Living By The Law

Q – Dear Jim, I was wondering when you had the time if you would answer this question as in-depth as you can. I go to you because I believe you take the bible literally. I believe that if you don’t treat it literally, then we will add and take away to the true word of God, thus creating false doctrines because of our prejudices and our self-serving egos.

Jim – Well, I agree completely. I take the Bible quite literally. I try to follow the example of the first century apostles. They had a great wealth of prophetic books and a great number of specific prophecies to look forward to. When Jesus arrived on planet Earth, He began fulfilling those prophecies in a very literal way. While it is true that the Bible is a very spiritual book, only a “face value” reading of Scripture will convey the spiritual truths that the original authors intended.

I don’t like the “spiritualizing” or “allegorical” methods of interpretation because there are no ground rules. A passage can mean whatever the individual reader wants it to mean, depending on the reader’s background, suppositions and imagination. A literal understanding of Scripture is a stricter discipline, I think. It forces us to adjust our theology to allow the Bible to say what it actually says. Spiritualizing is easier. You just make things up. πŸ˜‰

But, I’m convinced that a more literal understanding of Scripture produces a greater unity of understanding.

Q – The question is: Was God inside Jesus’ body when He died on the cross?

Jim – Well, that’s a deeper question than it may first appear. So, I will attempt to answer it in steps.

The doctrine of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is never specifically spelled out in Scripture. It is an undeniable fact that God represents Himself in three persons, but none of the Biblical authors took the time to spell out the specifics of their relationships to each other. We can only observe how they interact and learn from those examples.

For instance, when Jesus was baptized, we read that the Holy Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove (presumably so that everyone could witness it) and that a bright cloud overshadowed them as a voice said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him.” (Mat. 17:5) In that moment we see the Trinity in action. The Son was beginning His earthly ministry, the Holy Spirit was manifestly present to aid Him, and the Father spoke of His pleasure in the Son, instructing everyone to listen to the Him. So, we see a unity of purpose, but a distinction of persons.

I have often pointed out that the whole Trinity is active in the redemption of people. The Father chose His people before the foundation of the world; the Son died to redeem those people and rose from the grave for their justification; and the Spirit indwells the individual believer, reminding them of Christ’s words and drawing them to the Father. Each person of the Trinity has a necessary function and participation in the saving of sinners.

Now, one day the apostle Philip asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” But, Jesus answered him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?” (John 14:8-9)

So, Jesus declared a unity between His Father and Himself that was so immediate that to see Christ was tantamount to seeing the Father.

Then, before He left to return to the Father, Jesus declared, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18)

In that passage, Jesus promised His apostles that He would send the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, to dwell with them after He had gone. However, in referring to that Spirit, Jesus said, “I will come to you.” So, Jesus drew a direct parallel between Himself and the Holy Spirit.

Consequently, Paul concluded, “For in Him [Christ] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col. 2:9) In other words, everything we need to know about the Trinity was wrapped up in Christ. He was the embodiment of God here on Earth. He was the One who satisfied the wrath of the Father, reconciling sinners to their Maker. And, His accomplished redemption opened the way for the Spirit of God to indwell individual people, reminding them of everything Christ said.

Now, knowing all this, the cross at Calvary poses some interesting circumstances. I am not certain that anyone (outside of God, or course) can understand the depth of what happened there. God’s wrath had to be satisfied, but there were no sacrifices sufficient to appease the infinite anger of God. So, the only answer was that God would propitiate Himself.

