Category Archives: Atonement

Perspectives In Titus: Salvation, Courtesy Of The Trinity

Titus 3 4 thru 6

When we think of our salvation, we typically attribute it to Jesus. This perspective is altogether proper, and Jesus definitely deserves all the glory and praise for His atoning work on the cross. But our study in Titus today shows us that the Father and the Holy Spirit also had a hand in saving us.

Let’s again read Titus 3:1-7 in order to keep the three verses we’ll examine today in their context.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.   ~~Titus  3:1-7 (ESV)

In verse 4, the word “but” indicates a transition from our pre-conversion state of wretchedness. Just as the Christians in First Century Crete differed from their unsaved counterparts, so we differ from the world because of the Lord showing us His mercy. Paul’s emphasis on the goodness and loving kindness of God keeps us from congratulating ourselves on our personal holiness. Consequently, as Matthew Henry makes clear, we should feel compassion for non-Christians.

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown correctly point out that here the phrase “God our Savior” refers specifically to the Father, giving us our first glimpse of the Trinity’s activity in bringing about salvation. The goodness and loving kindness of God appeared, or was manifested. The Cretan Christians didn’t conjure it up; the Lord manifested His grace because He, by nature, is good and loving. Again, the focus on His goodness steers us away from claiming any credit for His work in redeeming us.

Paul insists that God does the saving, elaborating that He did so because of His mercy rather than as a response to our good works, as verse 5 demonstrates. Remember that the Judaizers were disrupting the churches in Crete, teaching that the work of circumcision was necessary for salvation. That fact, coupled with their new behaviors, opened the door to pride. Refer to Ephesians 2:8-10 for a fuller explanation of the sequence of salvation and works. Salvation comes about according to God’s mercy, not our efforts.

The Lord accomplishes our salvation by the “washing of regeneration,” which several commentators understand as a reference to baptism. Believers Bible Commentary, however, argues that this phrase describes the cleansing from sin that results from Christ’s shed blood. This interpretation seems more consistent with the context of this passage.

Paul also attributes salvation to the “renewal of the Holy Spirit.” At regeneration, the Holy Spirit transforms us into totally new creations, as seen in 2 Corinthians 5:17. Thus the Cretan Christians differed from their unsaved counterparts only because of the Holy Spirit’s work of transformation in each of them.

The Lord pours His Holy Spirit on the Church, as evidenced at Pentecost, but also on individual members at regeneration. Furthermore, Paul says in verse 6, He isn’t stingy, but rather He pours Him out abundantly. Barnes comments that the Holy Spirit had been so generously given to the Cretan Christians in order to help them overcome their wicked manner of life, adding that this principle applies to all Christians.

Jesus Christ our Savior is the “channel and Mediator of the gift of the Holy Ghost,” say Jamieson, Fausset and Brown. Indeed, Jesus promised in John 16:7 that He would send the Holy Spirit. So while most of the New Testament rightly emphasizes Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf, here Paul points to His work of sending the Holy Spirit  to regenerate us.

Paul credits the entire Trinity with bringing Christians to salvation. In verse 4, he calls God the Father Savior. In verse 5, he teaches that the Holy Spirit regenerates and renews us. And in verse 6, he reminds us that Jesus Christ is our Savior. His exaltation of the Trinity strengthens his case that salvation comes completely from God. Next Monday we will discuss His wonderful purpose in showing us such grace.

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One Small Argument Against The Doctrine Of Free Will

IMG_5209Let me begin this blog post with the obvious: a single essay can’t possibly address all the variables in arguing against the popular notion of free will. As surely as I write this piece, some Catholic or Armimian will raise objections that I would need to respond to by writing a entirely separate post.

The tension between human responsibility and God’s sovereignty is huge, and writers far more capable than I have spent centuries trying to explain why the fact of human responsibility doesn’t translate into an argument that God created human beings with free will. Martin Luther wrote an entire book, The Bondage of the Will (which I quit reading halfway through because my puny mind couldn’t wrap around all Luther’s points), in an attempt to disprove the whole idea. Arminians certainly have pet verses that they use to substantiate their view, and dealing with each verse would take quite a chunk of time.

