suffering and death (Mark 10:45; Colossians 2:13-14). Thus, John the Baptist spoke of Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). As the unblemished and spotless lamb (the sinless One), He offered Himself to God as the ‘once for all’ sacrifice for our sins (1 Peter 1:17-19; Hebrews 9:11-16).

3. The Application of Christ’s Work

In His active and passive obedience, Christ did not simply make salvation possible; He effectually applies and communicates redemption to His people (Titus 3:4-7). In other words, from beginning to end, salvation is all of Christ; He is the alpha and the omega (Revelation 1:8) – the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2). As such, Christ makes intercession for His people as our Advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1-2), reveals the mysteries of salvation to us (Johns 15:13-15), anoints us with His Spirit, effectually persuading us to believe and obey (John 14:16; Romans 8:9, 14), and overcomes all of our enemies (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).

Conclusion

From the first days of the early church until today, there have been people (even those claiming to be Christians) who have denied these important truths about the Person and work of Christ. Today, some deny His humanity; even more deny Christ’s divinity, thinking of Jesus only as a prophet or a wise teacher.

In seeking to live lives that are pleasing to the Lord, it is good to ask the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” Yet, more importantly – and foundational to our faith and assurance – is the answer to the questions, “What Did Jesus Do?” The glorious good news and assurance of the Gospel is that all that is needed to be done to earn our salvation, has been accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ. Though man has sought out many ways to God, and though true believers may often struggle and wrestle with doubt, the great mystery of salvation has been revealed to us. It is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:25-27), the only Redeemer of God’s elect.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch