Holiness of God in light of recent events

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I am definitely not making this blog a kind of political opinion thing where I critique up to date issues. However, the events of the world do seem to coincide with my own reading of late. The whole Duck Dynasty issue has been on my mind and I was struck by how a chapter from a book was just the answer I was looking for. The question in my mind has been, “What are Christians to stand for in the public?” The Same-sex issue has become so heated that many think it is distracting from the Gospel to engage in any direct manner. However, as I have thought about it the issue has become clearer. It is not distracting to the Gospel to mention specific sins and how they are spoken of in light of scripture. What is distracting to the Gospel is a false understanding of the Law. In what way can God’s law effect the presentation of the Gospel? Quite simply, if we do not have a healthy understanding of God’s Law then we will not understand God’s holiness and our sin. Without an adequate understanding of God’s holiness and our sin, we will not know or understand why we need a savior in the first place. Many want to preach only God’s love and grace, however, if you do not have a healthy respect for God’s justice and wrath you diminish God’s love and grace. There is nothing more powerful than God’s amazing grace when contrasted with God’s righteous wrath. We must realize that we are Christians within a society that has rejected the wrath and justice of God, along with His law. It is here that the battle is raging in its fullest, and unless we stand strong for God’s holiness how will a society be convicted of its sins in order that they may find their rest in Christ?

In light of this need, here is R. C. Sproul in his book  The Holiness of God.

Chapter Nine: God in the Hands of Angry Sinners

Perhaps the most famous sermon ever preached in America was Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Not only has the sermon been reproduced in countless catalogs of preaching, but it is also included in most anthologies of early American literature. So scandalous is this vivid portrayal of unconverted people’s precarious state under the threat of hell that some modern analysts have called it utterly sadistic.

Edwards’ sermon is filled with graphic images of the fury of divine wrath and the horror of the relentless punishment of the wicked in hell. Such sermons are out of vogue in our age and generally considered in poor taste and based on a pre-enlightened theology. Sermons stressing the fierce wrath of a holy God aimed at impenitent human hearts do not fit with  the civic meeting hall atmosphere of the local church. Gone are the Gothic arches; gone are the stained-glass windows; gone are the sermons that stir the soul to moral anguish. Ours is an upbeat generation with the accent on self-improvement and a broad-minded view of sin.

Our thinking goes like this: If there is a God at all, He is certainly not holy. If He is perchance holy, He is not just. Even if He is both holy and just, we need not fear because His love and mercy override His holy justice. If we can stomach His holy and just character, we can rest in one thing: He cannot possess wrath.

If we think soberly for five seconds, we must see our error. If God is holy at all, if God has an ounce of justice in His character, indeed if God exists as God, how could He possibly be anything else but angry with us? We violate His holiness; we insult His justice; we make light of His grace. These things can hardly please Him.

Edwards understood the nature of God’s holiness. He perceived that unholy people have much to fear from such a God. Edwards had little need to justify a scare theology. His consuming need was to preach about God’s holiness; to preach it vividly, emphatically, convincingly, and powerfully. He did this not out of a sadistic delight in frightening people but out of compassion. He loved his congregation enough to warn them of the dreadful consequences of facing the wrath of God. He was not concerned with laying a guilt trip on his people but with awakening them to the peril they faced if they remained unconverted.

Let’s examine a section of the sermon to get but a taste of its flavor:

“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet, it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you were suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.”

The pace of the sermon is relentless. Edwards strikes blow after blow to the conscience-stricken hearts of his congregation. He draws graphic images from the Bible, all designed to warn sinners of their peril. He tells them that they are walking on slippery places with the danger of falling from their own weight. He says that they are walking across the pit of hell on a wooden bridge supported by rotten planks that may break at any second. He speaks of invisible arrows that, like a pestilence, fly at noonday. He warns that God’s bow is bent and that the arrows of His wrath are aimed at their hearts. He describes God’s wrath as great waters rushing against the floodgates of a dam. If the dam should break, the sinners would b inundated by a deluge. He reminds his hearers that there is nothing between them and hell but air:

“Your wickedness makes you as if it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf; and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock.”

In the application section of the sermon, Edwards places great stress on the nature and severity of God’s wrath. Central to his thinking is the clear notion that a holy God must also be a wrathful God. He lists several key points about God’s wrath that we dare not overlook.

  1. God’s wrath is divine. The wrath of which Edwards preached was the wrath of an infinite God. He contrasts God’s wrath with human anger or the wrath of a king for his subject. Human wrath terminates. It has an ending point. It is limited. God’s wrath can go on forever.
  2. God’s wrath is fierce. The Bible likens God’s wrath to a winepress of fierceness. In hell there is no moderation or mercy given. God’s anger is not mere annoyance or a mild displeasure. It is a consuming rage against the unrepentant.
  3. God’s wrath is everlasting. There is no end to the anger of God directed against those in hell. If we had any compassion for other people, we would wail at the thought of a single one of them falling into the pit of hell. We could not stand to hear the cries of the damned for five seconds. To be exposed to God’s fury for a moment would be more than we could bear. To contemplate it for eternity is too awful to consider. With sermons like this we do not want to be awakened. We long for blissful slumber, for the repose of tranquil sleep.

