Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “Being Made Holy”


In his Large Catechism, Luther says that he “cannot give a better title” or summary to the third article of the Apostles’ Creed “Being Made Holy” (LC, 2.35). He goes on to explain that the entire third article is nothing more than an explanation of how a Christian is made holy.

This is confusing at first, because nowhere in the third article does it mention the Christian being made holy. In fact, most people, when they read the third part of the creed, perceive it as a sort of appendix to the main parts of the creed. The first part is about God the Father as creator, the second is about God the Son as redeemer, and the third adds along with the Holy Spirit a long laundry list of descriptors:

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

Whenever I first became acquainted with the Creed, I thought whoever wrote the creed must’ve felt the obligation to cram the rest in.

Luther explains quite conclusively that this is not at all true. What is actually the case, is that everything included in the third article is placed underneath the Holy Spirit because those are things that properly the work of the Holy Spirit! Who makes me part of the catholic church? Who enjoins me to the communion of the saints? Who applies the forgiveness of sins? So on… The answer is quite simply: it is the Spirit who makes these things a reality in the life of the Christian.

Luther explains:

In [this article is] expressed and portrayed the Holy Spirit and his work, which is that he makes us holy… The Holy Spirit effects our being made holy through the following: the community of the saints or Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. That is, he first leads us into his holy community, placing us in the church’s lap, where he preaches to us and brings us to Christ (LC, 2.35-37)

In other words, while we might say it is the work of Christ to accomplish our salvation, it is the work of the Spirit to apply that work to us. And he does this by picking us up out of our state of sin and death, and bringing us into the community of saints and setting Christ before us in word and sacrament. He applies Christ’s work to us through the church. The common trinitarian framework is thus: the Father elects us unto salvation, the Son accomplishes our salvation, and the Spirit effects our salvation.

Luther explains it this way:

The work [of Christ] is finished and completed; Christ has acquired and won the treasure for us by his sufferings, death, and resurrection, etc. But if the work remained hidden so that no one knew of it, it would have been all in vain, all lost. In order that this treasure might not remain buried but be put to use and enjoyed, God has cause the Word to be published and proclaimed, in which he has given the Holy Spirit to offer and apply to us this treasure, this redemption. Therefore being made holy is nothing else than bringing us to the Lord Christ to receive this blessing, to which we could not have come by ourselves (LC, 2.38-39)

The Holy Spirit, by way of the church in its proclamation, “brings us to Christ” and applies his blessings to us. Luther therefore calls the church

…the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which the Holy Spirit reveals and proclaims, through which he illuminates and inflames hearts so that they grasp and accept it, cling to it, persevere in it (LC, 2.42).

The church is effective in its ministry as mother principally because the Holy Spirit causes her to be effective in her preaching. The Spirit illumines, enlivens, and causes believers to accept the gospel and cling to it. Thus, Luther proclaims, “outside the Christian community,…where there is no gospel, there is also no forgiveness, and hence there can be no holiness” (LC 2.56). And why? Because the Spirit is the worker of the Christian community, making the proclamation of the gospel and effective ministry.

How might we summarize the third article then? Luther rightly says it: “being made holy”.


Defining the Church


On page 13 of his Reformed Dogmatics: Volume Five, Geerhardus Vos asks this interesting question: “Is it easy to give a definition for ‘the church’?”. Vos answers candidly: no.

Just pages before, he gave the instances and meanings of the NT usage of the word “church”. The most common Greek word used is, of course, ekklesia. It is common to define this term as those “called out of”. But there are several contexts in which the “called out ones” are defined.

For instance, there is the idea of the universal church: those called out of sin to union with Christ. “In the first place, it is those called by Christ and to Christ” (p 10). This has no bearing on local assemblies, but rather to the mystical reality of all the elect gathered and united to the head. Paul commonly uses the metaphor of body and head in terms of the universal church, ekklesia catholikos (catholic church). This is the church in its most comprehensive context: those in earth and heaven, united to Christ the head and receiving the benefits thereof.

However, the term ekklesia has yet another usage in the NT; and that is of the local assembly. “The second meaning of the word “church” is that of the local, visible church — thus, the gathering of believers who meet in a particular place or city” (p 11). Vos lists off numerous references in the NT of the church gathered in Antioch or Asia etc. What this means is that ekklesia can refer to a specific gathering of people, and not to the comprehensive reality of the catholic church.