This notion, that God would finally be satisfied by the sacrifice of His chosen beloved, was foreshadowed back in Isaiah 53.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? For he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isa. 53:7-12)

So, we see a very definite division of responsibilities at Calvary. God was satisfying His own justice while pouring out His wrath for sin against Christ. According to Paul:

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)

Christ took the sins of the elect on Himself in a very real and present way. He became the embodiment of sin, according to Paul’s imagery. God made Christ to be sin for us. That’s imputation. Our sins were imputed to Christ and He was held personally responsible for our guilt. But, there was more than just a legal exchange going on at Calvary. God poured out His wrath in a very real, visible, physical way. Isaiah foresaw that when Christ suffered, “His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men.” (Isa. 52:14) In other words, the physical body of Jesus would be tormented, twisted, beaten and destroyed more than any man who ever lived. It was a grueling, torturous pain that Christ endured. For three hours there was darkness on the Earth so that men could not watch this agonizing punishment in broad daylight.

So, we see a distinction between God, the One executing the punishment, and Christ, the One receiving the punishment. They were serving one singular purpose – to satisfy the wrath of God against sin – but they were performing different roles or functions. One required a sacrifice; the other was the sacrifice.

So, all that being said, you asked whether God was inside Jesus’ body when He died on the cross.

I would have to say no, but with a qualification. God the Father was outside of Christ. In fact, the separation between the Father and Son is one of the most poignant aspects of Calvary. Christ had been in communion with the Father for eternity past. They had always been face-to-face. Even as He walked on the planet, Jesus declared, “And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.” (John 8:29) There was a total and complete unity between them.

However, at the cross, Christ cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mat. 27:46) For the first and only time in their eternal relationship, God turned from Christ. The Holy Father could not look on His Son once He had been “made sin.”

Now, given Christ’s plea, I cannot imagine how God the Father could inhabit Christ’s physical body and yet forsake Him so completely. So again, my answer to your question would be that God the Father was separate from God the Son when He poured out His wrath.

Now, let me make a vital distinction, here. God the Son – the essence of God that took up residence in the man known as Jesus, who struck a tent in human flesh and “tabernacled” among us – remained in the body of Christ through the entire torturous event. That is why Christ’s last words on the cross were, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” (Luke 23:46)

The Spirit of Christ left the body of the man Jesus. The body died, but the Spirit was in the hands of God the Father.

So, while there was certainly an agonizing division between God the Father and God the Son, neither of them ceased to be wholly God during the entire event. It was necessary that Christ retain His absolute deity in order to be a sacrifice sufficient to satisfy God’s justice. Only an eternal sacrifice could propitiate our endless sin against the Father. And, only an eternally valuable sacrifice could secure our everlasting life and eternal unity with God.

So, do you see why your question is a difficult one? I’ll try to state the answer succinctly –

God the Father and God the Son were both active in the atonement. God poured out His wrath for sin on God the Son, who remained wholly God even though He took to Himself the sins of His chosen people. God propitiated Himself in the sacrifice of Himself. Only God could require such an offering, and only God could fulfill such an offering.

God the Father was outside of Christ, forsaking the body of sin. But, God the Son was in the person of Jesus, reconciling the world to God the Father, giving His perfect body as a perfect sacrifice, and accomplishing His own death, turning His spirit over to the hands of His loving, faithful Father.

That’s amazing. I don’t fully comprehend it. But, that’s the way the Bible represents it. It’s a wonderful and mystical thing. And, we are the recipients of this astounding act of grace and fury.

Q – Another question: Can I honor God by trying to keep the law and hang onto grace also? It seems that if I do this then, like Galatians says, Christ died in vain.

Jim – Christ died in order to usher in the New Covenant of justification by grace through faith. He nailed the Law of Moses to His cross and took it away (Col. 2:14).

I think the Law teaches us a great deal about God’s mind and His standard of righteousness. However, no man can live up to that standard and certainly no one should want to be judged by that standard. Even our best efforts only add up to “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). But, it is educational to read the standard God imposed on Israel. It helps us to understand what genuinely righteous living looks like.

However – and this is vital! – Christians must never look to the Law to justify them before Holy God. We must not pretend that living up to the Law can gain favor in God’s eyes or that He will accept us or love us more because of our adherence to that Law. Our whole, entire, complete, utter justification is wrapped up in the finished work of Christ at Calvary.

