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Lectures in Biblical Theology
of The New Testament
by C. D. Cole
Lecture 17 of 23
Paul’s Doctrine of Sin by Dr. C. D. Cole
In his conversion experience Paul’s opinion of Jesus was greatly changed. Before his Damascus road experience he had known Christ after the flesh; he had only human thoughts concerning the person of Jesus and also concerning the Messiah. “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more,” (2 Cor. 5:16). It was the same with Peter when he confessed Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God. “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven,” (Matt. 16:17). Peter’s thinking about Jesus was not the result of human teaching, but of divine teaching. And it is the same with every saved person. In conversion we are all taught of God. “It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me,” (John 6:45). Until the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of our understanding nobody sees in Jesus Christ any beauty so as to desire Him. “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him,” (Isa. 53:2). Paul had a heavenly revelation of Jesus as the Messiah. Prior to his conversion, Paul shared with other Jews the belief that Jesus was an impostor worthy of death. In his epistles Paul emphasizes the natural blindness of the human soul and the need of heavenly illumination. To the natural Jew the doctrine of salvation through a crucified Christ was a scandal, and to the natural Greek it was foolishness, while those who were divinely called saw in this plan of salvation both the power and wisdom of God. “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God,” (1 Cor. 1:23-24). “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” (1 Cor. 2:14). “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” (2 Cor. 4:36). Here is a truth largely lost sight of in modern preaching and even denied in many pulpits. Conversion to faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour is the result of divine illumination over and above human teaching.
Paul not only had false views, of Jesus; he also had wrong views concerning the Messiah or Christ. He thought the Christ would be a political King after the order of David, but in conversion he learned that the risen Christ was a spiritual King, in heaven. Paul thinks of his conversion as an arrest. He says that he was apprehended or laid hold of by Christ. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 3:12). At the very moment he trusted Christ as Saviour he surrendered to Him as Lord. And it is always so when one is saved. Saving faith is trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. In saving faith there is the spirit of obedience which asks, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
THE PERSON OF CHRIST
Paul’s doctrine of Christ includes both His humanity and His Deity. In His humanity He is the seed of David; in His Deity He is David’s Lord. In His resurrection He was declared to be the Son of God. “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead,” (Rom. 1:3-4). Paul relates Christ’s mediatorial work with His humanity. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Tim. 2:5). Paul did not dwell upon the humanity of Christ as John did. He does recognize His humanity, but his emphasis is on Jesus as the risen and glorified Lord.
Paul believed in the preexistence of Christ. He speaks of His being rich and becoming poor. This can only mean that He was rich in heaven before He became poor on earth. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich,” (2 Cor. 8:9). “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist,” (Col. 1:1517). In Philippians 2 he traces His descent from glory; from the form of God to that of man. He who was equal with God in every divine prerogative gave it up to become a man and die on a cross. Christ did not give up His Deity. He remained what He was, but gave up the prerogatives or rights of Deity, so that He did not act for His own glory. He made Himself of no reputation. He was not here to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. On earth Christ veiled the glory of Deity in human flesh. In the incarnation He did not empty Himself of Himself; He did not lose any divine attribute, but only used them for the blessing of others. And as a reward for His obedience unto death, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name,” (Phil. 2:9). The once lowly man Christ Jesus is now enthroned in heaven, and all hearts will be subdued unto Him, either by terror or by love. “And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” (Phil. 2:11); “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all,” (1 Cor. 15:28).
THE CROSS OF CHRIST
The Cross of Christ was the very heart and soul of Paul’s theology. It was central in his preaching and in his living; he gloried in nothing save the Cross. “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul saw no hope for anybody apart from the death of Christ.
The Cross as Related to God
It was the manifestation of love. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” (Rom. 5:8). One cannot know why God loves sinners, but he can know how much He loves them; “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
It was a demonstration of righteousness. In the death of Christ God was giving proof of His righteousness in remitting the sins of His people in the period of time before Christ came. The sins of God’s people under the Old Testament economy were passed by through the forbearance of God, looking to the time when Christ would come and atone for them. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God,” (Rom. 3:25). If Christ had never died for the Old Testament saints, God would not have been righteous in saving them; and in this period of time, the death of Christ enables God to remain just and the justifier of believers. God must be propitiated if sin is to be expiated. To propitiate means to appease or satisfy.