That said, the question of free will mustn’t be ignored. Arminians are not heretics for holding to this doctrine, but I believe they hold it at great risk of minimizing God’s sovereignty.

The topic of free will predictably comes up in conversations about situations like the massacre in Las Vegas. Attempts to assure people that this horrific tragedy didn’t occur apart from the Lord’s control are invariably met with protestations that the gunman exercised free will when he pulled that trigger. Apparently, the doctrine that God is sovereign even in situations like this one must be mitigated.

I guess we need to protect God’s reputation.

And yes, the Lord will hold this gunman responsible for his sin, dear readers. God’s sovereignty in no  way excuses sin…on any level!

I think of how God used Judas Iscariot to accomplish Christ’s crucifixion on the Passover. It seems a small detail, until you remember that the Passover feast symbolized the Lamb of God Who would bring His chosen people out from the bondage of sin. According to God’s plan, Christ would have to be crucified on Passover.

Of course, the Pharisees feared that, because the people loved Jesus to the extent that they greeted Him with shouts of Hosanna when He entered Jerusalem, crucifying Him at Passover would be political suicide. The Lord used Judas Iscariot to force their hand, thus ensuing that His supreme Passover Lamb would die at precisely the right moment.

Judas Iscariot, however, bore complete responsibility for betraying the Lord. He wasn’t elected to salvation, yet he knew the Truth. God holds that man responsible for his act of betrayal, most assuredly. Yet Jesus chose Judas as a disciple in order to bring about God’s perfect plan of redemption. In that very important respect, I join Martin Luther in arguing that Judas Iscariot did not have free will.

As I said earlier, there’s no way I can offer a complete refutation of the doctrine of free will in one solitary blog post. But I invite you to seriously think about God’s sovereignty in using Judas to accomplish Christ’s crucifixion. Because of Judas Iscariot’s evil behavior, salvation is now available to all who believe in Jesus Christ. Praise God that, in His sovereignty, the perceived free will of one greedy little man brought about history’s most monumental event!

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Sin’s Curse Has Lost It’s Grip On Me

The Gospel has so many wonderful facets, doesn’t it? Lately, I’ve been fascinated with the truth that Christ’s death emancipates us from sin so completely that we can even stand against our own temptations! Think about it, dear sisters: We no longer have to sin!

Of course, we don’t always appropriate that grace, and the Lord generously forgives us each time.  Nevertheless, we can rejoice that our growth in Him enables us to sin less and less frequently because of His grace.

As we know, freedom from sin is only one aspect of the Gospel. Today’s hymn touches on several equally wonderful points. And all these blessings come through Christ alone.

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A Reason To Sing Of My Redeemer

Why do so many hymns center on the cross? If the Lord has allowed you to understand the horrifying depths of your sin, and then allowed you to experience the exhilarating relief of His grace, you know that we can sing about nothing more wonderful! Today’s hymn underscores the joy of singing about our Redeemer.

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Authenticity As It Should Be

4693a-oval2bdoily2bframeThis current evangelical trend toward “authenticity” dismays me, but it really doesn’t surprise me. Once you strip away all the psycho-babble and distorted Scripture verses used to support it, you’ll find that people generally use the term to excuse sin. For example, someone I used to be close to divorced his wife, “married” his same sex partner and rejected basic Biblical doctrines all because he wants to be “authentic”  before God.

But such “authenticity” only  confirms that we are naturally rebellious toward Christ and His Word. We embrace our favorite sinful behaviors (grumbling, foul language, sexual impurity or whatever it is) as “who we are,” and expect other Christians to admire us for our “honest” lifestyle.

In fact, if they dare to confront us, especially by showing us Bible verses that counter our behavior, we indignantly accuse them of judging us. As we see it, God commends our authenticity, and therefore no one has any business calling our actions into question.

