Find Assurance in Jesus, Not Your Conversion

Donald Macleod on how repentance and conversion do not atone for our sins.

Yet it is never the cross, in and of itself, which evokes repentance, and this highlights another weakness of the rectoral [governmental] theory. It bypasses the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He alone can produce repentance, and the repentance he produces is not the cause of the atonement, but its consequence. The cross, resurrection and ascension of Jesus secure the ministry of the Spirit, with all the gifts and blessings which that brings with it. Foremost among these is the gift of repentance; never a human achievement, but a divine given (Acts 5:31), produced not by mere demonstration, but by the intimate touch of grace in the depths of the human heart.

This touch, of course, produces its own psychological narrative as the sinner faces the truth about himself, accepts that his life is indefensible and acquiesces unquestioningly the judgment of God (Psalm 51:1-4). The cross may be one of the cognitive elements in this journey. It may highlight the ugliness of sin. It may bespeak God’s abhorrence of it. It may make us ashamed of our past attitudes to Christ. It may fill us with wondering appreciation of the love of God. But none of these is what constitutes atonement or purchases redemption. Instead, in the language of the older evangelical piety, repentance is itself a ‘blood-bought’ grace, created in our hearts by the mysterious agency of the Holy Spirit. The psychological journey which marks a sinner’s recovery is but the outward expression of the inner touch of the supernatural. Yet the real foundation of assurance and joy is the knowledge that whatever the shortcomings of our repentance (or of our conversion-narrative) God accepts us for Jesus’ sake. 

This may seem like an obvious point, but we often look at the sincerity of our repentance as the ground for our salvation. Did I repent enough? Was my conversion really real? Did my heart really change? And so on. There is a place for self-examination, but assurance must be found in Christ, not in how awesome our conversion was, how much we hated our sins, or how sincere our repentance was.

Ten Quotes: Christ Crucified by Donald Macleod

I have now read two books by Donald Macleod, Shared Life and Christ Crucified.  Both of them were very good. He brings the clarity of John Stott with a little bit more edge.  Christ Crucified was a great book on the atonement of Jesus. Macleod argues for the classic substitutionary view of the atonement using terms like propitiation, expiation, substitution, and redemption. Here are ten of my favorite quotes from Macleod’s book.

Here he is quoting Martin Luther. All the rest of the quotes are his.

He [Jesus] bore the person of a sinner and of a thief-and not of one but of all sinners and thieves…And all the prophets saw this, that Christ was to become the greatest thief, murderer, adulterer, robber, desecrator, blasphemer, etc., that has ever  been anywhere in the world. 

For a moment [in the Garden of Gethsemane] he stands with millions of his people who have found God’s will almost unendurable, shrunk from the work given them to do, shuddered at the prospect of the race set before them and prayed that God would change his mind. But solidarity is not the main thing here. This is not a road less trodden. It is a road never trodden, before or since: the cup of the one man, the Son of God.

Yet such criticisms [of the cross], whether from the twelfth or the twenty-first centuries, perform one invaluable service: they remind us that there is a real problem at the heart of the story of the cross. We cannot walk blithely by it as if there were nothing disturbing here. There is; and if we are not initially shocked and repelled by it, we shall never understand it. It has to be a ‘scandal’ before it can become good news.  

 We need to be clear where the scandal of the cross lies: not primarily in such concepts as expiation and propitiation, but in the prima facie absurdity that a crucified first-century Jewish criminal is the Savior of the world, and that his cross was the actual instrument of that salvation. Side by side with that lies another scandal: the assumption that all human beings, from Francis of Assisi to Joseph Stalin, are sinners in need of salvation in the first place. And, as if this were not enough, the further scandalous idea that God is not all-indulgent love, but is dreadfully provoked by sin and needs to be pacified. 

When Pompey and his soldiers entered the Holy of Holies in AD 63 they were scandalized to find no image there: not a ‘god’ in sight. The scandal of Christianity is even greater. Its holy of holies is a cross where its Savior hangs, bloodied and beaten, between two thieves.

It was because God is righteous that sin required expiation; it was because he is love that he provided it.

In a very real sense, then, the proof of the doctrine of propitiation stands or falls with the doctrine of the anger of God. Any Biblical view of salvation must take this anger seriously; and propitiation must be a central moment in the work of the Redeemer.

Mankind lives in a state of chronic revolt against their Maker. Any meaningful concept of reconciliation must, therefore, include the removal of this enmity, replacing hatred with love and blasphemy with doxology.

