by Athol Walter
People are notoriously careless with words, which is surprising because it is almost impossible to communicate our thoughts to someone else without using them. While carelessness with words can have serious consequences in ordinary life, it is more serious to be careless in the study of God’s Word, because, as a result, we can miss truth He has revealed and would have us understand. We can rest assured, however, that no matter how careless we may be with God’s revelation to us, He has been careful and specific in His use of words, and we can trust those words completely. But it is up to us to make sure we understand what those words mean. I am sure that, in spite of what some Bible teachers say, God has said what He means, and more so, means what He says. And that belief underlies our approach to God’s Word.
I know that as I came to a better understanding of the meaning of the words of the Bible, my appreciation of what God has done for me in Christ grew in leaps and bounds. I realised that I used words relating to my salvation not only carelessly, but in some cases without having the faintest idea what the words meant. I have worked to rectify that situation over many years, and I would like to pass on some of the things I have learned. I hope that some of our other writers will also contribute to this series.
The terms I want to start with include such words as forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, atonement, propitiation, sanctification, access and adoption. Other words will no doubt be added to the list, but these will do for a start. How would you go if you tried to write a concise definition of each of those words?
I once thought that those words all meant much the same thing, but I now know that is not true. Each word presents a different aspect of Christ’s atoning work, and the clearer our understanding of the words, the deeper will be our understanding of God’s great work for us.
It is necessary to have one term that indicates the complete work God has done for us in Christ, and I have chosen the word ‘salvation’ for this. You may think some other word is better, and I would be very happy to receive your thoughts about it, but for the present, I’ll stick with ‘salvation’.
No. 1 – Atonement
Let me ask you a question. What is the most important thing the Lord accomplished on the Cross? Please stop and think about your answer before reading on.
Answers I have received previously include: forgiveness of sins, freedom from guilt, access to God’s presence and peace with God. They are all good answers, but one thing Christ accomplished by His death is not only more important than those, it must precede them. The most important thing that the Lord’s death accomplished was to make atonement. Without that, not one of the other benefits would have been possible.
One thing must be cleared up at the outset. We do not receive the atonement. I know that the AV says in Romans 5:11 that we have received the atonement, but in spite of that, I repeat, we do not receive the atonement. We will come back to that shortly.
I hope that as you read the introduction to this study, you agreed with me that it is important to take care with the words God uses, so let’s put our new resolve into practice. This means that first of all we will check the meaning of ‘atonement’ in our dictionaries. My dictionary says that it means: expiation, reparation for wrong or injury. It then says ‘The Atonement, expiation of man’s sins by Christ’.
We must now look up ‘expiation’, but before we do that, it will help our understanding to note that the dictionary also says that the verb ‘to atone’ means to make amends. We should expand that a little by saying that to atone means to make amends for a wrong or injury done. That is clear and easy to understand. Now ‘expiate’. This word means to pay the penalty of, to make amends for, sin.
Another word that should be considered at this point is propitiation. This is defined as ‘the appeasement of an offended person’.
We can now come back to the question of who receives the atonement. If atonement means the act of making reparation or amends for a wrong or injury done, then to find the answer to our question, all we need to do is to ask who it is that has been offended or injured by our sin/s. It is immediately obvious that we are not the party that has been offended or injured. We are the offenders! Whose Law is it that has been broken by our sin? Not ours, but God’s. So if it is God who has been offended or wronged by our sins, it is God who must receive atonement, and that is precisely what the Lord’s death on Calvary did, before it did anything else. God’s holiness had been offended by sin, and before He could make any move towards any sinner that wasn’t one of judgement and condemnation, His justice and holiness had to be satisfied. In other words, atonement had to be made to Him, the wrong had to be put right in a just manner, and only then could He move to bring guilty sinners to Himself.
This raises an important question. If sin offended God’s Holiness and demanded punishment that made atonement for the sin, and if atonement was not made until Christ died on Calvary, how could God deal with sinful humanity during the centuries before the Cross? The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that the Lord Jesus is called by two similar, yet different titles. Firstly, He is called the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, Revelation 13:8, and secondly, the Lamb foreordained before the foundation of the world, 1 Peter 1:20. This means that before ever Adam sinned, God, in His foreknowledge, had provided the means of atonement. This is the reason why God could deal graciously and mercifully with Adam and the rest of us, and not compromise either His justice or holiness.
So how is it then, that the AV can say that we receive the atonement? It is all to do with the way language changes over time. In the English language of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the AV of the Bible was translated, the word atonement had two meanings. On the one hand, it meant what our dictionaries tell us it means – the making of amends for a wrong done. On the other hand, it meant to make at-one, that is, to reconcile two people or groups who had become alienated or estranged. Shakespeare used the word in this sense. And a writer named Philpot, about whom I know nothing, wrote this: ‘What atonement is there between darkness and light?’ Nowadays, we would put it like this: ‘What agreement is there between darkness and light?’ or we might say, ‘How can you reconcile light and darkness?’
But in the intervening centuries, this meaning has dropped out of the language, and now to atone means only to make amends for a wrong or sin. So what Paul really said in Romans 5:11 was that we have received the reconciliation, which is how modern versions translate the verse. I must repeat, however, that if Christ had not made atonement to God for the sins of the world, there would never have been any reconciliation for us.
But dictionary definitions are not the whole story. The next important step in understanding the words of God is to note how those words are used in Scripture. Some effort is required here and many of us drop off at this point, but we must not be lazy. It is worth the effort.
The first occurrence of the Hebrew word for atonement comes in a strange place. Genesis 6:14: ‘Make yourself an ark of gopher wood… and cover it inside and outside with pitch.’ The word translated ‘cover’ is qaphar, pronounced ‘kawfaw’. That almost sounds like our word ‘cover’, doesn’t it? It is interesting and more than a little intriguing to note that the word for ‘pitch’ in this verse is qopher, which is allied to qaphar. Dr Bullinger’s marginal note in the Companion Bible, by the way, says that this word means resin rather than pitch.
The next occurrence of qaphar comes some centuries later, when Jacob is returning to meet his brother Esau. He says in Genesis 32:20: ‘…I will appease him with the present that goes before me, and afterward I will see his face.’ It is the word ‘appease’ here that translates qaphar. What Jacob literally said was, ‘I will cover his face with my presents…’ I think the thought in Jacob’s mind is this: ‘I will appease my brother’s anger (shown in his face) with my presents. Perhaps he will then accept me.’
Perhaps a little summary is needed here. The only Hebrew word for atonement in the Old Testament simply means a covering, but in the developing usage of the language, it came to mean atonement, an act of reparation that ‘covered’ the sin by making amends for it. We need to take care with this idea of atonement covering sin. There is certainly no thought that God has simply ‘covered up’ our sins. We use the word ‘cover’ in a variety of ways, such as: take out insurance cover; the reporter covered the fire for his paper; the express train covers the distance in half the time; and a favourite when I was a boy, ‘Don’t move, I’ve got you covered’.
With these thoughts in mind, I repeat, God has not simply covered up our sins. He has made full atonement for it in the death of His Son, the offence has been expiated, sin has been fully covered in that complete satisfaction has been given, and therefore, ‘there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’. Romans 8:1
The Old Testament picture of the Lord’s atonement is found in Leviticus 16, in the program of the Day of Atonement. This was the most solemn day in the Jewish year. After elaborate cleansing rituals, the high priest went into the tabernacle and the Holy of Holies with incense and the blood of sacrificial animals, cleansed the whole structure, its furniture and its implements, and then sprinkled some of the blood on the Mercy Seat. This was all done to make atonement for Israel’s sins of the previous year, and gave them a clean slate to start again with God. On God’s side, it enabled Him to put up with them, as it were, for another year. A point to notice in the account is that there could be no carelessness in any of the preparations of the high priest, for if everything was not done just right, he would die when he stood before God in the Holiest Place. So it was that once the high priest had entered in, the people waited outside in hushed silence for him to reappear. When he did so, it was the sign that the sacrifice had been acceptable to God, and their sins had been ‘covered by the blood’. Hebrews 7, 8 and 9 has a lot to say about these things.