Sounds good on Facebook perhaps, but that attitude of refusing correction doesn’t really sit well with the Lord. Allow me to present just one of many Scriptures that address “authenticity” as a reason to refuse correction:

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
    but a wise man listens to advice. ~~Proverbs 12:15 (ESV)

Okay, the Lord also has plenty to say about the attitudes of those who offer correction, and we’ll talk about His expectations in that regard tomorrow. Right now, however, we need to focus on the notion that self-proclaimed authenticity exempts us from repenting of things that seem intrinsic to our personality.

Yesterday I wrote that, although the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (past, present and future), He still desires us to live in holiness as a grateful response to His mercy and grace. Authenticity to our old nature fails to reflect His Spirit, Who gives us a new nature when He regenerates us.

Authenticity doesn’t have to mean that we remain enslaved to the sinful behaviors that Jesus died to release us from. As beneficiaries of His death on the cross, we have freedom to live lives that honor Him.  Because He makes us new creations when He brings us to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, He calls us to be authentic to our new, redeemed natures.

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The Obligation Freedom Brings

Not Your OwnCertainly, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin, and in His crucifixion the Lord exchanges His righteousness for our unrighteousness. Putting it another way, the Father now considers us righteous because Jesus paid the penalty of our sins (past, present and future) on our behalf. No sin we commit will undo His work of grace.

During my devotions this morning, the Lord brought me to an interesting passage in Colossians.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. ~~Colossians 1:21-23 (ESV)

The preceding verses highlight the wonderful truth that the Father qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints by reconciling all creation to Himself through His Son. Now in verses 21 and 22, Paul tells us that Christ has reconciled us to God, consequently presenting us to the Father as holy, blameless and above reproach. He proves that our reconciliation is genuine when we remain in the faith, not deviating from the Gospel.

The insistence on anchoring our righteousness solely in what the Lord did for us on the cross must remain in the forefront of our minds. So often, we try to take credit for His work of righteousness in us, mistakenly thinking that He requires us to maintain our salvation. We obey His commands with an attitude of self-righteousness, patting ourselves on the back for being such good little Christians.

So yes, we can rest in Christ’s finished work on the cross, assured that the Father sees us as righteous.

However.

I’ve seen evangelicals pervert God’s grace into license to sin. They reason that, since the Lord declares them righteous because Jesus died for their sins (past present and future), they can live in any way they please. Lately, they describe this approach to life as authenticity. In their estimation, they’re being true to themselves, convinced that the Lord is fine with it.

Yet the Bible teaches something entirely different, doesn’t it? Although Jesus has indeed borne the eternal consequences of our sins and therefore the Father sees us as righteous, the Lord now claims us as His property. Let me show you a passage written specifically about sexual sin that applies to sin in general.

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. ~~1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)

Dear sisters, God’s grace frees us from sin, but it also places us under obligation to Him. Rather than being authentic to ourselves, we must now be true to Him. Not that we in any way earn or maintain our salvation. Christ has already taken care of that. But in gratitude for His sacrifice, we need to recognize our obligation to live in ways that honor Him. We must reflect, however imperfectly, His holiness. At least we ought to desire to reflect His holiness.

Authenticity shouldn’t give any Christian an excuse to indulge in shameful thoughts, attitudes or behaviors. Instead, the wonderful grace of God should fill us with grateful devotion that inspires our joyful obedience to Christ.

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A Prayer To The One Who Owns Me

I love the grace of God! Knowing my wretchedness, I praise Him for shedding His precious blood to pay the penalty for my past, present and future sins. When I first heard the wonderful truth that Jesus died in my place, voluntarily taking the punishment that I deserve, I overflowed with joy!

At the same time, I instinctively understood that I suddenly belonged to Him. By being my Savior, Jesus Christ also established Himself as my Lord. And,  by the power of His Holy Spirit, I gladly acknowledged His authority to take my life.

The hymn I feature today celebrities the Lord’s glorious claim on my life, as well as my acceptance of His claim. It prays for Him to use every part of me for His purposes and His glory. Is this hymn also your prayer?

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