The tragedy for us is that in spite of the clear warnings of Scripture and of Jesus’ sober teaching on this subject, we continue to be at ease about the future punishment of the wicked. If God is to be believed at all, we must face the awful truth that someday His furious wrath will be poured out. Edwards observed:

“Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now doing, or what he intends to do. Ever one lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself, and that his schemes will not fail.”

How do we rect to Edwards’s sermon? Does it provoke a sense of fear? Does it make us angry? Are we feeling like a multitude of people who have nothing but scorn for any ideas about hell and everlasting punishment? Do we consider the wrath of God as a primitive or obscene concept? Is the very notion of hell an insult to us? If so, it is clear that the God we worship is not a holy God: Indeed He is not God at all. If we despise the justice of God, we are not Christians. We stand in a position that is every bit as precarious as the one that Edwards so graphically described. If we hate the wrath of God, it is because we hate God Himself. We may protest vehemently against these charges, but our vehemence only confirms our hostility toward God. We may say emphatically, “No, it is not God I hat; it is Edwards that I hate. God is altogether sweet to me. My God is a God of love.” But a loving God who has no wrath is no God. He is an idol of our own making as much as if we carved Him out of stone.

Jonathan Edwards preached another famous sermon that can be viewed as a sequel of sorts to “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” He titled the sermon “Men Naturally God’s Enemies.” If I can presume to improve Edwards’ title, I would suggest instead “God in the Hands of Angry Sinners.”

If we are unconverted, one thing is absolutely certain: We hate God. The Bible is unambiguous about this point. We are God’s enemies. We are inwardly sworn to His ultimate destruction. It is as natural for us to hate God as it is for rain to mosten the earth when it falls. Now our annoyance may turn to outrage. We heartily disavow what I have just written. We are quite willing to acknowledge that we are sinners. We are quick to admit that we do not love God as much as we ought. But who among us will admit to hating God?

Romans 5 teaches clearly: “When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Rom. 5:10). The central motif of the New Testament is the theme of rconiliation. Reconciliation is not necessary for those who love each other. God’s love for us is not in doubt. The shadow of doubt hangs over us. It is our love for God that is in question. The natural human mind, what the Bible calls the “carnal mind,” is at enmity with God.

We reveal our natural hostility for God by the low esteem we have for Him. We consider Him unworthy of our total devotion. We take no delight in contemplating Him. Even for the Christian, worship is often difficult and prayer a burdensome duty. Our natural tendency is to flee as far as possible from His presence. His Word rebounds from our minds like a basketball from a backboard. By nature, our attitude toward God is not one of mere indifference. It is a posture of malice. We oppose His government and refuse His rule over us. Our natural hearts are devoid of affection for Him; they are cold, frozen to His holiness. By nature, the love of God is not in us.

As Edwards noted, it is not enough to say that the natural human mind views God as an enemy. We must be more precise. God is our mortal enemy. He represents the highest possible threat to our sinful desires. His repugnance to us is absolute, knowing no lesser degrees. No amount of persuasion from philosophers or theologians can induce us to love God. We despise His very existence and would do anything in our power to rid the universe of His holy presence.

If God were to expose His life to our hands, He would not be safe for a second. We would not ignore Him; we would destroy Him. This charge may seem extravagant and irresponsible until we examine once more the record of what happened when God did appear in Christ. Christ was not simply killed. He was murdered by malicious people. The crowds howled for His blood. It was not enough merely to do away with Him, but it had to be done with the accompaniment of scorn and humiliation. We know that His divine nature did not perish on the cross. It was His humanity that was put to death. Had God exposed the divine nature to execution, had He made His divine essence vulnerable to the executioner’s nails, then Christ would still be dead and God would be absent from heaven. Had the sword pierced the soul of God, the ultimate revolution would have been successful, and mankind would now be king.

But, we protest, we are Christians. We are lovers of God. We have experienced reconciliation. We have been born of the Spirit and have had the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. We are not longer enemies but friends. All of these things are true for the Christian. But we must be careful, remembering that with our conversion our natural human natures were not annihilated. There remains a vestige of our fallen nature with which we must struggle every day. There still resides a corner of the soul that takes no delight in God. We see its ragged edge in our continued sin, and we can observe it in our lethargic worship. It manifests itself even in our theology.

It has been said that historically three generic types of theology compete for acceptance within the Christian church: Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and Augustinianism.

Pelagianism is not Christian. It is not merely sub-Christian but strongly anti-Christian. It is basically a theology of unbelief. That it has a stranglehold on many churches is testimony to the power of people’s natural enmity toward God. To the Pelagian or liberal there is no supernatural activity. They do not believe in miracles, in Christ’s deity, the Atonement, the Resurrection, the Ascension, or the Second Coming. In a word, ther is no biblical Christianity to it. It is sheer paganism masquerading as piety.