The reality of this typical pre-figuring is found on the day of the Lord’s resurrection. In John 20: 10–18 we read of the Lord appearing to Mary in the garden early on the resurrection morning. She wanted to hold His feet in love and homage, but He said to her, ‘Don’t touch me (or don’t cling to Me) for I have not yet ascended to My Father…’ (verse 17).
Now to Luke 24:36–39. Here, later on that same day, the Lord appeared to the disciples in the upper room. They, quite understandably, thought they were seeing a ghost, but the Lord said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see…’ Do I have to say that to handle someone we have to touch them?
Now let me spell it out. Early in the morning, the Lord would not let Mary touch Him. Like the high priest of old, (of course, the Lord was the real – the true – High Priest) He could not be contaminated before His entry in the Heavenly Holy of Holies. Later in the day, He allowed others to touch Him, indeed, He invited them to do so. He said to Mary that she could not touch Him for He had not yet ascended to His Father. So, if later, others could touch Him, it must mean that, in the meantime, He had indeed ascended to the Heavenly Tabernacle and cleansed it with His blood. In this way, atonement for the sins of the world was fully and completely made. And, just like the high priest in tabernacle and temple, the Lord then reappeared and showed Himself alive to His people. This was the crowning signal that His death had been completely acceptable to God.
Out of many other things that could be said on this subject, let me bring one little jewel as I conclude. Leviticus teaches us about the various offerings the Israelites were to bring to the Lord as part of the Tabernacle worship. In chapters 5 and 6 we read of the trespass offering. A person could trespass either against God or their neighbour, and in both cases restitution had to be made. The guilty one had to restore what had been damaged or restitution had to be made for the wrong done. The Hebrew word for ‘restitution’ here is shalam. It is a variant of the word shalom, which means peace, of course. If we trespass against someone, there can be no peace until restitution is made. When that is done, then peace is restored.
The same holds true with God. We cannot have peace with God until full restitution is made. The problem is, we can only make that restitution by our deaths. But One, our Kinsman, has stepped in, taken our place and paid the price. The sin has been atoned for. Satisfaction has been given. Our High Priest went into the true Holy of Holies in Heaven and sprinkled His own blood on the Mercy Seat, and God’s justice and holiness were fully satisfied. And on the basis of that atonement, the glorious message goes out to the world, ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself… Now you come and be reconciled to God.’
No. 2 – Reconciliation
In the first article of this series dealing with the Scriptural words of Christ’s work of salvation, we considered the word ‘atonement’. The atonement provided by the Lord Jesus Christ by His death at Calvary is absolutely fundamental to the plan of salvation. The atonement was not made to us, but to God who is the offended party in the matter of sin, and unless God’s Holiness receives full and complete satisfaction when sin is dealt with, then it would be impossible for Him to make any move towards guilty sinners without compromising His character. It was only when the atonement was made by the Son, that God, in love, could then justly proclaim forgiveness and all the other benefits that come to the believer from the death of Christ. We certainly receive salvation because of the atonement, but we do not receive the atonement itself. Now we come to our word for this study, which is ‘reconciliation’.
Reconciliation is the bringing together in harmony of two parties who have been alienated or estranged for some reason or other. The foundational passage on reconciliation is 2 Corinthians 5, particularly from verse 14 onwards. Paul states that if (this is the ‘if’ of argument, not the ‘if’ of condition) Christ died for all, then it follows that all have died. It also follows that because Christ rose and now lives, those who are in Him, also live in and for Him, and not in and for themselves. Therefore we do not live after the flesh, but after the Spirit, for we are new creations in Christ.
Now I’ll quote from verse 18 on: ‘Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. He (God) made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’ NKJV
I urge you to go over these verses again and again and ponder them deeply, for they are truth that is indeed ‘Good News’ for us.
Notice that it is God who made the first move in bringing about reconciliation. Not only was God cut off from us by sin but obviously we were cut off from Him. The saddest and silliest part of it all is that the natural man regards God as his enemy. Paul touches on this in Romans 5. Verse 6 says: ‘For when we were still without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly.’ And verse 8: ‘But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Verse 10: ‘For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.’
Note the implication in that last verse. Reconciliation is but a step towards being saved. But my main point is this: When Christ died, all humanity were ungodly sinners and enemies of God. Now turn back to 2 Corinthians 5 again. To repeat the point, God had to make the first move because we were totally incapable of doing anything to save ourselves.
The next point to notice is that it was the world that God reconciled to Himself in Christ. I emphasise this because there are some who teach that Christ died only for the elect. That is unscriptural. One of the best known verses in the Bible, John 3:16, says plainly that God gave His only-begotten Son for the world, that is, for all Adam’s race, because He loved the whole sorry lot of us. The verses here in 2 Corinthians 5 state the same truth: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.’ It certainly is true that many of Adam’s race, by choice, have not been reconciled to God, but that is a very different thing to saying that Christ’s sacrifice was not for the whole world, but only for the elect.
I hope you can see how reconciliation logically flows out of the atonement. It seems to me that the atonement is assumed by Paul as he writes these words. After telling us that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, he then says that he and his co-workers have been given the job of pleading with all and sundry to come and be reconciled to God. Verse 21 tells us how it is possible that God can send them out with this message. God made His righteous Son to be sin for us, so that we in turn, whose righteousness was like filthy rags, might become the righteousness of God in Him. When He became sin for all of us and paid the penalty for that sin, that atoning act made it possible for God to reckon Christ’s righteousness to those who believe in Him.
What glorious, good news this is – all our sins paid for, the power of sin broken, the very righteousness of Christ gifted to us, if we will but stretch out our hand and place it in faith on the head of Jesus, our Passover Lamb!
Remember that reconciliation becomes necessary when alienation has been caused in some way. So far, we have been discussing the alienation caused by our sins, which is only natural, for that is of the most immediate concern to us. The Bible, however, speaks of several other causes of alienation, and these too have been dealt with by the reconciliation provided by the Lord Jesus.
The first cause of alienation between us and God is the fact that we are ‘in Adam’. Before ever I committed any sin of my own, I was alienated from God and under the sentence of death, because I am a child of Adam. Romans chapter 5 deals with this, and Paul is the only New Testament writer who brings out this truth. The relevant verses are 11 to 21, but I want you to notice that verses 13 to 17 are a large parenthesis. So, for the moment, I will jump straight from the end of verse 12 to verse 18: this will give us the flow of Paul’s argument without interruption. ‘And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the reconciliation. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned – therefore, as through one man’s offence judgement came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.’
I want to stop there, at verse 18, not because the following verses are unimportant, but because I want to emphasise the point Paul makes in verse 18. In the earlier verses of chapter 5, Paul is speaking about personal sins. But at verse 12, he moves into the area of sin – the fundamental flaw in us, our sinful nature, that causes us to commit sins, that predisposes us to go our own way rather than God’s.
I can’t overstress the importance of this point. One writer expresses it very simply, but clearly, by saying: ‘A dog is not a dog because it barks. Rather, it barks because it is, by nature, a dog. Similarly, we are not sinners because we commit sins. Rather, we commit sins because we are, by nature, sinners.’
Now, if you are anything like me, your reaction to being told that you are a sinner because you are a child of Adam, is that it is not fair. I did not ask to be born as a child of Adam. I did not ask to be born at all! I had nothing to do with it, so why should I suffer a penalty for something beyond my control? It is a fair question, and the answer is in the great truth of our Faith, that just as you had nothing to do with getting into this lost condition, God through Christ provided the way out, without us having to do anything about that either.
One man brought sin and death by his one act of disobedience to all. Similarly, the righteous act of one Man brings to all men the free gift of justification of life. We need to be careful here. This does not mean that every child of Adam is saved. But it does mean that the alienation caused by being children of Adam is taken away by the reconciliation gained by the Lord’s atoning sacrifice.
