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Is There Any Biblical Warrant for the Doctrinal Triage?


Nor Has He Hidden His Face from Him

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is one culmination of redemptive history, preceded in occurrence, to His second coming. Every Old and New Testament passage regarding the Suffering Servant, must be interpreted in light of the propitiatory truth of the atonement. Consequently, when one interprets the realities of Christ on the cross, it is vital to presuppose God’s Sovereign pleasure in crushing His Son on behalf of sinners (cf. Isa 53:10). Christ perfectly entrusted Himself to God the Father, in perfect obedience, throughout His entire life, and earthly ministry (cf. Lk 22:42). He specifically entrusted Himself to God as it related to the substitutionary atonement of His sacrifice on the cross (cf. 1 Pet 2:23). On the other hand, the liberal, evangelical sentiment, under the guise of biblical conservatism, that God ‘turned His back or face away’ from Christ, while Christ was on the cross must be examined by the Scripture in light of the economic and ontological function of the Triune God. In other words, does the Bible really teach that God turned His back on the Son?

God the Son, Jesus Christ, maintained perfect fellowship with God the Father in both eternity and His temporal ministry whereby Christ took upon Himself flesh forever in the incarnation and fulfilled the Law for all eternity, on behalf of everyone who would ever believe in Him for eternal life. The Father expressed supreme pleasure in the Son (cf. Matt 3:17; 17:5; Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22). Not only is God the Father eternally pleased with His Son, but He is also eternally pleased to give the kingdom to those who have placed saving faith in the Son, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption (cf. Lk 12:32; Eph 4:30).

The sacrifice of Jesus Christ, like the preaching of the biblical Gospel by which His cross work is proclaimed to sinners, is a fragrance of life and sweet aroma to God and the elect (cf. 2 Cor 2:15). In fact, Paul wrote that believers are, themselves, a sweet aroma of Christ to God (cf. 2 Cor 2:15). The idea that Paul emphasized was one of continual and perpetual reality since the main verb in the clause ‘εσμεν’ or ‘we are’ is a present, indicative, active. The literal translation of this clause in the Greek is better rendered ‘For of Christ, a sweet perfume, we are to God.’ The Greek words ‘τῷ θεῷ’ or ‘to God’ are in the dative case signifying an indirect object, while the genitive ‘Χριστοῦ’ or ‘of Christ’, is followed by ‘εὐωδία’. The believer who is derived in Christ is a sweet perfume to God. The noun ‘εὐωδία’ is best understood as an aroma. Given that it is succeeded by the present, indicative, active verb ‘ἐσμὲν’essentially described as a continous scent, the terms ‘fragrance’ (NLT, HCBS, NAS) or even ‘perfume’, a Greek lexical option, does not capture the engulfing and savory essence of Christ’s sacrifice to God, as the term ‘aroma’ (KJV, NET, ESV NIV) connotes.

The aroma of Christ signified not only the essence of the atonement as preordained before the foundation of the world (cf. 1 Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8), but the reality of His crucifixion in both the temporal and historical sense as proclaimed throughout the Gospels. Consequently, the aroma of Christ as it relates to the substitutionary atonement must not be taken generically or esoterically. Every aspect of the sacrifice of Christ was pleasing to God, just as Christ Himself is eternally pleasing to God. Concerning His humanity He never ceased to earn the Father’s pleasure (cf. Jn 8:29), and concerning Christ’s divine nature, He never ceased to be the same essence as the God the Father and never ceased to maintain perfect union with the Father (cf. Jn 10:30). This writer maintains the biblical, sound doctrine of the Trinity- namely, God is One being, One nature, acknowledged in three distinct Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each fully God, co-equal, co-eternal, and self-existent. The three Persons are distinct Persons, yet are One in Being, substance, essence, and nature. Therefore God is pleased with Christ whether pre-incarnation, throughout His earthly ministry, or post-resurrection. God Himself vocalized His absolute pleasure toward the Son at both Jesus’ baptism and the transfiguration (cf. Matt 3:17; Mk 1:11, 9:7; Lk 3:22). Peter testified, in his epistle, that Jesus had already received honor and glory from God when God proclaimed His pleasure toward Christ at the mount of transfiguration (cf. 2 Pet 1:17). God’s dispense of His wrath upon His only begotten Son did not alter His divine love toward the Son (cf. Isa 53:10).

Whereas Paul explained the ‘aroma of Christ’ in those who belong to Christ, Ephesians 5:1-2 further expounded the ‘sweet aroma’ of Christ’s sacrifice in the triune Godhead between the Father and Son. Paul’s use of ‘therefore’ (Gk. οὖν), an inferential conjunction, draws the reader to the preceding near context, but also the general context all the way back to Ephesians chapter 1. Paul’s argument is tied together by the conjunctions in the first two verses. The imperative to walk (gk. περιπατεῖτε) is directly tied to the adverbial conjunction ‘just as’ (gk. καθὼς), signifying that the imitation of Christ, for those who walk in love, is directly tied to what follows the conjunction. Central to the understanding of verses 1 and 2, is the clause ‘ Christ also loved you and and gave Himself for us.[1] The first two verses are directly tied to how the believer must walk in love toward other believers according to their union with Christ in His sacrifice to God.

The reflexive pronoun ‘Himself’ (gk. ἑαυτὸν), in Ephesians 5:2 emphasized that Christ gave Himself to God. He was not surprised or taken aback by His crucifixion. God the Son, Jesus Christ, willingly laid down His life at the behest of the Father, and did so in perfect obedience to God (cf. Jn 10:18). Men perceived that other men had taken His life, but Christ proclaimed that He laid it down for God (cf. Jn 10:18), on behalf of sinners. God offered His Son Jesus for the elect, while they were unbelieving sinners (cf. Rom 5:8), to reconcile them to Himself (cf. Jn 3:16-21). Not only did Christ lay His life down, and offer Himself to God (cf. Eph 5:2 – gk. τῷ θεῷ), He offered Himself as a fragrant aroma to God.

While it is true that ‘aroma’ (Gk. οσμην), by lexical definition alone, can carry the positive and negative sense of smell as perceived by those who exercise their senses, the context demonstrates plainly that God was pleased with His Son’s sacrifice and regarded it as a sweet smelling savor. The context does not leave room for ambiguity, since “offering” (Gk. προσφορὰν) and ‘sacrifice’ (Gk. θυσίαν) are all nouns in the accusative case, while feminine and singular in gender and number. In other words, each of the nouns agree in gender, case, and number with ‘aroma’ (Gk. οσμην), also a noun in the feminine, singular. Furthermore, ‘to God’ (Gk. τῷ θεῷ) is the indirect object, while ‘Christ’ (Gk. Χριστὸς) is the subject. That is to say that Christ is the One to whom the verse referred and thus indisputably proclaimed as a sweet, savory, fragrance in the presence of God specifically as it related to His sacrifice during the atonement.

The passage in Ephesians 5:1-2, as it related to the sacrifice of God, does not refer to an abstract time in which Christ ministered. Although His whole earthly ministry was eternally pleasing to God the Father in the general sense, His sacrifice was pleasing to God, specifically, during His crucifixion. Paul did not create a dichotomy, or separation, between the Son bearing the wrath of God, allegedly causing God’s momentary displeasure, while also maintaining the sweet aroma of Christ in the presence of God, as if they were divided into separate theatres of God’s pleasure or displeasure. Paul proclaimed that which was in concert with the Old Testament teaching of substitutionary atonement. Isaiah, the most frequently quoted Old Testament prophet by Jesus Christ, the New Testament writers, clearly stated that God was pleased to crush His Son (cf. Isa 53:10). This pleasure did not occur only after wrath was poured out on Christ. God’s pleasure was continually upon His Son, and the Son has always been the Divine Recipient and Benefactor of God’s eternal pleasure, even while bearing the Father’s wrath as a substitute for sinners on the cross. The very act of propitiation is an act of divine love, according to the testimony of the apostles concerning God the Father and the Son (cf. Rom 3:25; 5:9; 1 Jn 4:10, 19).

God’s wrath upon Christ at the cross, did not constitute divine disapproval of Christ; rather Christ, as the sinless, spotless, satisfactory, and propitiatory substitute for sinners bore the wrath on behalf of those who had earned God’s displeasure. The fact that God and Christ are perfectly pleased to atone for the sins of the elect does not diminish the propitiatory nature of the atonement. Nor does it mitigate the doctrine of imputation whereby God treated Christ as if He were a sinner, charging the sins of the elect to His account and thus, for those who believe, treating the sinner as if they have lived the life of Christ, charging the righteousness of Christ to the believing sinner’s account. The atonement deals with the reality that the sins of the elect were placed upon Christ, not in Him, and believing sinners receive the righteousness of God in Christ, not possessing any intrinsic righteousness of their own (cf. Eph 2:8-9; 2 Cor 5:21). Consequently, we must appropriate the divine accomplishment of the cross with the divine pleasure of God, which upholds a high and lofty Christology.

There is one passage of Scripture which theologians have contended indicates that God looked away from Christ, had hidden His approving countenance, or turned His back on the Son- specifically, Jesus’ words to God the Father on the cross during the crucifixion, ‘My God, My God why have you forsaken me?’ (Matt 27:46). These are seen as words that demonstrate momentary abandonment during the three hours in which the clouds had become darkened. The fuller context for Jesus’ words are found in Psalm 22. In that Psalm, David’s plea was for justice in the midst of antagonizers, enemies, and those whose aim was to destroy him. He cried out to God throughout Psalm 22, trusting in the Name and divine character of God to rescue David from his foes. Although it seemed to David that he had been forsaken by God, David provided countless affirmations of God’s deliverance and God’s demonstration that He heard David’s prayer. Since we have the New Testament, we are immediately drawn to the Messianic implications and interpretations in this text. Although it is certain that David proclaimed the realities in Psalm 22, as prophet and King, he points to the One, his Lord (cf. Ps 110:1; Matt 22:44) who would suffer more than he and vicariously for David and the elect; namely the Messiah. Psalm 22, therefore, can be understood as a Messianic Psalm. This writer does not believe in the sensus plenior hermeneutical error (i.e. layers of meanings in the text). The New Testament explicitly ties this Old Testament text to future, Messianic, fulfillment at Calvary’s cross (cf. Matt 27:46).

Did the Father turn His back upon Christ? Any allusion to God the Father as possessing human body parts, or human dispositions are to be considered as anthropomorphic, namely (Gk. ανΘρωπος (human)) and (Gk. μορφη (form), that is, an interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics (Deut 11:12; 2 Chron 16:9; 1 Sam 16:7; Ezek 37:1; Psalm 34:15; Prov 22:12; et. al). God the Father is Spirit (cf. Jn 4:24) and does not possess human body parts. He is also not a man (Num 23:19; Hos 11:9). Therefore, it is for the reader of Scripture’s reference, by the Spirit of God, that God often condescends to our mortal senses and illustrates His own divine actions with objects and functions that would be familiar to us. When we read the Scriptures concerning God, we are familiar that eyes see. We have familiarity with hands that grasp or rest upon an object or person. As a disposition, if we have smiled at something or someone, it has earned our pleasure. Contrastively, if we turn our backs on someone or something, it has earned our displeasure. However we must never push anthropomorphic examples beyond what the text allows. So it is with Psalm 22. The mystery of the cross is a mystery revealed (1 Cor 2:7; 1 Tim 3:16). What transpired on the cross, specifically between Father and Son, can be comprehended, spiritually speaking, because the Holy Spirit takes that which belongs to Christ and reveals it to us (Jn 16:13), namely revealing these things to little children (Matt 11:25; Lk 10:21; 1 Cor 2:6).

