Archive for October, 2012

20
Oct
12

Perfect Obedience to God’s Law–The Standard for Justification.

I thought it might be helpful to examine a couple of the assertions Paul Dohse has made concerning the doctrine of justification before God in the light of Scripture.

His position is:

1. It is not Christ’s righteousness but God the Father’s rightousness that is imputed to the sinner. He offers Romans 8:30 as a proof-text for this belief.

2. God’s law does not require the sinner’s perfect obedience for his justification.

3. Romans two has nothing to do with justification but describes the direction of the believer in sanctification.

4. There is no real revealed standard for justification. That is, God does not require a perfect obedience from sinners.

This is what he wrote:

“But Paul makes it clear: God imputed a righteousness that is “apart from the law.” I assume he is referring to Romans 3:21.

The question we should ask here is whether Paul says “God imputes a righteousness that is apart from the law” or “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law?” It is, of course, my view that the latter is what the apostle actually intended. The righteousness God demands cannot be defined apart from His revealed truth. The reality is, whatever God does within the bounds of his holy character is righteous. He is not subject to any standard that has been imposed on him externally. Who is to say “there is unrighteousness with God?” Now we must ask, is it possible for a mere human being to be conformed to the undefined standard that characterizes God’s righteousness? Are we to believe that God makes us absolutely holy, as he is, so that whatever we do is indisputably righteous? Of course not! The clear teaching of the Scriptures is that God holds us accountable to obey his law, that is, his revealed will. As far as mere human beings are concerned, there is no righteousness that is “apart from the law,” i.e., God’s revealed will.

There are two separate and distinct issues under consideration in Romans chapters two and three. If we fail to distinguish between those two issues, we are bound to misunderstand Paul’s teaching on justification before God. In fact, a clear and unmistakable contradiction would exist between Romans 2:13 and Romans 3:20. If both these verses refer to the basis of justification, his teaching would be that justification is through DOING what the law demands and NOT through DOING what the Law demands at the same time. Such a contradiction is unthinkable. The question, then, is not whether justification before God is based on perfect conformity to his law. Paul makes that clear in chapter two of Romans. The reason no sinful human being will be justified by the law is not that the law cannot declare righteous those who obey it, but that there are no members of Adam’s race who obey it as God has demanded they obey it. That is to say, it is not that the law is unable to justify anyone; it is that the law is unable to justify sinners.

The next question I would ask is, What does the apostle mean by “the righteousness of God” in this context. I believe this phrase refers not to an attribute of God, but to God’s activity in justifying sinners or in other words, God’s righteous method of justifying sinners. Consider how Paul uses this term in Romans 10: 2-3 speaking about his desire for Israel’s salvation. He wrote “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge, For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”

If the phrase, “the righteousness of God” refers to God’s method of justifying sinners, the question here is not whether sinners are justified by law keeping or apart from law keeping. The question is whether it is in the Law or in the gospel that this method, the righteousness of God, is manifested. The answer is that though the Old Testament Scriptures bore witness to this method of justification, by types, shadows, and promises, the full-blown gospel was not manifested by the Law. This manifestation is made “apart from the Law.”

2. Paul D. wrote: “The author cites Romans 2:13 as a standard for justification regarding believers, but it is not. That verse speaks of the direction of the saved, and not the perfection in comparison to those who are unsaved. This is clear if you observe the preceding text in 2:6-11:”

Were it not for the context of the passage he cites, I might be inclined to agree with his assessment of the passage. It is clear to anyone who is acquainted with the New Testament Scriptures that there is a clear directional difference between the justified and the unjustified, but the context of this passage makes his view of the passage impossible.

To see this, one must only ask, What is the point the apostle is arguing in Romans 1:18-3:20? It is almost universally recognized that the apostle is here demonstrating the universal necessity for justification before God. His specific point in Romans two is God’s impartiality in judgment. It does not matter who you are, how or in what nation you were born, what rituals have been performed for you, how much you know, to what religion you adhere, how respectable you are or how indignant you can be about the sins of others, you will all be judged by God’s righteous standard. The apostle refers to God’s “righteous judgment” three times in the verses immediately preceding the passage in question. The issue is clearly judicial in nature.

There are several questions that cry out for an answer in light of Paul D’s assertion:

1. If these verses are talking about sanctification, what consideration moved the apostle to introduce that concept in a passage that is clearly dealing with the universal need for justification?

2. What level of “persevering continuance in well-doing” is necessary to enable the sinner to stand justified in the “righteous judgment of God” in which God will render to each one according to his works? Is close good enough? Suppose a person does the best he can and only offends in one point of the law, will that be good enough?

3. Why does the apostle write, “the doers of the Law will be justified,” if these verses are talking about “the direction of the saved,” that is, sanctification? Do believers ever reach a level of obedience in sanctification that merits justification?

4. If “persevering continuance in well-doing” describes “the direction of the saved,” would that not indicate that sanctification precedes justification? Paul D. has made a big deal over justification being a “done deal.” Now we have to move on to sanctification. The apostle wrote, . . . the doers of the Law WILL BE justified.” Would that not indicate that the order would be a persevering continuance in well-doing that indicates the direction of the saints, i.e., doing the Law and THEN they will be justified? This is the exact opposite of what Paul D. has argued. Do we not believe that the moment a sinner believes the gospel, he has eternal life? This passage says God WILL GRANT eternal life to those who follow the path described. If these words describe the direction of the believer and not God’s inflexible and impartial standard of judgment for all people, would we not have to conclude that God did not grant eternal life until the end of that life-long pattern of well-doing?

5. If this passage does not describe God’s righteous standard of judgment, is there any standard and if so, where is it stated?

14
Oct
12

A Response to C. H. Spurgeon on the Perpetuity of God’s Law

Joel Taylor over at 5ptsalt posted the following article by C.H. Spurgeon concerning the perpetuity of God’s Law. I left a response, but, as yet, it hasn’t made the moderator’s cut. I thought it might be nice to post both the Spurgeon article and my response just in case someone would like to engage in a meaningful discussion.