Now we can move on to verse 19: ‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.’ In verse 18, the righteous act of the Last Adam undoes the condemnation of the offence caused by the act of the first Adam, and the result flows to all men. But in verse 19, the obedience of the Last Adam, will make many (not all) righteous. The distinction is important.
In this respect, God deals with humanity as a whole, on the basis of the two men called Adam. It can be summed up simply like this: As in Adam, so in Christ. When we become children of God by faith through grace, God transfers us from Adam to Christ – from death to life.
Alienation of the Gentile
The next alienation that calls for reconciliation is the alienation of the Gentile from God. As with the previous subject, we had nothing to do with it personally. It is ironic, to say the least, that the reconciliation in this area has been so complete that none of us would know that Gentiles were ever alienated from God simply on the basis of being Gentiles, if the Scriptures had not told us.
Romans chapter 1 shows that after Noah’s flood, as the race grew larger, they deliberately chose to turn away from God, even though they knew about God’s attributes through the natural creation around them. It was because they turned away from God that God gave them up, and turned to one man through whom He would work to achieve His purposes. That man was Abraham.
Throughout the centuries during which God worked through the people of Israel, the Gentile world was left largely to its own devices, and during that long time, Israel was the avenue to God. The position of Gentiles relative to God throughout much of the Old Testament times is summed up by Paul in Ephesians 2:11–13: ‘Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh – who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands – that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.’ Paul is not saying that the Gentile has been brought near to Israel. No, he has been brought near to God, after having been in the position of being hopeless and without God.
It is true that, until the establishment of God’s Covenant people, there were no Gentiles. But the alienated position of the Gentile world came about as a result of the actions recounted by Paul in Romans 1. It is significant that we see the reversal of the Gentile alienation in the book of Acts. From the conversion of Cornelius onward, the Gentile is being reconciled to God, and the reconciliation is on the basis of the shed blood of Christ. And this brings us to the next area of alienation that needed a reconciliation.
Alienation between Jew and Gentile
As the Jew came in, way back in Genesis, the Gentile went out. In Acts, the Jew is on the way out, and the Gentile is on the way back in. Paul tells us in Romans 11, that Israel’s stumbling is not that they might fall entirely from God’s grace, but rather, that the Gentile might be blessed.
That there was a gulf of difference separating Jew and Gentile is no secret. Right from the calling of Abraham and the setting up of Israel as a nation, the Old Testament emphasises that Israel is different. They are not as the other nations. They behave differently, they eat differently and they worship differently. And even in the assemblies of believers in the Acts years, there were still differences between the Jewish and Gentile believer. It was certainly true that ‘in Christ there was neither Jew nor Gentile’, but in practice there was a barrier between the two groups. Paul calls it ‘the middle wall of partition or separation’ in Ephesians 2:14.
Jewish believers could and did worship in the Temple. Gentile believers could not. There was nothing in Peter’s ministry to separate any Jew from the Temple. Their belief in the Messiah made them better Jews. But when Gentiles were converted, they did not become Jews! Then there were the decrees of Acts 15 governing the conduct of Gentile believers. The very need for these decrees showed how difficult it was for Jewish believers to accept and fellowship with Gentile believers. While the years covered by Acts ran their course, these differences could be tolerated, but when the time came for the new calling of the ONE NEW MAN of the Dispensation of the Mystery, that middle wall had to come down. So in the Church which is His Body, the complete equality between Jew and Gentile, which was absent during the Acts years, became a practical reality. As I said above, this area of alienation has been so fully done away with, that most believers do not know it was ever any different.
This study is much longer than I planned, but I could not leave any of it out. Much more could be said, but we have seen how God has broken down every barrier that separated us from Himself. It has all been done in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, and I trust that, with me, you rejoice in this wonderful word of life, reconciliation, and all it means to us.
No. 3 – Redemption
Another Scriptural word that describes an aspect of God’s work of salvation is redemption. There is an important point that needs to be made about some of these words we will consider, this one in particular. Brought up as I was in a Christian home, and belonging to an evangelical denomination as the family did, I grew up hearing these various words used very often. I absorbed the idea that they were ‘sacred’ words, words that belonged to the Bible and God’s work for sinful people, so it was a surprise, to say the least, to learn, as I got older, that words like redemption were used in the ‘sinful world’ out there. I slowly came to realise that by understanding the meaning of these words in their ‘worldly’ use, I would understand better what it meant when it was used in the ‘sacred’ or Biblical way. Regardless of whether the word we are thinking about is only used in the Bible or not, it pays to consult the dictionary to get the definition. The only word of caution I would add is that the usage of the word in Scripture should also be studied, for the way the Holy Spirit uses a word is more important than even the dictionary definition. However, don’t despise your dictionary.
While they may not be so common these days in our society, people of one hundred or so years ago were quite familiar with the operation of pawn shops. If they had ever pawned something to raise a bit of cash, they understood full well that the only way to get their property back was to ‘redeem’ it. That meant that money had to be paid to get back what really belonged to them.
My trusty Pocket Oxford Dictionary has this to say about ‘redeem’, which of course, is the verb: buy back, recover by expenditure of effort or by stipulated payment. The third definition it gives says this: purchase the freedom of another; save by ransom. Now, there are some words that sound comfortably familiar to my evangelically-trained ears!
So the words ‘redeem’ and ‘redemption’ are words of the financial world, the share market, and even the slave market, and these uses of the word redemption have significance in the way the Bible uses it. Although slavery still exists in parts of the world, in most countries it is a thing of the past, but I’m sure we all understand something of what it means.
The first concept we must have in our minds when considering redemption – and this is clearly illustrated by slavery and the pawn shop – is that the person or object that needs redeeming has been sold, stolen or lost. The object to be redeemed is not in its proper or original position. This has particular importance when we think of God redeeming us through Christ’s work. It was not the original or proper condition of man to need redeeming. By the act of creation, God owned humanity. We were His to start with. But through Adam’s disobedience, and in spite of God’s warning, humanity became enslaved by sin and death. Thus it came about that we (I use the term ‘we’ to mean humanity) needed to be redeemed – bought back – if we were to be restored to our proper position of freedom in God’s possession.
Who is the slave master? Satan, of course, and he would not let any of his slaves go unless the proper price was paid. Peter has something to tell us about this: ‘…you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold… but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.’ 1 Peter 1:18,19. What a price had to be paid for our redemption! The most precious metals known to man were not enough. Only the blood, that is, the life, of the Lamb provided by God Himself – His Son – was sufficient.
I hope you can hear the echoes from the Old Testament in Peter’s words. They take us back to Exodus and the plight of the Hebrews in Egypt. What was their plight? They had been enslaved, and so had to be redeemed, or bought back! While those events really happened, they provide us with graphic illustrations of what God in Christ has done for those who are in Christ through faith.
There is a startling passage in Isaiah 43 that says a lot about our subject. I hope you will read and ponder the whole chapter, but I want to quote just the first three verses: ‘But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you… For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour; I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place.” ’ (Isaiah 43:1-3)
I freely admit that I cannot explain these references to the Lord giving Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba as a ransom for His people Israel, but the verses illustrate very well the manner of redemption. Something, or someone of equal value, was paid for the thing or person who was being redeemed.
Which brings us to what is perhaps the most important point about redemption. The Scriptural principle is that, not only must the one who redeems a person be a person too, but that person who redeems must be a relative, as close a relative as possible. The biblical term is the ‘kinsman-redeemer’. In addition to what Peter told us in the quote above, we have the following from Hebrews 10:4 and 5: ‘For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. Therefore, when He, that is, Christ, came into the world, He said, “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.” ’
The ‘body prepared’, of course, is the body in which the Word became flesh and dwelt among His people when He was born in Bethlehem. In being born like that, He became our true kinsman – one of the family – and being truly human, He could then die as our representative.
These truths are spelled out for us particularly in the book of Ruth. If you are not familiar with Ruth’s story, I would urge you to read the book through at one sitting. It will take you less than thirty minutes.