Immediately after Jesus uttered the words ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’ (Matt 27:46), comparable to its complementary verse (Ps 22:1), He extolled God for His covenant faithfulness (Ps 22:3-4). Commentators rightly identify that there has been a significant shift in the writer’s disposition, from lamentation to praise in verses 1-2 compared with verses 3-5.[2] That shift, however, is not one of abandonment versus reconciliation, but rather one of perception versus reality. It seemed that the Father abandoned Christ, however, Christ Himself recognized that the Father was absolutely trustworthy and would deliver Him (Ps 22:3-5). Jesus explicitly understood that since the Father delivered the patriarchs (Ps 22:4), how much more so could He trust the Father to deliver His only begotten Son?

The immediate context does not contrast God’s holiness with propitiation, that is, to satisfy the wrath of another; instead His holiness is further explained with His propensity to deliver His own from the hands of His enemies. Verse 6 introduces a contrast ‘But I am a worm and not a man’. This contrast is not rooted in God’s perception of His sacrifice, rather sinful man’s estimation of His sacrifice. There were men who despised the Messiah on the cross, sneered at Him, and wagged their fingers at Him in scoffing disapproval. Those who mocked Christ did not disassociate Christ from the eternal fellowship God the Father has always enjoyed with the Son (see Jn 1:1, 8:29). Instead, His accusers expected God to provide immediate deliverance and relief for the Son, if He were truly the Messiah (Ps 22:8, 91:11; Matt 4:6, 27:43).[3] However, God the Father left Christ to deal with the real consequences of God’s wrath, which included utter rejection and abandonment by sinners, whose hands God used to physically crucify Christ (Acts 2:36; Acts 4:10). While sinners wanted to devour Christ, the Father aimed to accomplish redemption for sinners through Him, and ultimately His deliverance from enemies (Ps 110:1; Lk 20:43). God the Son was despised and rejected by men, while being fully acceptable and pleasing to God (Isa 53:3-4). Although it is certain that men hid their faces from the Son, while He bore the sins of many on the cross (Isa 53:4), no such displeasure existed on the countenance of the Father, anthropomorphically speaking (Isa 53:10). The crushing of Christ was the will of God (Isa 53:10; Matt 26:39; Lk 22:42). Christ incurred the wrath of God on behalf of the elect, while bearing His wrath, which pleased God.

Jesus’ words (i.e. Matt 27:46), taken in their full, messianic context as it relates to Psalm 22:1, further disclosed that God the Father preserved His Son (Ps 22:9-10), in terms of the incarnation, from His miraculous conception by the Spirit, throughout His perfect, sinless life, to the culmination of His earthly ministry- namely His vicarious, propitiatory, penal substitutionary atonement on behalf of the elect. Jesus believed that the Father would deliver Him. The Father, along with the Son, was divinely omniscient to determine when His wrath had been satisfied (cf. Jn 19:30). The atonement is the pinnacle of our blessed hope, and it is not found in the notion that it is somehow experientially or existentially pleasing to us, but rather that it is eternally pleasing to God. God’s wrath upon Christ was a sweet aroma to God, just as those who have been reconciled to God in Christ are a sweet aroma to God (cf. 2 Cor. 2:15).

There are some who are brethren and those who are not brethren[4] who suppose that God must have hidden His face or turned His back on the Son, in order to experience the hell that those who reject Christ, and the elect for whom Christ died were due to experience. However, hell is a consequence for perpetual and fixed rejection of God, while dying in one’s sins. The Father did not have to look away from the Son, for the Son to experience hell. Hell is not the absence or abandonment of God, but it is the experience of God’s attribute of perfect, divine wrath and justice, absent of His mercy, and love. In this case, unbelievers gnash their teeth in hell knowing that He is fully present as presiding Judge, not merciful Redeemer and Friend. God no more looks away from Christ on the cross as He does sinners experiencing His wrath this hour. Although God cannot look upon sin as a partaker of it, given His holiness, He certainly can look over it presiding in perfect justice and final Judge, exhausting His wrath upon it.

There are those, namely of “the Gospel Coalition” fame, who suppose that the Father turned His face away from the Son, as a part of emotional, spiritual, and social separation.[5] Given their platform and extensive article on this topic, it is necessary to address it here. God the Father, it is argued, demonstrated His wrath in these particular forms of separation while Christ bore His wrath upon the cross. An article written by Thabiti Anyabwile, of the Gospel Coalition, wrote that these ‘separations’ were hell.

While Thabiti does verbalize aspects of penal-substitution, he fails to eliminate social-justice, social gospel, and black liberation motifs in his understanding of Calvary’s cross. Christ commanded the disciples to follow Him at all costs, which included leaving their families, their lands, and denying themselves (Lk 9:23). Those who love their family members more than Christ are not worthy of Him (Matt 10:37). Social separation does not factor into propitiation, or the necessity for the Father to turn His back on the Son because the Son was perpetually rejected while He walked upon the earth, never ceasing to maintain the eternal pleasure of God the Father. The wrath of men is made to praise the Lord (cf. Ps 76:10), especially when their wrath is aimed at Him. Therefore, hell is not social or emotional separation from men. Those who wagged their fingers, spit at Christ, assaulted Him and shook their heads where among those whom Christ cried to God to forgive (cf. Lk 23:34). Social separation, partiality, rivalries, conflicts and murders are all symptoms of the fall and man’s failure to love those who were created in God’s image. Therefore, the chief ‘goal’ of the atonement is not to reconcile men to one another, although that is an effect; rather the chief goal is to reconcile men to God (cf. 2 Cor 5:18). There was always contradiction between Christ and sinners (cf. Heb 12:3), but there has never been contradiction between the Father and Son. Jesus had to endure the contradiction of sinners against Him, but did so because He abided in the Father’s love, even when offering Himself for sinners.

Thabiti also made the case that God the Father had forsaken the Son because he cannot look upon evil (cf. Hab 1:13). He referenced his argument with 2 Corinthians 5:21. We have written here, to address the glorious, sound doctrines of imputation and substitutionary atonement contained in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Therefore, this writer will reference the reader to that article. However, the context of Habakkuk 1:13 did not describe the Father “looking” upon His sacrifice for sin, nor His sin-bearer.

The overall context in Habbakuk chapter 1 described the prophet’s lamentation over the LORD’s stay of immediate execution concerning the wicked. Habakkuk’s plea was one of lamentation to the LORD against the Chaldeans who ruled treacherously, massacred their conquered nations, and swallowed up the righteous in their unrighteous judgments with persecutions toward them. Those to whom Habakkuk refers were defiled and wicked. God’s silence seemed to indicate indifference toward the plight of the nations and toleration of evil, according to the prophet Habakkuk. However, Habakkuk chapter 2 revealed that God would demonstrate justice, and He also declared the doctrine of justification by faith for those who would be commended by God (cf. Hab 2:4). God therefore established the decree that He would ultimately judge the Chaldeans and bring them dishonor, cursing, shame and destruction. By the end of the chapter, God declared that He will rule forever and all mankind is beneath Him, in spite of what appeared to be the case as perceived by the prophet Habakkuk (Hab 2:20). The lamentations of the prophets were praiseworthy not because of the lamentations and what the prophets experienced as they lamented, but instead they were praiseworthy because God promised to deliver the righteous and crush the wicked, thus answering their lamentation. Habakkuk chapters 1-2 does not bolster the argument that God turned His back on the Son; rather it also strengthens our resolve and reminds us of the perpetual reality that God delivers the righteous, even when it seemed as though those who trusted Him were ignored. The perception of the prophets, at times, and those after them, presupposed the tension that perhaps God had forgotten their pleas of justice. However, God displayed His power to His people miraculously, supernaturally, and often through the more explicit means of day-to-day divine providence.

Psalm 22:24 explicitly revealed that the Father did not turn His back on David, nor did He hide His face from Him. The LXX renders the governing verbs of each of these phrases οτι ουκ ‘εξουδενωσεν’ (For He has not despised), ουδε ‘προσωχθισεν’ . . . (nor He abhorred . . . ), ουδε απεστρεψεν’ το προσωπον αυτου απ εμου (neither has He hidden his face from Him), and και εν τω κεκραγεναι με προς αυτον ‘εισηκουσεν’ μου (But when He cried to Him for help, He heard) as Aorist, Active, Indicatives in the 3rd person singular [the verb κεκραγεναι (He cried) is perfect in tense]. Each of the Aorist tenses signify timelessness. That is, they indicate the perpetual reality of God throughout time, not only confined to the lamentation of the Psalmist, but also the lamentation of Christ (cf. Matt 27:46). God did not despise His afflicted Son. He did not hate His Son in the midst of affliction, nor did He hide His face from His Son. The Lord answered the cry of the afflicted, and He heard their prayers and He did so for Christ upon the cross, and those for whom He dispensed His wrath. When Christ cried for help, the Father delivered Him (cf. Ps 22:24).

The use of the aorist tense designated that the action occurred without explicit regard to ‘time’. The aspect of the action is emphasized with the use of the aorist in the LXX context of Psalm 22. However, the indicative mood lends exegetical, theological, and biblical significance to the reality of ‘timelessness’, as opposed to ‘simple occurrence’, since ‘simple occurrence’ of the action is typically confined to verbs outside of the indicative mood. If the LXX intended to signify the cessation of an action that had been performed, the translators would have opted for the use of the imperfect tense, which signifies a past action (especially in the indicative mood) with progressive or continuous results. The translators of the LXX may have also used the perfect tense to signify completed action with ongoing results, namely the Father did or did not turn his back (action completed) and the results of His action, although completed, had ongoing results.

The lamentation of Christ was not a ‘plea’ for reconciliation due to momentary dis-fellowship or eternal abandonment. It was a plea for deliverance in the face of His adversaries, while bearing the wrath of God for sinners. God the Father heard the Son’s prayer and answered His plea. God even forgave some of those who mocked Christ (Lk 23: 43; Acts 2, 4). This writer has sought to restore the proper interpretation of the Lord’s substitutionary atonement and sacrifice for sinners on the cross of Calvary, in light of the Messianic Psalm (chapter 22) and the Gospel testimony (cf. Matt 27:46). This writer has also sought to address the philosophical, and sentimental deductions that suppose God turned His back on the Son, while providing exegetical, theological, biblical, and expositional basis for the conclusion that Christ was not abandoned by God the Father.