What of Semi-Pelagianism? It is clearly Christian with its passionate confession of the deity of Christ and its confidence in the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the rest. Semi-Pelagianism is the majority report among evangelical Christians and probably represents the theology of the vast majority of people who read this book. But I am convinced that with all of its virtues, Semi-Pelagianism still represents a theology of compromise with our natural inclinations. It has a glaring defect in its understanding of God. Though it salutes the holiness of God and protests loudly that it believes in God’s sovereignty, it still entertains delusions about our ability to incline ourselves to God, to make “decisions” to be born again. It declares that fallen people, who are at enmity with God, can be persuaded to be reconciled even before their sinful hearts are changed. It has people who are not born again seeing a kingdom Christ declared could not be seen and entering a kingdom that cannot be entered without rebirth. Evangelicals today have unconverted sinners who are dead in trespasses and sin bringing themselves to life by choosing to be born again. Christ made it clear that dead people cannot choose anything, that the flesh counts for nothing, and that we must be born of the Spirit before we can even see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it. The failure of modern evangelicalism is the failure to understand the holiness of God. If that one point were grasped, there would be no more talk of mortal enemies of Christ coming to Jesus by their own power.

Only Augustinianism sees grace as central to its theology. When we understand the character of God, when we grasp something of our sin and helplessness. Helpless sinners can survive only by grace. Our strength is futile in itself; we are spiritually impotent without the assistance of a merciful God. We may dislike giving our attention to God’s wrath and justice, but until we incline ourselves to these aspects of God’s nature, we will never appreciate what has been wrought for us by grace. Even Edwards’ sermon on sinners in God’s hands was not designed to stress the flames of hell. The resounding accent falls not on the fiery pit but on the hands of the God who holds us and rescues us from it. The hands of God are gracious hands. They alone have the power to rescue us from certain destruction.

How can we love a holy God? The simplest answer I can give to this vital question is that we can’t. Loving a holy God is beyond our moral power. The only kind of God we can love by our sinful nature is an unholy god, an idol made by our own hands. Unless we are born of the Spirit of God, unless God sheds His holy love in our hearts, unless He stoops in His grace to change our hearts, we will not love Him. He is the One who takes the initiative to restore our souls. Without Him we can do nothing of righteousness. Without Him we would be doomed to everlasting alienation from His holiness. We can love Him only because He first loved us. To love a holy God requires grace, grace strong enough to pierce our hardened hearts and awaken our moribund souls.

If we are in Christ, we have been awakened already. We have been raised form spiritual death unto spiritual life. But we still have “sleepers” in our eyes, and at times we walk about like zombies. We retain a certain fear of drawing near to God. We still tremble at the foot of His holy mountain.

Yet as we grow in our knowledge of Him, we gain a deeper love for His purity and sense a deeper dependence on His grace. We learn that He is altogether worthy of our adoration. The fruit of our growing love for Him is the increase of reverence for His name. We love Him now because we see His loveliness. We adore Him now because we see His majesty. We obey Him now because His Holy Spirit dwells within us.

Sproul, RC. The Holiness of God. Carol Stream: Tyndale. 1998. Print

Propitiation and Expiation

Recently, I have been working through the Roman Catholic Church’s Catechism with the latest post on indulgences. In researching this doctrine of indulgences I found that Roman Catholic apologists were making an interesting distinction between propitiation and expiation of sins. Here is one debate where this is clearly seen if you so wish to examine it.

This led me to look into this distinction in biblical discussion which not many theologians discuss in great depth. However, I did find some discussion on it which I will post below. The discussion centers on Paul’s use of the word “hilastérion” which is translated in a number of ways. First, here is the full context of the verse. Paul has wrapped up his discussion of sin and the use of the Law he began in chapter 1 and is now transitioning into a discussion on Justification through faith in Christ. Paul has concluded that all are fallen in sin and rightfully condemned under the Law.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26, ESV)

Verse 25 is the one we will look at, here are the many ways hilasterion is translated (in bold):

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood–to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– (NIV)

For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, (NLT)

whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (ESV)

whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; (NASB)

Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (KJB)

As you can see, the more literal translations seek to use the word propitiation, while the paraphrased translations seek to use a more interpreted version of it. Here are some theologians on this word.

Millard Erickson, Page 809-811

Finally, Paul regards the death of Christ as propitiatory, that is, Christ died to appease God’s wrath against sin. This point has been questioned, especially by C. H. Dodd in his book The Bible and the Greeks. Dodd bases his argument upon the way in which the verb ἱλάσκομαι and its cognates are used in the Septuagint. He contends that it is not propitiation but expiation that is in view in verses like Romans 3:25: “The meaning conveyed (in accordance with LXX usage which is constantly determinative for Paul) is that of expiation, not that of propitiation. Most translators and commentators are wrong.” God was not appeased by the death of Christ. Rather, what Christ accomplished in dying was to cleanse sinners of their sin, to cover their sin and uncleanness. Dodd builds his case not only upon linguistic but also upon more generally theological considerations. A. G. Herbert adds that “it cannot be right to think of God’s wrath as being ‘appeased’ by the sacrifice of Christ, as some ‘transactional’ theories of the atonement have done…because it is God who in Christ reconciles the world to himself….It cannot be right to make any opposition between the wrath of the Father and the love of the Son.”