For this reason, Vos explains, “the matter [of the church] is considered from differing viewpoints” (p 13). He mentions three viewpoints, or starting points, from which one may define the church:

a) From election: Some say that the essence of the church is not latent in any external institution but in internal unity with Christ (p 13)

Vos reasons that this is the opposite view of the strictly sacramental churches: some say that those who partake of baptism are ipso facto part of the church. This reasoning is “from the outside in” (p 13). However, reasoning from election is starting from the opposite end: from the inside out. The elect are those inwardly called and regenerated and thus are part of the external body. But, says Vos, those elect not yet born or those still unbelieving cannot properly be said to be part of the church. They have yet to be implanted into Christ, yet to repent and believe, and are by definition outside of the church!

There is another option, noted above:

b) From baptism: Engrafting into the body of Christ and belonging to it are outwardly signified and sealed in baptism. Thus we no longer have to do with the invisible church, but with a visible form that it assumes. (p 14)

This reasons not from election but from the sacramental life of the church: those participating in those ordinances are said to be part of the ekklesia. The difficulty lies, Vos rightly reasons, in what he calls a “valid baptism”. There are some members that receive baptism that “it would be difficult to call…believing brothers” (p 14). Vos later goes on to distinguish rightly between one who has received the sign of baptism and one who has received the grace of baptism. The two often do not meet, although ideally they should! Just as some Jews received circumcision without receiving the inward reality of “the circumcision of the heart”, so too many receive the sign without the seal. And although one cannot go on to judge the genuineness of a Christian’s baptism, nevertheless, this does not guarantee salvation.

As an aside, this was one of the Reformation’s sacramental emphases: sacraments, although salvific, are not automatically salvific. The Westminster Confession talks about the “efficacy of baptism”, but clarifies by saying:

Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated (28.5)

One might interpret this article by saying that sacraments are indeed efficacious but must be received rightly. Infants admitted to baptism, for instance, are indeed participants in grace, but if one rejects or even neglects baptism through unbelief or sin, that baptism is to no effect. Baptism is not an automatic grace.

Vos moves on to his third option for defining the church:

 c) Finally, some have begun with confession. Insofar as confession is the principal external means to manifest the invisible essence of the church and to cause it to materialize outwardly, it already belongs under the preceding approach. Confession, however, is also a bond that binds the members of the church together in the external form of the church. To this extent, it is what is characteristic for the visible church in its institutional form (p 14)

Put another way, confession or outward profession, enables the reality of the inward invisible church to become visible in an institutional form. It brings invisible and visible together. Vos holds this to be the most ideal in defining the ekklesia. And of course, those who make their profession have already been part of the elect from all of eternity and presumably have already participated in the sacramental life of the church.

Having this ideal, Vos transitions into his next section by clarifying that this struggle for a definition of the church is why the Reformed hold to a distinction between the invisible and visible church (p 15). “One may not place them beside each other dualistically as if they were two churches”, however (p 18). The invisible and visible church are two sides of the same church (p 18). But this remains a reality: one may belong to the visible institutional church without being vitally united to Christ; and likewise one may not belong to the institutional church and yet still, in God’s grace, united to Christ.

Imputation and Obedience


Saint Paul, teacher of justification by faith

Many critiques have been launched against the Protestant doctrine of divine imputation within the last century. Some of these critiques are understandable and even valid. For instance, some say that, within Paul’s thought, the transformative — sanctification — is not completely separated from the legal — justification. This is true. Luther himself saw this, and acknowledged that the legal leads to or even causes the transformative. When a judge acquits a criminal, this inevitably leads to a change in his life. He doesn’t return to jail after he has been acquitted! He is freed by the acquittal. It is the same with believers: if God acquits, he transforms. Those whom God has justified he necessarily sanctifies. The two are integrally connected, even organically connected.

With that said, justification within the Reformation tradition is still necessarily distinct from sanctification. Justification relates properly to something outside of the believer that is “accredited” or to the believer. Christ is the true just one, and thus his obedience and death are said within the Reformation tradition to be “imputed” to the believer. Imputation is not a legal fiction: it is something very true of Christ, but this truth of who Christ is is done on our behalf and thereby credited to our account. Christ obeys for us, and dies for us. This obedience and death is accounted to sinners who don’t have obedience and who deserve to die in their sins.