This writer is also constrained to the unified corpus of sound doctrine in the Holy Scriptures altogether, specifically the sound doctrine of propitiation whereby God the Son took upon Himself the wrath of God as a substitute for sinners. The glorious, soteriological, doctrines in Scripture, are, in no way, diminished by upholding the divine pleasure of God throughout eternity, as they relate specifically to the Person and work of Christ. God was pleased to crush His Son (cf. Isa 53:10). Christ was pleased to satisfy the wrath of God for the elect (cf. Jn 3:16, 8:29), and was never left alone (cf. Jn 1:1; 8:29). The Father has never abandoned Christ, His perfect, sinless sacrifice, and will never abandon those who belong to Him (cf. Jn 6:37-39).

-Doron Gladden

[1] ‘ὁ Χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς καὶ παρέδωκεν ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν προσφορὰν καὶ θυσίαν τῷ θεῷ εἰς ὀσμὴν εὐωδίας.’

[2] Ross, Psalms 534.

[3] Fitting that their mockery was no different than Satan’s accusations against Christ while He was in the wilderness in Matthew 4. It is also the same taunting that Satan tempted Christ with through Peter, after Christ announced that He would suffer at the hands of the Jews and be crucified (Matt 16:12). Such derision and scorn did not come from God, but the seed of the serpent and the serpent himself.

[4] A variety of faithful theologians, pastors, and other believers have wrestled with this text in manifold ways. There are also some who are heretics who have perverted this text to their eternal shame.

[5] Anyabwile, Thabiti. ‘What Does it Mean for the Father to Forsake His Son?’ *Parts 2-3, accessed.

The One not Having Known Sin

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf (2 Cor 5:21a NASB). This is perhaps the most profound and pivotal truth in the entire Scripture. The culmination of soteriology and the redemptive plan of God are found in this blessed reality. Even though it is a truth of absolute simplicity, there are implications that affect whether our understanding of Jesus Christ’s perfections in the atonement are orthodox or heterodox. This writer assumes the satisfactory penal substitution view of the atonement. The endeavor of this article is to understand theological, expositional, and exegetical implications of the two natures perfectly united in the one person of Christ and how it relates to the atonement from 2 Corinthians 5:21.

An important assertion must be made. Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man in eternity, which encompasses the incarnation, His life, death, resurrection, ascension, session and parousia. At the incarnation Jesus Christ took to himself human flesh permanently forever. Concerning His human nature He is thoroughly and completely man apart from sin. Also, there is no ontological change in His human nature in the transfer of wickedness to Christ whereby He became a sinner concerning imputation of sins of the elect to his account. The forensic sense of His atonement is one of imputed guilt and debt. Consequently, the Person of Christ was perfect upon the cross in both His deity and humanity. The guilt of the elect imputed to His account was imputed culpability for the purpose of appeasing the wrath of the Father. He remains perfectly just, holy, and righteous, without the capability, possibility or impulse to sin. He is, in the eyes of the Heavenly Father, a pleasing innocent sacrifice and sweet offering for the reconciliation of hell-bound sinners to God. Propitiation biblically means to satisfy the wrath of another. Propitiation brought pleasure to God (cf. Is 53), because He has been eternally pleased with the Son (cf. Mk 1:11; Matt 3:17; 17:5) and pleased with the miraculous work of His salvation plan – that is, reconciling sinners to Himself through the merits of His Son and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the guilty by sacrificing Christ: the Guiltless One.

For Us Sin

Jesus Christ is no more a sinner, than a pre-converted reprobate being perfectly righteous. Throughout church history, Puritan theologians have attempted to protect any misconceptions as it related to the doctrine of the hypostatic union. In other words, they aimed to define what it meant by Jesus ‘taking on flesh.’ To dispense with the notion that Christ took on ‘weakened flesh,’ they noted that Christ did not take all of the infirmities of man, distinguishing between ‘painful infirmities’ and ‘sinful culpable infirmities.’[1] While this distinction is somewhat helpful in representing Christ, the Christological doctrine of impeccability, coupled with the reality that taking on flesh does not inherently mean taking on sin, especially considering pre-fall creation does not necessitate this distinction.

Although Jesus Christ is numbered with the transgressors, Christ did not become a transgressor. Instead, He is treated as if He was a transgressor. Bearing the wrath of God as a substitute for sinners does not mean that Christ Himself was guilty of committing sin. As sin bearer, our sins were charged to His account. Justification by faith focuses on the ‘not-guilty’ declaration by God, because Christ is risen. He was delivered over for our transgressions, and raised for our justification (cf. Rom 4:25). Legally, the merits of Christ are reckoned to us through faith in Christ. But those merits were achieved by Him, not us. If they were accomplished by us, there would be proper occasion to boast (cf. Eph 2:8-9). Equally, it is the sinfulness of the elect that is charged to Christ’s account upon the cross. However, the sins were committed by us, not Him. If they were committed by Him, we would have to blasphemously conclude that His sacrifice was unsatisfactory because it lacked purity. Therefore it would be sorrowful and hopeless, as we would conclude that Christ suffered justly. It is best to say our sins were placed upon Him, not in Him, and we are cleansed from our sins because of His sacrifice. Therefore, the elect from humanity have been brought into relationship to God, because the second Person of the Trinity has taken to himself permanently human nature. God never dies and cannot die. The only way Jesus could die was in His human nature. The death of Christ was accomplished in His human nature.

In the Greek text, the prepositional phrase “for us sin” from the clause “He made the One not having known sin for us sin” has ἁμαρτίαν (sin) as the object of the preposition. In Pauline literary corpus, the preposition ὑπὲρ (for) in atonement passages refers to substitution (cf. 1 Tim 2:6). In the prepositional phrase – namely, “for us sin,” ἁμαρτίαν (sin) has the sense of a sin offering (i.e. a sacrifice for sin). The copula verb “to be” is not in the Greek text but was added to the English translation (e.g. KJV, NASB, ESV, NIV, HCSB). Therefore, if the copula verb “to be” is not qualified correctly many will use this text to promote error. The text does not mean that the Lord Christ Jesus underwent an ontological transformation on the cross concerning either of His two natures. Instead, the text means that the One (i.e. the sinless Son of God the Lord Jesus Christ) not having known sin was made a sacrifice for sin – that is, a sinless sin offering to God. Jesus Christ was and forever will be the innocent sacrifice offered to God to satisfy God’s wrath toward sin.

His sacrifice was also for the purpose of the imputation of His righteousness to the account of the believing sinner that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. In the Greek text, the conjunction ἵνα (in order that) indicated purpose or the reason why He made the One not having known sin for us sin – namely, that the elect would have His righteousness charged to their account. In the Greek text, the noun δικαιοσύνη (the righteousness) is the subject because it is in the nominative case. What is more, δικαιοσύνη (the righteousness) shares a possessive genitive relationship with the noun Θεοῦ (of God) which means the righteousness belongs to God – specifically, Jesus Christ’s righteousness is the righteousness of God that is charged to the account of the believing sinner (e.g. ἡμεῖς – “we”). We are the ones who need to become something different than what we were (i.e. ἡμεῖς γενώμεθα δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ “we might become the righteousness of God in Him). As such, the elect have the righteousness of Christ charged to their account and are treated by God as if they only lived the perfect sinless life of Christ.

The last prepositional phrase ἐν αὐτῷ (in Him) is dative and must indicate the location where the believer is found – namely, in Him that is in Christ. This must indicate union with Christ in substitution and imputation. So the emphasis of the text is on the righteousness of God and the imputation of that Personal righteousness of Christ charged to the account of the believing sinner. This is because the subject grammatically is “the righteousness of God” and because the text teaches that the believing sinner’s sins where charged to Jesus’ account when He died in their place as a sacrifice for their sins to satisfy the wrath of God and for the purpose of Jesus’ righteousness being charged to the account of the believing sinner to satisfy their need of righteousness before God.

It is vital to understand the hypostatic union as it relates to the atonement. The Chalcedon Creed reminds us of the necessity to biblically define this pertinent doctrine. Pertaining to the two natures of Christ, the first five clauses of the Christological section of the Creed referred to Jesus as being “one and the same son[2] and “perfect in the divinity, perfect in the humanity, truly God and truly man.[3] The Word of God teaches that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (cf. 1 Jn 4:2). Likewise, the Word of God teaches that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh (cf. Jn 1:1-4; 14). Suffice it to say, that Jesus Christ has two natures, that is, the divine nature and a human nature perfectly united in the One Person of Christ – “in two natures, without mixture, change, division, or separation; the difference of natures not being removed by their union, but rather the propriety of each nature being preserved and concurring in one person and in one ύπόστασις, so that he is not divided or separated into two persons, but the only Son, God, the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, and one and the same person.[3] The natures are not blended together but rather there is a perfect unity of the natures. This is what is meant by hypostatic union and clearly refutes the heresy called Eutychianism. What is more, the heresy called Nestorianism taught that Christ had two persons instead of two natures. This is refuted by the statement “so that he is not divided or separated into two persons.”

Colossians 2:9 referenced both His Divine nature and His human nature, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (cf. Phil 2:6; Heb 1:3). In order for Jesus to have the divine nature must mean that He is perfect and self-existent. That is why in the Gospel of John Jesus claimed to be YHWH as well as other passages of Scripture referring to Him as such (cf. Jn 4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8; Is 40-66). What is more, the Chalcedon Creed reads that Jesus is “consisting of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, sin only excepted.[4]

Failure to properly uphold the orthodox, biblical view of the hypostatic union-namely in this regard, has led to errors of insipid Gnosticism. Historian Phillip Schaff chronicled the heretic Cerinthus who, desirous to “protect” the divinity of Christ, separated the earthly man Jesus from the Heavenly Christ, under the sphere of a pre-insipent Gnostic thought that postulated the evil of the material body [5] [6]

Contrary to the truth from 2 Corinthians 5:21, Cerinthus believed and taught that the Heavenly Christ descended upon the man Jesus in the form of a dove at the baptism in the Jordan, endowed Him with the genuine knowledge of God and the power of miracles, but forsook him in the passion, returning again to him in the Messianic Kingdom of glory.[7] This is evidence that the Gnostics never had a unity of two distinct natures of Christ perfectly united in one Person. Instead they supposed that two distinct persons were waging war against one another, one evil, material man versus one divine, eternally, good deity. Thus, they created a struggle between the two, in their false system, because they believed that any unity between the divine nature and the human nature would corrupt the divine nature.

Throughout the New Testament Epistles, the apostles fought valiantly against widespread, Gnostic heresies that argued for an ontological change in the natures of Christ in the atonement. Therefore, it is the sole responsibility for Christians to properly define, defend and distinguish the hypostatic union.

Jesus’ silence during His trial was evident that He suffered unjustly at the hands of lawless men, but also defending Himself was unnecessary, because He was a perfect Lamb led to the slaughter to bear the sins of many.[8] Bearing the guilt of many, as a guilt offering did not make Christ guilty. Jesus’ treatment as a criminal did not at all indicate that He was a criminal.[9] He did not become vile and wicked, nor did He become a sinner. He is the substitute for vile wickedness and for sinners. Yet He is just, perfect, sinless, and holy. If this is not the case, then our atonement is defective.