Despite the position taken by Dodd, Ladd has argued that ἱλάσκομαι does indeed refer to propitiation. He makes four points in rebuttal:

In nonbiblical Hellenistic Greek authors such as Josephus and Philo, the word uniformly means “to propitiate.” This is also true of its use in the apostolic fathers. Leon Morris has said, “If the LXX translators and the New Testament writers evolved an entirely new meaning of the word group, it perished with them and was not resurrected until our own day.”

  1. There are three places in the Septuagint where ἐξιλάσκομαι refers to propitiating or appeasing God (Zech. 7:2; 8:22; Mal. 1:9). Dodd’s comment on these passages is that there appears to be something exceptional about the usage of the word here.
  2. While the word is seldom used the Septuagint with “God” as its direct object, it must also be noted that it is never used in the Old Testament with the word sin as its direct object.
  3. There are many places in the Old Testament where, while not actually used of appeasing the wrath of God, the word appears in a context in which the wrath of God is in view.

From the foregoing considerations, it appears questionable whether Dodd’s conclusions, influential though they have been, are accurate. His conclusions may well have resulted from an inaccurate conception of the Trinity, a misconception which betrays itself in his failure to take very seriously the contrary evidence in such passages as Zechariah 7:2; 8:22; and Malachi 1:9.

In contradiction to Dodd, we note that there are passages in Paul’s writings which cannot be satisfactorily interpreted if we deny that God’s wrath needed to be appeased. This is particularly true of Romans 3:25-26. In the past, God had left sins unpunished. He would concievably be accused of overlooking sin since he had not required punishment for it. Now, however, he has put forth Jesus as ἱλάστηριον. This proves both that God is just (his wrath required the sacrifice) and that he is the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus (his love provided the sacrifice for them).

The numerous passages that speak of the wrath of God against sin are evidence that Christ’s death was necessarily propitiatory. We read of the wrath (ὀργή) of God against sin in Romans 1:18; 2:5, 8; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; 12:19; 13:4-5; Ephesians 2:3; 5:6; Colossians 3:6; and 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:16; 5:9. So then, Paul’s idea of the atoning death (Christ as ἱλάστηριον) is not simply that it covers sin and cleanses from its corruption (expiation), but that the sacrifice also appeases a God who hates sin and is radically opposed to it (propitiation).

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker. 1985. Print

James Boice, page 312-314

Propitiation: God Pacifying His Own Wrath

Propitiation is a little-understood concept in the biblical interpretation of Christ’s death. It has to do with sacrifices, and it refers to what Jesus accomplished in relation to God by his death. Redemption has to do with what he accomplished in relation to us. By redeeming us, Jesus freed us from the bondage of sin. In contrast, propitiation relates to God so that we can say: By his death Jesus propitiated the wrath of his Father against sin and thus made it possible for God to be propitious to his people.

But that requires explanation. In the first place, we need to note that the idea of propitiation presupposes the idea of the wrath of God. If God is not wrathful toward sin, there is no need to propitiate him and the meaning of the death of Christ must therefore be expressed in other categories. Right here many modern thinkers would stop, arguing that it is precisely for this reason that the term should not be used or, if it is used, that it should be given another meaning. “We can understand,” such a person might say, “how the idea of propitiation would be appropriate in paganism where God was assumed to be capricious, easily offended and therefore often angry. But that is not the biblical picture of God. According to the Christian revelation, God is not angry. Rather, he is gracious and loving. It is not God who is separated from us because of sin, but rather we who are separated from God. Thus it is not God who is to be propitiated but we ourselves.” Those who have argued this way have either rejected the idea of propitiation entirely, considering its presence in the Bible to be a carry-over from paganism’s imperfect way of thinking about God–or else they have interpreted the basic Greek word for propitiation to mean not Christ’s propitiation of the wrath of God, but rather the covering over or expiation of our guilt by his sacrifice. In other words, they have regarded the work as directed toward man rather than toward God. A scholar who has led the way in this is the late C.H. Dodd of Cambridge, England, whose influence has led to the translation of the word “propitiation” as “expiation” in the relevant texts in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 Jn. 2:2; 4:10).

At this point we must be appreciateive of the work of those who have distinguished the pagan idea of propitiation from the Christian idea. For it is quite true that God is not capricious or easily angered, a God whom we must therefore propitiate in order to keep in his good graces. That is totally opposite to the Christian position, for God is quite correctly seen as a God of grace and love.

But that is not the whole of the matter, as sympathetic as one may be with the concerns of such scholars. First, we dare not forget what the Bible tells us about God’s just wrath against sin, in accordance with which sin will be punished either in Christ or in the person of the sinner. We may feel, because of our particular cultural prejudices, that the wrath of God and the love of God are incompatible. But the Bible teaches that God is wrath and love at the same time. What is more, his wrath is not just a small and insignificant element that somehow is there alongside his far more significant and overwhelming love. Actually, God’s wrath is a major element that may be traced all the way from God’s judgment against sin in the garden of Eden to the final cataclysmic judgments recorded in the book of Revelation. (That emphasis has already been studied at considerable length in chapter seven.)