The highlights of the story are these: Elimelech takes his wife, Naomi, and his two sons from their home in Bethlehem, because of famine, to neighbouring Moab. He has heard there is food there. His two sons marry Moabite girls, but later Elimelech and the two sons die. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem, and tells her two widowed daughters-in-law to return to their fathers’ homes, as she has no more sons who can marry them, as the custom was. One of the girls goes back home, but the other, Ruth, will not leave Naomi, and returns with her to Bethlehem. But while the family was away in Moab, their property in Bethlehem had been sold off. Naomi had no money with which to redeem it, and the story tells how Ruth was brought into contact with Boaz, who was not only rich, but was also a kinsman of Naomi. After a hiccup or two, Boaz redeems the property, takes Ruth as his wife (which was part of the redemption deal) and produces a son who is a forebear of King David, and therefore of the Lord Jesus Himself.
I have given here the bare bones of the story, but there is much more to it, and I hope you will ponder it all deeply. As I said before, it was not acceptable for just anyone to be the redeemer. It must be as close a kinsman as possible, and here we have the reason why it was necessary for the Word to become flesh. To be our Redeemer, the Lord had to be a real human being. It was not enough to assume human form, that is, to pretend to be human for a while. He had to be human just as we are. And in that body in which He became ‘one of us’, He took our place as the condemned, and with His death, paid the price of the sins of Adam and Eve and every one of their descendants. He could do all that for us, because not only was He truly our kinsman, but because He had no sins of His own to pay for, His death could pay our penalty.
Redemption, therefore, is a very important part of God’s plan of Salvation. Like reconciliation, and all the other results that the Lord’s death has brought us, redemption is possible because the justice of God has been satisfied in every way by the atonement that the Lord’s death made first and foremost.
And having been redeemed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, as of the blood of a lamb without spot or blemish, I am free – free from condemnation, free from future punishment, free from Satan’s dominion and power, free to serve God to the best of my ability, free to enjoy communion with my Heavenly Father through the access into His presence that my Kinsman-redeemer gained for me. Truly, redemption is one of the wonderful words of life!
No. 4 – Justification
We have looked at the subjects of atonement, reconciliation and redemption. These words describe aspects of the overall work of salvation that God has carried out, not only on our behalf, but to deal with sin in the universe, and ultimately bring about the situation where He, God, is all in all.
These words are not synonyms. They describe different things, and while there is overlap between some of the subjects, it greatly helps our understanding of God’s work if we distinguish as much as we can between them. We have seen that the atonement effected by the Lord Jesus when He became obedient to the death on the cross, is the foundation of everything else that He gained for us. Because the Lord’s death paid the price for all sin, thereby satisfying the demands of God’s holiness and justice, God was reconciled to the world, and sinners, in turn, can be reconciled to God.
Then again, the Lord’s death was the price that redeemed us – that bought us back from the bondage of sin and death in which Adam’s sin, as well as our own sin, had enslaved us. These are all tremendous blessings, but there is much more.
So we move on to the next wonderful word of life to be considered, which is justification. As the English language developed over many centuries, it has freely drawn on many other languages. So we have ended up with words which mean the same thing – synonyms. While this is a great strength, it can also cause some problems in understanding. Now we have a case in point with the word justification.
Justify, the verbal form, comes from the Latin root which gives us our word justice as well as just, justify and justification. No problem so far, but what many English readers do not realise is that the words ‘righteous’ and ‘righteousness’ not only mean exactly the same as ‘just’ and ‘justification’, but they translate exactly the same Hebrew and Greek words. So the first point to remember is that justification and righteousness mean exactly the same thing. Another small problem is that while we can use the verbal form of justification and say justify, the noun ‘righteousness’ does not have a verbal form. English does not allow us to say ‘righteousify’. We must say, ‘make righteous’.
By the way, these two words provide us with a good example of the danger of building our doctrines on English words and their dictionary definitions. I looked up two thesauruses to see if justification and righteousness were considered to be synonyms, and they were not. The more important point for us, however, is that the Bible uses the two words interchangeably, and the fact that our modern references do not link the two words shows just how far we have moved away from the original meanings.
The Hebrew word translated ‘righteous’ and ‘just’ is tsadaq. This is the root word from which all the other forms of the word come. The first occurrence is in Genesis 6:9 which tells us that Noah was a just man. It would be equally correct if it was translated that Noah was a righteous man.
The basic meaning of tsadaq is to be straight, balanced, equal, and this is what is meant by the famous expression in the Law, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. In other words, fair and equal treatment and compensation. Isn’t it interesting, and also a little surprising, that this notion of straightness, fair dealing and proper weights and measures, is the underlying thought behind righteousness? We tend to treat words such as justification as special or holy words, but I believe we take a large step forward in our spiritual life when we see how practical and down to earth these subjects are. If we claim to be justified in Christ and yet are guilty of deception or dishonest behaviour in our relations with other people, we are kidding ourselves, and certainly will not bring glory to the Lord.
Let’s look at the ways Scripture uses the word ‘justify’. Deuteronomy 25:1: ‘If there be a controversy between men, and they come into judgement that the judge may judge them; then shall they justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.’
Think carefully here. The phrase ‘they shall… condemn the wicked’ is literally, ‘they shall make him wicked’. Does this mean that if a judge declares a person guilty that he thereby makes the person wicked? No, of course not. It is simply a form of expression and means ‘he shall declare him wicked’. If a jury in a court case finds the accused guilty, they do, in a sense, ‘make him wicked’. But no one believes that the jury’s verdict caused the wrongful action of the accused.
It is exactly the same with the righteous. If someone before the court is found to have acted honestly and/or legally and is acquitted, there is no thought that the verdict somehow fills that person with morality and goodness. No, it simply declares that in the matters before the court, the person acted rightly.
Consider these verses: Matthew 12:36,37: ‘But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof on the day of judgement. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.’ Luke 10:29: ‘But he willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” ’ Luke 16:15: ‘And He said unto them, You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’
The way these verses use our word shows that a strong part of the meaning of justification is to be declared right, whether we do it ourselves or someone else does it. But being declared righteous does not necessarily change our nature and make us good from then on. Consider Abraham – he believed God’s pronouncement that he and Sarah would have their own son when he well knew it was a physical impossibility. And the Scriptures tell us that God counted Abraham’s faith in this matter to him for righteousness. Did that change Abraham’s nature? Read the account – Abraham often faltered and vacillated in his walk with God after that point, but God had declared him to be righteous or just. And if God says it is so, who can argue?
I said above that being declared righteous does not change our sinful natures, and if you are wondering what it is that makes us better people, it is some of the other parts of the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, such as the breaking of the power of sin in our lives and the transforming that comes with the renewing of our minds. But the truth is that much of the work of making us better people has to be done by ourselves. We are the ones who have to mortify our members upon the earth. We have to remove wrong thoughts and actions from our lives like taking off a coat. Colossians 3:9. The work of the Lord Jesus has made it possible for these things to be done, but we are the ones who must do it. God does not do it for us.
Dikaioo – Righteous
The Greek word that is used to translate tsadaq and its derivatives is the root word dike and from this we get dikaioo, which means ‘just’ or ‘righteous’. Because we are so used to seeing the words ‘just’, ‘justify’ and ‘justification’ in their Scriptural setting, we tend to forget that they are terms of the law court, and if we look carefully, we find that this is the case in the Scriptures too.
The Courtroom of God
God is said to be the judge. The one who is to be justified is said to be guilty, exposed to judgement and without any plea. There are said to be three accusers in Scripture: The Law, John 5:45; Conscience, Romans 2:15; and Satan, Zechariah 3:2 and Revelation 12:10.
Colossians 2:14 tells us that the charges against us have been drawn up in legal writing, and if, when you read Romans 8, you miss that its setting is God’s court of judgement, then you will miss the teaching of the chapter. We’ll come back to some of that in a moment or two.