Paul was not saying that at the crucifixion the sinless Christ became, in some sense, a sinner, yet he was affirming more than that: Christ became a sin offering or even a sin bearer.[10] Berkhof reminds us:

The redemptive value of these sufferings results from the following facts: They were borne by a divine person who, only in virtue of His deity, could bear the penalty through to the end and thus obtain freedom from it. In view of the infinite value of the person who undertook to pay the price and to bear the curse, they satisfied the justice of God essentially and intensively. They were strictly moral sufferings, because Christ took them upon Himself voluntarily, and was perfectly innocent and holy in bearing them.[11]

Exegetical and Expositional Implications

The implications of αμαρτια are such that either we conclude Christ became a sinner, Sin-bearer or general principle of Sin.[12] In this verse, reference is made to Christ’s sinlessness but not to human sinfulness (cf. Rom 5:8). The expression τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν means “the One not having known sin.”[13] It is an articular aorist participle, which signifies timelessness.[14] Therefore from eternity, to incarnation to atonement, Christ had observed the sin of others, without personally or ontologically being acquainted with sin.[15]

One commentator notes, “The purpose of God’s appointment of the innocent Christ is Hebraic utilizing the verb ‘γινωσκεν’ equating it the Hebrew verb ידע “to know” or “to have acquaintance with.” God identified His Son with the human condition in its alienation and lostness; while He declared that sinners may become righteous only through His Righteousness–namely, the Personal rightoeusness in Christ.”[16]

More than identification with the human condition of alienation and lostness, the death and resurrection is the remedy for the condition. Supposing that Christ were only hoping to identify with the human condition is to only consider the symptoms that necessitate the atonement, without concentrating on the remedy. God in Christ established the terms of propitiation, and on His terms, human lostness exists because sin entered the world and death came with it (cf. Rom 5:12; 2 Cor 5:21).

Does 2 Corinthians 5:21 allow for the possibility that Jesus Christ became sin, however, retained perfection and holiness? Is this reality simply a forensic case? Another commentator makes the case that 2 Corinthians 5:21 invokes parallelism whereby Paul contrasts sinners becoming the righteousness of God, while Christ became sin.[17] Grammatically, commentators reason that if “sin offering” were in view, then the verb ‘presented’ or ‘offered’, rather than ‘made’ would have been used. Thus, he further reasons, the parallel structure of the sentence is destroyed.[18]

I would contend that the Greek term ‘εποιησεν’ also speaks of ‘causation.’ Namely, God caused Him to become sin or a ‘sin-offering’. This is an exegetical possibility, because with causation, there is a sense in which presentation and offering is provided for sinners. This conclusion seems to allow the possibility that Christ became sin is a forensic sense only. He is offered up in holiness, purity and satisfaction. His sacrifice is an aroma of satisfaction and culmination in the victorious redemption plan of God. However His treatment as a sin-bearer is the real incurring of God’s Holy wrath upon Him against sin. He became sin for us by imputation, not by inhesion; we become righteousness through Him not by inhesion but by imputation.[19]

Theologians have also argued that Christ had to taste spiritual death for us, and broken communion with God so that he could execute the redemptive work.[20] I would also argue against the idea that Jesus tasted spiritual death. Christ triumphantly commended His Spirit to the Father. Ηis triumphant cry, Τετέλεσται (it has been paid), is not a cry of one who has tasted spiritual death and broken communion. God cannot die spiritually. Instead, his acclamation is one of the conquering King who has provided perfect atonement for sin, to the satisfaction and glory of the Father. He is an unblemished offering. The ‘finished’ work is the work of the cross. The vinidication and culmination of that work is the resurrection.

Jesus Christ did not become an ‘ultimate sinner’ on the cross. Sins were placed upon Him, causing Him to become a sacrifice for ‘sin’, not a ‘sinner’. If He became a sinner, the perfect sacrifice is thus imperfect. Christ did not became a sinner. His utter sinlessness unequivocally rules out that possibility.[21]

God the Son is reconciling sinners to God the Father. Thus as fully God and fully man, Jesus never became a sinner in God’s perception. It was men, not God, who, wrongly perceived that Jesus was a sinner (cf. Is 53:12; Lk 22:37; Mk 15:28-30). Contrastively, God consistently commended Jesus as a beloved Son, and the object of His divine, eternal, pleasure (cf. Mk 9:7; Matt 3:17). Furthermore, it is Christ who possessed perfect merits so that the sins of many could be placed upon Him. It was nothing that could defile Him or bring displeasure upon Him from the Father.

The curse was placed upon Christ because He is all-sufficient, all-powerful, and supremely holy to bear it given His eternal, inexaustible resources to satisfy God’s eternal wrath against sinners. God’s displeasure was upon sinners whose sin was imputed to Jesus Christ. In the substitutionary atonement, God finds pleasure both in the process and result of propitiation, namely sinners reconciled to God. He finds pleasure in the Son of His divine, perfect love. The Father even answered the cry of His beloved Son by not leaving Him to suffer decay, disfellowship or abandonment (cf. Ps 16:10; Ps 22:24). Just as the sins of the Israelites was imputed to the scapegoat (typologically), so the sins of the elect were charged to Christ’s account and He paid the penalty on their behalf. This forensic reality reveals plainly that we are now treated like we have lived Christ’s perfect life, because He was treated on the cross as if He lived our sinful lives. He who was driven outside the camp, has brought us into the blessed presence of the Heavenly Father and His Kingdom.

It is well within the confines of orthodoxy to affirm that Christ was treated by God as if He lived our sinful lives, although Christ is sinless, without blemish, malice, spot, or wrinkle. The doctrine of imputation reveals that the sins of the elect have been placed upon Christ, so that the righteousness of God can and will be imputed to everyone who truly trusts in Christ for eternal life. It is a legal transaction whereby a real, penal substitution is solidified. So while Christ bears the iniquities of sinners and is treated as such, He retains perfection and remains, eternally, deity.

God the Son thus died for God the Father, so that His plan can be brought to fruition on behalf of sinners. The question remains, what is the perception of God toward His only begotten Son? Is He in any way perceiving Christ to be a sinner? While we cannot know the mind of God exhaustively, since He is infinite and self-existent (cf. Exod 3:14; Is 48:12), though we are finite and co-dependent, we can know what He has revealed fully, by His Spirit in His revealed word (cf. Rom 11:33-34). We must conclude with the affirmation that Christ is a sufficient sin-offering. Christ is a perfect sacrifice, while bearing the sins of the elect upon His Person. However, in no way does this bring any defilement to the Person of Christ, in His humanity or deity. The grounds for our justification are the merits of Christ alone. His merits are absolutely righteous, perfect, holy, just, and eternally propitiatory (etc.).[22] His perfecting atonement is our blessed hope that will lead us toward glorification.[23]

The Dangers of Redefining the Natures of Christ in the Atonement

Although this article does not provide the necessary breadth to address all the aberrant movements that have attacked the two natures of Christ, obvious distortions must be refuted. Among many of these movements, the Open Theists and Word-Faith Movement have publically declared heterodox statements on the nature of Christ in the atonement. For example, Open Theists claim a ‘new-model Theology’ in which Jesus made no ransom-payment for sin; no guilt was imputed to Him; nor did God punish Him as a substitute for sinners. God administered none of His sufferings on the cross. Instead, according to the new model, atonement means that our sins are simply “forgiven” out of the bounty of God’s loving tolerance; our relationship with God is normalized; and Christ “absorbed the consequences” of our forgiveness (which presumably means He suffered the indignity and shame that go with enduring an offense).[24]

Through its global dominance and identification as a Charismatic movement, the Word Faith movement has deposited views within Christendom that are heretical, blasphemous and full of deceit. Aside from their false prosperity gospel, their view on the atonement is another grievous assault against the person of Christ. Their most popular teachers have proposed that Jesus Christ took on the nature of Satan on the cross to pay the penalty for sin.[25] They have also proposed that Jesus lacked perfection and Deity during His earthly ministry, and also during His life and death. Lastly, they believe that Christ had to descend in the hell, to become the first born-again man and make atonement for sin. The consequences of such statements have dramatic implications on understanding the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. It is important to note that the hypostatic union, or the atonement, are not tertiary issues. It is essential to know that Christ died for sinners, but to also know the Christ who died for sinners. Beyond what the text reveals, Christ as sin bearing and sin-offering is invariably God-honoring and in concert with sound doctrine. The notion that ontologically, Christ is anything more than the spotless lamb and sin offering, who is recipient of divine wrath on behalf of sinners, is beyond the boundaries of biblical Christology.

This righteousness of God is given to us through faith in the blessed Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. The atonement is vicarious and sufficient, by the perfect One. It is the pillar of our faith and the paramount reality for the Christian to affirm the sinless nature of Jesus and the vicarious nature of substitutionary atonement. The perfect God-man is blessed forevermore and will return in His absolute perfection and glory to gather those who are His, through this blessed atonement

Doron Gladden

Work Cited

Beeke, Joel R., and Mark Jones. A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012.

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, ed. 1998, 1958.

Bruce, F F. Epistle to the Galatians. Grand Rapids: W B Eerdmans, 2013.

Enns, Paul P. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago: Moody Press, 1989.

Garland, David E. The New American Commentary Vol. 29. 2 Corinthians. Nashville: Holman Reference, 1999.

Grew, Obadiah. The Lord Our Righteousness: The Old Perspective On Paul. Edited by Don Kistler. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2005.

Gromacki, Robert Glenn. New Testament Survey. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, Vol. 1. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999.

________. Systematic Theology, Vol. 3. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999.

Martin, Ralph P. Word Biblical Commentary. second ed. Vol. 40, 2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

MacArthur, John. 2 Corinthians. The Macarthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003.

________. Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013.

_________. “Open Theism’s Attack on the Atonement.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12, no. 1 (Fall 2001): 3-13. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 21, 2015).

Pentecost, J Dwight. The Words and Works of Jesus Christ: A Study of the Life of Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Robertson, A T. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The Epistles of Paul. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman, 1991.

Ross, Allen P. Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.

Schreiner, Thomas R. New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008.

Traill, Robert. Justification Vindicated. new rev. ed. Puritan Paperbacks. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002.

Thomas, Owen. The Atonement Controversy: In Welsh Theological Literature and Debate, 1707-1841. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002.

Watson, Thomas. A Body of Divinity. London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965.

White, James R. God Who Justifies. Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2007

.*Accordance Bible Software used for Greek Exegetical conclusions.

[1] Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 338.

[2] John McClintock and James Strong, “Chalcedon,” in Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, volume II – C-D (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 195-6.Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] (Schaff, Vol 2, 465)

[6] “He made the One not having known sin for us sin.” On the cross, Jesus did not become a sinner but remained as holy as ever. He was treated as if He were guilty of all the sins ever committed by all who would ever believe, though He committed none. The wrath of God was exhausted on Him, and the just requirement of God’s law met for those for whom He died (2 Corinthians 5:21, MacArthur Study Bible, 1725.)

[7] Schaff, Vol. 2, 466)

[8] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 267.

[9] Ibid., 272.

[10] Murray J. Harris, 2 Corinthians (NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 454.

[11] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1958 rev. 1998), 420.

