Monday Reverb – 06September2021


… by Michael Morrison (GCI)

I. Introduction: why we need this

A. Stating the topic

B. Not trying to criticize others

C. A desire to understand as much as we can

D. Practical significance


II. Centered on Jesus Christ

A. Jesus is fully divine

B. Jesus is fully human

C. Connecting human beings to God


III.  Humanity in the image of God

A. Created in his image

B. Sin defaces the image

C. God restores the image – in himself

D. We are in the image of Christ


IV.  The covenant relationship

A. The covenant formula

Even though the Old Testament does not use the phrase “image of God” very often, it does talk about the relationship we have with God, and the term it uses for that most of the time is covenant.  We can see the basic idea in Exodus 6:7: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” And we see it in

  • Leviticus 26:12: “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”
  • Jeremiah 7:23: “I will be your God and you will be my people.”
  • Ezekiel 36:28: “You will be my people, and I will be your God.”

Old Testament scholars call this the “covenant formula.”  It’s found more than 20 times in the Bible.  It is an adaptation of words that people in the ancient Middle East used for marriages, and adoptions, and for political treaties.  In a marriage, it would go something like this: “I will be your husband, and you will be my wife.”  In an adoption, it would be “I will be your father, and you will be my son.”  In a political treaty, it would be adapted: “I will be your king and you will be my people.”  It is declaring a relationship that the people intend to be permanent, a relationship that now defines who they are in relation to the other.

In the Law and in the Prophets, God repeatedly talks about covenants between God and humanity.  He made covenants with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Aaron and David.  In each covenant, he says, in effect, I have made with you a covenant relationship, and as you live according to it, then our relationship will be a good one.  The goal is to have an ongoing relationship.

B. A new covenant promised

The people of Israel broke the covenant time and time again.  Eventually, through the prophets, God promised that there would be a new covenant, made in the hearts of the people, and God’s Spirit would be in them.  This is not something that the people could achieve for themselves – it would be something that God would have to do for them.  He would give them a new heart, a new Spirit.

  • Jeremiah 31:33: “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
  • Ezekiel 36:26-27: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

In Isaiah 42:6, God promises to make his servant “to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.”  The covenant relationship between God and humanity would be focused and embodied in one person – who we now know as Jesus Christ.  The covenant that we have with God is found in Him; He is the covenant for all the people; our connection to God depends 100 percent on him.

C. Relationship terms in the New Testament

The New Testament says that we have this new covenant in ChristThe Lord’s Supper reminds us that we have a new covenant in the blood of Christ.  But this is not the only relationship term in the New Testament.  For example, it calls us children of God; we are adopted into the family of God.

  • Romans 8:15 says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.”
  • Ephesians 1:5 says, “He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.”

This means we become part of God’s family, with rights and privileges that are part of being in the royal family.  We are in a new social class.

Paul uses a different relationship term in 2 Corinthians 11:2: “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.”  This marriage concept is used in the book of Revelation, too: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!  For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:2-3)

Here the covenant formula is used again, this time in the context of a wedding.  God will live with us, and we will live with him.  We will be his children, adopted as siblings of Jesus Christ, part of the royal family forever.  Through Jesus, we are brought into fellowship with the Triune God, sharing in his status as Son.

Another way to describe this is “the kingdom of God.”  That biblical phrase means being part of the universe in which life is lived in the way that God lives.  We become part of the ruling family, with the privileges and responsibilities of that.

It means that eternal life is not just living for a really long time – it means that we live with each other, and with God, forever and ever.  It is social, not solitary, because that is the way that God made us to be.  We were made in his image, and He is social, and not solitary.  The doctrine of the Trinity helps us understand who we are, what life is all about, and how God is bringing it about for us.  The Triune God who began a good work in us is sure to finish the job, creating humanity to be a reflection of what God is: Persons in perfect community and harmony.


V.  Salvation is more than a verdict

Understanding where we started, and where we will end up, can help us understand a little more about what salvation is.  Some people think that salvation is just a matter of going to heaven when you die.  But when it comes to salvation, there’s a lot more to it than just a change in location.