He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” (Rom. 4:25)

We are not accepted before God because of our ability to live righteously enough. We are “accepted in the beloved.” (Eph. 1:6)

So, can you honor God by trying to keep the Law? Well, all genuinely converted Christians repent of their old ways, put on the “new man” and walk in a way that is honoring to God. “You shall know them by their fruits.” (Mat. 7:16) If you use the Law in order to understand the mind of God and try to live up to it as a means of living a life that honors Him, then I understand that. And, if I can understand it, I’m certain that God can understand it. πŸ˜‰

However, let’s be honest. I assume that by saying that you are keeping the law, you are not going to Jerusalem three times a year, which the law requires; and you are not killing animals every time you sin, which the law requires; and that you are not offering the first of your grain and wine to the Levites, which the law requires. In other words, we both know that you are not, in fact, “keeping the law.” You are not living up to the full extent of its requirements. So, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are actually “keeping the law.”

Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s my nature.

In the end, only you can truly answer your question. You know why you are doing what you are doing. If you are seeking to justify yourself before God, then I would adjure you to rearrange your thinking immediately. That’s what the Judaizers were attempting to do at Galatia. They were teaching Gentile converts that they needed to be circumcised in an attempt to justify themselves with God. But, Paul countered that one step toward seeking justification on the basis of works, like circumcision, or any other part of the legal covenant, made them debtors to keep the whole law and they had fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4).

So again, it is a matter of justification versus mode of living. Only you can decide whether you are living to please Him or attempting to obligate Him. And, I’ll leave that decision up to you. You know your heart and your intentions. God knows your heart and your intentions. If you are seeking His glory and His righteousness, that’s a pleasing sacrifice.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And, be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” (Rom. 12:1-2)

Let me give you one final viewpoint. Actually, it’s not my viewpoint; it’s Christ’s –

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:35-40)

That’s pretty sound advice, my friend. Love God. Love your neighbor. In so doing, you will naturally fulfill all that the law and prophets preached.

Q – Jim, I just finished your study on Hebrews. It was outstanding – right to the point. There comes a time when you have to truly give yourself to our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Hebrews kept going back and forth for different reasons. Jim, sometimes we must stand alone for the truth and not just to be one of the boys or girls at the congregation and go along with the program. That is a slap in the face to our Savior. I am a sinner like everyone else. That’s bad enough. But, we can’t compromise Gods word.

Jim – Thank you for your kind words concerning the Hebrews Commentary. That thing took years to write and I know it can be heavy reading. I’m impressed that you plowed through it.

And, I agree with you completely. God’s word requires faith and commitment. Compromise just won’t get it. Jesus said, “No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) Those are sobering words.

But, isn’t it good to know that being a sinner will not prevent you from seeing the face of your Savior? I am not advocating sin, any more than Paul did, but I marvel in the grace of our Lord who has made a way for us to stand uncondemned before the Holy God. And, you’re right. Christianity is not a “program” or a social club. It’s a deep, lifelong commitment to the One who died and rose again.

Good words, my friend.

Q – For me, it is Jesus Christ plus nothing. Everything that I ever need for my sanctification flows from Him, and to Him and the Father. I am most grateful.

Jim – Very good. Very good. I like these words very much.

Q – I thank you again for your time and your patience. I pray the Holy Spirit puts it in your heart to do a study of Ezekiel.

Jim – You are very welcome. But, as concerns the study on Ezekiel — doesn’t it seem like I have enough to do???!!! I’m just kidding. I love that book. And, if the Lord tarries and I live, maybe He will push me into teaching on it. We have been looking at parts of it on Sundays as we’ve been teaching eschatology. Great, great book.

God bless you! Thanks for the questions. You certainly keep me on my toes. πŸ™‚

I look forward to our next exchange.

Yours in our Lord,

Jim Mc.