I have noticed that, more often than not, though people are willing to cite partial proof-text, they are quite hesitant to engage in an exegetical examination of this issue that might actually lead to unity in the Christian community. I have profited greatly from Spurgeon’s sermons. If he were alive today, I would be delighted to have this discussion with him. Having been affected as he was by his reading of the Puritans, I would have been surprised if he had written or spoken anything different from what he wrote. Still, I think there are a number of issues that need further discussion if we are to reach a consensus. To that end I have written a brief response to the article.

This is what Spurgeon said:

The law of God is no more than God might most righteously ask of us. If God were about to give us a more tolerant law, it would be an admission on his part that he asked too much at first. Can that be supposed? Was there, after all, some justification for the statement of the wicked and slothful servant when he said, “I feared thee, because thou art an austere man”? It cannot be. For God to alter his law would be an admission that he made a mistake at first, that he put poor imperfect man (we are often hearing that said) under too rigorous a regime, and therefore he is now prepared to abate his claims, and make them more reasonable. It has been said that man’s moral inability to keep the perfect law exempts him from the duty of doing so. This is very specious, but it is utterly false. Man’s inability is not of the kind which removes responsibility: it is moral, not physical. Never fall into the error that moral inability will be an excuse for sin. What, when a man becomes such a liar that he cannot speak the truth, is he thereby exempted from the duty of truthfulness? If your servant owes you a day’s labor, is he free from the duty because he has made himself so drunk that he cannot serve you? Is a man freed from a debt by the fact that he has squandered the money, and therefore cannot pay it? Is a lustful man free to indulge his passions because he cannot understand the beauty of chastity? This is dangerous doctrine. The law is a just one, and man is bound by it though his sin has rendered him incapable of doing so. The law moreover demands no more than is good for us. There is not a single commandment of God’s law but what is meant to be a kind of danger signal such as we put up upon the ice when it is too thin to bear. Each commandment does as it were say to us, “Dangerous” It is never for a man’s good to do what God forbids him; it is never for man’s real and ultimate happiness to leave undone anything that God commands him. The wisest directions for spiritual health, and for the avoidance of evil, are those directions which are given us concerning right and wrong in the law of God. Therefore it is not possible that there should be any alteration thereof, for it would not be for our good. I should like to say to any brother who thinks that God has put us under an altered rule: “Which particular part of the law is it that God has relaxed?” Which precept do you feel free to break? Are you delivered from the command which forbids stealing? My dear sir, you may be a capital theologian, but I should lock up my spoons when you call at my house. Is it the command about adultery which you think is removed? Then I could not recommend your being admitted into any decent society. Is the law as to killing softened down? Then I had rather have your room than your company. Which law is it that God has exempted you from? That law of worshipping him only? Do you propose to have another God? Do you intend to make graven images? The fact is that when we come to detail we cannot afford to lose a single link of this wonderful golden chain, which is perfect in every part as well as perfect as a whole. The law is absolutely complete, and you can neither add to it nor take from it. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.” If, then, no part of it can be taken down, it must stand, and stand for ever.

In my view, this article suffers from several flaws. First, it fails to distinguish between God’s Law as absolute and God’s Law as covenantal. God’s absolute law, on which all covenantal expressions of that law hang, never changes. That is to say, it ignores that though God does not change his mind, he does change the way he deals with his people under differing covenants. God’s righteous standard never changes. No human being has ever been or will ever be without that standard. Yet, the apostle Paul described the Gentiles as those who are “without Law.” Does that mean they are free to kill, steal, commit adultery, etc? Of course not! It simply means they are not under the Covenant, the Ten Commandments, God made with Israel on Mt. Sinai. As God’s created beings, we have two responsibilities–To love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The way in which that love is expressed under differing covenants may change, e.g., I no longer express my love for God by refraining from eating certain foods, but those two requirements of God’s law never change. Second, it assumes that the Ten Commandments are not only the sole expression of God’s Law, but the highest expression of God’s Law. Jesus’ expression of God’s Law requires much more than Moses’ Law required. Which is easier, to pluck out your brother’s eye, or to turn the other cheek? Third, it assumes the Mosiac Law can be divided into distinct parts, moral, judicial, and ceremonial. You will search in vain to find any biblical writer who makes such a distinction. This is a distinction of systematic Theology, not a biblical distinction. Biblical writers always refer to the Mosaic Law as a unified whole. When Paul stated that he was not under the Law, he referred to the whole Mosaic legislation. That did not mean he was no longer under God’s Law; simply that he was no longer under it as covenant. Jesus, the consummate Israelite, has fully obeyed and fulfilled all the conditions of that Old Covenant so that all the blessings of that covenant now flow to those who, in the New Covenant, are united to him by faith. Forth, it suggests the idea that Law can effect obedience, an idea the apostle Paul clearly denies. The idea is, if there is law, you don’t need to lock up the silverware when I come to visit your house. Where I live in Costa Rica, unconverted people clearly know stealing is wrong, but I dare not leave the silverware or anything else unguarded if they should come to visit. Finally, the implication is that God’s people who have been brought by the Spirit to love God supremely and to love their neighbors as themselves need an external rule to prevent them from working ill to their neighbor. The New Testament injunctions to obedience are more descriptive than prescriptive. My duty under the Law of Christ is to love my brother as Christ has loved me. How may I know if I am fulfilling that commandment? The answer is that the NT Scriptures describe what loving and self sacrificing behavior is like. Can I know that without the Ten Commandments? Of course! All I need to do is read the New Testament Scriptures.

13
Oct
12

VP Biden supports your right to murder.

As I watched the Vice-Presidential debate last night, I had a bit of a problem with VP Biden’s response on abortion. He stated that though he accepted his “Church’s” position on abortion, he refused to impose that view on those who wished to terminate a pregnancy. Now I would assume that since his “Church’s” position would be that abortion is murder, he must have been saying he believes abortion is murder. Yet, he does not want to impose that view on those who want to murder their unborn infants. What I wondered was whether he thinks it is wrong to punish people for murdering those who have been born. After all, we wouldn’t want to impose our views that murder is wrong on those who wish to commit it, though we might personally believe [in keeping with our church’s teaching]it is wrong.