Some people think that salvation is just a matter of getting a favorable verdict on the day of judgment.  There’s going to be a day of judgment, they warn, and everybody is guilty and deserves to be thrown into hell.  But if you believe in Jesus, that guilty verdict will be changed toinnocent.”  It is true that there will be a day of judgment, and that everyone is guilty of sin, and that Jesus allows us to escape the verdict we deserve, and he allows us to enter a heavenly paradise.

But doesn’t salvation have anything to do with life right now?  Yes, it does.  There’s more to salvation than just a change in our future verdict.

A. Restoring us to God’s image  

Salvation means that we are rescued from sin, not just guilt, and we are rescued from the results of sin.  It means that God’s original plan gets back on track – and the original plan is that we were made in the image of God and we were to live in that covenant relationship.  It is a spiritual likeness that God wants us to have, and that can be summed up in the word love.  We are to love God with everything we have, and we are love other people in the way that we love ourselves.

Just changing our location isn’t going to restore us to being like God.  Just changing the final verdict isn’t going to make us the people we were meant to be.  The goal in salvation is to change us – so that we are spiritually like God, so that we are his children in a way that mirrors Jesus’ own sonship.  That’s the original plan, and God hasn’t given up on it.  He sent Jesus to show us the way and to be the way, for all humanity to be brought back into fellowship with the Triune GodThe Father initiated the plan, the Son of God carried out key steps in the plan, and the Holy Spirit also has an ongoing role in the transformation, the change that we all need.  We will briefly look at each of those.

B. The role of the Father  

Some people describe the gospel as the Father setting the rules, and getting angry at us because we have broken the rules.  He says that we deserve to die, but then the Son has compassion on us and volunteers to pay the penalty for us.  So the Father pours out his anger on his Son, and then he says, “Justice has been done.  Those sinners can come into my kingdom, because the penalty has been paid.”  We have an angry Father and a compassionate Son who is able to get his Father to change his mind.

Maybe that’s the way it works in some human families, but that’s not the way it works in the Triune God.  It’s not true to the Bible, and not true in any system of theology, whether it’s Trinitarian or Calvinist or Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

Trinitarian theology reminds us that Jesus is fully God.  He is just like God the Father.  He is just as angry as the Father is, and just as loving as the Father is.  He didn’t change the Father’s mind about anything.  Rather, he reveals the Father’s mindthe Father wants us to be saved just as much as Jesus does.  Let’s look at a couple of scriptures that show that.

  • John 3:16 says it well: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  God the Father loves humanity and he wants us to be saved, not to be condemned or punished.
  • Romans 5:8: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God did not demonstrate his love for us by sending somebody else to die.  It is only because Christ is God, that his death could demonstrate the love of God.  They have equal love for us, equal compassion for us.  The Triune God is in full agreement on our salvation.  Father, Son and Spirit created us for a purpose, and they are working together to bring us to completion.

C. The role of the Son  

Even though the Father initiated the plan, we often forget that, and usually think of Jesus as the Savior, the one who carried it out.  He has the more visible role.  How did Christ save us?  Christians usually think that we were saved by Jesus’ death on the cross.  That is an important part of the picture, but it is only part of the picture.

