Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Christ (Page 2 of 4)

For Christian Husbands

As I lamented yesterday, preaching through James 4.1-12 quickly made me a little sad because I wasn’t able to pursue some rabbit trails that I would’ve loved to go down. One of those was how this passage should instruct us guys in our husbandry.

In verse four, the people of God are referred to as ‘adulteresses.’ Why? Because, in the metaphor of the passage, God is the husband of his people, but their affections and longings are for other lovers. They seek their joy, their pleasures, etc., in the things that this world has to offer. They are cheating on their spouse.

How does God respond to this unfaithful, disrespectful, immoral wife? The next verse tells us: He ‘yearns jealously’ for her. He remains unchanged in his devotion to her, even though she doesn’t long for him. He loves her with a steadfast love, even when she refuses to love him and treats him in the most horrible of ways.

That ought to teach us men something about the way we should husband.

  1. It is Good and Right for a Husband to Long for the Affections of His Wife.
  2. Too often the temptation is to slip into apathy. We love the chase while we’re dating, but once we’re married we presume that we will have her heart. The picture here is of a God who passionately longs to have all of his bride’s heart–not just a part. Christian husbands need to consistently pursue the heart of their wife.

  3. Our Affections Must Not Be Determined by Hers.
  4. Having a wife whose heart is not ‘wholly’ yours would be incredibly disheartening. I have seen friends and Christian brothers lamenting over the fact that their wives seem to love anything and everything else more than their husbands. That would be sad–and painful, to be sure. But the husband is to be the leader, and her lack of affections is no excuse for letting yours slide. It was while we were still sinners and had no affection for Christ (other than hatred) that he died to purchase his bride. Christian husbands need to consistently take the lead in expressing and winning loving affections.

  5. We Must Not Give Up.
  6. James wrote the very first book (chronologically) in the New Testament, and yet, even by the time he wrote this letter, the church had already proven herself to be an ‘adulteress’ with desires for other lovers. Just as God did not give up on his people in the Old Testament, we learn here that Christ will not give up on his bride in the New. Christian husbands must never give up, even when their wives sin against them horribly and repeatedly; this is the gospel.

  7. Take Heart, You Are In Good Company.
  8. As you seek to faithfully love your wife, with a single-minded devotion to her, and as you seek to win her affections even when she is not loving you in return, you are modelling the heart of God. You are following in the footsteps of Christ who went to the greatest, most extreme length imaginable to win his bride’s heart: he died for her. When we die to ourselves and continue to risk being hurt in order to pursue and love our wives, we’re in good company: Christ is the one who made the footprints in which we walk. Christian husbands must take heart here when all other outward comforts fail–he who went before us will not abandon us as we follow him.


There are benefits and drawbacks to preaching large portions of text. The benefits are too numerous to get into, but one of the drawbacks is that you don’t get to stop and to meditate for as long as you’d like on a single thought expressed in your passage, because there are so many other things to get to.

Yesterday I preached on James 4.1-12. As usual, I talked too long and said too little, but the text itself is absolutely amazing. The thought that gripped me the most, personally, as I laboured through the text last week (and even while I preached) was verse 5:

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 

That thought absolutely blew me away.

How could this be? The God of the universe not only puts up with me when he should obliterate me, but ‘yearns jealously’ for my devotion to him? He yearns with a jealousy of a husband for his bride (according to the analogy of the passage).

What an absolute shame that we take so lightly the thought that God loves us. Of all things in Scripture, this should be the thought that amazes us the absolute most.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5.8) 

And again,

By this we know love, that [Christ] laid down his life for us (1 Jn 3.16). 

In our chapter (James 4), James does something amazing: He contrasts our desires (which are at war within us, and bring quarrels and fights) with God’s desire for his people (which is singular, faithful, loving, and brings peace). This truth ought to humble us, amaze us, and increase our love for him.

Where the church’s desires are many, and illicit, and have grieved our groom, his desires are single, and faithful, and pure, and have brought our joy.

Where his one desire produces peace, our many desires have yielded enmity between God and us, and fights between us all.

And yet, he loves us still. And he ‘yearns jealously’ for our affections… what an overwhelming love! What an amazing God!

Christian Wedding Vows

It’s wedding season… which is great! I love thinking about weddings. Their whole point, after all, is to point to my Saviour and his love for his bride–and I like to think about that!

Since staying married is not about staying in love, but about reflecting the covenant-keeping love of Christ, the centrepiece and focal point of a Christian wedding is the vows.