Incidently, I support a woman’s right to do what she wishes with her own body. If she wants to take a pair of pliers and pull out a toe-nail, that is her business. If she wants to get a tramp-stamp or pierce her tongue, though I think that is totally tacky and cheap, I would support her right to do that. But, let’s get real. An unborn infant is not a part of a woman’s body. It is a human being, with a beating heart, and is made in God’s image.

12
Oct
12

“Straw Men” Reproduce in Paul Dohse’s Hatchery

I just read some comments by Paul Dohse on my post “‘Straw Man’ Arguments about Justification and Sanctification.” I will have to confess I learned something I had never realized. “Straw men” can actually reproduce. I suspect trying to keep up with the fallacious arguments and misrepresentations at Paul’s Passing Thoughts would be a futile effort, but perhaps I can stamp out a few of them before they become even more of a blight on the theological landscape.

Before I proceed, let me define what a “Straw Man” argument is. It is an argument that caricatures or otherwise misrepresents an opponent’s position in an effort to make it easier to answer. If you want an excellent example of this tactic, pay close attention to the Obama re-election campaign and the statements the President and his surrogates are making. As an aside, it is my view that this explains why the President failed so abysmally in the first debate. It is difficult to use “straw man” arguments when ones opponent is in his face saying, “I’m sorry but that is not my position.”

From the time I first began sparring with Paul Dohse, I have insisted that views he imputed to me were not my views. He has insisted on telling me what I believe rather than listening to what I believe and then interacting with my views. It is impossible to have a meaningful discussion with someone who refuses to listen to another person’s views but, instead, insists he knows more about the person’s views than the person himself.

On my other blog, http://www.new-covenant-theology.org, I have a list of rules for discussion. One of those rules is “One must restate his opponent’s argument to his satisfaction before attempting to answer it.” Paul would do well to follow that rule.

I would like to respond to a few of his newly hatched “straw men.” First, I founding it quite revealing that at the beginning of his post he stated, “I will skip the usual Reformed crybaby stuff that prefaces the introductions to Reformed writings about “unity,” “secondary issues” etc, and get to the meat of the issue.” It is interesting that the “usual Reformed crybaby stuff . . .about unity” came from the apostle Paul himself. It is a direct quotation from Ephesians 4:3. In this verse, based on the indicatives he has stated in chapters 1-3, he exhorts us to our duty. It is our duty to maintain unity among believers, not by denying truth, but by speaking the truth in love. I am surprised Paul D. is so willing to acknowledge that the apostle was “Reformed.”

1. Straw Man– Paul D. wrote: “The Reformed view of imputation then becomes a progressive imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to uphold the standard of the law during our sanctification.” I am not sure how Paul D. understands the word “progressive,” but the way I understand it is “gradually advancing in extent.” If this is what he means by the term, “progressive,” it would mean he is suggesting that Reformed people believe the imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience is gradually advancing in extent. That would mean Reformed writers hold that believers become more and more righteous in God’s sight as time goes on. When I emailed Paul to ask him if he could give me actual quotations from Reformed writers in which they suggest believers may progressively become more righteous in God’s sight than they were the first moment they believed the gospel. He responded, “I could, but I am not going to because your questions are stupid.” But, is that a stupid question? If he charges that Reformed thinkers teach that believers may gradually advance in righteousness before God, is it really stupid to ask him to provide documentation?

Let me provide just a few quotations from Reformed confessions that might shed a bit of light on what the Reformed truly believe about justification.

The Westminster Large Catechism states:

Q. 70. What is justification?

A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

The Belgic Confession states:

And the same apostle says that we are justified “freely” or “by grace” through redemption in Jesus Christ. And therefore we cling to this foundation, which is firm forever, giving all glory to God, humbling ourselves, and recognizing ourselves as we are; not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him.

Notice the words, “. . .and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, WHICH IS OURS WHEN WE BELIEVE IN HIM”

There is no room for the idea that believers gradually advance in righteousness before God.

J. C. Ryle wrote,

“Justification is a finished and complete work, and a man is perfectly justified the moment he believes” (Ryle, Holiness, p. 39).

I still welcome quotations from anyone speaking authoritatively for the Reformed community who suggests that believers gradually advance in righteousness before God in the matter of justification. The simple truth is, that is not the Reformed position on justification.

Paul D’s views on the “active obedience Christ,” i.e., that there is no imputation to the believer of Christ’s righteousness defined as his perfect obedience to the Law, are in line with the Federal Vision view and N.T. Wright’s “New Perspective on Paul.” There is no question the Reformed position has been and is that God imputes Christ’s active obedience to believers as one part of the basis of justification. What the Reformed do not believe is that Christ’s obedience is imputed to believers in sanctification so that they don’t need to be personally obedient. Anyone who advances that view does so as a departure from the Reformed position, not as an advocate of it.

2. Straw Man–“Notice that in true Reformed tradition, the author [a reference to my initial post on Straw Men] denies “the infusion of Grace”; ie, the new birth, of which Christ said we must have for salvation.

I have difficulty deciding whether I believe Paul is simply stubborn, mentally deficient, or deliberately and maliciously misrepresenting his antagonist’s views. Whatever the reason for his prodigious misrepresentations, he should be muzzled until he is able to voluntarily speak the truth. I have told him time after time that no one in the Reformed community denies that God infuses grace to believers. What the Reformed position denies is that the infusion of grace, in this case defined as ability to obey, and the believer’s proper response to that infusion of grace forms any part of the basis of justification before God. That is to say, though God infuses or imparts enabling grace to believers to sanctify us, that infusion of grace forms no part of the basis of our right standing before God.

Jonathan Edwards wrote,

There is a two-fold righteousness that the saints have: an imputed righteousness, and it is this only that avails anything to justification; and an inherent righteousness, that is, that holiness and grace which is in the hearts and lives of the saints. This is Christ’s righteousness as well as imputed: imputed righteousness is Christ’s righteousness accepted for them, inherent holiness is Christ’s righteousness communicated to them. (Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 14, 340-341.)