  1. The first step in our salvation was the Incarnation, when Jesus was made a flesh-and-blood human being.  He took our nature as his own.  That is when he became the second Adam, the new leader of all humanity.  Just as we were all guilty because of the sin of Adam, so also we are made righteous in the righteousness of Jesus, because Jesus came to give all humanity a new beginning (Romans 5).  This is not a matter of genetics – it is a spiritual reality, that the Incarnation includes all of us in the salvation that Jesus brings.  In himself, Jesus reconnects all humanity to God.
  2. The next step in our salvation is that Jesus had to live a righteous life, without any sin – because if he sinned, then he would simply be like one of us, needing to be saved.  He would not even be able to save himself, and not anyone else.  He lived without sin – he had a perfect relationship with the Father and the Spirit and, as much as could be done from his side, with all humans.  Since he is our Creator, he represented us, and we are allowed to share in his righteousness.
  3. Third, Jesus had to die for us.  The wages of sin is death, the Bible says, and death is the result we would expect, if we try to live independent from the creator and sustainer of the universe.  Jesus, as a mortal human being, experienced death, the result of our sins.  He took our sins upon himself, so that we might share in his righteousness.  Since the Creator of all humanity became a human, he had an essential unity with all of us.  As our Creator, he was able to accept responsibility and the consequences for all of our sins, and to die for the sins of all humanity.
  4. Fourth, Jesus had to be resurrected.  Romans 5:10 says that we are “saved by his life.”  Jesus is able to save us from death because he has overcome death.  He has been there, done that, and now he can do it for us, too.
  5. Last, Jesus had to ascend into heaven as one of us, fully human, and be restored to complete fellowship with the Father and Spirit.  The Bible says he ascended bodily into heaven, as a glorified human being, and he is now at the Father’s right hand, which is a figure of speech meaning the most honored position.  His is eternally, even now, our mediator, our intercessor, praying for us, and transforming us to become more like he is.  By the Spirit he is sharing with us his regenerated and perfected humanity.

Our salvation is not complete with just the forgiveness of sins.  We need that, but if that’s all we got, we’d still have a big problem, because we all have a tendency to sin again, and we want to be freed from that tendency.  Paul calls it a slavery to sin, and we want to be liberated from that slavery.  So, by sending us his Spirit, all that Jesus had done for us on earth and completed for us in heaven is now being worked out in us.  Jesus, by his Spirit, is continuing to work for our trans­formation.

We can rightly say that we are saved by the death of Jesus, but that is only part of the picture.  A more complete statement is that we are saved by the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  If that’s too much to say at one time, then just say that we are saved by Jesus.  We are saved by who he is, and what he has done.

How did Jesus save us?

Let’s focus on the death of Jesus for a few minutes, because it is an important part of the picture, and perhaps the most distinctive part of Christian theology.  How can the death of Jesus do anything for our salvation?

One common explanation is that our sin requires a penalty, and Jesus serves as a substitute to pay the penalty on our behalf.  This is called the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement, and it is so common that some people think that it’s the only explanation.  But there is a danger in this theory, and the Bible gives us other ways to explain it, as well.

1) Danger: a focus on punishment

First, the danger.  A problem can arise if we focus on the “penalty” part of the theory, by suggesting that God had to punish Jesus for all the sins that we committed.  This suggests that one Person in the Godhead is inflicting pain on another Person in the Godhead; this suggests separation rather than unity in the Triune God.  This does not seem like a very righteous thing for God to do; we do not allow substitutions in our penal codes and systems of justice.

This theory acts as if the primary problem with sin is the punishment, as if the primary problem with crime is that our prisons are full.  But this is focusing on the results, not the real problem.  It focuses on the verdict, and it still leaves people with a problem: we all have a tendency to sin, and the death of Jesus does not address that problem.  The problem is not just in the things that we do, but in the kind of people that we are.

What has happened here is that people have let a legal metaphor, a figure of speech, become the controlling description of what God is doing.  All our words are based on human experiences, and the meaning of our words depends on how they are used in human affairs.  But our experiences are not the measure of what such words mean in the divine realm.  When God uses courtroom term­inology to describe sin and salvation, we should not let our concepts of legal procedure be the final description of what God is doing.  When we say that the penalty of sin is death, we should not think that “penaltyis an exact description of what is going on, as if God is obligated to inflict punishment for every transgression of his law.

Consequence” would probably be a more appropriate term.  The result of sin is death, even without God having to step in to inflict it.  When Jesus died for us, he experienced the consequence of our sin, the result of the way of life human beings chose, but God did not have to perform additional pain and suffering so that Jesus could pay the penalty we deserved.  No, he suffered and died without any need for extra punishments coming from God.