This is principally what Paul means in Corinthians when he says that “Christ died for our sins“. Christ’s death was not for himself, but for us! Imputation comes from the logic that our “moral account” is bankrupt. Language of course falls short here. But the point is that we have not obeyed God. Thus, we are said to be in a “debt”. Christ approaches the Father on our behalf, one might say as our defense lawyer, and offers the Father on our behalf, within our skin, what we didn’t. The apostle John uses this imagery when he calls Christ our advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1-2). This is what the priestly office of Christ is all about: he becomes our advocate and offers himself on our behalf. This offering is his entire life and death; and it covers and amends our wrongdoings.

What is important to realize, is this advocacy doesn’t cover simply initial justification. It also covers the believer’s sanctification. Even though in sanctification we are made intrinsically holy, we do not reach complete holiness in this life. Even our best works are “stained”, as it were, with impure motives or weaknesses. Even the best works we give to God are really not good enough. It seems in my mind that this should be obvious.

It is for this reason that Christ’s priestly obedience is imputed even to our own intrinsic holiness in sanctification. This is the reasoning of Christ’s continued priestly intercession: he continually and always offers his saving work on our behalf to the Father. Based on this intercession, the Father graciously receives and accepts even our weakest efforts toward holiness. If our holiness were not stained with unholiness, why would Christ need to continually intercede on our behalf?

The Westminster Confession of Faith articulates this reality quite well:

Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections (WCF, 16.6)

God looks at our works with a filter, as it were. Because believers are in his Son, he receives sincere works of obedience even if they are not entire holy. In fact, he receives them and imputes them as if they were his Son’s obedience. That is to say, he treats and delights in our works as he treats and delights in his Son’s work.

Now, at this point, many may read this and say: isn’t that a legal fiction? Can God really be said to be honest if he accepts impure works as if they were pure?

But this is a principle that everyone practices whether we know it or not. I enjoy my 4 year-old daughter’s crayon drawings, not because her sketching technique is on a professional level, but because she’s my daughter. I judge her talent through a filter: because she’s my daughter, I delight and reward her efforts even if they aren’t very good!

Or take another example: I am said to be a “son” of my wife’s parents, not because I am biologically their son, but because they receive me as their son by virtue of my marriage to my wife. This is the logic of imputation: we receive things or persons by virtue of some other reality. It isn’t fiction, it’s imputation.

Just the same, God receives and even delights in our sincere works of holiness “for the sake of Christ”. Our works are, as it were, graded on a curve, and received joyfully when we offer them up in the Son. We are like little children scribbling with crayons; and God takes great delight in those scribbles!


Liturgy: What does it mean?


Christ the Great High Priest Icon (source)

There has been much talk about liturgy in recent years. The usual “non-structured” format of contemporary worship services is being organized after more ancient and more structured “higher church” services. A good example of this is Robert Webber’s excellent book Ancient Future Worship, a work advocating for contemporary worship services utilizing ancient worship structures.

This usually entails inserting confessions of sin, or the creeds, calls to worship or benedictions; or sometimes it simply means outlining the service and placing it in the bulletins. All of this is very good in my estimation. Ever since the dawn of contemporary worship, liturgy has been seen as stale or stifling, when actually it helps the service flow well. It also allows congregants to better engage the transitions within the service.

But what does liturgy actually mean? And why is it an important aspect to Christian worship? 

The word “liturgy” is a transliteration from the Greek word leitourgía. This word is a combination of two Greek words: leitos, and ergos. Leitos means “public”, while ergos means “work”. Put together, leitourgía means the work of the public, or the work of the people.