[12] Harris, NIGTC-2 Cor, 453.

[13] Ibid., 450.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ralph P. Martin, Word Biblical Commentary, second ed., vol. 40, 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2014), 157.

[17] David E. Garland, The New American Commentary Volume 29 – 2 Corinthians  (Nashville: Holman Reference-, 1999), 300.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Obadiah Grew, The Lord Our Righteousness: The Old Perspective On Paul, ed. Don Kistler (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2005), 52.

[20] J Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ: A Study of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 486.

[21] John MacArthur, 2 Corinthians, The Macarthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 2003), 214.

[22] These adjectives are not representative of an inexhaustible list because Christ Himself is inexhaustible.

[23] James R White, The God Who Justifies (Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2007), 113-17, 193.

[24] John MacArthur, “Open Theism’s Attack on the Atonement.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12, no. 1 (Fall 2001): 3-13. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 21, 2015), 6.

[25] John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 47.

Chalcedonian Creed and the Hypostatic Union

The legacy of the Apostles triumphs throughout church history with a thunderous acumen of sound doctrine from the Word of God. Truly, the Apostles who contended earnestly for the faith in their day are exemplary for the Christian in every age to guard and retain the standard of sound words from the Word of God. The fifth century Post-Nicene Christians did just that. They inherited from the Ante-Nicene and Nicene Christians that which was passed down through faithful men, namely to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once handed down to the saints” (Jude 3c). One of the most influential examples of when the early Church did contend earnestly for the faith is the Chalcedonian Creed. This evaluation is interested in three things, namely articulating the historical background that occasioned the Chalcedonian Creed, comparing the content of the Creed to the New Testament teaching on the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and comparing the Creed to contemporary theological discussions.

The ancient Creed of Chalcedon was formulated in AD 451 at the Council of Chalcedon in Asia Minor and was the fourth of the eight ancient ecumenical councils.[1] Founded in BC 685, the ancient Greek city of Chalcedon was in northwest Asia Minor on the Bosporus Strait (the strait that forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia).[2] According to church historian Philip Schaff, the Council of Chalcedon (next to the Council of Nicaea) was the most important of all the general councils.[3] The Council of Chalcedon was called by the emperor Marcianus, at the request of the Roman bishop Leo I, to put an end to the Eutychianism and Nestorianism.[4]

Named after a Constantinople monastery leader Eutyches (c. A.D. 378-454), Eutychianism was a heresy that denied the incarnate Christ had two distinct natures and taught that the divine nature absorbed the human nature of Christ to create one new super nature.[5] Nestorianism (named after Nestorius) was a heresy which taught that Christ was composed of two distinct and independent persons who work in conjunction with each other. The error asserted that a true union of divine and human would have involved God in change and suffering and resulted in the impossibility for Jesus as man to experience true human existence.[6] The emperor had first summoned the bishops to meet at Nicaea but changed the meeting place to Chalcedon because of political turmoil.[7] The Council was attended by 630 bishops and deputies, all Eastern except four legates sent by Leo I from Rome. The sessions began Oct. 8, 451, and ended Oct. 31. at the church of Saint Euphemia (named after the Christian woman Euphemia who was martyred for her faith in A.D. 303 at an arena in Chalcedon).[8] There were a total of sixteen sessions but what occurred during the fifth session is the most memorable because it was when the Christological Doctrine of Faith was formulated.

It is important to note that the ultimate authority behind the Chalcedon Creed is not the Chalcedon Creed itself but the Word of God that fueled the Creed. Therefore, one should compare the content of the Creed to the New Testament teaching on the Person of Jesus Christ. To start, the first five clauses of the Christological section of the Creed refer to Jesus as being “one and the same son[9] and “perfect in the divinity, perfect in the humanity, truly God and truly man.[10] The Word of God teaches that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (1 John 4:2). Likewise, the Word of God teaches that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh (John 1:1-4; 14). Suffice it to say, that Jesus Christ has two natures, that is, the divine nature and a human nature. Colossians 2:9 referenced both His Divine nature and His human nature, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (cf. Philippians 2:6; Hebrews 1:3). In order for Jesus to have the divine nature must mean that He is perfect and self-existent. That is why in the Gospel of John Jesus claimed to be YHWH as well as other passages of Scripture referring to Him as such (Jn 4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8; Isa 40-66).

What is more, the Chalcedon Creed reads that Jesus is “consisting of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, sin only excepted.[11] This is also clearly taught in Scripture. To begin, Christ is referred to in Romans 5 as the “Second Adam.” In order for Christ to be the Second Adam would mean that He is full humanity in every way man is except the Lord Jesus is without sin. When Adam sinned in Genesis 3 God imputed the first sin to the entire scope of humanity. The only person who did not have a sin nature, who did not inherit original sin, was Jesus Christ (cf. Hebrews 4:15; 1 John 3:5). Unequivocally, the NT Gospel narrative accounts of the nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ articulated the doctrine of the incarnation which revealed the mystery of godliness (Matthew 1:20-21, 25; Luke 2; Isaiah 7:14).  This was also articulated in the Chalcedonian Creed when it reads, “the same was born according to the manhood, of Mary the Virgin, mother of God.”[12] At this point, the only problem is the genitival phrase “mother of God.” Clearly Mary did not cause God to come into existence but rather is to be understood as Jesus’ mother in His humanity. However, the Creed is correct biblically to identify Jesus as being “the only begotten[13] because He was the only begotten Son of God before God sent Him into the world (cf. 1 John 4:9b).

Concerning the clauses, “for us and for our salvation; who is to be acknowledged one and the same Christ; the Son, the Lord,[14] the Lord Jesus Christ is unique in that He came to take away sins through His Person and Cross work by vicariously living for and dying on the cross as a satisfactory substitute for everyone who would ever believe in Him for eternal life (Matthew 20:28; Galatians 2:20; 1 Timothy 1:16). The only way that believing sinners could be forgiven and reconciled to God is if a representative would serve as a mediator between God and man by being Himself God and man and through Divine accomplishment propitiating God’s wrath toward sin in substitution by being also human in substitution to provide and secure eternal redemption for those He came to save (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

The final section is the heart of the Creed in which no heresy can hide, namely “in two natures, without mixture, change, division, or separation; the difference of natures not being removed by their union, but rather the propriety of each nature being preserved and concurring in one person and in one ύπόστασις, so that he is not divided or separated into two persons, but the only Son, God, the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, and one and the same person.[15] The natures are not blended together but rather there is a perfect unity of the natures. This is what is meant by hypostatic union and clearly refutes the heresy called Eutychianism. What is more, the heresy called Nestorianism taught that Christ had two persons instead of two natures. This is refuted by the statement “so that he is not divided or separated into two persons.”

Today, the Chalcedonian Creed has implications for contemporary theological discussions. To start, there is a popular illustration concerning the constitution of the Lord Jesus that He is two hundred percent. However, claiming that He is two hundred percent is not explicitly worded as such in mathematical terms in the Bible, so such an illustration must be qualified and explained through the lens of the hypostatic union. Today, there are not visible schools that identify themselves as Nestorian or Eutychian. However, it is possible for one to claim that Jesus Christ is two hundred percent when all the while thinking that He has two persons instead of two natures or that the Divine nature absorbed the human nature to make up a third super nature causing Him to be two hundred percent. This is where the Chalcedonian Creed is extremely helpful. Just as Modalists can hide in incomplete definitions of the doctrine of the Trinity, so can Christological heresies hide in unqualified incomplete definitions of the doctrine of the incarnation. If one is going to use the illustration that He is two hundred percent then one must have that understanding according to what is articulated from the Word of God. Let us study and understand clearly the sound doctrines from the Word of God first and rest in the truth of Scripture and not base all of our doctrines on quick catch phrases that lead to ignorance and ambiguity when left unqualified and without a proper comprehensive biblical definition.

E.V. Powers

[1] G.L. Bray, “Councils,”New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson and David F. Wright, 169- The Master Reference Collection (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, ©1988), 1.171.

[2] The American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993), 231.

[3] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 5th ed., volume III (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 351.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 375.

[6] Ibid., 374.

[7] John McClintock and James Strong, “Chalcedon,” in Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theologican, and Ecclesiastical Literature, volume II – C-D (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 195-6.Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.


The sound doctrine of repentance is rooted in the biblical imperatives of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the universal command to all men, although it will not be universally received by all men, nor is it universally or hypothetically applied to anyone, since it is actually applied to the elect of God who respond to it by the monergistic, saving work of God in Jesus Christ, by the blood of His cross.

The ability to repent of one’s sins and repent unto God is not wrought by human hands, nor is it a construct of the human mind. It is not a preparatory work by men that renders them savable before God. Repentance is a gift from God to rightly appropriate the vicarious, penal, propitiatory, substitutionary atonement of God on behalf of the elect of God. The kindness of God is meant to lead the sinner to repentance (Romans 2:4). His kindness is encapsulated in the inherent beauty of natural revelation, and the common grace of temporal life and breath that He bestows to everyone (Romans 1:19-20).  One must be born again in order that one may repent of one’s sins and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and the remission of sins (John 3:16-18), or one will not see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). The Greek term for repentance ‘μετανοια’ literally means to ‘change one’s mind’. The Hebrew term is shuv which means to ‘turn back’, ‘turn away from’, or ‘return’.

Throughout the entire corpus of God’s eternal Word, repentance always signifies a change of mind, but it also always includes a corresponding change of action. Any form of “repentance” that merely allows for acknowledgment of sin, without forsaking sin is false repentance. The holy apostles and prophets did not merely call for mental assent, or sorrow over sins, but a corresponding change of action that signified a life of obedience and holiness where there had once been rebellion and constant disobedience.

True repentance is demonstrated by fleeing from God’s wrath (cf. Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7), fleeing to His grace, and bearing fruits that are evidences of repentance (cf. Matthew 3:2, 7-8). One cannot claim to repent of his/her sins, while simultaneously being enslaved to sin. Although it always includes turning from sin, it equally includes turning to God (cf. Acts 3:19). The sinner does not necessarily repent because he/she has been caught in the act of sin, but because he/she is demonstrably mournful that he/she has offended a holy, omniscient, and all-powerful God. Repentance is inherently a plea to God for mercy, not based upon any merits that the individual possesses, but based upon the imputed or credited righteousness of Christ to the sinner’s account, because the sinner does not possess any inherent righteousness of his/her own.

Repentance is a gift from God and is distinguished by godly sorrow, which is according to the standard of God’s will (Gk. ελυπηθητε γαρ κατα Οεον – 2 Corinthians 7:9).[1] This sorrow is godly and produces repentance of sins unto eternal life (cf. Acts 11:18). However, there is another sorrow that is distinct from godly sorrow. This is why it is dangerous to assume the presence of mourning, tears, regret and shame are evidences of true repentance. Those who are now in the eternal flames bear unspeakable sorrow, but not because they have offended God, rather because they have been caught in their transgressions. This is the worldly sorrow that produces death. Worldly sorrow is demonstrated in the life of the betrayer Judas, who regretted his actions and hanged himself, but he did not possess a holy hatred of his actions that would have led him to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as His Savior and Lord complemented with the fruit of a changed life by the power of God.