God does pronounce a judgment on sin.  He says, “If you sin, you’re going to die.” He does not say, “If you sin, I’m going to kill you.”  Death is a natural result of us turning our backs on the One who gave us life.  God doesn’t have to do anything extra to us in order for us to suffer from the results of sin and to die from the results of sin.  We experience the judgment, the result he warned us about, without him having to do anything extra to punish us.  Similarly, he didn’t have to do anything extra to Jesus for Jesus to die for our sins.  When God did intervene, he gave Jesus life instead of death.

That’s what he does for us, too.  God is angry about sin, but as Ezekiel says, he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (18:23, 32).  Death does not serve his purposeHis goal is salvation, not punishment.  The reason that he sent Jesus to us is so that we could escape the consequences of sin.  He wants to rescue us, not punish us.  We should not force God into our legal metaphor.

Trinitarian theologians accept the idea that Jesus’ death was substitutionary, that Jesus died as a substitute for us.  But we generally avoid the wordpenal,” because that word suggests that God the Father punished his one and only Son, and did something to increase his pain.  It puts legal requirements and demands as putting requirements on what God has to do, as if law and punishment is the most important description of what good relationships ought to be.  When we bring the doctrine of the Trinity into the picture, it helps us see that punishment is not the best way to think about it.

2) Biblical descriptions of salvation

If the Bible does not describe the death of Jesus as a punishment required by some law that God had to obey, how does it describe it?

In several ways.  Articles could be written about each one, but here we will give only a summary:

    1. Jesus said that he would die as a ransom: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  The word “ransom” suggests a payment that we might give to a kidnapper.  Some people in the early church made elaborate theories of how Jesus paid a price to Satan, as if Satan had some legitimate claims over us.  But they were making the mistake of letting a figure of speech turn into an exact description of what was going on.
    2. We see a similar figure of speech in the word “redemption.”  That word describes people getting friends and relatives out of slavery.  They bought them back; that is the original meaning of “redeem.”  Jesus bought us with a price, Paul says, but we should not think that anyone actually received that payment.  It is a figure of speech.  The Old Testament says that God redeemed the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, but he did not pay anyone in order to do it.  We should not let the figure of speech dictate to us what happened in spiritual reality.
    3. The Bible describes Jesus as a sacrificial lamb.  John the Baptist called him the “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).  The apostle Paul says that “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7).  But again, the picture is not exact.  Passover lambs were not designed as payments for sin, but they were associated with escaping slavery and death.
    4. Jesus is called “an offering and a sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).  In the Old Testament, there were a wide variety of sacrifices – some of animals, some of flour and oil, some for sin, some for purity rituals, some for thanksgiving, and so forth, and Jesus fulfilled the symbolism of all of them.
    5. Jesus is our place of atonement. Romans 3:25 says, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement.” Some translations say propitiation, and some say expiation, and scholars have argued about that for a long time.  The Greek word meant one thing in a pagan context, and another thing in a Jewish context, but the Greek word is also the word used for the mercy seat on top of the ark of the covenant, the place where the high priest sprinkled blood on the day of atonement.  So the NIV quoted above calls it the “sacrifice of atonement.”  But the sacrifice was never done at the mercy seat; a better translation might be “the place of atonement,” without trying to be more precise than the word actually is.  Jesus is the place, or the way that our sins are atoned, so there is nothing between us and God, so that we are restored to fellowship with God.
    6. Reconciliation is a similar term; it refers to people who were once enemies or alienated, but are now on good terms with each other.  Romans 5:10 says, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”  Colossians 1:20 says that “God was pleased…to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through [the Son’s] blood, shed on the cross.”
    7. Justification is another important term.  Some say it is the most important term of all, the one that makes sense out of all the others.  Romans 5:9 says that we are “justified by his blood,” or by his death on the cross. Justification means to make something right.  The word could be used for making a relationship right, or it could be used for making something legally right.  In a trial, a person could either be found guilty – condemned – or found righteous (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:9).  When the judge declared a person to be in the right, this was justification.  This can be a helpful way of looking at salvation, but it misses out on the fact that God wants more from us than to be declared legally innocent – he also wants us to be in fellowship with him forever.  Yes, we are guilty of a crime, but the solution is not just to let us out of jail, but it is to transform who we are, so that we are more like Christ.
    8. In Colossians, Paul gives us another interesting way to look at the death of Jesus: “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (2:15). By his death on the cross, Jesus won a victory!  He defeated spiritual powers that were fighting against us.   Paul does not explain the logic in how that works, but he says that it does.