It was originally a word the Greeks and Romans used for holding a public office or for enrolling in the military. The “people” would choose from themselves someone to serve. Public office was thus the work of a “liturgist”. Louis Weil explains:

Public works in ancient Greece were regularly undertaken by private citizens, apparently in pace of an orderly and effective system of taxation. For example, to build a bridge for a public road across a stream on one’s private property would constitute a liturgy. Military service at one’s own expense would be a liturgy… Liturgy is work for the people (Liturgy for Living, 13)

Within the earliest Christian context this word has since come to mean the work which the people of God do together to offer God praise and worship. Leitourgía is used several places in the OT Greek Septuagint, and a few places in the NT. In the OT, this word was used to describe the sacrificial cult ministered by the people through the priesthood. Within this context, the ceremonial works and sacrificial works were understood as liturgy.

As one moves into the NT, however, the liturgy takes on a new meaning in the person of Christ. Hebrews 8:6 makes a reference to Christ’s “ministry that is much more excellent than the old”. This word “ministry” is leitourgía in the Greek. Properly, Christ’s work is seen here as a liturgy that surpasses the value of the OT liturgy. But what liturgy does Hebrews reference?

While all of Christ’s life should be seen as a liturgy, it is especially his death that is seen as a liturgy, especially in light of the cultic sacrifices within the OT. Christ’s death, although by all appearances was simply an execution, was a cultic sin-sacrifice. Christ liturgized himself on the cross. He offered himself a single time for the sin of mankind, after which he ascended as the smoke of burnt offerings to the throne room of God. Christ assimilated into himself the numerous sacrifices of the old covenant and perfected them as the true offering. As Louis Weil says: Christ is in himself the true Christian liturgy (ibid, 14).

With this in mind, Paul says that believers themselves are liturgists, not because of their own sufficient obedience or offering, but because of their participation in Christ. By being in Christ, believers now offer themselves as a “spiritual sacrifices” (Rom 12:1-2) to the Father. No longer do Christians offer animals, but instead offer praise to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. In fact, in Philippians 2:17, Paul calls the entire life of believers a “sacrificial offering” (Gk, leitourgía). What this means is that the old covenant offering of animals and blood sacrifices is realized in the praise of Christian believers.

Louis Weil says this about Christian liturgy:

Christ’s life and death is in fact the one liturgy; and Christians whose lives are “in Christ”, formed and shaped in his likeness, constitute a liturgy also. It would be even better to say that they constitute a working out and a making present “in all times and in all places” of the one liturgy… Christian service of worship is a representation or making present of the life and death of Christ. In worship, we appropriate Christ’s liturgy as our own. (pp 14-15)

The Christian liturgy is not so much about the order of worship as it is about the making present the self-offering of Christ within a corporate context. The corporate meeting of the church is the offering of the people through its worship to the Father in Christ. It is about the work of the people “in Christ” offering themselves to the Father. 


Justification: What is it?


Resurrection of Christ (source)

Justification, in the proper sense of the word, is a covenantal — or to put it in the Reformational sense, legal — declaration of divine acquittal. It is God’s declaration: “found not guilty”. It is God’s vindication of the one lost in sin and death.

This concept of divine acquittal is found all throughout the scriptures. It is most dramatically found in the imprecatory Psalms. The Psalmist, under the oppression of his enemies, cries out for vindication, for the divine acquittal.

For instance, David prays in Psalm 109:

But you, O God my Lord,
    deal on my behalf for your name’s sake;
    because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!

He also prays in Psalm 26:

Vindicate me, O Lord,
    for I have walked in my integrity,
    and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
    test my heart and my mind.

The context of these Psalms is oppression and guilt. David is asking to be judged not guilty. He is asking to be vindicated, justified before the evil oppressor.

What is more, Augustine rightly noted that these Psalms are ultimately about the Messiah, of whom David was a picture. David, although a man after God’s own heart, was not ultimately worthy of vindication. Thus, David spoke in the person of Christ. Christ is the ultimate oppressed one, under the guilt and shame of the world, crying out for vindication.

Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:16 of Christ:

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

What is this vindication in the Spirit? The word Paul uses dikiaou, justification. Christ himself was justified in the Spirit! Paul is saying that Christ himself was judged as righteous. But what does this mean?

It means that God saw him under the weight of condemnation, judged him as undeserving, and delivered him. Or, put another way, God acquitted him of the suffering he experienced on the cross, and “vindicated” him. What was this vindication? We get a hint from Romans 4 where Paul tells us that Christ died for our sins and raised for our justification. When Paul tells us that Christ was vindicated in the Spirit, he means that Christ was raised from the dead. Christ’s enemies judged him as guilty and killed him. God judged him as not guilty and raised him. He reversed the judgment of his enemies.