3 Straw Man– “The rest of the article is just a bunch of doublespeak with intent to fog the issue. It can be summed up this way: we supposedly work, but our work is not in combination with God for a result in sanctification. We work because God works first, and oh, by the way, Christ’s obedience must be added to it as well.”

I am amazed that Paul was able to discern that my intent in writing the rest of that post was to “fog the issue” with doublespeak. Even I was not aware of my sinister motives. I guess that is why we need “discernment ministries” like Paul’s to make sure the sheep who blindly follow him understand what the rest of us are up to.

All a person needs to do is to read what I have written here about sanctification to know I don’t teach “we work, but our work is not in combination with God for a result in sanctification.” It is true, I believe the determining work is God’s not ours. It is also true, I believe the next part of his statement, i.e., “We work because God works first.” Frankly, I don’t even know what the last part of his statement “and oh, by the way, Christ’s obedience must be added to it as well.” Christ’s righteousness is indeed communicated to us in that we are, by the Spirit, conformed more and more to his image, but never in such a way that we are relieved of the responsibility to obey God.

It seems to me, Paul D is a Deist in regard to sanctification. That is to say, he seems to believe God “winds the clock” in regeneration and the work of sanctification occurs solely as a result of our hard work and obedience after that. So it is a co-operative work between God and the believer. God does his part in winding the clock and we do our part in working hard as a result of our new nature. I, on the other hand, believe it is God’s work that continues to prompt us and empower us to obey.

In intend to further dissect Paul’s response to my article in a future post relative to his faulty and self-contradictory “interpretations” of pertinent passages of Scripture, but for now, this should be sufficient material for you to chew on.

Disagree with me if you wish, but please don’t misrepresent me.

09
Oct
12

Not Under the Law, but Under Grace–An Existential or A Redemptive-Historical Assertion?

In a post entitled “Are Calvinists Saved?” Paul Dohse recently asserted that “the very definition of a lost person in the Bible is one who is ‘under the law'” I tried to post a response on his blog, but my response was blocked. I also emailed the following response to him, but he has not yet responded.

Paul,

I would like you to reconsider your assertion that “the very definition of a lost person in the Bible is one who is ‘under the law.’”

There are several problems with this position.

1. The use of hupo nomon (under Law) in the New Testament is always a covenantal designation that refers to Israel’s relation to God under the Mosaic covenant.

2. Paul makes it clear that “sin was in the world” (Rom. 5:13) prior to the entrance of the Law. Certainly, there were lost persons prior to the giving of the Law. How, then, can one argue that the definition of a lost person is “one who is under the law?” Are we to assume that these people were not lost?

3. If you argue that the Law was given to everyone at creation, then everyone must have been lost since “the very definition of a lost person in the Bible is one who is under the law.”

4. David, Isaiah, Jeremiah and many others were “under the Law” as a covenant. Were they lost because they were under the law?

5. Paul wrote that Jesus was “born of woman, born under the law”. (Gal. 4:4) If the definition of a lost person is one who is under the law, are you suggesting that Jesus was a lost person since he was born “under the law?”

The reality is, “not under law but under grace” is not an existential distinction that reflects the situation of an individual but a redemptive-historical distinction that reflects the cataclysmic change that occurred through the redemptive work of Christ.

This is an important issue in the debate about New Covenant Theology. If we misunderstand the contrast Paul was drawing between “under grace” and “under law,” we will completely misconstrue his teaching relative to the vast superiority of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant.

09
Oct
12

Straw Man Arguments about Justification and Sanctification

It seems the goal of some bloggers is to bring as much division between professed believers in Christ as possible. Their modus operandi seems to be misrepresent and conqueror. The reality is, our goal should be to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.” It should go without saying that there are going to be honest disagreements between true believers. Often there are issues that are so multifaceted that dogmatism is unwarranted. Even in those issues that seem clear-cut, the charge of “heresy” is probably too harsh.

In matters that concern the purity of the gospel, it is clear there are mis-statements that are so grave that the very gospel itself is in danger of being lost. For example, if a person denies the concept of imputation, he has denied the heart of God’s good news. If the sinner’s justification depends to any degree on his faithfulness to God’s covenant, the so-called “good news” would become bad news. Not only do the unconverted sinner’s best works of “righteousness” fall short of meeting God’s standard for justification, but the believer’s best obedience also fails to meet that standard. God requires perfect, continual, and internal obedience to his Law. What one of us can claim that we have loved God, perfectly, continually and from the heart? I would like to believe I love God, yet I would never profess that, even as a believer, I love him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

The reality is that God doesn’t declare righteous those who are righteous in and of themselves. Nor, does he justify sinners because through the infusion of grace, i.e., enablement, these sinners have attained a level of faithfulness to God’s covenant that God is now able to declare them righteous, despite their failure to attain the level of perfection the Scriptures teach us he requires.

In truth, God declares the ungodly to be righteous in his sight. The apostle Paul wrote, “unto him who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). If God declares the ungodly to be righteous in his sight, he must do so by putting a righteousness to his account that he does not personally possess. That is “imputation.”

The question then arises, whose righteousness is put to the sinner’s account? We can answer that question best by asking by what standard God defines that righteousness. It will be clear to anyone who is not biased to the contrary that God’s standard is perfect obedience to his Law. This is the issue Paul considers in Roman’s chapter two. In fact, if we should remove that chapter from its context, it would appear that sinners might be justified through their personal obedience to the law. Years ago I read a book entitled, “Right With God” by John Blanchard. In discussing Paul’s teaching in Philippians 3, he suggested four false bases of justification before God in which sinners often trust. They are ritual, race, religion, and respectability. We find these same false bases in Romans two. Paul argues that knowledge of God’s law, being children of the covenant, religious privilege, ritual, and morality all fail to meet God’s standard. What, then, is God’s standard? Paul’s answer is clear. It is perfect, continual and inward obedience to God’s Law. He wrote, “For it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before, but the doers of the law who will be justified [declared righteous]” ( Romans 2:13).

