The following summary represents what we find in the classics of early Christian thought as they recalled the 'faith once delivered,' and sought to articulate the meaning of the Incarnation in light of the revelation that Christ was both fully human and fully divine.
When the apostles say Christ suffered and died for us, once for all (Rom 6:10; Heb 9:28; 1 Pet 3:18), for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:28; Col 2:13) and not ours only, everybody's (1 John 2:2), what does that actually mean?
1. The NT connects sin with it's inherent destructive consequences, its intrinsic judgment. Among the metaphors used for what sin holds over the sinner are 'wages' (Rom 6:23) or 'debt' (Matt 6:12). Having collectively turned from God -- our source of life -- to sin -- the source of death -- humanity has come under the domination of sin and it's bitter fruit.
2. The NT identifies the destructive consequences of sin, ultimately, as the curse of death (Rom 5:12; 6:23). Sin condemns us to 'perish' (John 3:16-18), a death sentence already at work in us, through which the satan holds us in bondage to fear all our lives (Heb. 2:15).
3. The gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus has come to rescue, redeem or ransom us from the curse of sin, which is death. The Incarnation was God's decisive redemptive act, through which he set us free from root to fruit: from the domination of sin, the corruption of fallen sinful nature, and the condemnation of death itself.
4. How does Christ accomplish this redemption?
a. The divine Word (God the Son) assumed the likeness of sinful human nature (Rom 8:3) in the person of Jesus Christ to heal human nature of the curse. As St. Gregory once wrote, 'Whatever is not assumed is not healed,' so Christ assumes the whole human condition in order to heal it all, including the curse of death itself.
b. Christ proclaims the Father's grace and freedom to forgive sin by freely forgiving sin throughout his life and ministry, and then does so once, for all and forever, when on the Cross he invokes the Father's forgiveness, even for the supreme human sin of deicide. The Father's answer comes through the voice of the Son, 'It is accomplished.' Our sin is forgiven and our lives washed clean by this act of mercy and grace.
c. Having freely forgiven us, we are reconciled to the Father, but the curse of sin must still be broken: death itself must be eradicated. So Christ does for us what we were unable to do for ourselves. He dies to enter death and so to overcome it. As all the church fathers testify (from Irenaeus to Athanasius, to the two Gregorys, Cyril and Maximus the Confessor) If Christ were merely God, he could not die. But if he were merely man, he could not defeat death. So Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, enters death by death to annihilate death itself. This victory is made complete and manifest in the resurrection and ascension of Christ.
5. Thus, through Christ's incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, he has brought about salvation (rescue from Satan, sin and death) for all people. His sacrifice was not the pagan appeasement of a wrathful deity, but rather, the sacrificial love of a God who became man to enter the human condition, including death and hades itself to rescue his beloved children.
6. Yes, Christ died for the forgiveness of sin, but as we see, this is an abbreviation that includes the truths that Christ came, lived, died and rose for the forgiveness of sin, cancellation of the curse, and defeat of death. Now we are invited to return to the open arms of the Father who opened the way back home through his Son. As we respond, we experience now what Christ already accomplished. By faith, we experience that forgiveness and freedom and salvation from sin and its awful consequences. We find that just as God in Christ participated in our human nature, we who are in Christ participate in his divine nature. As he took on our likeness to heal humanity, we are transformed more and more into his likeness and glory.
7. This is the apostolic testimony, received and faithfully preserved by the early church. This is not a theory of the atonement, but the gospel itself, the faith once delivered from the beginning. In this Gospel, Jesus is indeed a substitute, in that he does vicariously, as a man, what humanity could not do for itself. What is it that he does for us? God-in-Christ engaged and experienced the penalty (wages, debt or curse) of our sin -- namely death itself -- triumphing over it through his death and resurrection. In exchanging his life for our death, we rise with him in his life and find that death is no more.
For those committed to the language of 'penal substitution,' this telling of the gospel takes seriously the penalty of sin (death) and the substitution of Christ (as our vicarious representative), but it is distinguished from the much later version which identifies the penalty with God's wrath and punishment rather than sin's consequences and curse. In this telling, God the Word himself, via His incarnation as Jesus Christ, saves us from sin and death, swallowing them up in the magnificent victory of grace.