Here is a quote from a man named Scott (and that is all I know about him): ‘When a man is tried before an earthly tribunal he must either be condemned or acquitted: if he be condemned, he may be pardoned, but he cannot be justified; if he be acquitted, he may be justified, but he cannot stand in need of a pardon.’
Now what has happened in God’s court goes against all the rules of our earthly courts. The Gospel tells us that we were forgiven, which means we were guilty. Then God is said to justify the ungodly (the guilty), which in earthly courts is not only illegal, but really impossible.
So in God’s court, the Gospel provides the guilty child of Adam with a plea that is all-sufficient. The Lord Himself, the One who paid the price demanded by the righteous Judge, is our advocate and not only that, He also occupies the prosecutor’s place on the right hand of the Judge. Then, not only are we completely forgiven and our debt paid in full for us, but we are fully justified, fully accepted, and given life and an inheritance. And what is more, the righteousness of Christ is ours by imputation.
Remember the verse back in Deuteronomy 25? God declares us righteous, not because we perform righteously, but because we have received the righteousness of God in Christ. When God declares us righteous or just, what has happened is not that our sinful nature changed, but that our standing before God changed. Justification changes our standing, not our state.
One of the simplest definitions of justification that I have heard is that given by Charles Welch, who would say in his own particular humorous way: ‘To be justified means that God treats me just-as-if-I’d never sinned.’
Basis of justification
So what is justification based on?
1. We are justified by the blood of Christ, and it is through redemption. Romans 3:4; 5:9
2. We are justified freely by grace. Romans 3:24, Titus 3:7
3. We are justified by faith. Acts 13:39, Romans 3:28
On the negative side, no one can be justified by keeping the Law of Moses or by works of any kind. Romans 3:20,28; 4:2. Galatians 2:16; 3:11; 5:4.
So we can say that free grace is the source of justification, the atonement is the meritorious cause, and faith is the only means through which justification is received.
Three times the Apostle quotes from Habakkuk 2:4, and if it had not been for the inspired use Paul makes of the verse, we would all pass it by, not realising the great foundational truth that it is. ‘Behold, his soul which is lifted up, is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.’
The Septuagint (LXX) translates it like this: ‘If any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him, but the just shall live by my faith.’ I cannot explain how the Hebrew version becomes what it is in the LXX, but Paul uses the LXX version for his quotes, and in the book of Hebrews, he uses the whole verse except for the word ‘my’. The three quotes are Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38.
The important point here is for us to see that Habakkuk’s faith rested on God’s faithfulness. It appeared to Habakkuk, as it has and does to many of God’s saints, that God had gone to sleep and that His promised salvation would never come. But Habakkuk learned that through the trials of the believer’s walk he can be quietly confident, for the answer will not be delayed longer than the appointed time and meanwhile, the just by faith shall live.
In conclusion, I want to take you back into the courtroom. Imagine for a moment that you are watching a trial being conducted. The jury has just returned from their deliberations, and the judge has asked the foreman of the jury to announce their verdict. The foreman stands and says, ‘We find the defendant…’ Just a moment! What do they mean they find the defendant? He wasn’t lost, was he, so how could they find him? Of course, if the verdict goes against him, he will be lost, but that is another matter. No, the word ‘find’ means more than to find something that has been misplaced. In this context it means to come to a conclusion, a verdict, after the searching and sifting of evidence, of weighing up pros and cons. The result of all this is called… a finding. So the accused in a trial is found… either guilty or not guilty.
Now let’s turn to Philippians 3:7–9: ‘But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.’
No. 5 – The Forgiveness of Sins
The word I want to consider in this study is not a word at all, but a phrase – the forgiveness of sins.
I hope that no reader who has studied the earlier articles in this series will think that, at last, we have arrived at the important subject. It is certainly true that for us, especially when we first came to the Lord Jesus, our sins loomed largest in our thoughts. What a relief, what peace came, when we had the witness within that indeed our sins had been forgiven by God! I know that at that stage in my spiritual pilgrimage, I knew so little of God’s plan of salvation. My understanding of what God had done for me in Christ Jesus went no further than believing that because God had sent His Son, who had died on the Cross for the world, my sins had been washed away by His shed blood. That knowledge is undoubtedly life-changing, but, as I tried to show in the first article of this series on the Atonement, from God’s point of view, the forgiveness of our sins was not the first thing procured by the Lord’s death. It could not be, because before God could make the slightest move towards any sinner, apart from moving to judge and condemn that sinner, full satisfaction for God’s Holiness had to be provided.
So Atonement came first in what Christ did, and it should have first place in our understanding of what Christ has done. I think also that Reconciliation is the first result coming from the Atonement, for as 2 Corinthians 5 tells us, God was first reconciled to the world, and consequently is able to call the world to reconciliation with Him. To this extent then, there is some priority of subjects, but when we get to subjects like redemption and forgiveness, the order in which we consider them is not so important.
The other point to be made, and it is one I’ve made before, is that it is difficult to keep the different subjects separate. As one thinks about redemption, for instance, it is hard not to think also about the forgiveness of sins, but I know it has helped me to understand better God’s wonderful work of Salvation by thinking of these different aspects of that work separately. With these thoughts in mind then, let’s consider the forgiveness of sins by God.
There are several Hebrew words used in the Old Testament that are translated ‘forgiveness’. One, kaphar, gives us the word ‘atonement’, and the first time it is used in the Bible is in the account of the building of Noah’s Ark, where it is translated ‘pitch’. There are certainly some interesting thoughts behind that, but I want to concentrate on another word which speaks volumes to us. That is the word nasa which means basically ‘to bear’. There are three meanings in this word: to lift up; to carry; and, to take away.
This word, of course, is used in a non-doctrinal sense in Scripture. Examples are the carrying of the ark during the wilderness wanderings, and also the bearing of armour. Even so, there are still the thoughts in those usages of lifting up, carrying and taking away. More importantly, however, right from the earliest days, just after the expulsion from Eden, the word was used with the two ideas of bearing sin and forgiving sin.
Turn to Genesis 4:13: ‘And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.’ Now look at the marginal reference if your Bible has them. The Companion Bible margin has this: ‘Mine iniquity is greater than may be forgiven.’ It can refer either to iniquity or the punishment for the iniquity.
So, long before the Law, with all its many commands and prohibitions, and the measures needed for forgiveness and acceptance, the connection between the bearing of sins and the forgiveness of sins was understood.
Moving forward to the history of Joseph, we have in Genesis 50:17 his brothers’ request for forgiveness, and they used our word nasa. When they asked Joseph to forgive their trespass and sin, they literally asked him to bear it. Now they certainly did not mean something like ‘put up with it’, or ‘get over it’, when they asked Joseph to bear their sin. They were asking him to lift it off them, to take it away and not hold it against them. It is worthy of note that the verse finishes by saying that Joseph was weeping as his brothers asked for his forgiveness. He had been longing with all his heart to hear them say those words.
Now, if you are applying these thoughts to the Lord’s forgiveness of us, even to the point of Him weeping as we come in contrition and ask for forgiveness, you are certainly right, for Joseph is a wonderful picture of the Lord Jesus. But that is the wider application of the account of Joseph and his brothers. I would remind you that there is a primary interpretation of the passage that we must understand before we go to the wider application. Stephen paints the picture for us in his address to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7. Stephen deals with the events leading up to Joseph in verses 6 to 19, and the climax for us comes in verse 13: ‘And the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers…’ The result of this revelation was the ‘salvation’ of Jacob and his family from the famine which had descended upon the ‘whole world’.
We must take some care here. It would be natural to apply the picture of Joseph forgiving his brothers to Christ’s forgiveness of ourselves, but before we do that, we must realise that it is a prophetic picture of the Lord being recognised by his brothers, that is, the nation of Israel, when He comes to them ‘the second time’. Then ‘they will look on Him whom they pierced and mourn…’ and He will forgive them. When we have that clear in our understanding, then we can make the wider application of parts of the account to ourselves. I would hope that, by doing it like that, we will not appropriate any of Israel’s promised blessings to ourselves.