Now, we must ask two questions: 1. What sinner is there among us who has met that standard? Paul’s answer is, “not one!” 2. Who has been subjected to that standard who has met the standard perfectly? The answer is, only one! Paul argues that “since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.” It is not a divine righteousness our case demands. It is a perfect human righteousness, defined by God’s perfect standard. Our case demands a righteousness defined as unbridled, wholehearted love for God that is manifested in an unswerving commitment to God’s revealed will.

The good news is that believers are given credit for that kind of love for God and obedience to his will that even in our best moments we do not possess personally.

In an effort to clarify some issues that seem to be fostering what I would consider unnecessary division, I want to try to draw some distinctions relative to imputation, justification, and sanctification. There are a number of bloggers who regularly misrepresent and blur these distinctions by their prodigiously false statements and “straw man” arguments. This is an appeal to them to return to a meaningful discussion of legitimate issues in an effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. I want to first state what I believe are “straw man” arguments, then state what I believe are the real issues.

1. Straw man–The obedience of Christ is imputed to believers for sanctification so that it is unnecessary for believers to be obedient to the commands of Scripture.

I have read quite a lot of Calvinistic literature and, in the area of soteriology, would consider myself a Calvinist. Yet, I don’t think I have ever read or heard any reformed writer or preacher suggest that Jesus obeyed for us so that in the matter of sanctification, we don’t need to obey God.

Professor John Murray who was clearly within the Reformed tradition wrote,

While we are constantly dependent upon the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit, we must also take into account of the fact that sanctification is a process that draws within its scope the conscious life of the believer. The sanctified are not passive or quiescent in this process. Nothing shows this more clearly than the exhortation of the apostle: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2: 12, 13). . .God’s working in us is not suspended because we work, nor our working suspended because God works. Neither is the relation strictly one of co-operation as if God did his part and we did ours so that the conjugation or coordination of both produced the required result. God works in us and we also work. But the relation is that because God works we work. All working out of salvation on our part is the effect of God’s working in us, not the willing to the exclusion of the doing and not the doing to the exclusion of the willing, but both the willing and the doing. And this working of God is directed to the end of enabling us to will and to do that which is well pleasing to him. . . .The more persistently active we are in working, the more persuaded we may be that all the energizing grace and power is of God (Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Pp. 148-49).

Is there any sense in which Christ’s righteousness must be imputed to believers in the realm of sanctification? I think the answer has to be, yes. Though our standing before God in justification is perfect and complete, our state in sanctification is not and need not be. As new men and women who are not yet made perfect, time after time we will fall short of the ultimate goal of sanctification, i.e. the elimination of all sin from the heart and life. Whenever that occurs, we will be in need of forgiveness. This forgiveness, or lack of it, has nothing to do with our standing before God. Instead, it concerns our communion with God. Still, this forgiveness does not differ in character because it is granted to believers any more than sin changes character because committed by a believer. In 1 John 1:9, we have God’s promise to forgive us, cleanse us and thus, restore us to fellowship. John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Just as the nature of forgiveness and the nature of sin do not change because they occur in the believer’s life instead of in the life of the unregenerate, so the basis of forgiveness is the same in the life of the believer in the process of sanctification as in God’s declaration of justification. Notice, John wrote, “He is faithful, i.e. true to his promise, and just to forgive our sins. . . .” The question must be, on what basis is he just, i.e. righteous, to forgive our sins. Could he do so apart from Christ’s redemptive work? On what other basis could he be just and at the same time forgive us? I think we must conclude that Jesus’ obedience/righteousness must be put to our account for the forgiveness of our post conversion sins, to restore us to communion with God.

I conclude that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is necessary in God’s work of sanctification but never in the sense that he obeys so that believers don’t need to be obedient. It is because he obeyed that we are enabled by the Spirit to obey.

2. Straw Man–Calvinists fuse justification and sanctification because they assert that though justification and sanctification are different they are never separated.

Calvinists believe justification and sanctification are neither fused nor to be confused. We do not believe sanctification completes justification or that justification is progressive. When we assert that justification and sanctification are always found together, we are speaking of the clearly revealed truth that in all those whom God has declared righteous in his sight, he also initiates and pursues the work of sanctification. That is to say, there is no such person as one who has been justified who is not also being sanctified or a person who is being sanctified who has not first been justified.

This in no way suggests that these two works of God are in some way conflated. God’s concern in justification and sanctification are totally different. In one he intends to deal with our guilt, in the other he intends to deal with the reigning power of sin and our pollution. One concerns righteousness, the other concerns holiness. Justification is complete and instantaneous; the other is progressive and gradual. The believer is no more sanctified because he is declared perfectly righteous nor is he any more justified because he makes progress in sanctification.

3. Straw man–Calvinist’s believe Jesus is still working to maintain our justification.

The implication of this statement is that Calvinists don’t believe Jesus’ work of redemption was finished on the cross. Of course, we do believe he continues to work in that, as our High Priest he carries on the work of intercession based on his sacrificial offering. One problem here is that the Calvinistic position relative to Jesus’ ministry as our High Priest finds its basis in the Epistle to the Hebrews and not in the Epistle to the Romans. The motifs of these two books are completely different. It is interesting to note that the term “justification” never occurs in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The writer of that book approaches the matter of salvation from a totally different manner. For him, salvation is a matter, among other themes, of boldness of approach to the throne of a holy God. He explains salvation based on the sacrificial system of Judaism.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks and answers the question, Q. 25. How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?

A. Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God, and in making continual intercession for us.

Notice that according to this answer, Jesus ONCE offered himself up as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice. . . . His work is of satisfying God’s justice is finished. Based on that finished work, he now appears in God’s presence for us. As our Priest, he intercedes for us in God’s presence. That is, his finished work of oblation is continually presented in the presence of God. His work of sacrifice is finished. By his obedience up to and including his death by crucifixion, he has finished once and for all everything needed to justify his people completely. He now presents that finished work as our advocate with the Father.

4. Straw man–Calvinists believe works are necessary to maintain justification, even if they are Christ’s works.

The only answer I can give to this apart from referring to my previous response is simply to ask for quotations that indicate that any Calvinist believes anything more needs to be done to “maintain justification.”