Reconciliation, as Paul sees it, means the non-imputation of our sins to us (II Cor. 5:19); conversely, Christ’s being made sin means the imputation of our sins to him.

 He was not cursed because he was hanged. He was hanged because he was cursed: under a divine imprecation as the one who was carrying the sin of the world. Indeed, he was the sin of the world. 

And One:

They [the rulers of this world] thought that if they could bring about his death neither he nor his movement would ever be heard from again. In reality, by crucifying him they disgraced themselves and released forces which neither the Jewish leaders nor the imperial might of Rome would ever be able to control. But deeper still was the disgrace of the devil himself, destroyed by what he thought was his masterstroke. Confident that the cross would secure his victory, he was outwitted by the wisdom of God: neutralized and conquered by divine weakness.  

Book Review: Christ Crucified

Christ Crucified: Understanding the AtonementChrist Crucified: Understanding the Atonement by Donald MacLeod
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great book on the atonement, covering the historical account of the crucifixion and then going into substitution, expiation, propitiation, reconciliation, satisfaction, redemption, and victory. Well written with a passion for the subject. He is not afraid to speak strongly against certain people and ideas. His chapter on “No Other Way” was excellent as he refuted various objections to the substitutionary atonement.

The only drawback was the occasional cheap shot at patriarchy, which naturally goes undefined. Luckily it was a book on the atonement not on patriarchy.

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Can God Justify Calvary?

Donald Macleod’s book Christ Crucified has been a great read so far. The book is solid theologically, and Macleod’s writing is clear, succinct, and powerful.  Here are two of my favorite quotes so far.

From a human point of view this emphasis on the cross [in the New Testament] is baffling. Every prudential consideration suggested that these first Christian preachers should divert attention from it as much as possible. To Jewish ears, the idea of a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. To Gentiles, the claim that the salvation of the world had come through a crucified Jewish criminal was an absurdity. To both Jew and Gentile, the suggestion that death, particularly death on a  cross, could bring eternal life, was blasphemous idiocy; had the early church had a professional director of communications, he would have said, categorically, “We don’t do the cross! Stay on message, and focus on his wonderful ethical teaching.” 

It is the cross itself that requires a theodicy. How can God justify what he did at Calvary? What gave him the right to sacrifice his own Son? Only the doctrine of vicarious punishment can provide an answer. The sword falls at the precise point where justice located the sin of the world: in Jesus own body, on the tree. The sword falls here because it is right that it should fall here; and it is right because ‘in my place condemned he stood.’ Otherwise the cross is a black hole; an irrational evil, the act of a capricious or malevolent deity.  

Book Review: From Heaven He Came and Sought Her

From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral PerspectiveFrom Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective by David Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book an excellent resource for discussion of limited atonement or what the authors call “definite atonement.” I like their term better than the classic term. The book is essentially a reference tool. There numerous essays by different men covering the historical, Biblical, theological, and pastoral aspects of definite atonement. The book gives the reader an excellent lay of the land.

The historical views addressed are amazing. Barth, Torrance, McLeod Campbell, Davenant, Beza, Calvin, Amyraut, Owen, Baxter, Bavinck, Warfield, Driscoll, and Bruce Ware are all mentioned, as well as many others. Barth gets a lot of attention in various essays,which I found helpful because I know so little about him and his theology.

All the major passages supporting unlimited atonement are addressed. After reading the book, I am convinced the most difficult texts for definite atonement men are the passages that express a dual will, such as I Timothy 2:4. There were several essays on the Old Testament. Moyter’s on Isaiah 53 was particularly helpful.

Several points were made over and over again. First, unlimited atonement puts a dissonance between redemption accomplished and redemption applied. Several authors mention this. I believe it is thorny issue for unlimited atonement view. Second, Christ’s priestly intercession should be a larger part of the discussion. Does he intercede for those that are never saved? Can he die for those he does no function as a priest for? Third, does unlimited atonement logically end in universal accessibility to the Gospel? And if so, why do we not get that? Sinclair Ferguson’s essay on this was thought provoking. Finally, one’s views of the covenant and the Bible as a whole will influence the interpretation of specific texts. Much like any discussion of infant baptism, there must be exegesis of specific texts, but there also must be an understanding of the entire scope of Scripture.

Each of the essays could be a book. Therefore they are not in-depth. But they orient the reader to the major players, major texts, and major theological questions in the debate. This book is not a thorough discussion of the atonement. But it is an excellent introduction to one question related to the atonement: For whom to Christ die? It will be a valuable resource for any minister or theological student.

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