The next occurrence of nasa that I want you to notice is in Leviticus 22:9: ‘They shall therefore keep my ordinance, lest they bear sin for it, and die thereof, if they profane it.’ Obviously, to bear your sin meant that you could die for it.
Now keep what we have learnt in mind as we read the following verses. Isaiah 53:12: ‘…and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.’ John 1:29: ‘The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.’ John used a form of the verb airo, which can mean: lift up, take up or away, carry off, remove. These are the same meanings as in the Hebrew word nasa. And while the Greek word may not have the thought of the death of the one who does the taking away, we know full well that the way in which the Lamb of God took away the sins of the world was by dying.
Another New Testament verse that speaks of the forgiveness of sins is Ephesians 1:7: ‘In Him (that is, Jesus Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.’ Colossians 1:14 is a parallel verse. Notice the close connection between redemption through the blood of Christ and the forgiveness of sins. But Paul uses a different word for forgiveness than John. It is aphesis, which means to loose or release. It is translated by four different words in our English Bibles: deliverance, forgiveness, liberty and remission. Luke 4:18 uses two of these words: ‘…He has sent Me… to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…’ Your Greek Interlinear Testament will show you that ‘deliverance’ and ‘liberty’ are both aphesis. This word belongs to the slave market and the prison, and speaks volumes about the deliverance and liberty that is ours in Christ Jesus.
In Acts 2:38 we have aphesis translated as ‘remission’: ‘Then Peter said to them, Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.’ The word ‘remit’, like ‘redeem’, is a financial term that has legal overtones. My Shorter Oxford Dictionary gives such meanings as: pardon sins; refrain from inflicting or exacting punishment; to abate or slacken one’s anger; send a matter back to a lower court; and almost at the bottom of the list, we have, to transfer or send money.
Another occurrence of aphesis, but as a verb this time, is in a very well known passage found in Matthew 6:12: ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.’ When you are forgiven a debt, you are released or loosed from it, and to slip back in the Old Testament usage, the debt is borne for you, lifted up from you, carried by someone for you and taken away.
That is a wonderful picture of what the Lord Jesus has done for us in ‘bearing our sin’. He lifted it up from us, He carried it to the cross, He took it away from us and, what is not in the forgiving of debts illustration, is that, to bear our sin, He had to die for it.
One last reference as we conclude: Ephesians 4:32: ‘And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.’ The words translated ‘forgiving’ and ‘forgave’ are not anything we have looked at so far. They are forms of charizomai, a word which means to give as an act of grace. Also, the word translated as ‘kind’ is chrestos, which is not linked with ‘Christ’ as it might appear to be, but charizomai.
We could translate the verse this way: ‘And be gracious to each other, full of compassion, gracing each other, even as God for Christ’s sake, has graced you.’
It is not easy to do, but to the extent that we can put this verse consistently into practice in our lives, we will be well on the way to walking worthily of our high calling in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 4:1
No. 6 – Sanctification
I recently came across a quote that fits our studies in the various aspects of salvation very well: ‘Atonement needs a priest; reconciliation needs a mediator; redemption needs a kinsman-redeemer who can pay the required price.’ And we can add that the Lord Jesus fills each role completely. How can we ever adequately praise Him or thank Him enough?
Now, having been redeemed by Christ and accepted by God on the basis of the atonement Christ made to God, and knowing our sins are forgiven and that we are justified in His sight, we are now able to move on into a life of service for and communion with God, experiencing the blessing of sanctification.
There are widely differing opinions about sanctification in Christian circles, and I think that, as with other doctrinal subjects, some of the confusion comes from emphasising one aspect of the subject over others.
The first thing to note is that there are at least two sides to sanctification, that is, the part that God does, which as with all His work on our behalf, is the major part, and then the part that we must do. Another way of saying this is that we are to bring our lives into line with what He has done for us. Much teaching in Christian circles focuses on our part, which is understandable and indeed, necessary, but often, not enough attention is given to what God has done for us in the matter of sanctification. This, I believe, leads to lop-sided teaching and practice.
What is sanctification?
The words ‘sanctify’ and ‘sanctification’ do not occur very often in the New Testament, but the list expands if we add such words as ‘holy’, ‘holiness’, ‘purge from sin’, etc. The Old Testament does better in this regard, and that is possibly because much is said about the sanctifying of Israel and the Tabernacle and their service for God. There are, as we will see, references about God’s sanctification also.
As I let my mind wander over the subject, it seemed to me that sanctification is the goal of God for all His people. It makes no difference whether a child of God lives under the dispensation of law or grace or mystery, or whether the sphere of blessing is the promised land, the New Jerusalem or Heavenly places far above all, we are all saints, that is, sanctified.
I did not always know that the words ‘saint’, ‘sanctify’, ‘holy’ and ‘holiness’, are all related words. We have these different words because they come into English from different languages. The modern usage of ‘saint’ in some denominations is misleading. Some think that a saint is a very special person who has shown a large measure of holiness in daily life, and so has been officially given the title of ‘saint’.
That is not the New Testament usage, however. Every believer is called a saint, because in God’s sight, every believer has been reconciled, ransomed and redeemed, reckoned righteous and made spotless by the blood of our Saviour. In other words, ALL believers are sanctified. That is our standing with God through grace by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. But the actual state that any of us may be in at any given moment could be very different, which is our side of the equation, and thank God, He has made provision for the weakness of our sinful flesh.
What does sanctification mean?
The word comes to us through French, behind which is the basic Latin word. Sanctificare = sanctus ‘holy’, and ficare ‘to make’, and the meanings that have grown out of this are: to make holy; to make free from sin or purify; to set apart as holy; or to consecrate.
The Hebrew word – qadash
The Hebrew word for sanctify is qadash, the primary idea of which is cleanliness. This has a moral and ceremonial sense as well as a practical one. The first occurrence of sanctify in the Bible is very helpful. It is in Genesis 2:3: ‘God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it.’ Obviously, God set the seventh day apart. He made it special, different, sacred. We need to realise that while inanimate objects can be sanctified, that is, set apart and only used for sacred purposes, they cannot be holy as a person can.
Another reference that will help us is Exodus 13:2: ‘Consecrate unto Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine.’ The AV uses ‘sanctify’ where the NKJV uses ‘consecrate’, but it is the same Hebrew word, of course. It may surprise us, but there is no thought here of moral purity. All God was saying was that the firstborn offspring of the people and their animals were to be consecrated – sanctified – to Him. God later substituted the tribe of Levi for the firstborn of each family. The moral overtones come later in the rules for the priests and Levites, but the basic thought here is that of someone being set apart for a particular purpose.
Our next reference, Leviticus 10:3, brings in another aspect: ‘And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke, saying: By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified”. So Aaron held his peace.’ This is interesting as well as significant. The AV puts the first sentence like this: ‘I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me.’ Two of Aaron’s sons had come before God offering ‘strange fire’. They acted presumptuously and were devoured by fire. And when Moses told his brother what the Lord had said, Aaron held his peace. The sin of those two young men was not some immorality or evil deed like murder, but simply that they did not realise the importance of their roles and did not obey explicit instructions.
We are fortunate not to live in that Dispensation of Law when punishment was swift and often fatal. Nevertheless, we must not presume that we can be careless in our service for the Lord, for it always holds true that those who come near to God must regard Him as holy.
One other reference from the Old Testament that will help is Numbers 20:12: ‘Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow (sanctify) Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” ’ In what way did Moses not sanctify God before the people? Simply by ‘losing his cool’ and striking the rock instead of speaking to it as he had been instructed. He disobeyed.
The New Testament word hagiadzo
The word first occurs in the New Testament in Matthew 6:9: ‘…Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name…’. Hallowed, of course, is hagiadzo.