What this all means is that God’s vindication of Christ was not simply a bare acquittal, but a divine action. God’s judgment led to God’s deliverance. God’s judgement of “not guilty” led him to, as Peter says, “loose the pangs of death”, and free Christ from death. This means that God’s judgement and his action of resurrection is one divine action. God simultaneously judges and rescues.

This may seem irrelevant, but it is important to note the connection between God’s justification of Christ and his resurrection of Christ. The Reformation doctrine of justification has notoriously been labeled as a “legal fiction”. God acquits the guilty and leaves them as they are. Well, that’s not actually true! God’s judgement and impartation of new life are one and the same, one connected reality. And the reason for this is because God’s divine word is simultaneously his divine action.

Luther explains that God’s words are not bare declarations, but are “things very great and wonderful, which we see with our eyes and feel with our hands” (The Genius of Luther’s Theology, 42). The word is not intangible, but touchable, seeable, effective. And why? As Robert Kolb rightly says: God’s “word does what it says” (ibid, p43). Elsewhere Luther says that God’s Word “contains all the fullness of God” (Theology of Martin Luther, 353). When God communicates, he effects what he says. Robert Kolb cites Luther’s commentary on Genesis in which Luther rightly says that when God desires to create, he doesn’t do, but he speaks: “Whatever God wanted to create, he created when he spoke” (ibid, p 43). In other words, God’s Word is not like our words. Our words can merely describe reality, while God’s word creates reality!

This makes sense too when we think of the court room analogy. When a judge acquits someone of their crime, it doesn’t matter whether they are guilty or not: the person judged “not guilty” is thereby freed. The judge’s word is creative and effective. The prisoner is freed to go. Or, take for instance an umpire in a baseball game. If he says: “you’re out!”, it matters not whether you think he was correct or not, you’re out. His word creates reality.

Robert Kolb says this about justification:

Thus, there is no conflict between being declared righteous and being made righteous… The word [of God] does what it says. When God declares a person righteous, that person is actually righteous. The Word has brought about a new reality (ibid, p 43)

When God declares a sinner righteous “for the sake of Christ”, he is not speaking falsities: he is creating a new reality. As he created the world through his Word, he recreates the sinner through his Word.

Thus, God renders or judges us righteous and resurrects us, frees us from the domain of sin, makes us and constitutes us as new creatures. Properly, this divine judgement is a participation in Christ’s own vindication from the dead: God judges us in Christ and raises us above our oppressors and seats us in heavenly places with him.


What is the meaning of the atonement? A proposal


Harrowing of Hell by Duccio di Buoninsegna ca. 1255 – 1319 (source)

At basic, the atonement is the doctrine of what God did to unite man with himself. Assumed in this doctrine is of course a foundational doctrine of original sin: mankind is not one with God, and thus needs to be made one.

Among the differing opinions of just what God has done to reconcile with mankind are two options.

One option is what we might call the legal doctrine of atonement. This legal atonement is posited in one of two ways: the Anselmian type and the penal substitution type. Both of these versions posit that the principal thing that separates man from God is the legal offense of sin. And thus, the thing to be removed is this offense.

Anselm posited an atonement theory which essentially proposed that God is offended by our sin, and Christ offers himself up to the Father as a satisfaction for sin. It is his self-gift which “covers our offense” and thus God forgives us. A more modern theory is commonly called penal substitution: in order for God to unite with man, he in fact must punish sin. Christ is punished by the Father in our place, and thus our sins are removed.

Without wholesale rejecting truths in these construals, I have issues. The struggle I have with these theories is that the problem the atonement means to solve is found in God: God is offended, and that is the thing that keeps us from reconciliation. Of course, our sin is offensive. But I wonder: why would that offense demand the death of the Son? Why couldn’t something else be done to rid the offense of sin? Is God unable to forgive without some sort of satisfaction? To be sure, it is said in scripture that Christ is a sacrifice for sin. Like the sacrifices of the Old Testament, Christ becomes a holy offering, a gift given over to the Father. And yet, I have yet to find it stated as such that without it God could not forgive us. To be sure, as well, we are said to be received into fellowship “for the sake of Christ”, something that the Reformation rightly recognized: we are not the cause of our salvation. Christ himself is the cause. He is our advocate before the Father. But again, this does not follow that Christ had to bear God’s wrath for our forgiveness. God receives us rather for the sake of who Christ himself is: he is the righteous servant, the obedient Son.