Repentance can be sought with tears, by the ungodly, but never attained (cf. Hebrews 12:17-18). The mere presence of emotional responses toward sin do not indicate repentance and freedom from sin. Holy affections must be evident, so that godly sorrow is evident. Godly sorrow precedes and produces repentance, thus godly sorrow presumes regeneration, that is, the giving of spiritual life by God, the stirring up of one’s own disposition by the Holy Spirit of God from spiritual death to spiritual life. This results in one’s agreement with God’s eternal indictment of just punishment against that person, and thus leads to repentance of sins and turning from sin to God in Christ. Repentance is also necessary for believers who have sinned and failed to obey God’s promises, not as a common trajectory of their lives, but in moments of rebellion. Their repentance is one of returning to what they have once known, and to turn away from flirtations with apostasy away from God but toward righteous living (cf. Revelation 2:5, 3:3).

Signs of spurious repentance often include, but are not limited to: revivalism, recantation of mantras and forced repetitions of the so-called sinner’s prayer, repetitious, charismatic altar calls whereby despite the event, the life is not changed from a life of sin and rebellion, religious euphoria rooted in personalities not the Scriptures, emotional giddiness in the administration of religious duties, idol worship, sell-willed persistence in theological error, one’s self-profession of godliness at a toddler’s age – yet hatred toward God in middler years, ethnocentric pseudo-gospels, prosperity gospels, ‘love’ for Christ – but hatred and partiality toward Him and His biblical Christians, and many other forms. The common denominator in each case is its assent to a form of godliness, yet denying His power (cf. 2 Timothy 3:5).

True repentance is marked by amputation. Specifically, it is marked by the amputation that fears entering hell holistically, and would rather enter into glory mangled yet victorious over sin (cf. Matthew 18:8-9). Such modern movements, religious and irreligious, appeal to the whole: the whole man, the whole family, the whole society. True repentance cries out to that the whole must hear the call and the individual must respond to the command. The individual must surrender to Christ, cry out for His mercy, turn from sin to Him, plead with God to spare him from the wrath to come and turn to Christ in saving faith for the remission of sins, trusting in Him and His saving work alone.

But one does not get there by clinging to anything in the old man. The old man and his ways are perishing. The old man must be put off and crucified (cf. Romans 6:6, Ephesians 4:22-24, Col. 3:9-10). The modern religious establishment grades the old man on a curve. While claiming the way is narrow, the way is no longer Christ and His salvation, but personalities, the deconstruction and splicing of doctrine, emotionalism, book interests, conferences, programs, academia, etc. It is supposed that these are the ways of both justification and sanctification while Scriptures are a mere instrument, a handmaiden to these man-made structures. If men should try to amputate these things, then their own repentance is solicited without regard to biblical precedence for doing so. True repentance does not flee to men, because fallible, sinful men are not the chief object of our eternal offense, it flees to Christ, because true repentance is given by God and His wrath is appeased by Christ alone. Although true repentance does reconcile those who were once opposed to one another, if that repentance is rooted in the Person and cross work of Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:11-17). True repentance, accompanied by the blessed grace of God, does not lead to the next evangelical, experiential high, or theological error, rather it leads to the hunger for truth in His holy Scripture, the thirst for His righteousness, growth in discernment, renunciation of the world’s system (cf. Titus 2:11-14) and the obedience to all that He has commanded in His word, namely perfecting holiness (cf. 1 Peter 1:16). True repentance does not merely flee to the guardians of truth and hide in them, but desires to become the guardian at any cost. True repentance leads to discipleship with Christ, not philosophical fraternities of men. Those who fail to repent are storing up wrath for themselves in the day of judgment (cf. Romans 2:5).[2] Repentance and saving faith does not stave off temporal death, because the affects of sin are still evident in the fallen world and the fallen man. However, true repentance does renew the inner man and leads him to glorification with Christ, through sanctification, as the believer is being made like Christ (cf. Colossians 3:9-10; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

The failure to repent is like the affects of cancer. It is parasitic. It appears as a growth, it multiplies and attaches to its host, and then it begins to overtake and ravage the immune system, eventually overtaking the organs and killing the entire person. One may proclaim the necessity to repent to others without seeing his/her own need to repent. Pragmatism, in the form of profitability, in this hour, is the number one impediment toward repentance. That which is esteemed lucrative does not need to turn to Christ, since God’s stamp of approval, so they reason, is to provide abundant resources. This was the error of Egypt, Israel’s OT tormentors, the pseudo-religion of the Pharisees and Scribes, the Roman Empire, the pseudo-church in Rome, and the Modern Evangelical Mafiosi. It is along these lines that God Himself quiets the call to repent from His watchmen and begins to squeeze His fist together to crush those who are futile because they oppose Him.

Repentance is a clarion call. Those who do not repent, die in their sins (cf. John 8:24). They are already dead, however they will decay until their bodies are outfitted with bodies prepared for the destruction. What is keeping you from this repentance? Is the command to ‘repent’ simply that which you have proclaimed to others while not repenting of your own sins? Are your sins cleverly hidden from men through religious ceremony and religious jargon? If you will not allow yourself to be exposed now, by repenting unto life, then you will be exposed at the Great White Throne of Judgment and will be exposed before Him.

It is not only necessary to repent of the obvious debauchery in the land, but to repent of the notion that the visible church, sound as she believes she is, somehow has not amalgamated herself with the world’s modus operandi, while calling the world to repent. True metanoia comes when man has a glimpse of Christ in Scripture in light of Scripture’s indictment against man for offending God’s holiness. It is not theoretical, but intimate. True repentance forsakes even religious ambition, and takes up its cross to follow Jesus Christ alone. True repentance is not enamored with the men, now and throughout history, who have cried to their wicked generation to repent. It is enamored with the grace and gift of God that enables man to repent. It is enamored, not with the consumer driven euphoria of generic references to the cross, it is enamored with the Christ of the cross, and the risen Christ who rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father. True repentance is not enamored with the past event of one’s professed repentance, but with God who made repentance a spiritual reality before the foundation of the world, toward His elect. True repentance never points to what repentance means to you as its primary focus, but how it leads to Him, both at Calvary and the age to come. Those who truly exercise repentance are glad to leave the prospect of a well-polished descent to hell, for the maimed journey to glory and the eternal life of fellowship with the Triune God.

[1] The Greek preposition ‘κατα’ with the accusative, in most cases and in its case here, denotes standard.

[2] The Greek verb θησαυριζεις (lit. ‘you are treasuring up’) is present, active, indicative signifying a continuous action. The unbeliever who fails to repent is continuously and actively storing up wrath for himself. It is the idea of one who is making consistent deposits or investments that will inevitably yield a return. In this case, the investment is unrepentance  and consequent wrath, with the yield or return being ‘wrath’ and ‘judgment’.

-Doron Gladden

True Happiness

The framers of the Constitution once wrote:

“We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; …”

But what is life? What is liberty? What is happiness?

Is life, the mere breath that we breath allowing us the pursuit of the things that we desire most? Is freedom the absence of trial, calamity, and living as we please in harmonized autonomy? Is happiness that which makes us laugh, and the positive experiences that bring a certain giddiness to us?

Who determines whether you are pursuing life, liberty and happiness?

The framers of the constitution believed that the creation granted us intrinsic rights to pursue these things.

However, the apostle John tells us that no one has seen God except the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Lord Jesus Christ has perfectly explained Him.

Jesus Christ is God in human flesh (cf. John 1:1-4; 14). The Lord Jesus Christ has two natures, that is, His Divine nature and His human nature. Jesus is fully God and fully man. Colossians 2:9 referenced both of His Divine nature and His human nature: “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (cf. Philippians 2:6; Hebrews 1:3). Concerning His Divine nature Jesus is Self-Existent, He possess all the attributes of God for He is the same Essence as God the Father and God Holy Spirit. Concerning His Human nature, Jesus is every way that we are as a man except He is without sin (cf. John 7:18; Hebrews 2:14; 4:15; 1 John 3:5). Jesus Christ has two natures perfectly united in His one person – two natures without mixture, change, division, or separation; the difference of the natures not being removed by their union, but rather the propriety of each nature being preserved and concurring in one person and in one hypostasis, so that He is not divided or separated into two persons, but the only Son, God, the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, and one and the same person. He is the only mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5).

Therefore if we truly desire to know what the Creator defines as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we must look to what Jesus Christ says:

In Luke 6:20-23,  Jesus describes three characteristics of divine happiness for believers in His kingdom.

I. True happiness is poor

If a man is poor, it is not inherently sinful that he is. It is also equally true that if a man is wealthy, it is not always because he is immensely blessed.

Jesus is not proposing a sanctified communism. Nor is He saying that the poor in the system of Capitalism must rise up and contend against the rich.

Matthew 5:3 adds the words “in spirit.”

Those who are spiritually humbled, and as the blessed tax collector who could not bear to look to God because of the weightiness of his sin (cf. Luke 18:13), the poor in spirit esteems himself lowly in the eyes of God.

The difference here is not between economic classes, but spiritual dispositions.

Jesus is rebuking arrogant, self-righteous, presumptuous ‘worship’ of God the Father. The same false worship that the Pharisees and religious leaders were offering to God. Jesus repeated the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13), when he said about them “These people praise me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:18)

If you offer vain praises to God, and profess with the loudest voice your allegiance to Him, while having no saving faith in Him, then the Beatitudes do not apply to you.

Those who are ‘poor’ inherit the kingdom. Those who are ‘rich’ (prideful, well-nourished on their self-ambition, arrogant, lofty in their own minds), they have their comfort now with misery to follow.

The ‘rich’ in spirit attempt to strut themselves into the kingdom, not realizing that the believer crawls. Citizens of the kingdom kneel, stoop, and even stagger into the kingdom, but they make it in, because of the One who sacrificed Himself for their sins.

-Luke is not supposing that if we act humble, lowly, and poor in spirit that somehow we ‘earn’ the kingdom by our own deeds. Luke is writing that those who inherit the kingdom are able to live in accordance with its standards because Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, has enabled them to do so.

Are you broken by the schemes of wicked men, as you suffer for Christ?

Are you humbled and low because of the saving, substitutionary atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Are you brought low so that you can be exalted by Him?

“Yours is the kingdom!”

Notice that Jesus is not speaking to the general audience of believers and unbelievers, giving them a ‘Christian ethic’. He gazes at His disciples, saying, in essence, “Since you belong to me this is how you will live.”

II. True happiness is broken & hungry

Do you think that God chose you because you have a certain attractiveness about you? Perhaps you think he chose you because you were already full, and simply needed a little more Jesus to add to your life.

If you believe this, then you are in more agreement with those who bear the curses of excommunication from the kingdom, rather than those who bear the blessing of the sons of the Kingdom.

Jesus says, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.”

Their present state was ‘hunger’ and the result of ‘dissatisfaction’ because of their hunger. However, Jesus is not advocating salvation by organizing community soup kitchens. Although, the very act of feeding the poor and the hungry is certainly a virtuous endeavor.