Modern theology denies that there is anything in God that must be appeased or satisfied in order to provide the salvation of sinners. This theology does away with a God of wrath and makes Him only a God of love. It reduces the objective atonement to a subjective experience which they call atonement. The sinner becomes at one with God through his own repentance apart from any satisfaction to divine justice. The Cross was only meant to affect men, not God. It had no relation to God except to show His love. But if God were nothing but love, Christ need not have died. “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings,” (Heb. 2:10). In other words, God would not be acting like a just God, if He should save sinners apart from a suffering Saviour.
It is true that Christ did not die in order to get God to love sinners. It was His love for sinners that led Him to give up His Son in death for them. Christ’s death did not induce God to love us, but it did enable Him to justify us on righteous principles. God’s justice would not allow Him to spare His own Son, Who was acting as the sinner’s Surety. Job’s question is the question of the ages: “How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?” (Job 25:4). And Paul’s answer serves for all time: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 3:24).
The Cross as Related to Man
- Christ died as a substitute for sinners. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Cor. 5:21). “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit,” (1 Pet. 3:18).
- “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,” (Gal. 3:13). His death by crucifixion was in fulfillment of prophecy: “His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance,” (Deut. 21:23).
- Jesus Christ died as the Surety of the covenant of grace. “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament” (Heb. 7:22). A surety is responsible for the debts of the principal debtor, and so Jesus Christ paid our sin debt on the cross, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Col. 2:14).
Dr. Conner objects to the commercial theory of the atonement. I agree that the commercial notion can be stretched too far in regard to the quantity of the sufferings of Christ. But since commercial terms such as debt, ransom, bought, and redeem are used, there must be the commercial element in them. These commercial terms must be interpreted in the judicial sense, since man is related to God as a Lawgiver.
Dr. Conner also objects to the view that God punished Christ. He distinguishes between penal and redemptive sufferings. He thinks of Christ’s suffering as redemptive, not penal. I think of His suffering as redemptive because it was penal. He truly says that “sin is followed by penalty, unless man is redeemed from the penalty.” In this I concur, and ask, If Christ redeemed me from the penalty of my sin, how else could He have done it except by suffering the penalty? If He bare our sins in His own body, how else could He do it except to bear the penalty of them? “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons,” (Gal. 4:4-5). It goes without saying, that Christ was not personally guilty, for He was the just suffering for the unjust. And of course, God was not personally displeased with Christ when He punished our sins in Him. The Father was never so pleased with His Son as when He saw His obedience unto death. Dr. Conner well says that, “An honest God cannot just pass up sin as if it did not exist. He does not just say to the sinner: ‘Oh, forget it; I have.’”
4.Salvation through the death of Christ humbles the pride of man. The Cross excludes all boasting, No saved man is a Pharisee at heart. Paul was once the proudest of Pharisees, but the Cross laid him low in the dust of humility. The Cross reveals that there is nothing in man of which he can boast, not even his humility. When humility is paraded it turns to pride of the worst kind. Brother Jeff Rogers, now gone to glory, was a country Baptist preacher in Mississippi. Tall and erect, he looked more like a Kentucky Colonel than a country preacher. One day while riding horseback he met a neighbor who was of a different church. After exchange of usual greetings, a little conversation followed. The neighbor remarked: “Brother Rogers, you are not very humble are you?” Rogers replied quite seriously: “No, I’m not half as humble as I ought to be, but I am sure you are a very humble man.” To which his friend replied: “Yes I am, and I show it,” alluding to his practice of washing his brother’s feet as a church ordinance. But humility cannot be put on display.
5. Salvation by the Cross provides power and imposes obligation. Luther said that all of us should begin our thinking “at the wounds of Christ”. Paul did this a long time before Luther had reached this conclusion: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again,” (2 Cor. 5:14,15). In the preceding verse, Paul alludes to those who had accused him of being “beside himself,” that is, mad or crazy. And now he explains why he is so interested in Christ and His cause. He was under the control or constraint of Christ’s love for him, having judged “that if one died for all, then all died.” All died in their one substitute, Christ. And this being so, they which live should not live for themselves, but for Him Who died for them and rose again. Selfishness is ruled out by our duty to live for Him Who died for us. Here is a new angle from which to view the death of Christ. We usually think of the Cross in terms of forgiveness, but here the Cross is a challenge to give up our self centered life and live for Christ. The death of Christ not only means that something amazing and wonderful has been done for us; it also means that something exacting and demanding is expected of us. “Must Jesus bear the cross alone, And all the world go free? No; there’s a cross for everyone, And there’s a cross for me.”
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