5. Straw man–“Definitive sanctification”refers back to the definite completion of justification.

Definitive sanctification actually refers to the radical break with sin that occurs when the believer is united to Christ by the effectual call of God. In Romans six, the apostle Paul argues that by virtue of the believer’s union with Christ he has died to the reigning power of sin. Not only did Christ die for the sinner’s justification. The believer died with Christ for his sanctification. He is no longer a slave to sin and to death. This fact, forms the basis for all the exhortations to obedience in the New Testament. This is the indicative/imperative model we find throughout the New Testament Scriptures.

I could go on and on, but I think these issues are sufficient to initiate an honest discussion of matters. If you believe I have misrepresented the Calvinistic position on any of these issues, you are welcome to challenge my views by bringing quotations from well established Calvinists and Calvinistic documents that demonstrate my error.

Let’s talk.

05
Oct
12

In These Last Days–Jesus the Messiah–the High Priest we Confess (Part Two)

Thus far, we have considered Jesus’ ministry as our great priest as it relates to the priestly order to which He belongs. The writer’s concern in the first eleven verses of Hebrews seven was to expound the words of the Messianic prophecy (Psalm 110:4) “After the order of Melchizedek.” He showed that the priestly order of Melchizedek is inherently superior to the Levitical order. In verses 12-19, he comments on this teaching’s implications in relation to the Mosaic covenant (the Law). Then, in verses 20-28, he expounds the other two components of that prophecy, namely, “The LORD has sworn and will not repent,” and “You are a priest forever.” We will now consider that exposition.

Jesus, a Better Priest

Not Without An Oath

In verses Heb 20-22, our author contrasts the solemnity with which God made Jesus a priest with the way in which Levitical priests took office. He writes,

20And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever.”” 22Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.

In the preceding chapter, (6:13ff) he has explained the significance of God’s oath when He made covenant promises to Abraham. Though God’s oath does not serve to make His promises any more certain, it does confirm for us, even more forcefully, the absolute certainty of its fulfillment. It establishes, beyond any doubt, the “unchangeable character of His purpose” (6:17).

Besides this, the confirmation by oath that characterizes the Messiah’s appointment as priest is forceful testimony concerning the superior dignity of Jesus’ priesthood.

It is at this point that the solemnity with which God appointed Jesus priest and the perpetuity of His priesthood merge as evidence of the superiority of the New Covenant. “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant”(7:22). Philip Hughes comments,

As, under Moses, the old and inferior covenant and inferior priesthood belonged together, so now, in Christ, the new and better covenant and the new and better priesthood are closely bound up with each other. Of the latter, and by virtue of the oath from above and on the basis of the perfectrion of his priestly offering, Jesus, the incarnate Redeemer of our humanity, is the surety: he is the guarantor, he who is for ever, that the better covenant, of which he is the substance, will not fail or be set aside. That is why it is described, in 13:20, as “the eternal covenant (Hughes, Hebrews, pp. 267-8).

A Priest Forever

An important part of the writer’s argument in this section rests on the prophetic pronouncement that Messiah, unlike the Levitical priests, would be a priest forever. The perpetuity of His priesthood is directly related to His participation in Melchizedek’s priestly order. Priests of that order continue to officiate as long as they live. Our author directly links Jesus’ effectiveness as our Great Priest to the indestructibility of His life (7:16).

The commandment by which God through Moses appointed Levitical priests to office was “a carnal commandment.” It was a commandment that concerned the earthly, the temporal and the external. The NEB calls it “a system of earth-bound rules. “The reason God did not swear that the sons of Aaron would be priests forever is that He did not intend them to be perpetual priests. From the outset, He intended to replace the Levitical priesthood with the permanent Messianic priesthood. There is no need for rules of succession regarding Jesus’ priesthood since He ever lives to make intercession for His people (7:25). In verses 23-25, the writer draws a contrast between ever dying priests and an ever living priest. Since the priests of the Levitical order were mortal, their ministries had to be passed on to their successors. They could not continue in office because they were dying priests. By contrast, Jesus, a priest after the order of Melchizedek, has a nontransferable office. Since He everlives, His is a perpetual priesthood. Our author writes, “Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. “Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them”(Heb 7:24-25).

Planned Obsolescence

One of the clear advantages of the Melchizedekian order is that God intended for it, unlike the Levitical order, to continue perpetually. From the outset, God destined the Levitical order, like the covenant to which He attached it, to become obsolete. The author concludes his description of Melchizedek’s priestly order in Hebrews 7:10. Yet, in the verses that follow, he continues to argue for the superiority of that order. He pursues this point based on the prophecy of Psalm 110:4. He reasons, “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it [in association with it] the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come–one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron” (7:11). His argument is represented in the following syllogism:

Major premise: If perfection were attainable through the Levitical priesthood, there would be no need for a different kind of priest.

Minor premise: Since God, in Psalm 110:4, predicted that He would establish the Messiah as a Melchizedekian priest, there must have been a need for another (a different kind of) priest to come.

Conclusion: Therefore, perfection was not attainable through the Levitical priestly system.

Since this is true, there are only two conclusions (one of which is totally unacceptable) that we could draw about the inadequacy of the Levitical priesthood. The first is that God intended for it to meet the spiritual needs of the Israelites, but was thwarted in this purpose. The second is that God intended from the beginning to render this priestly order obsolete when that one whom it prefigured finally came. It should be obvious that the latter conclusion is the correct one. It was never God’s purpose for the Israelites to become satisfied this temporary and inferior sacrificial system. He intended the inferiority of the Levitical system to quicken Israel’s desire for a better priest who could do what Aaron and his sons could never do. If the Levitical priesthood could have satisfied the spiritual needs of God’s people, there would have been no need for Christ to come as a priest after the order of Melchizedek (7:11).

By promising to raise up such a priest, God made it clear that the Levitical system was inadequate to satisfy the exigencies arising from His peoples” sins. He also announced His intention to replace it with a priesthood that could satisfy the spiritual needs of sinners.