The Bible uses a few additional figures of speech, but the point is clear, that there are several ways to look at it, and we should use all of these ways.

Trinitarian theology says that the meaning of human life is to be found in relationships, and relationships cannot be put into precise formulas.  But we can state some basic facts about it.  First, Jesus became a real human, and he was mortal.  Even if the Jews and the Romans didn’t kill him, he had a mortal body that would eventually get old and he would die.  He was part of the Godhead, but he became part of humanity, and he accepted all of the negative consequences of that.  Why did he do it?  Out of love.  God loved us so much that he sent his only Son to die for us, and the Son loved us so much that he did it.

So Jesus has connected the world of heaven and earth, divine and human.  In his death, Jesus demonstrated that he was a real human, com­pletely in union with humanity.  He completed his identification with us, sharing in everything that it means to be human.  By doing that, he reversed the curse that was against us (Genesis 3:19; Galatians 3:13).  He was able, on behalf of all humanity, to suffer the consequences of sin, and yet since he was personally without any sin, death did not have a legitimate claim on him.  He had to be resurrected, and as the new Adam, the new head of humanity, he sets the pattern for what will happen to all of us, and that’s resurrectionnot just a life that lasts forever, but a life that is in fellowship with the Triune God.

D. Role of the Spirit in our salvation 

The Father sent the Son to save us, and the Son did his workDoes that mean that there’s nothing left to do until the Last Judgment?

Certainly not!  Trinitarian theology reminds us that we should expect the Spirit to have an important role in our salvation.

Shortly before Jesus died, he told his disciples:

It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you…. When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth…. He will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:7, 13-14)

So, even though Jesus completed his earthly job, part of the work must be completed after Jesus goes away – and that work is done by the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter, who is sent by Jesus.

What does the Holy Spirit do in our salvation?  We don’t need to present a complete theology of the Spirit here, but let’s mention a few points:

  1. The Spirit gives us new birth.  In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit …. You must be born again” (verses 5, 7).  We need a new start in life, and … in one sense, Jesus gave all humanity that when he became “the second Adam” …  but for individuals, this is done by the Holy Spirit.
  2. The Spirit helps us realize that we are born again, that we are children of God.  Romans 8:15 says, “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
  3. The Spirit also enables us to understand the gospel.  In 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul writes, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”  Unbelievers might understand what the words of Scripture mean, but people don’t accept those words as true without the Spirit leading them.  The Spirit helps us see truth about God and truth about ourselves, and helps us continue growing in the truth.  As John 16 says, the Spirit teaches us and guides into the truth.   No one has all the truth yet, so this is still a work in progress.
  4. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us, or sets us apart for God’s use.  2 Thessalonians 2:13 supports this: “God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”
  5. The Spirit gives us power over sin.  “If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).  As the Spirit leads us, helps us understand, and gives us strength, we are to stop doing bad things and start doing more godly things.  This does not mean that we stop all sin (even though we wish we could), but that our basic orientation in life is now toward the good.  Christian life and good behavior are part of the process of sanctification.  The Spirit sets us apart for God’s use, and God wants to use us for good.
  6. The Spirit produces results in our lives: love, joy, peace, and other good qualities.  These are the results God wants to see in us.  This is a transformation in our attitudes as well as our actionswe are being changed from the inside out.

More could be said on each of these points – and more points could be added.  Our main purpose here is just to make the larger point that the Spirit has a vital role in our salvation – we cannot be saved without the work of the Spirit in our lives.  Salvation is a Trinitarian work, involving the Father, Son, and Spirit working in harmony to bring us to the kind of persons we are supposed to be.



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