What a couple views marriage as is reflected in what they promise to each other. As I’ve suggested before, I think Christian couples should at least endeavour to memorize their vows, so as to be able to speak them clearly, forthrightly, and meaningfully when the moment comes, looking their partner in the eyes as they speak.

Just for fun I thought I’d post the vows that Stacey and I spoke to each other in the presence of God, family, and friends on June 19, 2004, when we were wed. I keep a copy of mine posted with a wedding picture right beside my desk so that I can regularly reflect on the meaning of what I’ve promised.

Here are our vows.


I, Julian, take you, Stacey, to be my wife.
In the presence of God and these witnesses I pledge my love and devotion to you and to you alone for as long as God grants us both life.
I promise to be faithful, patient, kind, humble, and gentle; to serve you and to give myself up for you, as Christ has given himself up for his bride.
I will love you as my own body; endeavouring to lead you and help you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus.
As God grants grace, I promise to make our home one where Christ is exalted and God is glorified in our love for each other and in our devotion to him, above and beyond all else. 


I, Stacey, take you, Julian, to be my husband; to share with you God’s will for our lives. As we journey through this life, with both its joys and hardships, I promise to love and be faithful to you.
I will obey, trust and encourage you, Julian, as long as we both shall live.
I promise to follow you as you follow God, believing all things and hoping all things.
I will pursue godliness in all areas of my own life, that together our lives and home may bring glory and honour to our Lord. 

Biblical Support for Penal Substitution

As promised yesterday, here is what amounts to a super-brief (again) presentation of the biblical support for penal substitution. Despite what the critics will posit, it’s not new, it’s not western, it’s not because of Augustine, and it’s not even modern; penal substitution is biblical.

We’ll borrow our definition of ‘penal substitution’ from Wayne Grudem (579):

Christ’s death was ‘penal’ in that he bore a penalty when he died. His death was also a ‘substitution’ in that he was a substitute for us when he died. 

The biblical support for penal substitution is so prevalent throughout the storyline of redemptive-history that it is hard to express with concision. Our approach will be to sketch a few examples of the foreshadowing of Christ’s penal substitutionary work from the OT, and then examine the corroborating evidence from the NT.

The penal substitution of Christ is foreshadowed at least as early as Genesis 22. In this story Abraham is called to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. When Abraham demonstrates his faith in God by preparing to offer his own sin, God intervenes—surprisingly and miraculously—by providing a substitute; a ram was sacrificed in the place of Isaac, so that he could live. Again, in the miraculous redemptive work of God in saving Israel from their captivity in Egypt, penal substitution is prefigured. On the night of the Passover, the people are to slaughter a spotless lamb (just enough for each household). During the night, the Destroyer would come to take the lives of all the firstborn sons in the land. Only those who were in the homes where the lamb had been slaughtered were preserved; the lamb had died in place of the son. The book of Leviticus (chs. 4-7 indicate specifically the nature of the cultic rites) teaches that where sin has occurred, whether intentional or not, a death must result. Here it is made clear that an animal had to die in place of the human who had sinned, and therefore deserved death. The prophetic writings reflect back to the Israelites the nature of that law, as well as looking forward to the coming of Christ, which is why Isaiah 52-53 portrays the penal substitutionary work of Christ perhaps more clearly than anywhere else in the OT. There it is put bluntly and undeniably: “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

The NT evidence is no less scarce. In fact, one approach to displaying the NT evidence is by a simple study of the preposition huper (ὑπερ). It has been argued that huper has a simple meaning of “for one’s benefit.” When studied in individual passages, however, it has been demonstrated that there is a much stronger meaning contained in the word, which may be explained as “for one’s benefit, by being in one’s place.” This stronger meaning is evinced in the following passages. In John 10:11, Jesus teaches that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. The very nature of the metaphor requires the stronger meaning. Similarly, in Galatians 3:13 we are told that Christ redeems us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. This simply cannot mean only “for our benefit”; in this instance it is clear that he becomes the curse in our place, that we might benefit. Again, 1 Peter 3:18 states that the righteous one suffered for the unrighteous, which clearly indicates that we receive the benefit only by having a substitute. Aside from the meaning of huper, a plain reading of passages like 2 Corinthians 5:21 (where Christ was “made to be sin” on our behalf) and 1 Peter 2:24 (where Christ “bore our sins in his body”) militate against any argument that penal substitution is unbiblical or unnecessary.