Second, although the word propitiation is used in biblical writings, it is not used in the same way as in pagan writings. In pagan rituals the sacrifice was the means by which people placated an offended deity. In Christianity it is never people who take the initiative or make the sacrifice, but God himself who out of his great love for sinners provides the way by which his wrath against sin may be averted. Moreover, he is himself the way–in Jesus. That is the true explanation of why God is never the explicit object of propitiation in the biblical writings. He is not mentioned as the object because he is also the subject, which is much more important. In other words, God himself placates his own wrath against sin so that his love may go out to embrace and save sinners.

The idea of propitiation is most clearly observed in the Old Testament sacrificial system, for through that system of sacrifices God taught the way by which a sinful man or woman might approach him. Sin means death, as was pointed out earlier. But the sacrifices teach that there is a way of escape and of approaching God. Another may die in a sinner’s place. That may seem astounding, even (as some have wrongly suggested) immoral, but it is what the system of sacrifices teaches. Thus, the individual Israelite was instructed to bring an animal for sacrifice whenever he approached God; the family was to kill and consume an animal at the yearly observance of the Passover; the nation was to be thus represented by the high priest annually on the Day of Atonement when the blood of the offering was sprinkled upon the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant within the Holy of Holies of the Jewish temple. At the end of this process of instruction, Jesus appeared as the offering that was to take away “the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29).

The progression is this: one sacrifice fro one individual, one sacrifice for one family, one sacrifice for one nation, one sacrifice for the world. The way to God’s presence is now open to anyone who will come, a fact symbolized by the rending of the veil of the temple (which separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple) at Christ’s death.

Boice, James Montgomery. Foundations of the Christian Faith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. 1986. Print.

Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church (Sacraments of Healing 2)

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Indulgences, Purgatory, and Justification

I have taken a break on this series due to school but have been reminded of it’s importance due to an incident at Moody Bible Institute where I study. Recently the Student Theological Society put on an event titled “Evangelical/Catholic dialogue” centered on the question: “Is unity possible between Catholics & Evangelicals?” This was held between Dr. John Armstrong, Professor at Wheaton Graduate School and Founder of ACT3 Ministries and Fr. Robert Barron, Leading Catholic Preacher and President of Mundelein Theological Seminary. What was truly troubling about this was that there was no discussion about the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. As I have shown through examining the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are major differences between the two that center around the very Gospel we preach. It was as if the reformation was completely arbitrary, or the two have reconciled on major doctrine. This is not the case. Even more absurd was the claim by Fr. Robert Barron that Catholics, in a sense, agree with the Protestant doctrine of Justification by faith alone! Of course he changed, mid-explanation, to say that faith was primary (which leads us to ask what is secondary in salvation?).

As we shall see in this next section on the Sacrament’s on Healing, there is a major difference. Many think that Indulgences are a thing of the past, however this is not true. What is true, is that researching them is somewhat complicated. Let us remember that indulgences are an attachment to penance in the sacraments of healing. Penance is a part of what Catholics call “second conversion.” While we experienced the initial conversion through the sacraments of initiation (where justification was received by being infused with righteousness), we continue to experience conversion until death (we need to continually grow in our righteousness and justification until totally purified of our sin). This is received through penance and indulgences.

In order to understand indulgences, first one must understand a distinction made in Catholic theology. This is the distinction between “Eternal” and “Temporal” punishment.

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To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.

Now that the distinction is clear, the catechism proceeds to explain the different ways of punishing and relieving these sins.

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The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the “old man” and to put on the “new man.”

The first effect of sins (eternal punishment) is forgiven by faith and receiving the grace of God through Christ. However, the second effect (temporal punishment) still needs to be paid for, this is done through good works. Next the Catechism explains who this works out in the body of Christ. In Catholicism, all persons who are “in Christ” are connected mystically in His body. This fact will play an important part in understanding how this all connects together.

1475

In the communion of saints, “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.” In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.

There are three categories of Christians: 1) those who are now in heaven 2) those who are still in purgatory 3) those who are still alive on the earth. While separated by where they reside,  there is a communication of holiness between the three levels. This communication is discussed next.

1476

We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church’s Treasury, which is “not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the ‘treasury of the Church’ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy.”

Here it is expressed that within this community there is a treasury of merit. It must be recognized that this “treasury” of merit first contains the merit of Christ which is of “infinite value.” If it stopped there it would not be so bad, however, this treasury does not contain only Christ’s merit.

1477

“This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission the Father entrusted to them. In this way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.”