Matthew 5:6 is more specific. It reads, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

The Kingdom of God is characterized by a reign of perfect righteousness, perfect justice, and perfect peace.

No kingdom on this earth can testify to being a kingdom marked by perfection. No kingdom on this earth can avoid corruption, partiality, and miscarriages in justice.
Certainly, no kingdom in this world can claim that she hungers or thirsts for righteousness. This hunger and thirst can only be given to those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God. Only those who have saving faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ are given the ‘food’ and ‘drink’ that satisfies their malnourished souls.

This hunger is not the nourishment of a lavish, perishable feast, but the nourishment of the Bread of Life (John 6:35).

It is to drink of the water that the Samaritan woman was promised at the well (John 4:14).

It is not so with the wicked. They are filled from rotten food and their thirst quenched by contaminated waters. They are cursed, because they have settled their appetites with the poison of deception and unrighteousness.

There are those who are presently weeping, and Jesus has come to comfort them. They weep, not because they are given over to self-pity. They weep because vindication against their oppressors seems far off (6:24-26).

Those who are laughing now, in their straw thrones of unrighteousness, are comforted, filled, and nourished on perishable things. They and their paper castles will be destroyed.

However, those disciples, whom Jesus comforts here, are those who find their nourishment, comfort, and hope in Him. The two groups do not exist apart from one another, instead the unrighteous usurpers make it their aim to oppress the citizens of the kingdom.

III. True happiness is despised

-Not only is true happiness despised, but the Master who brings true happiness is despised (Isaiah 53:3; John 15:18).

While the believer is characterized by love for his enemies, and enemies of God, those who hate Christ and His disciples are characterized by hatred toward sons of God.

While Luke tells us that this hatred exists, he further explains how it is demonstrated (v. 22), how we must respond to it (v. 23), and how we are different from them (vv. 27-28).

This hatred for Jesus’ disciples is demonstrated by first, casting them out of their company.

The Greek word literally means ‘to separate’ or ‘to cast off’. These men demonstrate their hatred for you by separating you and throwing you out of their kingdom, while they themselves possess no citizenship in His kingdom. This was true of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, it is equally true today.

It would be one thing if this hatred were demonstrated by ex-communication only , but it is further practiced by insults and scorn.

-This speaks of severe insult, persecution, and abuse hurled at those who represent Jesus Christ in His kingdom. The twelve disciples, throughout their ministry in the New Testament, and other believers would experience this kind of immense hatred throughout the course of the church history.

Paul also wrote to Timothy that all who desired to live godly lives in Christ Jesus would suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).

It is not simply that they are persecuted, insulted, and ostracized; rather these things happen to those who belong to Christ because of Him.

Servants, today, should expect to be treated no differently than their master (Matthew 16:24; John 15:20).

How should the believer respond to this kind of mistreatment?

One would expect Jesus to simply pat us on our heads and tell us to just get through it. However, He tells us to act in a manner that is completely paradoxical to the way you and I would otherwise respond to those who hate us, because of our witness for Christ.

“’Be glad in that day, leap for joy.”

This invokes the imagery from Malachi 4, where after the Prophet indicts the false priests of Judah, he says that a day is coming when those who are oppressed by them will leap for joy and skip like calves leaping from the stall.” (Malachi 2:4)

When disciples are so treated, they can either choose to fear the men who oppress them or rejoice that God will take vengeance upon those who are oppressed by rebels against His kingdom.

This mistreatment is not done in isolation. The biblical Christians identify with their Lord, but they also identify with the prophets of old. Specifically in this passage, those who mistreated the disciples were direct sons of those who killed the prophets. Those, today, who still disparage the blessed Christians, are equally sons of the generations of those who killed the prophets.

Since, blood had not been shed because of this hatred, to this point in the passage, Jesus is merely referring to the deeds of those who would graduate from insults, scorn, and persecution to the consummative act of murder.

We must always test ourselves to see to which group we belong. The world loves its own. The Triune God loves His own. The two are never intermingled. May God lay our own hearts bear before Him to expose us as rebellious oppressors of His citizens or faithful disciples who belong in His kingdom.

Doron Gladden

Regeneration: The New Birth

Regeneration: The New Birth

The word παλιγγενεσία (paliggenesia) “regeneration” was used no less than twice in the New Testament (cf. Matthew 19:28; Titus 3:5). The term was comprised of the adverb πάλιν “again; once more; on the other hand; another” and γένεσις (genesis) “origin, birth, beginning.” Therefore, παλιγγενεσία has the meaning of “again origin” or affirmed as “once more birth” or could be stated “on the other hand –beginning” (all of these phrases are synonymous because they all have the same sense, namely “another birth”).  Emphatically, regeneration is another genesis – it means another birth. Regeneration being another birth means it is not a natural birth. Contrariwise, regeneration is a spiritual birth (cf. John 3:6-8). Every single person who has ever lived or will ever live has entered; or will enter this earth by means of a natural birth through the procreation from a natural father together with a natural mother. On the other hand, not every single person who has ever lived or will ever live on earth will enter the kingdom of God because the LORD Jesus Christ said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” and “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5). Regeneration means a person is born again by the Third Person of the Trinity, namely God the Holy Spirit who is the agent of the new birth and who gives spiritual life – “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63).

This article is interested in drawing out the Authorial intent from the Scriptures for the purpose of defining the sound doctrine of regeneration, stating man’s need of regeneration, identifying the source of regeneration, explaining the cause of regeneration and describing the result of regeneration. Moreover, it is this writer’s conviction because of the testimony of Scripture that regeneration precedes faith and is a monergistic work of God – that is, regeneration is solely the work of God alone – who alone has the ability to cause spiritual birth.

Man’s Need of Regeneration and Identifying the Source of Regeneration

The sound doctrine of regeneration is a powerful doctrine because it is directly and propositionally taught from Scripture. Therefore an excellent place to start with regard to stating man’s need of regeneration and identifying the source of regeneration is from one of the most explicit passages from Scripture concerning the doctrine, that is, the description of when the LORD Jesus Christ taught the Pharisee Nicodemus the meaning of the new birth (cf. John 3). In John 3, the Apostle John recorded the event in which a man named Nicodemus visited the LORD Jesus Christ at night. At this encounter, the LORD Jesus Christ contrasted two types of births. For instance, the LORD Jesus Christ made the distinction between two types of births when he said, “that which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Born of the flesh is the natural birth in which all humans experience, as mentioned above, namely, a natural birth through the procreation of a natural father together with a natural mother. John explained that the new birth is not a natural birth that everyone goes through or even a birth that is possible from the volition of man’s will but that the new birth is solely a birth from God when the apostle wrote, “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Being born of the Spirit is a completely different birth than a natural birth. The Greek word that was used for “again” in “born again” from John 3:3, 7 means “from above.” It is the Greek word ἄνωθεν (anóthen) and was used no less than 13 times in the NT (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 1:3; John 3:3, 7, 31; 19:11, 23; Acts 26:5; Galatians 4:9; James 1:17; 3:15, 17). In James, ἄνωθεν (anóthen) was used as a reference to the new birth. What is more, ἄνωθεν (anóthen) was used to identify that it is birth from above when James wrote, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures” (James 1:17-18). Contrasting the wisdom from above (ἄνωθεν anóthen – God’s wisdom) vs the wisdom from below (i.e. the earthly, natural, and demonic wisdom not from God), James described the wisdom from above, that is from God when he wrote, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Therefore, the Word of God teaches that the new birth is another birth. What is more, the Word of God teaches that the new birth is a heavenly birth from above. Moreover, the Word of God teaches that the new birth is spiritual birth accomplished by God. The need for man to be born again is due to the reality that man is spiritually dead in his sin. Man is spiritually blind. Man cannot see God in his natural state and man is spiritually blind with respect to the truth of God found in Christ Jesus (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:14-18; 4:3-6). What is more, man is totally depraved, that means, man is unable to spiritually draw near to God and come to God in Christ in man’s natural state (cf. Ephesians 2:1-3). Man must be born again, that is born of God where the LORD gives a person a new heart to believe upon the LORD Jesus Christ to be saved (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27 emphasis on verse 26; Zechariah 12:10; Ephesians 2:4). This writer boldly affirms that the New Covenant is inseparably constrained to regeneration and inseparably constrained to the sound doctrine of the Atonement of the LORD Jesus Christ. The recipients of the New Covenant are the elect from both Jew and Gentile – that is, the elect from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (see Revelation 5:9).

When the apostle John wrote of those who believed in Christ the following; “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13), the source of the new birth was identified as of God. “But of God” is a genitive of source. John 1:12-13 does not mean that saving faith by believing in Jesus’ name is the condition for God to then cause a person to be born again because that would contradict the rest of Scripture suggesting that a person can believe in their unregenerate natural state without being spiritually alive (cf. Ephesians 2:1-10). But instead the new birth is of God and regeneration precedes faith (cf. Acts 16:14; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14; Ephesians 2:4-10). Faith is even a gift from God (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10). Arminians teach that a person needs to believe first and then they will be regenerated – born again. But The Bible teaches that regeneration precedes faith, it comes before faith. You must be born again in order to place faith in Christ (and faith is a gift), to see Him, we cannot exercise faith in Christ and His kingdom apart from being born again.

The Cause of Regeneration

In Ephesians 2:1-10, verse 4 is where the thought turned from verses 1-3 to verse 4 – 10. It was where the thought pivoted with the disjunctive “But God.” This contrasted God’s actions toward us vs our actions toward him in verses 1 – 3.  Θεός (God) is the subject of this long sentence in Greek because Θεός (God) is nominative masculine singular (the case that designates the subject of the sentence), and is a reference to God the Father as the subject just as He is the subject in the long Greek sentence of Ephesians 1:3-10. In the clause “being rich in mercy” – “being” is a present participle which indicated a habitual linear durative – that means, a continuous habitual action of God (repeated). It is in God’s nature and His kindness of activity to the elect that He is “being rich in mercy.” Being rich in mercy is a description of God’s character.

In the OT, it was the mercy seat that symbolized where God would sit and where the blood was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement for propitiation (cf. Leviticus 16:15-16). Mercy is not getting what you deserve. God being rich in mercy is contrasted with us being dead in trespasses against Him “even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5 a-b). “Made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5b) is a spiritual resurrection that means regeneration. In the context of Ephesians 2:1-10, verses 1-3 referred to being spiritually dead and verses 4-10 referred to being spiritually alive.

Ephesians 2:4 described God’s motive – literally “because of the great love of Him with which he loved us.” “Because of” indicated the cause of God’s mercy – namely, great love. The preposition dia with accusative here means “cause” when it is translated “because of, on account of, for the sake of” it means “cause.” So the cause of God’s mercy is the great love of Him, and love of Him means God is the source of this love. The direct object is love but not only love – “great love”.  Love means an action not a feeling and πολλὴν ἀγάπην “great love” has the Greek word for love, namely ἀγάπη which is love of action – that is, self-sacrifice (cf. John 14:15; 15:12-13). This is the way God is, namely “being rich in mercy because of the great love of Him with which He loved us.” The elect are the objects of His love, those “He chose in Christ before the foundation of the world .  . . those in love He predestined to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intension of His will” (cf. Ephesians 1:4-5). The elect are the objects of His love “even when we were dead in our transgressions, . . .” (Ephesians 2:5a). It was God who extends His grace to the elect who like the rest of humanity are undeserving unregenerate rebels, and God regenerates these elect.