Patrick Henry Reardon rightly mentions that in Jesus’ parables, there is an assumption that forgiveness is something that, if it is to be forgiveness (!!), must be given freely without payment. Reardon says this:

The image of man’s “debt” owed to God is, of course, perfectly biblical. Jesus spoke of God as “a certain creditor who had two debtors” (Luke 7: 41). He also described the judgment of God as the summoning of the master’s debtors (16: 1– 12). But with regard to this debitum of the Lord’s parables, we encounter an immense irony: It is the whole point in these parables that the debt is not paid; it is simply forgiven. As the Church Fathers understood these parables, they refer not specifically to the work of Christ, but to the mercy of God and to man’s obligation to imitate that mercy.  (Reclaiming the Atonement, Kindle 816-821)

By God’s mercy he releases us of our debt. Our justification is through Christ, “for the sake of Christ” yes, but that is not the same as saying that God forgives us because he punished Christ.

With all that said, I do accept some legal aspects of the cross. However I do not think that the primary purpose of the cross was to remove a legal barrier of God’s offense to our sin. He does hate our sin, to be sure. But in my estimation we must locate the reason for the cross elsewhere. The atonement makes us at one with God for yet another reason.

I would like to propose a second type of atonement which I would like to call participatory atonement:

Gerhard Forde once wrote that God is only “satisfied” when he recreates sinners who are no longer under wrath. “Christ’s work, therefore, ‘satisfies’ the wrath of God because it alone creates believers, new beings who are no longer ‘under’ wrath” (A More Radical Gospel, 97). In this sense God is doesn’t need payment so much as he desires to remove the barrier of sin from his people.

Of course, this still doesn’t help us understand the atonement, but it does help us to understand the real barrier: the problem isn’t God but rather us. We are the sinners who have been so corrupted and lost, that it will not suffice for God to simply forgive us. We must be radically recreated. But how does this recreation happen, and even more, how does this relate to the atonement? What I want to propose is that the atonement is nothing less than God’s radical solidarity with us in our sin, a traveling down into the depths of our fallenness in order to recreate us and raise us up.

Robert Jenson, in his Systematic Theology volume 2, says that the atonement is what it costs God to remain our loving Father; or, to remain in union with his people, to be in fellowship with humanity. What did it cost? How could he remain our Father even in the midst of our sin? Very simply, it cost him death. In order for him to remain what he wanted to be for us, he had to die.

But why death? Why the gruesome reality of the crucifixion?

Well, because that was our reality. We were in sin and death and corruption and fallenness. We were a broken mess. God could have in his sovereign legal power simply acquitted us of our wrongs, but that would not have been enough. It would not have changed our fundamentally fallen situation. And so, he had to do something about it. And what he did, was he stepped into our fallen situation. This is the fundamental point of the incarnation: God steps into our situation to redeem it.

Reardon explains it this way:

[T]he Incarnation was far more than a condition for our salvation. It served, rather, as the effective model and exemplar of salvation. The Church Fathers insisted that the “full humanity” of Jesus Christ was essential to man’s redemption, because “whatever was not assumed was not redeemed.” (Reclaiming the Atonement, kin loc, 93-94)…

[I]f the fact of the Incarnation means that the Word adopted the fullness of human experience— sin excepted, says the Epistle to the Hebrews— then nothing human can be excluded from the study of redemption. The Word, embracing our humanity, took possession of all of it in order to redeem all of it. (231-33)

Reardon goes on to say that Christology is soteriology. God became man. God took on the fullness of our experience; and why did he do that? To redeem it; to transform it; to renew it; to glorify it. The early fathers of the church were fond of reversing their Christology in order to explain salvation: God became man; why? So that man might become God. By that they meant that God came down to raise us up. Christology is soteriology.