The Crux of the Problem

It does not seem that those to whom our author addressed this treatise had any doubt about Jesus’ Messianic claims, since the writer never concerned himself with that issue. Both he and his readers agreed that Jesus is the Christ. In other words, this is one of the presuppositions of both the writer and the readers. For that reason, instead of covering ground about which both sides agreed, he concerned himself with the plain implications that arise from that presupposition. The crux of the problem is that Jesus could not possibly officiate as both king and priest unless the Levitical system and the covenant with which it was associated had been abolished. Psalm 110, which even the Jews acknowledged to be a Messianic Psalm, makes it clear that the promised Messiah would not come from the tribe of Levi but from the tribe of Judah. Such Old Testament promises led some, e.g., members of the Dead Sea Sect, to conclude erroneously that there would be two messianic figures, one from the priestly line and the other from the royal line. It seems that at least part of our author’s purpose in this chapter is to show how a single individual can fulfill the offices of both a priest and a king. If, as they had acknowledged, Jesus is the Christ, then He is either one of two messiah’s (The other would have to be born of Levi’s tribe), or He is priest of a different order. One great obstacle to the “two messiah theory” is that there is not a single Old Testament prophecy of a messiah arising from the tribe of Levi. Every prophecy that mentions His lineage makes it clear that He would arise from the tribe of Judah.

One corollary of the “two messiah theory” was the idea that, in the messianic age, God would restore the sacrificial system of Israel in its original purity. This, of course, directly contradicts the prophecy of Psalm 110:4. It is for this reason that the writer expounds that prophecy in this chapter. In so doing, he sets a choice before them. They must renounce their belief that Jesus is the Messiah, or they must renounce Judaism. If they insist on clinging to the old covenant, they must renounce their professed belief that Jesus, the Messiah has come. If the old covenant remains in force, then Jesus is an unauthorized intruder into the priesthood. Conversely, if Jesus, who has no ancestral connection with the tribe of Levi, is a legitimate priest of a different order, then God must have abolished the old covenant.

(Footnote 2 “The parenthetical way in which the statement ho laos gar ep autes nenomothetetai [for in relationship to it the people were given the law] is thrown out almost as an aside, in verse 11, can only mean that a question about the Law is assumed to underlie the whole discussion [emphasis mine]. That is to say, the writer apparently anticipates the probability that the Law might be appealed to as the guarantee for the eternal validity of the Priesthood, and here joins them closely together so that both [emphasis mine] can be seen to be transcended in the advent of the new order of priesthood (verse 12) [emphasis mine]” Graham.Hughes, Hebrews and Hermeneutics, (Cambridge: University Press, 1979). p. 17. “. . .Ps. 110:4 proves that with him there begins a new order (taxis) which cannot be combined with the Aaronic priesthood. Melchizedek implies the dissolving of the Jewish Law and cultus [emphasis mine]” O. Michel, “Melcesedek” TDNT. Vol. IV. ed Gerhard Kittel’s–trans. &. ed Geoffrey W. Bromiley, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967), p. 570. “His [Christ’s] coming implies that the former priesthood is done away with and is no longer in effect. Yet this Levitical or Aaronic priesthood was the essential feature in the Mosaic Law [emphasis mine]. Therefore in the person and work of Christ that entire system was brought to an end [emphasis mine]” Charles R. Eerdman, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 1954). “Before their conversion they had envisaged no priesthood beyond the Levitical priesthood; even if they looked for a new priest to arise in the age to come, he was still a Levitical priest. Their Christian teachers would have encouraged them to think of the Levitical priesthood as something belonging to the age of preparation, which had now given way to the age of fulfillment; but they were in danger of concluding that, after all, the old order (including the Levitical priesthood and everything else that went with it) had still much to be said in its favor. To such people our author’s assurance that the supersession of the Levitical priesthood by another had been decreed by God long before would have had practical relevance. Nor is it only the Aaronic priesthood which must be superseded. That priesthood was instituted under the Mosaic law, and was so integral to it that a change in the priesthood carries with it inevitably a change in the law. If the Aaronic priesthood was instituted for a temporary purpose, to be brought to an end when the age of fulfillment dawned, the same must be true of the law under which that priesthood was introduced” F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews 1964), p. 145.)

“For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law” (7:12). “If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law” (8:4).

Some have taken the position that by the phrase “a change in the law” the writer intended to refer only to the law regulating the priesthood. In other words, the law of the priesthood was discarded, but the covenant in association with which God gave that law remained in force. Consider the following observations concerning this view:

There is no indication that the author considered the law regulating the priesthood as a law of operation that could be separated from the whole fabric of the old covenant. On the contrary, he, along with every other biblical writer, viewed the different elements of the law (Mosaic covenant) as integral components of the entire covenantal document. The biblical writers knew nothing of the artificial, systematic theological, distinction that modern writers often make between moral, judicial, and ceremonial laws.

If there is any question that the writer intended to show that the covenant as a whole has been abrogated, a careful examination of the following chapter should settle it. In Hebrews 8, our author explicitly states that a new and better covenant has superseded the Mosaic covenant (vv.7-13). We need to emphasize here that we should not understand “the old covenant” that God has rendered obsolete to be everything that belonged to that economy except the tables of stone. The ten commandments that God wrote on the tables of stone were the words of the covenant. Exodus 34:28 makes this abundantly clear:

Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forth nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant–the Ten Commandments (see also 2 Cor 3:7-11).

In Hebrews 7:15-16 our author writes, “And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.” Up to this point in his argument he has centered on the prediction of Psalm 110:4. He now turns to the fact that another priest has risen after the order of Melchizedek. This predicted priest has now appeared on the stage of history. Consequently, what he has been saying about the dissolution of the old covenant and its priestly system has become even more evident.

Once we acknowledge that Jesus is God’s anointed Priest, predicted in Psalm 110:4, we cannot escape the conclusion that there has been a change in the law. Additionally, since the laws that regulated the Levitical system are inextricably woven into the fabric of the Mosaic covenant, God must also have replaced the covenant itself. The inferior, outworn covenant of Moses has given way to the new and better covenant of which Jesus has become the guarantee.