Those who engage in debates on a regular basis know that the argument itself can easily shape the points involved. This is another way of saying that some debates should be avoided entirely since merely getting involved in them can be the road to ruin. There are a number of Christian scholars (particularly among the Orthodox) who think that the classical debates between Christians and Muslims during the Middle Ages had just such disastrous results for Christian thinking.
Now when engaging in religious debates it is all too easy to agree to things that might make for later problems. It is possible, for example, to agree to a comparison of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament and the Book of the Quran. After all, Muslims have a holy book – Christians have a holy book. Why should we not debate whose holy book is better?
It is even possible to agree with the Muslim contention that Christians (and Jews) are “People of the Book.” Of course Muslims meant that Christians and Jews were people of an inferiorbook, but were somehow better than pagans. Again, it is possible, nevertheless, to let the matter ride and agree that Christians are “People of the Book.”
And it is also possible to give wide latitude to the Muslim claim that the most essential matter with regard to God is “Islam,” that is “submission.” After all, if God is the Lord of all creation, then how is submitting to Him, recognizing and accepting that He is God, not the most important thing?
But each of these proposals had disastrous results in the history of Christianity and may very well be the source of a number of modern distortions within the Christian faith.
Like so many, we've been praying about the state of the world, struggling to know what to do. In Revelation 10, John sees and hears Gods response to the violence so many were caught up in - to be part of the church in that time meant seeing your mates crucified on the roadside and running for your life.
We wrote a song based on this revelation to help us to pray and caught this snapshot of our worship at Ivy Didsbury. Anthony Delaney (Ivy Manchester) prays and helps contextualise the moment. We value being real about what's happening in the world and no matter how bad it gets, we know God is good, his heart is for the broken and he will come and make a difference. So we keep singing and we keep praying.
Today God is asking us not to go so fast. He is asking us to WALK SLOWLY.
Like Abraham, we want to reach the end goal. We want to see the promises given to us from God come into fruition. We feel as though if we go faster, if we run harder, we will reach that goal more quickly. Then we will have achieved something, we will have proven our worth, we will have completed God’s plan. Hebrews 12:1 encourages us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” This verse speaks so clearly of persevering, pressing on, keeping focused on Jesus, but sometimes, we can get caught up in running the race, we can get stuck with our eyes on the goal, and life is racing past us as we run. When we live like this, run faster like this, we often forget that God is right beside us, he wants to journey with us on the pathway, and wants us to live out the plan, not just get to the goal. This is both a literal practice and a spiritual practice. We all lead busy lives, and we have requirements on us, tasks that cannot go without being completed on a daily basis. Our jobs need to be done, our families need to eat, our homes need to be taken care of. But in the midst of these tasks, expectations…. where is our focus? Where do we place our value? Is our focus on the end product? Do we wrap up our value, our worth in what we accomplish, what we produce? Or do we allow ourselves to walk slowly, enjoying each moment on the pathway, walking along side Jesus, allowing our worth to rest in Him, to be accepted as we are without the need to prove ourselves. Still accomplishing the things we need to, but now with a focus on enjoying and being thankful for each step.
God asks us to WALK SLOWLY
When we walk slowly in the path of life, we:
See more clearly
Hear more clearly
Think more clearly
There are several biblical examples of walking slowly with the Lord, and we will look at a few of them today.
George Grant (1918-1988) is considered by many to be one of the most significant Canadian public intellectuals in the latter half of the 20th century---Grant was also a High Tory of the highest calibre. Grant was a prolific writer and many have commented upon his wide ranging renaissance breadth. There has, of yet, been no essays on Grant and Amnesty International and Grant and Edward Said.
Amnesty International published The First Torturer’s Trial in 1975. Grant did a review of the book in the Globe and Mail (June 14 1977).
The focus and reason for the publication of The First Torturer’s Trial was the trial in Greece in 1975 of 32 Greek police officers and military men who had tortured opponents in the junta from 1967-1974. The junta finally collapsed because of the courageous work of Archbishop Makarios (1913-1977) in Cyprus who had been elected as president in 1959, 1968 and 1973. Grant did a sustained commentary on the report, and, in many ways, Grant argued torture was the crudest form of the will to power of ideologues.
There are those on the political right that argue that it is the left that uses torture to inflict their will and way, and the left has argued that the right often uses torture to silence opposition. There can be no doubt that both totalitarian and authoritarian states of the left and right often use their wills to end meaningful civic and civil dialogue. Grant’s meditation on The First Torturer’s Trial brings this obstinate fact to the fore again and again.