Some Objections to Penal Substitution

In keeping with our theme of atonement from yesterday, I thought I’d outline some of the more common objections to penal substitution offered in contemporary ‘evangelical’ literature. Again, these are very brief descriptions of the arguments, but they are simply intended to familiarize us with what is being said by self-proclaimed evangelicals today.

God willing, we’ll examine some of the arguments for penal substitution tomorrow, but for now, here are some of the most common contemporary objections to it:

  1. Penal Substitution and Divine Love
  2. Those who hold to this objection argue that God is love (1 John 4:8), and his expression of his character in Christ is ultimately love. With this schema in place, seeing God as wrathful and punitive is clearly out of character, and therefore wrong. The God who would demand penal substitution is a God of vengeance, it is argued, not a God of love. The justice of the God of the Bible is in line with his love and is therefore corrective and remedial rather than wrathful or punitive.

  3. Penal Substitution and Divine Justice
  4. Here it is argued, in connection with the above argument that we have misunderstood divine justice. God’s justice must be interpreted in light of his love. The notion that there is guilt which must be punished is western and modern in its origin, and is far from biblical. God’s justice must be viewed as remedial. Our guilt is better viewed in terms of shame, rather than guilt, and once that is understood we will see that there is no need for a penal substitute to satisfy the wrath of God. Like God’s justice, it is argued that his wrath must be redefined in non-western terms. Rather than an angry response to sin, God’s wrath is seen merely in the natural consequences for sin.

  5. Penal substitution and the Trinity
  6. Here it is argued that penal substitution betrays a wrong understanding of the Trinity. Since, in penal substitution, God the Father would be turned against God the Son (which, it is assumed, could never happen), then penal substitution must therefore be wrong. Any pitting of the persons of the Trinity against each other must be wrong, and therefore penal substitution is jettisoned.

  7. Penal Substitution and Violence
  8. Here it is argued that the notion of God requiring a violent atonement for the sake of forgiving offences and propitiating wrath is entirely distasteful at best, and could well be construed as condoning violence in human relationships as well. For example, it is often argued in contemporary feminist literature that penal substitutionary atonement theories only encourage the abuse of women and children who are innocent, but told they must bear the wrath of their fathers and “bear up” and suffer like Christ. This, they argue, is a far cry from biblical Christianity, and is a reason to deny penal substitution.

The Atoning Work of Christ

It is a charge often brought against those who hold to penal substitution that we miss the dynamic presentation of the atoning work of Christ through Scriptures. In other words, if you hold to penal substitution, you miss the many ways that the Bible speaks about the atonement.

I’ve had some opportunity lately to think through the atonement, and I believe that this charge is patently untrue. As one who holds firmly to the notion that penal substitution is at the root of all benefits that come to us through the cross of Christ (biblically and historically), I still am able to see that the picture of Jesus’ cross-work is not monolithic.

In an effort to flesh this out, and show that this charge is incorrect, here is a super-brief examination of six facets of the biblical presentation of the atonement aside from penal substitution.

  1. Sacrifice
  2. The storyline of Scripture is replete with examples of sacrifice, not all of which carry notions of penal substitution. The concept of Christ as “the Sacrifice of God” picks up on these sacrifices and proclaims Jesus to be the ultimate antitype. Examples would include Noah’s post-flood sacrifice, the averted sacrifice of Isaac, the various prescribed sacrifices in the Old Testament law, and many others. Christ as the antitype of the sacrifice theme in the Old Testament is picked up clearly by John the Baptist, who proclaimed “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36; all Scripture quotations from the esv). This theme is developed most prominently in the book of Hebrews, particularly in chapters 5-9. In chapter 9, Christ is seen to be the antitype of all the “bulls and goats” as he accomplishes salvation as a sacrifice for his people, in the eternal holy place (vv. 11-27). As Hebrews 9:26 sums up, Christ came “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

  3. Redemption
  4. Redemption is another theme which runs through storyline of salvation-history. God’s people are, at various points, seen to be slaves or captives who must have their freedom purchased at a price. So, the Israelites needed to be redeemed from slavery in Egypt, then the laws for the redemption of individual slaves are established through the Torah, and then finally, when Judah is in exile in Babylon, God must accomplish her redemption to bring her home. This theme is ultimately fulfilled in Christ, through whose work we see that the redemption price must ultimately be paid to God, not to any human oppressor. It is God who is offended by our sin, and therefore, the price of redemption must be paid to him. Hebrews 9 draws out the fulfilment of this theme, saying that the “blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” (v. 14) is what has secured our “eternal redemption” (v. 12). Through his death, Christ has inaugurated the new covenant, in which his people may receive the “promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them” from their transgressions (v. 15). The basic idea of redemption is that the world is in bondage to sin and Satan (1 John 5:19), but Christ came to offer his life as a redemptive ransom (Mark 10:45).