When a person is naturally born into this world he or she is born dead in sin (Genesis 6:5; Romans 3:9-12; Ephesians 2:1), conceived in sin as King David put it (Psalm 51: 5), loves sin and hates God. But when a person is born again, they turn away from loving their sin and hating God – to hating their sin and loving God. This is all due to the action of God when He regenerates a person –  “made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5b). This verb in verse five (i.e. συνεζωοποίησεν “made us alive with”) is the main verb of the entire sentence in the Greek (Ephesians 2:1-10). To identify the subject is important because the subject here performs the action of the verb. The main verb is in verse 5 “He made us alive” with Christ. He is God the Father.

The Word of God teaches that regeneration is a Trinitarian act. Each person of the Trinity is involved in the grace of regeneration. The Father decreed regeneration and is the cause involved in regeneration (cf. Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 Peter 1:3). The LORD Jesus Christ and His physical resurrection from the dead is involved in regeneration (cf. 1 Peter 1:3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”).

Regeneration is a Trinitarian act but the Holy Spirit is the agent of regeneration (cf. Ezekiel 36:25-27; John 3:5-6; Titus 3:5).The Holy Spirit is the Agent of regeneration and is the Person who spiritually quickens a person making them spiritually alive and applies the work of Christ to the person He regenerated. The imagery from Ezekiel 36:25 concerning the future national repentance of Israel in the New Covenant explained an internal cleansing when God said, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.” Likewise, in the NT Jesus alluded to Ezekiel 36:25-27 when he spoke the following to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” It is the imagery of inward washing and regeneration by the purity of God the Holy Spirit. Likewise, the Apostle Paul through inspiration by God Holy Spirit wrote about the same means of regeneration in Titus 3:5-6: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” In the book of Acts, at the council of Jerusalem in the context of destroying the legalism of imposing circumcision on the Gentiles the Apostle Peter explained that God the Holy Spirit cleanses the heart of a person by faith when he said, “And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9). Faith is a gift which God puts into a person (cf. Ephesians 2:8).

Regeneration is a monergistic work. Monergistic work means  it is solely the work of God alone who alone has the ability to cause spiritual birth. He alone is able to perform. Regeneration is not synergistic – that means, a joint work between the fallen human person and the Holy Spirit together. Instead, it is completely and solely the work of God alone. 1 Peter 1:3 teaches that regeneration is a monergistic work of God – God is the cause of regeneration and regeneration is by grace when the text reads, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Also, it is vital to understand that regeneration is not an ongoing action. A birth is not an ongoing process; it is an instantaneous action. The spiritual birth of a person by God is an instantaneous action, not an ongoing gradual process. At the moment of regeneration a person becomes a child of God – born into God’s family. When one is born into God’s family that birth can never be undone.

In regeneration a person is passive because it was God who caused them to be “born again.” In 1 Peter 1:23 having been born again is a perfect passive participle “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” If all persons have no prior work and say concerning their natural birth, then how much more is a person absolutely passive concerning their spiritual birth?

The Description of the Results of Regeneration

There are credible evidences that can be objectively determined from the Word of God to know if a person is in fact regenerate. Those who have been born again; who have repented unto salvation and believed the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ; whose lives have been changed by the power of God, evidence signs of life and the assurance of salvation which is the consequence of regeneration. Jesus gave an illustration of this when he said, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

treesblowingIllustratively, just as you cannot actually see the wind with your physical eyes, you can however see the effect of the wind with your physical eyes (e.g. when trees sway back and forth in the wind). So, one cannot see the action of regeneration performed by God because the act is invisible but one can undoubtedly see the effects of regeneration because the regenerated person’s life has changed by the power of God and now there is the manifestation the fruit of Spirit.

The description of the results of regeneration from the Word of God include the following:(1) The Scriptures teach that a person who has been born again loves God and others who have also been born again – namely, fellow Christians – “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him” (1 John 5:1); (2) The Scriptures teach that the person who has been born again lives a life characteristic of not practicing sin – “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9). This does not teach sinless perfection this side of the grave but it does teach that the believer lives a habitual life of not practicing sin. The participle γεγεννημένος (having been born) is a perfect participle passive nominative masculine singular – that means, “having been born of God” has the kind of action that is completed and the results continue. Pointedly, the following three words in 1 John 3:9, that is, ἁμαρτίαν  οὐ ποιεῖ “sin not practicing” has the kind of action that is defined by the present aspect and indicated an ongoing habitual lifestyle of not practicing sin! The Apostle John wrote of the cause of this, namely, “because His seed abides in him” – which indicated the seed that is placed into a person at regeneration that in other places is referred to as the Word of God (cf. Luke 8:11; 1 Peter 1:23). What is more, καὶ οὐ ἁμαρτάνειν δύναται “and he is not able to sin” also has the present aspect and indicated an ongoing habitual lifestyle of not being able to practice sin.  And the Apostle John wrote of the cause of this – that is, “because he has been born of God”; γεγέννηται (he has been born) a perfect indicative passive verb which indicated the kind of action that is completed and the results continue. Practicing sin means living in sin as a lifestyle which does not characterize the born again person.

Likewise, there are other objective evidences from the epistle of 1 John for a person to determine that they are in fact regenerate – which include, confession of sin, repentance and walking in the light (1 John 1:5-10); a life characteristic of obedience by keeping Christ’s commandments (1 John 2:3-4); not being a liar (1 John 2:4); love for other Christians (1 John 2:9-11; 5:1); hating the world system (1 John 2:15-17); perseverance in sound doctrine (1 John 2:24-25); a life characteristic of righteousness (1 John 3:10); God the Holy Spirit’s testimony (1 John 4:13; cf. Romans 8:16). What is more, the book of Hebrews taught that a person who is disciplined by God is a child of God (cf. Hebrews 12:5-8).

A Rebuke against False Teachers

Many false teachers today who dwell even among solid circles (this writer is not merely addressing the obvious false teachers of word of faith cults, Mormons, S.D.A., Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.) manufacture a pseudo-regeneration (i.e. counterfeit/fraud which is not a true regeneration). This is accomplished by false teachers who manipulate persons to pray a prayer (e.g. “the sinner’s prayer”) or perform an altar call and then congratulate those who obey them by affirming these means as acts of repentance which have brought about regeneration. Also, some teach baptismal regeneration – that is, a person must be baptized in order to be regenerated. Baptismal regeneration is error.

What is more, many manipulate little children (e.g. as young as 3, 4, 5, 6 years of age) to perform “the sinner’s prayer” and then affirm these little children as true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. These little children grow up into adolescence evidencing absolutely no fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22-23). When these little children leave their household and go off to university or the work force they “fall away” from their pseudo-confession (i.e. “the sinner’s prayer”). The reality is these little children were never truly regenerated. Some of these become regenerated in adulthood. They then testify against the false conversion template that was enforced upon them at an early age. However, those who enforced these pseudo-confessions and those who have not come out of these pseudo-confessions then persecute and revile the little children who later became regenerated. To enforce these pseudo-confession templates on little children is sin and actually in opposition to Matthew 19:14 – “But Jesus said, ‘Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” If you manipulate little children to perform “the sinner’s prayer” and then affirm them as Christians because they repeated the “the sinner’s prayer” like a “call and response” jazz ensemble (e.g. “now repeat after me”) then you have actually hindered them from coming to Jesus. An example of “the sinner’s prayer” is as follows:

Dear God,

I know that I am a sinner. I accept Jesus into my heart as my personal Savior. I believe he died on the cross for sinners and was raised from the dead. Please accept my prayer.


After this prayer (or one like it) is repeated, the one who “led the recipient to Christ” then congratulates the recipient and says, “if you truly meant it with all your heart -congratulations you are now a Christian – you are now born again.” Reciting a prayer is not a credible evidence that a person is regenerated. Instead, credible evidence that a person is regenerated is that their life has changed by the power of God objectively identified by the Word of God.

Believer’s Baptism

There are only two ordinances from the Lord Jesus Christ to His church – namely, the Lord’s Supper and Believer’s Baptism. Believer’s Baptism is symbolic of the believer’s regeneration and union with the Lord Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, burial and resurrection from the dead (cf. Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12 emphasis added). Believer’s Baptism is an imperative command – “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is an ordinance given by the Lord Jesus Christ for His church to administer and protect. Believers are commissioned to be guardians over the ordinances and administer them correctly.

Baptism is an outward expression of an inward regeneration. It symbolizes regeneration by using a physical analogy of being dunked with water for cleansing. The physical elements of water in baptism have no power to regenerate or cleanse a person spiritually on the inside (cf. 1 Peter 3:21). Instead, when a person is baptized correctly they are setting a pattern of obedience to Christ’s commands (cf. Luke 6:46; 1 John 5:3). The Lord Jesus Christ said, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Therefore, the church is to obey the Lord Jesus Christ and administer the ordinances the exact way the Word of God has instructed. It is really not that complicated.   

Baptism is to be conducted only by immersion – that is, dunking a person under water. The verb used for baptism in the New Testament is βαπτίζω (baptizó) which means to immerse or dunk – immersion under water and is from the word βάπτω (baptó) which means to dip in/to immerse (cf. Luke 16:24; John 13:26; Revelation 19:13).  The word for sprinkle is ῥαντίζω (rhantizó) and is never used in the NT to refer to baptism (cf. Hebrews 9:13, 19, 21; 10:22). Nowhere in the Bible is there an evidence of infant baptism. In order to affirm infant baptism in the Bible one must have to first insert it into the text because it is not there.

The only qualified candidates for believer’s baptism are tried and true believers. One must be a disciple of Christ. One must give credible witness that they are in fact regenerate. Those who have repented unto salvation and believed the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ; whose life has been changed by the power of God are the only qualified candidates for baptism.


In conclusion, regeneration is the new birth. It is a spiritual and heavenly birth from God above. Men and women in their natural state are born naturally and come into this world dead in sin – that is, original sin and total depravity. In a state of total depravity, men and women cannot see God and enter into spiritual life unless there is a supernatural miracle of regeneration of a person by God the Holy Spirit. The source of regeneration is God. The cause of regeneration is God. Those who have been born again; who have repented unto salvation and believed the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ; whose lives have been changed by the power of God – evidence signs of spiritual life and the assurance of salvation which is the consequence of regeneration. Consequently, there are credible evidences that can be objectively determined from the Word of God to know if a person is in fact regenerate (e.g. mentioned above in this article). Regeneration cannot be artificially fabricated by manipulating false conversions. Moreover, the physical water and action of believer’s baptism in and of itself does not regenerate a person but is instead an outward expression and declaration that previously an inward regeneration has taken place.  Regeneration is an undeserved countless blessing beyond measure – namely, that the Self-Existent Eternal God would thoughtfully condescend and respond to some in such a way that He would rescue the elect from spiritual deadness, as the Apostle Paul described when he wrote – “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

E.V. Powers

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