Jesus, The High Priest Who Meets Our Need

Having described the eternal and powerful priesthood of Jesus, a priest after the order of Melchizedek, our author now tells us that such a high priest is perfectly suited to us and to our needs. He does what none of the Old Covenant Priests were able to do. He satisfies the needs of sinful rebels; needs that are far greater than the priests of the Levitical system were able to meet.

His Personal Qualifications

Perfection of Character

One of the reasons for the inadequacy of the Levitical priests is that they, like the ones they represented, were sinners who needed a sacrificial offering. Our author writes,

Heb 7:26Such a high priest meets our need’s– one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed fot their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

By contrast, Jesus is a priest of sterling character and infinite authority. He is “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” Consider His characteristics one by one.

He is Holy

The word hosios, translated “holy” in this verse, occurs seven times elsewhere in the New Testament Scriptures. Of those occurences, is it used only twice to describe human holiness. In both instances (1 Tim 2:8; Titus 1:8), it is used concerning the necessary qualifications of an overseer. “The word stood for that which was in accordance with divine direction and providence. The word describes the pious, pure, and clean action which is in accordance with God’s commands.” (Footnote 3– Fritz Rienecker. A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. ed. Cleon L. Rogers, Jr. 1987, p. 620). In Acts 13:34, Paul cites the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 55:3 in which hosios is used to translate the Hebrew word hesed which denotes Yahweh’s faithful, covenant kindness to Israel. It is used in this verse to refer to His determination to grant mercy to David’s house in keeping with His covenant. In Hebrews 7:26, our author uses this word to describe our high priest, in contrast to the priests of the Levitical system. Though ministering in holy things, they, themselves, failed in their covenant obligations and were in need of a priest. But Jesus, in devotion to His Father’s will, fulfilled every obligation of the covenant. Thus, His holiness is defined in terms of His devotion to the Father and obedience to His will.

He is Blameless

The second characteristic of our high priest that suits Him to represent believers is blamelessness. The word translated “blameless” is literally without evil or wrong. Our Lord was totally without evil or wrongdoing in all His motives and His interactions with His fellowmen.

By contrast, we sinners are not merely polluted in the stream of our outward actions; we are polluted at the fountain of our inward motivation. There was not one “blameless” man among the thousands of priests who ministered in the Levitical priesthood. But, the high priest who satisfies our needs is “blameless.”

He is Pure

The priests who functioned in the Levitical system stood as types of Jesus, our great priest. Consequently, God required that they be ceremonially undefiled. The ceremonial washings in which they engaged symbolized the purity that God demands in those who serve, as representatives, before Him. Yet those priests, like those sinners whom they represented, were inwardly defiled by sin. By contrast, the priest who meets our need possesses a purity that goes deeper than superficial ceremonial cleansing. His purity is both internal and external.

He is Separate from Sinners

When our author tells us that the high priest who meets our need is separate from sinners, he does not refer to Jesus’ geographical proximity to sinners during His earthly ministry. The only one in the universe who had a right to keep His distance from sinners, embraced sinners in His holy bosom. In derision, His enemies dubbed Him “a friend of sinners” (Matt 11:19; Lk 7:34). The Pharisees and the Scribes complained, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). Yet, that which was scandalous in their estimation is a great cause of rejoicing to His blood-bought children.

Jesus was never afraid to “rub shoulders” with sinners. For Him, separation from sinners had nothing to do with where He was. It had to do with who He was. Calvin writes, “For he is not said to be separate from us, because he repels us from his society, but because he has this excellency above us all, that he is free from every uncleanness.” (John Calvin, Calvin”s Commentaries. vol. 22., p. 176). This designation, separate from sinners, “brings into a single focus the central implication of the three preceding definitions of his person as holy, blameless, and unstained.” (Hughes, Commentary on Hebrews, p.273).

Infinite Authority

Our Great High Priest not only possesses personal qualities that qualify Him to represent us before God’s throne; He is, Himself, exalted to occupy the throne. He, like Melchizedek, is a royal priest. Our author tells us that He is “exalted above the heavens.” He occupies the place of highest glory and authority. Not only has He, as our pious, blameless, and pure high priest, obtained eternal redemption for us, He now dispenses His purchased blessings from His glorious throne. “The power of His all-sufficient atoning work is available without diminishment to us today as it was to the believers of the first century, and it is so because he who died for us is alive from the dead and enthroned on high.” (Hughes, p. 275).

His Efficacious Work

In verses 27-28 there is a clear contrast between Jesus, Our Great Priest, and the priests of the Levitical system. Our author writes,

7:27Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

Once for All

The first reason Jesus’ priestly work was superior to that of the Levitical priests is that He offered one sacrifice, once for all. Because of the ineffectual nature of their priesthood and of the sacrifices they offered, they were many priests, who needed to offer many sacrifices. These were sinful priests who themselves needed a sacrifice to atone for their sins. Only after a priest had offered a sacrifice for his sins, could he offer a sacrifice to cover the sins of the people. This he did day after day, year after year. The terms “once” and “once for all” are fundamental to a proper understanding of this section of this epistle. The finality of Christ’s sacrifice speaks to us of the perfection of His work. It also heralds the abolition of that system in which the continual offering of sacrifices bore eloquent testimony to their ineffectiveness.

Our priest did not need to offer a sacrifice for Himself. He had no sins for which to atone. He is holy, blameless, unsullied, separate from sinners. His sacrifice had nothing to do with His own needs. It wholly concerned the needs of His people.

He Offered Himself

Moreover, unlike the Levitical priests who continually offered ineffectual animal sacrifices, Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice. Because of its perfection, His one offering continues to be effective forever.

The priests of the old covenant were weak and ineffectual, but the Son is ever effectual. He is made perfect forever. The remainder of the theological section of this epistle concerns itself with Jesus’ perfected and, therefore, superior priesthood. Our author presents Him as a priest who mediates a better covenant (8:6-13), ministers in a better sanctuary (9:1-24), presents a better sacrifice (10:1-18), and perfects better worshippers (10:1-2). We will consider these truths concerning Jesus’ priesthood in greater detail in section two of this work, “The Soteriology of Hebrews.”