Passing over many references because of available space, we come to 2 Timothy 2:19–21. These verses are helpful because we have the two sides of the matter shown in verse 19: ‘The Lord knows those who are His’, and other Scripture shows us that whom the Lord knows, them He sanctifies. But then Paul has another quote: ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity’. On His side, the Lord sanctifies His people, and on our side, we must depart from all iniquity. In verses 20 and 21, Paul uses an interesting analogy. He speaks about vessels in a great house, some of honour and some of dishonour. We would say utensils instead of vessels. But what does honour and dishonour refer to? The NIV’s translation will guide us here: ‘In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.’
Now that’s a good standard by which to measure ourselves, don’t you think?
The means of sanctification
We have already touched on how sanctification becomes ours, but let’s be sure about it. I’m sure you will agree that our sanctification can only be through the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord. Several passages from Hebrews are relevant here: ‘…“Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God”… By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.’ 10:9,10. And 10:14: ‘For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.’ The word perfected means to be completed; to be brought to the goal; to the finish line. And 13:12,13: ‘Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.’ Those verses don’t need any comment from me.
As we come to a conclusion, look at these verses from Ephesians and Colossians: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who… chose us in Him… that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love…’ Ephesians 1:3,4. ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.’ Ephesians 5:25–27. ‘And you, who were once alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and blameless and above reproach in His sight, if indeed you continue in the faith…’ Colossians 1:21–23
I want to conclude with a passage that I do not remember being taught in the denomination in which I was saved and grew up. One of its doctrines was that of entire sanctification, meaning that sanctification was a second blessing attained after salvation by a complete surrender of self. So it was something of a shock to me when I first read these verses from 1 Corinthians 1:26–31: ‘For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, (so) that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – (so) that, as it is written, “He who glories let him glory in the Lord”.’ It was a wonderful relief to know that in the same way in which the Lord Jesus is my righteousness and redemption, He is also my sanctification. And on our side, may our lives always sanctify Him.
No. 7 – Surety
Another Scriptural term that describes a very important aspect of God’s work in His Son on our behalf is ‘Christ our Surety’.
The following section on ‘Surety’ is by Charles Welch and is taken from The Berean Expositor, Volume 1, page 49. Please read Genesis 43:1–10, and 44:18–34.
Our readers are doubtless familiar with the passages referred to above, and it is our intention to examine them with regard to their typical teaching. The action of Israel with regard to their Messiah is foreshadowed in this historic incident, for Stephen in Acts 7:51, referring to Israel as ‘stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, who always resist the Holy Ghost, as their fathers did’, says ‘The patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt, but God was with him… and at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren.’ Acts 7:9–13
Hebrews 9:28 tells us that Christ will appear the second time without sin unto salvation. When the Lord Jesus comes again, ‘they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced, and shall mourn,’ even as Joseph’s brethren did when they realised that they were in the presence of one who had been so ill-treated at their hands. We do not desire, however, to emphasise the prophetic type so much, as to draw attention to one of the sublime truths of the doctrine of atonement which is hereby typified, that is, the Suretyship of Christ. ‘I will be surety for him.’ Genesis 43:9
The Suretyship of Christ
What is the meaning of a surety? The Hebrew word, translated ‘surety’, comes from a word meaning ‘to mix’. At first sight this may not appear to throw much light upon the subject, but we believe it will as we examine one or two passages of Scripture. The Hebrew word for ‘evening’ is literally ‘the mixture’, for then the light and darkness appear to mingle together. The same word supplies us with the ‘woof’ (Leviticus 13:48, etc.) in weaving, the threads which are ‘intermixed’ with the warp in the production of the cloth. It further comes to mean ‘to mix or engage with others in trading’, and hence in turn comes to mean, ‘a place for such intercourse – a market’.
This helps us to see that the great underlying principle of suretyship is to become so identified, or interwoven, with the cause of another as to be treated in his room or stead [i.e. to be treated in his place, instead of him – Editor], to be responsible for his debts and failures, to make good his deficiencies, in short, to fulfil to the letter the wonderful doctrine enshrined in the theological term.
This responsibility is further emphasised by the words of Judah: ‘Of my hand thou shalt require him’. For illustration, read Genesis 31:39:‘That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bear the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it.’ See also 2 Samuel 4:11. Judah further amplifies this by saying that should he fail in execution of his suretyship, ‘then let me bear the blame for ever’. The word rendered ‘blame’ is translated ‘sin’ 165 times in the Old Testament. Hence, looking beyond Judah to the anti-type, we see that if Christ our Surety failed in His work, He must be still bearing sin – a dreadful thought – but, blessed be God, this is effectually disposed of by the resurrection, for ‘He was delivered because of our offences, and raised again because of our justifying’. Romans 4:25. ‘Sin hath no more dominion over Him.’ Romans 6:9. The substitutionary character of the surety is further emphasised in Genesis 44:33: ‘Let thy servant abide instead of the lad’. Precious word ‘instead’. ‘That One who knew no sin was made sin (and a sin offering) for us (or on our behalf), with the object that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’ 2 Corinthians 5:21. Christ dying in my stead, and raised from the dead, is pledge of Irreversible Salvation.
Genesis 44:34 gives a word which enables us to see that the step downward for heaven’s glory to earth’s shame taken by the Lord Jesus when He made our cause His own, is to be followed by a step upward from earth’s shame to heaven’s glory with Him. He who identified Himself with our sorrows has identified us with His joys. Oh, the wonder of it all! Truly, ‘by grace are ye saved’; truly (as one has put it), ‘the saved are in for favour’. Listen to Judah, but think of Christ, as he says, ‘How shall I ascend up to my father, and the lad be not with me?’ How can Christ, who suffered, died and rose again, ever be satisfied until those for whom He became surety are safely by His side in the Father’s home?
‘With me.’ When we contemplate our ruin, our fall, our sin, our doom; what grace, what love, that He, the spotless, peerless Son of God should come down and identify Himself ‘with me’! When we contemplate His glory, His fullness, His holiness, the wonders of the heavenly home, the light of His glorious throne, the nearness to the Father, what transcendent grace and unspeakable mercy do we find in the Scripture which tells that, sinful by nature as we are, we shall one day reach the fruition of redemption by finding ourselves placed securely for all eternity ‘with Him’.
Let it be repeated and emphasised unremittingly that all is of grace, that He hath ‘saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before agetimes’. 2 Timothy 1:9
There are some who are so spiritual (?) that the doctrine of the atoning blood is repulsive to them. We can but pity them. In the sight of God that blood is ‘precious’. On the pages of Scripture we discover that through that precious blood we have peace; we are justified; we are saved from wrath. We know Him, our great Surety, not only as the One who died, but as the One who was raised from the dead to die no more. Still for us He lives; still for us He intercedes; soon for us He is coming. Soon we shall be with Him.
May those who read these words be led fully to realise the blessedness of the truth contained in the type before us, and unflinchingly and unfalteringly hold fast the truth of Christ our Surety.
No. 8 – Instead
I think it is true to say that the little words such as ‘but’, ‘not’, and ‘if’, and also the seemingly unimportant words in the Bible, are the ones that often carry the truth God wishes to convey to us.
And the ‘wonderful word’ to be considered now is one such word. The phrase ‘instead of’ obviously is a slight contraction of ‘in the stead of’, and without giving thought to the original meaning behind the word ‘stead’, we use ‘instead’ freely in everyday conversation without any misunderstanding. ‘Stead’ comes into English from the old Germanic and Norse languages, and the fundamental meaning is that of ‘place’. Think of the word ‘homestead’, for instance.
I want to focus on three occurrences of this word in Genesis because they sum up for us the truth in the word.
Our first reference is in Genesis 4:25: ‘And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, “For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed”.’
Eve apparently knew that Abel was the one through whom the line to the promised Seed was to go, not Cain. The first verse of Genesis 4 shows, however, that when Cain was born, Eve indeed thought he was the fulfilment of God’s promise of 3:15. But, as 1 John 3:12 says, Cain was of the wicked one, that is, Satan. How Cain became ‘of the wicked one’ is outside our present subject. It is sufficient for our purposes to note that Abel was the chosen one, and after he was murdered by his brother, Seth was appointed as the chosen channel in the stead of his brother. The name Seth means ‘appointed’.