Here is the important part of this treasury. It does not only contain the merit gained by Christ, but also contains the merit (good works) of all the saints including Mary. By their super holy lives, they merited their own salvation. However, they also gained extra merit which is then put into this treasury. Mary, as Catholics believe, was born without sin. All of here good deeds went directly into this treasury. Since this treasury is now dispensed to other less holy believers, they don’t just save themselves, but they also participate in the salvation of others.

By making a distinction in the effects and punishments of sin, I suppose it is their hope to escape the accusation that they are here speaking of saving ourselves by works. A Catholic person will claim that this is not true, because they are all founded on the work of Christ. Our forgiveness is based on the work of Christ! However, this distinction makes it necessary for two punishments to be made. While the first eternal punishment is satisfied by Christ’s work, the second still remains. There are punishments for sin that Christ’s death did not satisfy. These must be paid for by the people in order for them to truly be purified. So then, they are saying that Christ’s sacrifice does not totally purify the people it is made for, instead, extra work by men is required in order to receive total purification. This is why Purgatory is so necessary in their system. Most (all in protestantism) die before becoming totally purified, therefore, how can they enter into the presence of God? Remember, we are not justified until we are made completely righteous. Since sin and its temporal punishment still remain, these people are not ready. They of course, do not want to say these people go straight to hell, they need to add another place for these people to go. This is purgatory, a place of punishment where the temporal punishments for sin are worked (or burned) away until they are totally purified. Briefly we will look at Purgatory because of it’s importance in this discussion.

1030

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031

The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:

“As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.”

They say that the punishment of hell (which does not cleanse the person) is different than the punishment in Purgatory (which does cleanse the person). This shows that the person does receive cleansing and purification by the works offered in this life, or in purgatory. While it is connected to the merits and work of Christ, it is also ours joining with his. A protestant will say that good works are only the result of saving faith. The faith is what purifies, and after being purified we are enabled to do good works. However, Catholics say that faith is joined with good works which both purify the person.

Lets look at how indulgences do this.

Obtaining indulgence from God through the Church

1478

An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.

1479

Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.

It must be said that a Roman Catholic would say that these merits are not their own, separate of Christ. Because we are “in Christ” everything is intimately connected to Him.  However, these are real works that are being done by real people that are being added to the purification of real people. So that while they claim it is all of Christ, it is still really also of men. In Catholicism Christ does not completely  merit purification from punishment of sin because they make the distinction discussed earlier. We participate in this purification from punishment by our works on behalf of ourselves and others. Again, this is connected to their understanding of Justification. This will come even further into view when we examine the definition of Justification and Merit in Roman Catholicism.

Justification

1987

The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleans us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” and through Baptism: (quotes Romans 6:8-11 omitted here due to space).

Note the equal position given to both Faith and Baptism.

1989

The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion (a sacrament discussed in earlier posts), effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.”

Here is an affirmation of the fact that Justification is combined with Sanctification. In paragraphs 1990 says that justification detaches us from sin and reconciles us to God. Next is discussed the “infusion” of grace.

1991

Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or “justice”) here means the rectitude of divine love. With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us.

Here is expressed in straightforward manner that Justification is poured into us along with all other things. Remember, all of this is received in the sacrament of baptism.

1992

Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of god, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life: (quotes Romans 3:21-26 omitted here due to space).

In the act of Baptism Justification is poured into us making us righteous. This Justification is intimately connected with Sanctification as we grow in our righteousness. Remember, this Justification is not completed until we are totally purified. Because we still sin we need to continually receive grace through the sacrament of the Eucharist, and also expiate our own sin through the Sacrament of Penance (of which indulgences are part of the merit achieved as we pay for the temporal punishment of sin). This illustrates the cooperation between Christ’s work and our own work in our salvation.

 1993

Justification establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom. On man’s part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who proceeds and preserves his assent:

“When God touches man’s heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God’s grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight.”

Justification is our cooperation with Jesus in salvation. Our part is by having faith in the word, and also adding our charity which they say is prompted by the Holy Spirit, but really our work because we are freely doing it. We could refuse if we so choose. This is obviously an unbiblical representation of Justification which is said to be a righteousness that is credited to us through faith. Paul says this clearly in Romans 3:21-28:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

What boasting do we have? None because we are doing no work to contribute to our justification. We receive it simply by believing it is true, which is not a work. Paul says we are justified by a gift of grace. In Ephesians 2:8 Paul also included faith as a gift along with grace. It is not something we do, it is a gift given to us. But, more importantly, here Paul says we receive Justification by faith and not works. Catholicism says that we must also add our charity in cooperation with this faith for justification.

Concluding the discussion of Justification, the Catechism says this.

1995

The Holy Spirit is the master of the interior life. By giving birth to the “inner man,” justification entails the sanctification of his whole being: (quotes Romans 6:19,22 omitted due to space).

Again, an admission that Justification is connected to sanctification which is achieved through penance as shown in this and the former post. We will now conclude this long post with a discussion of Merit.

Merit

2006

The term “merit” refers in general to the recompense owed by a community or a society for the action of one of its members, experienced either as beneficial or harmful, deserving reward or punishment. Merit is relative to the virtue of justice, in conformity with the principle of equality which governs it.