  5. Propitiation
  6. Interestingly, Romans 3:24-25 links the redemption accomplished in Christ with the propitiatory nature of his sacrifice. Propitiation carries the notion of God’s righteous wrath against sin being fully borne out on another. In the context of Romans 3, then, as Paul has said (vv. 5-6), God is indeed righteous to inflict wrath on us and the condemnation of all is justly deserved (vv. 8, 19, 23). In fact, it was for the very purpose of displaying his righteousness that God showed himself to be both just and the justifier of the ungodly when he put forward Christ Jesus “as a propitiation by his blood” (vv. 25-26). God’s propitiation of his wrath against sin and sinners in the atoning death of Christ Jesus, then, is intrinsically tied up with the display of his justice and righteousness, as he declares the guilty innocent; the wrath they deserved was justly poured out on the substitute. Hebrews 2:17 declares that Jesus’ had to be entirely human in every respect so that he could justly become the propitiation for the sins of humans. 1 John 4:10 also states that the love of God is shown in this: that Christ was sent to become the propitiation for our sins.

  7. Reconciliation
  8. There are three aspects to reconciliation. First, there must be a present relationship of estrangement / alienation / hostility between persons. Second, an intervention must be made to remove the basis of the estrangement. The third stage is a renewed relationship of peace, love, and acceptance between those formerly estranged persons. The biblical doctrine of reconciliation begins with the understanding that we have sinned against God, and that he is the alienated party. That is why Paul can plead with sinners to be reconciled with God (2 Cor 5:20). The reconciliation that takes place is accomplished by God, in Christ, who initiates reconciliation, even though he was the offended party (2 Cor 5:18-19).

  9. Christus Victor
  10. The doctrine of Christus Victor states that Christ’s work (death—resurrection—ascension) indicates that he has taken on death, sin, and Satan, and has emerged from the battle as a victorious conqueror. It is based on texts such as Colossians 2:15 and Hebrews 2:14-15, which state that Christ has destroyed the one who has the power of death and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to slavery; he has disarmed the rulers and authorities and triumphed over them. While the doctrine of Christus Victor is often pitted against the doctrine of penal substitution, it is actually a result of Christ’s penal substitutionary work, and the two doctrines must be held aright in view of each other.

  11. Christus Exemplus
  12. Similarly, the doctrine of Christus Exemplus is sound only when kept in perspective by a right understanding of the justifying and propitiating work that Christ accomplished on the cross. This doctrine teaches that Christ, in his suffering, became a perfect model for us of how we are to live and to suffer, entrusting ourselves to God. This is based on passages such as Philippians 2:5-11 and 1 Peter 2:18-25. We are to follow Christ and become like him in his sufferings, taking up our cross daily; but we must bear in mind that the primary intent of Christ’s cross-work was first and foremost to propitiate God’s wrath, accomplishing salvation, and then derivatively it serves as an example for us.

Jesus Christ: My Lord and My God! – Conclusion

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Conclusion.


Stephen Neill is indeed correct in his summation, that “the Christian finds that he can never think of God without thinking of Jesus Christ, and that he can never think of Jesus Christ without thinking of God.”[1] In the NT, the faith of the apostles and the early church is seen to be one which is profoundly centred on the person of Jesus. His deity is inherent in the authority with which he acts in the gospels, it is transparent in the titles of κύριος and θεός as ascribed to him throughout the NT, and it is powerfully evident as he is prayed to and worshiped by the church as a whole. It is experientially true for New Covenant believers that “even the Old Testament idea of God, magnificent as it is, no longer covers the Christian’s experience and has had to be radically transformed. Vast new dimensions have been added.”[2] We have spoken of great things, but it will never be enough. Endless eternities of exploration will never allow us to plumb the depths of the realities of this man-God; this conquering, victorious Lamb who loved me and gave himself for me. So let us begin now!

[1] Stephen Neill, What We Know About Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 83.

[2] Ibid.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2021 Julian Freeman

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