David Fagerberg explains it this way: “Our deification (sanctification) is twinned to Christ’s Incarnation. Mankind enters into the life of God because of his hypostatic union” (Consecrating the World, p 60). Fagerberg quotes John Chrysostom who says this about the incarnation and resurrection: “Two things He has done, the greatest things. He has both Himself descended to the lowest depth of humiliation, and has raised up man to the height of exaltation.” (ibid, 61)

Thus God condescended into our midst, into the brokenness of our situation, to redeem and raise us up. We may call this a model of participation or solidarity. God becomes what we are — sinful, broken, fallen — in order to make us what he is.

Thus the incarnation, cross, resurrection, ascension, must be seen as a whole. The cross is very simply the deepest depth of our fallen condition. Christ travels into the realm of death and defeats that reality, what the Eastern fathers called the harrowing of hell (icon above). God the Father vindicates (justifies) Christ from the dead, and enthrones our human nature at his right hand.

Mark A. McIntosh says this of the cross:

What we see happening in Christ on the cross is the stretching out of God to us in our affliction and separation from hope. There, in Jesus’ cry of dereliction, we see the Word of God finding us, sharing our plight, crying out to the Father. Our lostness and distance from each other and from God has been embraced within the “distance” of God’s eternal life of love, embraced within the love of the Father for the Son and the love of the Son for the Father, that one love — the bond of supreme union… — whom we know as God the Holy Spirit… Our suffering is forever embraced and suffered within this eternal loving which is God’s life. (Mysteries of Faith, 38-39)

In love, in forgiveness, God comes into our death, enters into our darkness, and embraces us so as to transform us. Salvation then is the reception of this embrace. We are acquitted of our wrongs “for the sake of Christ” and raised up and seated with Christ on high, removed from our fallen situation.


His will is in the Law of the Lord


Byzantine Icon, Moses Law Giver

Luther is commonly accused of disparaging the Law. This comes from his famous distinction between Law and Gospel. This was, of course, borrowed from Augustine, who distinguished between what he called Law and grace.

In any case, the Law for both Luther and Augustine was not in itself negative. Rather, for the unspiritual man, it is, as Augustine says, “an obstacle in many ways unless grace assists. This shows, moreover, the function of the law: it makes people guilty of transgression and forces them to take refuge in grace in order to be liberated and helped to overcome evil desires. It commands…[but does not] liberate” (On the Grace of Christ). For the fleshly man, the law is a burden, a commander that cannot empower, and because of this, is condemns.

But what about the Law for the Spiritual man? Luther has a wonderful commentary on the first Psalm that illuminates his understanding of the Law. On the one hand, it is obvious that for Luther that the Law is, as he say, “wearisome”, for the ungodly man (LW, V 10, p 13). However, for the godly man, is a delight.

Commenting on verse 2 — “but his will is in the Law of the Lord” — Luther says this:

That is, not only does the hand do the law of the Lord, either compelled by necessity of fear of punishment or attracted by the hope of earthly gain, without any desire, but he does it with a cheerful and free will (p 13)

Luther distinguishes the the Spiritual man from the fleshly by maintaining that the this man does the law cheerfully. It is a delight to him. It is not something imposed, something fearful, in competition with his own will. Rather, he does it freely. He clarifies, “this does not apply to those who are under the Law in a spirit of bondage in fear, but to those who are in grace…thence Christians are called free, spontaneous and free” (13). Luther goes on to say that the Jews obeyed the Law “only with the hand”, that is, only externally. But it was wearisome for them. It was against their own willing, and thus God was in competition with them, imposing his will from the outside.

On the contrary, the spiritual man obeys willingly, spontaneously, and most importantly, from within. Luther says:

Therefore Thy law is not in the outer edges and skin of my heart, but in the inside, in the innermost and complete dedication. But with the Jews it scarcely grazed their heart gently because of fear (p 14)

The spiritual man delights in the law because it has made its own way inside. This is a picture of what happens in the New Covenant: the externalized law that imposed itself makes its way to the inside such that it is no longer an imposition but a desire, a delight. Luther finishes by saying this:

Christ does not want His rule to rest on force and violence, because then it would not stand firm, but he wants to be served willingly and with the heart and the affections… It is for this reason that he gave his Spirit… These are the ones whose delight is in the law of the Lord, since this is something that comes out of us apart from the Spirit of God (pp 14-15)