The murder of Abel was another attack by Satan on the Messiah’s line. I say another because Satan’s takeover of Cain, however it was done, was also such an attack. But Satan was taken in his own craftiness, because it turned out that God’s principle is that it is the second one who is God’s choice, not the first. Not Cain, but Abel. Not Ishmael, but Isaac. Not Esau but Jacob. And when Satan realised his mistake, he brought about the murder of Abel.
Because of our position looking back on these events, we know what happened, but imagine the problem that Abel’s death raised at the time. Quite apart from the grief his parents would have suffered, they must have at least wondered how the purposes of God would now be fulfilled. God had another principle that His creatures had to learn, that is, that of substitution. In other words, God would accept one person instead of another – Seth instead of Abel. Another example of this principle is found in Genesis 22 when it is the ram instead of Isaac.
Before leaving Genesis 4, I want to point out some things from God’s interaction with Cain in the early verses. We are told that the two brothers each brought an offering to the Lord. It seems that they were in the very presence of the Lord, for He spoke with Cain face to face, not from Heaven.
Now we know that Abel brought a blood offering, but Cain did not. It is often taught that the reason why Abel’s offering was accepted was because of the blood offering, and that may well be true. However, I think there could be a slightly different interpretation of it. In Hebrews 11:4 we read: ‘By faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts…’ Note first that Abel brought his sacrifice by faith. What does that mean? Romans 10:17 tells us that ‘…faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.’
In other words, when we read that Abel acted by faith, it means he was obeying something God had previously said. That is precisely what faith is! Cain, on the other hand, who had also heard the Word of God, would not obey God’s instructions. Notice, too, that the reference from Hebrews 11 tells us that Abel obtained witness that he was righteous. Abel was righteous before he made this sacrifice, which is why he brought the sacrifice, and the Lord testified to his righteousness by accepting his offering. In plain words, I believe that Abel had previously responded in faith to God and was saved, to use our evangelical term, whereas Cain had never responded positively to the Lord’s instructions about becoming righteous.
Now consider what the Lord said to Cain in Genesis 4:6 and 7. We are first told that Cain became angry when the Lord rejected his offering. This is a paraphrase: ‘So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you so angry, and why that terrible look on your face? If you will obey what I have told you to do, won’t you be accepted? (Implied answer: Of course, you will.) And if you choose not to obey, well, the sin-offering is lying outside the door. It won’t run away from you and you can do whatever you like with it”.’
I use the word ‘sin-offering’ instead of ‘sin’, because the Hebrew word translated ‘sin’ is also translated many times as ‘sin-offering’. The reason for that seeming paradox is that sin and the sin-offering are so mixed together that the word can mean either and the context must decide the meaning. Obviously, I think that the meaning of the Lord’s words is that if Cain repented sincerely, the sin-offering was there ready at hand to gain Cain access and acceptance. There is an important point embedded in those last words of verse 7. Just as the animal would not run away or struggle against Cain, when the true Sin-offering came, like a lamb led to the slaughter, He did not struggle against his executioners or raise His voice in protest. Blessed truth!
We well know what Cain’s response to the Lord’s gracious offer was. He took his brother out to the field and murdered him in his anger.
The second occurrence is in Genesis 22:13. The chapter tells of Abraham’s obedience to God’s supreme test of his faith. Obviously, there is much typical teaching here: Abraham and Isaac picture for us God the Father and God the Son going together to the sacrifice on Calvary. Abraham’s willingness to kill his only son, Isaac, mirrors the Father’s willingness to give His only Son as the sacrifice. Equally, Isaac’s incredible submission to Abraham mirrors the complete obedience and submission of the Son in drinking the bitter dregs of the cup that was offered to Him. But then, as the drama on that mountain in Moriah moves to its climax, the types change. When God can say to Abraham, ‘Now I know that you love Me…’ then Abraham and Isaac no longer prefigure the Father and the Son, but are simply themselves bringing a sacrifice to atone for their sins. God shows Abraham the ram caught by its thorns in a thicket, and the ram, killed instead of Isaac, is a wonderful picture of the Lord Jesus dying in the stead of each one of us.
As noted above, Abraham had to go to the land of Moriah to a specified mountain. This was the very area where, later, the Temple was built, and I suspect that the Lord was crucified on the very spot where Abraham built his altar.
Three times is Isaac named as Abraham’s only son – in verses 2, 12 and 16. While there were other sons by other wives, Isaac was, indeed, the only child born to Abraham and Sarah, and was the only one through whom God’s plans were to be realised.
Verse 6 tells us that the wood for the fire was laid upon Isaac. And verse 9 says: ‘…and (Abraham) bound Isaac his son… and laid him upon the wood.’ In the accounts of the crucifixion of the Lord, there is only one little reference, but it is there in John 19:17: ‘And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called… Golgotha.’ The ‘wood was placed on’ Christ, and then, of course, when they got to Golgotha, He ‘was placed on the wood’.
The third occurrence
The last reference we will consider is found in Genesis 44:33. It comes in the climax of the long story concerning Joseph being sold into slavery, and then his testing of his brothers to see if they had experienced a change of heart, or would, for a second time, abandon one of their brothers. It is wonderful how God uses Joseph’s manipulations of his brothers to bring out important truths. The verse we are concerned with says this: ‘Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers.’
When Judah spoke these words, he had no idea that he was speaking to his brother Joseph. To understand the full import of his words, we have to go back to the scenes at home before the brothers came to Egypt the second time. They were caught in a difficult dilemma. The famine was biting and they faced the real prospect of seeing their children starve. But they could not go back to Egypt without Benjamin, yet Jacob would not let Benjamin go.
As the situation grew worse, two suggestions were made: in chapter 42:37, Reuben offered his two sons to Jacob as hostages for Benjamin. Their lives, he said, would be forfeit if Benjamin did not return. Their father rejected this out of hand. How could two dead grandsons replace Benjamin? Then, later, Judah made his offer to Jacob. Please read Judah’s words in chapter 43, and note particularly verses 8 and 9. I quote: ‘Then Judah said to Israel, “Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go… I myself will be surety for him; from my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.” ’
Why did Jacob accept this? I have two answers to offer. Firstly, Judah offered himself as the guarantee for Benjamin. He was not offering any third party. Secondly, in the area of typical teaching, it had to be Judah who went guarantor, because the Deliverer of Israel was to come from the tribe of Judah. I am not suggesting that Jacob accepted Judah’s offer because he understood that, but I am saying that we see God in the background, over-ruling the events to bring out the truth He wanted known by later generations.
Another point to notice is what Judah said at the end of verse 9: ‘…let me bear the blame forever’. This could just as correctly be translated ‘let me bear the sin forever’, for that is the word used. How all these things speak to us of Christ, our Surety, our Substitute, our Sin-bearer!
One final point. Going ahead to chapter 44 to Judah’s words to Joseph, we must note verse 34. Here is how Judah finished his plea to Joseph: ‘For how shall I go up to my father if the lad be not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?’ While I cannot quote chapter and verse where the Lord actually used these words, surely the thought and the motive was in His mind and heart, with such words as, ‘How can I go up to my Father except these brethren, for whom I have gone guarantor, be with Me.’
It has been difficult, once again, not to stray into the areas of the other wonderful words we have studied previously. That can’t be avoided entirely for the subjects are intimately connected. But what a glorious truth, what a precious thought, is contained in this word ‘instead’. Thank God that one can stand in the place of another, and that not only was the Father’s love sufficient to send His Son as our substitute, but that also the Son was completely willing to carry out the Father’s will and bear the blame, the sin, instead of us.
Some words of a Gospel song from years ago come to mind. They go like this:
‘He took my place, upon the cruel tree,
He took the guilty sinner’s place,
AND I AM FREE.’
Wonderful words of life indeed!