Friday, July 26, 2019

The Doctrine of Reconciliation

1. The grace of God in Jesus Christ
Between holy God and sinful man stood a chasm. God freely chose to cross it and, in doing so, judged man but also received him as his child. In Jesus Christ we became God’s people as much as God is our God. Even if we confess our reconciliation to God with uncertainty, that reconciliation nonetheless remains indestructibly present. In Christ, we have been reconciled to God, we are at peace with God, and we have been given a new and truly human being. If we sin, our new and proper being judges us. If we walk in faith and love and hope, we give provisional expression to this new being which is ours solely by grace. This grace is the grace in which God from all eternity chose to elect all human beings in union with Christ. Jesus Christ manifested this election and introduced this new being in time. Our privilege as Christians is that we know this new being is ours in Christ and we get to celebrate and share this good news with others.

2. The Being of Man in Jesus Christ
While all people are reconciled to God in Jesus Christ, Christians are those who know it and live it.

In the death of Jesus Christ, God put to death our old way of being as his enemies. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God raised us to newness of life as his servants, friends, and even children. This negative and positive verdict of God obviously rests on nothing we did or do but solely on God’s grace, on God’s wholly unmerited favor toward us. Justifying faith is our grateful recognition of this pardon.

Jesus Christ not only reveals God’s verdict of pardon. He also reveals the establishment of God’s kingdom of peace on earth and shouts God’s gracious command to us to wake up and live as citizens of that kingdom. To live as such is to live as people freed by God for God.  We are truly free when we obediently follow Christ. As faith is our affirmation of the gracious pardon that has established our fellowship with God, so love is our free affirmation of that fellowship. Both are the work of the Holy Spirit.

Hope is the third form of our reconciliation with God, or conversion to God, accomplished and revealed in Christ. God not only justifies and sanctifies us. He also calls and enables us to live as those who have received his promise of eternal life. Eternal life is our participation in God’s cause, our willing and doing what he busily wills and does. It is the life to which Christians look forward in hope and toward which we move even here and now by the power of God’s promise in Christ.

3. Jesus Christ the Mediator
We have been discussing reconciliation as the fulfillment of the covenant. First we looked upward to the God who so loved the world. Then we looked downward at the world so loved. Now we focus on Jesus Christ as the middle point from which we looked upward and downward. Jesus Christ alone is the mediator between God and man because he alone is wholly divine and wholly human. Only in Jesus Christ do we find the God who freely loves man, the human being freely obedient to God, and the relationship of unity between the two. Only Jesus Christ is truly God, truly man, and truly both in unity. As such Jesus Christ himself both is and accomplishes our atonement.

4. The Three Forms of the Doctrine of Reconciliation
First we will speak of who Jesus Christ is and then what he did. We must be careful, however, to remember that both aspects of Jesus Christ always belong together even if we must speak first of one and then the other. Like the rest of us, Jesus Christ is what he does and does what he is.

To begin with, Jesus Christ is God the Son who humbled himself by becoming a human being and dying in our place and for our sake. Second, Jesus Christ is a truly human being whom God exalted by setting him free from the limitations and sufferings we still endure by making him indestructibly alive. As God, he suffered humiliation in our place; as a human, he was exalted for our sake. So third, Jesus Christ is always fully divine and fully human, truly God reconciling man and truly man being reconciled with God. As such, Jesus Christ is the one mediator of the covenant between God and man. He is also the one true witness to this covenant fulfilled in him. He is the one irresistible pledge that the fulfillment of the covenant already accomplished in him is our future as well.

Having discussed the person of Jesus Christ, or who Jesus is, we will now discuss the work of Jesus, or what Jesus did. We will now discuss what Jesus Christ did specifically in relation to who we are and what we do: sinners who sin. Sin was not positively willed or created by God. With Paul (and the whole biblical witness) we can only say that it came into the world (Romans 5:12). Sin is something we are both responsible for and victims of. It is our rejection of the covenantal will of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Sin is our active denial of God and of ourselves as God’s covenantal partners and as such it is a perversion of our good nature as human beings. We can only understand sin, then, in relation to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of God’s covenant of grace with man and not otherwise.

We properly understand sin, then, only in relation to Jesus Christ as truly God, truly man, and truly God-man. First, Jesus Christ is truly God who humbled himself, becoming our servant to deliver us from the guilt of sin and penalty of death. The form of sin corresponding to this is pride or our ungrateful rejection of the God who in his great mercy humbled himself for our sake. Jesus Christ is the servant who became Lord to exalt us to fellowship with God as God’s children. Sloth is our defiant rejection of this upward way ordained by God in favor of our downward and disordered ways of distraction and despair. Finally Jesus Christ is humbled God and exalted man witnessing to the truth of the atonement through his Word. When we reject his Word, we lie to God, deceive others and ourselves, and therefore plunge into self-destruction without hope.

In Jesus Christ, God spoke his first and final Word in relation to these three forms of sin. In Jesus Christ, salvation came to us. First, in Jesus Christ as the self-humbling of God, and in opposition to our pride, God justified us by renouncing our being as sinners, pardoning us, and ascribing to us gratitude for his liberation of us. Second, in Jesus Christ as the exultation of man, and in opposition to our sloth, God sanctified us by setting us on the path of love in free obedience. Finally, in the unity of God and man in Jesus Christ, and in opposition to our falsehood, God called us into his service which we will continue in eternal fellowship with him.

We will now discuss how the justification, sanctification, and vocation objectively accomplished for all people in Christ come to be subjectively affirmed by us as Christians. To understand this, we must focus on the spiritual being and work of Christ; that is, on the person and work of his Holy Spirit. In the Holy Spirit, God gives himself to us in such a way that we are able to affirm as personally significant the person, work, and Word of Jesus Christ. What in Christ is valid for all in general, we as Christians are able to affirm as valid for us in particular solely by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our ability to affirm God’s grace, then, is not something we earn or cooperate with God in developing. It is something which occurs solely by the Holy Spirit and therefore solely according to the good pleasure of God.

The reconciliation or conversion of humankind to God has already taken place in Jesus Christ. It will be subjectively affirmed by all human beings on the last day. In the meantime, it is affirmed by us as Christians. We witness to our reconciliation primarily in fellowship as members of the one Body of Christ, the Church, and secondarily in our lives as individual Christians.

We will briefly relate the Church to Jesus Christ as truly God, truly man, and truly God-man. The Holy Spirit is the awakening power of the Word of the Lord who became a servant to justify us. The Church is the historical community continually awakened to that faith. Second, the Holy Spirit is the quickening power of the Word of the servant who became Lord to sanctify us. The Church is the historical community strengthened in love by that life-giving power. Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is the enlightening power of the Word of the one true witness. The Church is the historical community continually called forth in hope to likewise witness to the world on the basis of God’s promise that eventually all will find their fulfillment in service to God.

Copyright © 2019 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.