2007

With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.

Here, they are saying that we do not have any right to merit on our behalf because we receive it from Him. Still, as seen above, this is contradicted by the merit achieved in penance and Purgatory. What they have given with the one hand, however, they take away with the other.

2008

The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.

As we see here, Grace does indeed proceed our merit, however we are cooperating or adding our merit onto God’s grace. This is a classic example of double speak where you affirm two mutually exclusive propositions as equally true. While they say that our merit is all of Christ, they also say that we must ad our merit in collaboration with his for our justification. While they say we are operating out of the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we may still freely reject it and there is nothing in God to determine whether we do so. It all comes down to our free will decision to add merit to our purification. In the next paragraph (2009) they do say that these merits of our own are gifts that obtain eternal life. But again they arise out of our free will decision.

2010

Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God’s wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.

This is, as can be seen here, intimately connected to indulgences where we can merit for ourselves, and others, purification (which is sanctification) and justification. This is completely denied by the bible. Isaiah says in 64:6, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Even our good deeds are like a filthy rag (menstrual rag in Hebrew) before God. We cannot count on any of our deeds when we stand before God because they are without merit. Christ, however, did merit righteousness because He was without sin and perfect. This righteous merit is the foundation of our standing before God.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

The requirement of the Law (perfection) was met by Christ so that it might be fulfilled in us. How does the bible say we obtain this righteous fulfillment of the Law (merit)? By faith! That is it and nothing more. Because Roman Catholics are adding our merit upon the merit of Christ they are now denying the true Gospel. Our purification rests solely in his work alone and never talks about our meriting anything but judgment. Because they reject the true Gospel we must adhere to Galatians 1:6-9:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Paul is here responding to the Judiazers who are saying the Gentiles must also be circumcised to be saved. This incident is much like what we face with Catholicism. The Judiazers were not saying anything wrong about Christ or this revelation. They believed in the trinity and they believed in the two natures of Christ because Paul does not condemn them for denying those. Many want to say that Catholics are our brothers because they agree on these basic tenants of orthodoxy and can confess the same confessions. Yet, they, just like the Judiazers only wanted to add something upon the work of Christ. Paul condemns them in the strongest terms saying that if anyone adds anything to the Gospel for salvation, then they are condemned to hell! It is clear by everything above that this is indeed what Roman Catholicism is doing and we must stand with Paul. Rome preaches a false Gospel which cannot save, and we must bring the true Gospel to them. This may seem harsh, but it is the biblical truth and we would do well to listen to it. I will close with a summary of the Sacrament of Healing.

1489

To return to communion with God after having lost it through sin is a process born of the grace of God who is rich in mercy and solicitous for the salvation of men. One must ask for this precious gift for oneself and for others.

1490

The movement of return to God, called conversion and repentance, entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, and the firm purpose of sinning no more in the future. Conversion touches the past and the future and is nourished by hope in God’s mercy.

1491

The sacrament of Penance is a whole consisting in three actions of the penitent and the priest’s absolution. The penitent’s acts are repentance, confession or disclosure of sins to the priest, and the intention to make reparation and do works of reparation.

1492

Repentance (also called contrition) must be inspired by motives that arise from faith. If repentance arises from love of charity for God, it is called “perfect” contrition; if it is founded on other motives, it is called “imperfect.”

1493

One who desires to obtain reconciliation with God and with the Church, must confess to a priest all the unconfessed grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience. The confession of venial faults, without being necessary in itself, is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.

1494

The confessor proposes the performance of certain acts of “satisfaction” or “penance” to be performed by the penitent in order to repair the harm caused by sin and to re-establish habits befitting a disciple of Christ.

1495

Only priests who have received the faculty of absolving from the authority of the Church can forgive sins in the name of Christ.

1496

The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:

— reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;

— reconciliation with the Church;

— remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;

— remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;

— peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;

— an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.

1497

Individual and integral confession of grave sins followed by absolution remains the only ordinary means of reconciliation with God and with the Church.

1498

Through indulgences the faithful can obtain the remission of temporal punishment resulting from sin for themselves and also for the souls in Purgatory.

Light of the Knowledge of the Glory of God

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Before I make my return to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I figured I would by some time to do more research on the next topic of the Sacraments of Healing: Indulgences. Here is an exegesis, from John Piper’s book Think, of one of my favorite passages, 2 Corinthians 4:4-6. In fact, I love it so much that it is from this verse that I pull the title of my blog LOKOGOGODJC (Light of the Knowledge of the Glory of God in Jesus Christ).

Here is the key biblical text where we can see this point:

“The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:4-6)

Six observations from this text will clarify how human thinking and divine revealing work together in awakening saving faith.

1.) The Glory of Christ is Seen in the Gospel

Verse 4 says that the gospel is the “gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” This is what must be seen so that saving faith will respond to the gospel and receive Christ for who he really is–infinitely glorious. Jonathan Edwards commented on this text to the same effect. He said, “Nothing can be more evident, than that a saving belief of the gospel is here spoken of… as arising from the mind’s being enlightened to behold the divine glory of the things it exhibits.”

In other words, the ground of saving faith is the glory of Christ seen in the gospel. Don’t separate “the divine glory” of Christ from the objective events and facts of the gospel. That is where the glory is revealed. The revelation of the glory of Christ is not a mystical experience cut loose from our thinking about Christ in the gospel. Just as the psalmist can say, “The heavens declare the glory of God,” so Paul is saying, “The gospel declares the glory of Christ.” If we stop thinking about the gospel, we will not see the glory of Christ. It is the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”

2) The Glory of Christ is Really There

This divine glory is really and objectively there in the gospel. Otherwise, Paul would not speak of the god of this world blinding the minds of unbelievers. If something is not really there, you don’t need to be blind to miss it. But if it is really there, you must be blind to miss it. Therefore, “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” is really there. It is a self-authenticating divine glory. Edwards calls it an “ineffable, distinguishing, evidential excellency in the gospel.”

Saving faith is reasonable” in the sense that there are real reasons to support it. It is not based on a figment of the imagination. Its basis is the glory of Christ in the gospel. It is a real gospel and a real glory.

 3) The Glory of Christ Is Seen through the Facts of the Gospel

Verse 5 clarifies and confirms what we have already seen in the first observation. The sight of this “distinguishing, evidential excellency”- the glory of Christ in the gospel- is not seen in a vision or a dream or a whispered word from the Holy Spirit. It is seen in the biblical story of Christ as the inspired apostle preaches the gospel of Christ. Verse 5: “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

Here is the place of thinking and reason. Paul uses his mind to proclaim and explain and defend and confirm the facts of the gospel. And we use our mind to hear it and construe its meaning and weigh its claims. Paul argues that Jesus is the Christ and that he rose from the dead and that he died for our sins. Paul reasons with facts and arguments and sets Christ forth. THerefore, we know that the sight of the self-authenticating glory of Christ is not separate from the rational presentation and reception- the work of the mind- is indispensable.

 4) The Decisive Ground of Saving Faith is God’s Gift of Sight to the Eyes of the Heart

At this point we can see how the nature of saving faith and the ground of saving faith fit together. The glory of Christ in the gospel is the decisive ground of saving faith because saving faith is the receiving of Christ as infinitely glorious and supremely valuable. Or to turn it around: since saving faith is a receiving of Christ as our highest treasure, therefore the ground of that faith is the spiritual sight of Christ as supremely beautiful and valuable. Verse 6 describes how this sight of Christ happens even though we are by nature blind and resistant.

Seeing this compelling spiritual light is a gift of God. This is the point of verse 6: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Decisive in our seeing is God’s causing light to shine in our hearts.

According to verse 4, we could not see this “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God” because we were blinded by the god of this world. No amount of reasoning or historical argument alone can produce spiritual sight in the blind. This is the limit of thinking. Nevertheless, the rational proclamation and comprehension of the gospel facts are indispensable. “We proclaim…Jesus Christ as Lord” (v. 5)

But now, in verse 6, the decisive change happens. God opens the eyes of our heart. The gospel of Christ crucified and risen (and rationally set forth in preaching and teaching) becomes radiant with “ineffable, distinguishing, evidential excellency” – with “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This means that our hearts are changed. Spiritual death is replaced with spiritual life (Eph. 2:5); spiritual blindness is replaced with spiritual sight (v. 4 contrasted with v. 6)

Because our hearts now see Christ as infinitely valuable, our resistance to the truth is overcome. Our thinking is no longer the slave of deceitful desires, because our desirers are changed. Christ is now the supreme treasure. So our thinking is made docile to the truth of the gospel. We don’t use our thinking to distort the gospel anymore. We don’t call it foolish. We call it wisdom and power and glory (1 Cor. 1:23-24).

What is being described here in 2 Corinthians 4:6 is the same as the new birth. The change is profound. It is the key to the question we raised earlier: How can such a darkened, sinful heart produce a way of thinking that gives rise to saving faith? The answer is that God’s illumination and regeneration produce a profound change in the way the heart perceives reality.

Thinking back to chapter 4, this means that we now see the glory of our bridegroom as more precious than anything else (Matt. 9:15; 25:1). Our adulterous desires (Matt. 16:4) for other satisfactions have been crucified with him (Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:3-5). And our hearts are transformed and brought into harmony with the truth of Christ;s worth. This is why our thinking can now stand in the service of the gospel and become the humble agent of saving faith.

 5) Saving Faith is Reasonable

This ground of faith is a reasonable ground, and the conviction that flows from it is a reasonable conviction. It goes beyond what mere thinking and reasoning upon the facts can produce, but it is itself reasonable. Jonathan Edwards explains, “By a reasonable conviction, I mean, a conviction found on real evidence, or upon that which is a good reason, or just ground of conviction.” Nothing is more readable than that saving faith, as the receiving of Christ as infinitely glorious, must be grounded on the spiritual sight of his divine glory.

Piper, John. Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. Wheaton, Crossway. 2010. Print