Christ, The Mediator Between God And Man

Communion_TableBecause author and friend Mike Duran has been exploring a theological position termed inclusivism, I’ve been reading Scripture with this view in mind. As a review, inclusivism agrees with the traditional view of salvation—that Christ’s sacrificial death paid the price for sin and that salvation is only through His atoning work.

Where inclusivism departs from the established evangelical position, is that actual belief in Jesus is not necessary. Rather, a person, particularly someone who has not heard the gospel of Christ, may be covered by His blood without knowing it, if he lives according to the light he’s been given through general revelation.

With this idea in mind, then, verses such as John 14:6 in which Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,” are explained as applicable to the means by which a person is saved and not how that person must come to God.

As I said, now that I’m fully aware of this theological position, I’m reading Scripture anew. I can see how a person holding the inclusive view can then interpret many of the clear statements of Scripture in that light—not stating what a person must do to be saved but what God will do (apply the blood of Christ to him on the bases of his following to the best of his ability the light he has been given).

The problem as I see it is that a person must arrive at the position of inclusivism apart from Scripture in order to interpret certain passages in this way. Scripture itself, as a meta-narrative, points to Christ and Christ alone.

In fact, Jesus is the Light and therefore the means by which a person is reconciled to God. Scripture states this plainly more than once.

For instance, after John introduces Jesus as the True Light, he said,

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name. (John 1:12, emphasis here and in the verses to follow are mine)

Then towards the end of his book John gives the purpose for recounting the details about Jesus’s life and ministry:

these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31).

Shortly after feeding the five thousand with a few loaves of bread, when Jesus was teaching about eternal life, the people asked him the key question: what do we have to do? Jesus’s answer was clear:

Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

When Peter first preached on the Day of Pentecost, the people responded with a question to which Peter also gave a clear answer:

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)

Paul and Silas had someone ask almost the exact same question:

After [the jailer] brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Interestingly, the only thing the latter two answers have in common is Jesus. But the sum of the two is clear: to be saved a person must believe in Jesus, repent, and be baptized in Jesus’s name.

Many evangelicals today understand baptism to be the public profession of faith in Christ, not a work that earns salvation. But even those who don’t adhere to “believer’s baptism” nevertheless correlate baptism and the saving work of Jesus. In other words, baptism is not a work that earns a person favor in God’s eyes, nor is it a service that indentures God to save. Rather, it is an identifying act enjoining the work of Christ on behalf of the person being baptized.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he clarifies his answer:

if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Rom. 10:9-10)

Peter clarifies his in the first epistle bearing his name:

knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Jesus also expanded on His statement:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”

Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. (John 6:32-35)

The significance here is that inclusivism lacks any such clear scriptural basis. At best those who hold this position apply a reinterpretation to passages pointing to Christ’s redemptive work, removing the “belief component” which is so clear in the scriptures above.

Further, Jesus, the gospel writers, and those who penned the epistles identify Jesus as the unique link between God and humankind. For instance, John states, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).

Jesus made that same point:

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8-9)

Paul states emphatically in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Peter says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

The point then is that Christ, as the perfect High Priest, brings reconciliation between God and those He saves.

The inclusivist view, however, inverts this work of Christ so that God, through general revelation, brings sinners to Christ in order to cover them with His blood.

It’s true that God has chosen those who are His and that He has called His children, and yet salvation—the work that justifies a sinner before God—is Christ’s work. To say that God draws sinners in order to apply Christ’s blood without them knowing it is to ignore Christ’s purpose—to explain God, to show us the Father, to mediate, to serve as the High Priest.

The inclusivist view has no place for this part of Jesus’s work. In so truncating Christ’s role, it reduces His glory, and in the end, God’s glory, because it is through Christ that He is glorified:

. . . so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11b)

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Published in: on May 16, 2014 at 2:55 pm  Comments (12)  
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12 Comments

  1. Of course, this is the kind of subject that keeps one awake at night. Most thoughtful Christians have contemplated it at one time or another, including the most esteemed Biblical scholars. And, Rebecca, you know it has been analyzed and debated for centuries, and we are no closer to a satisfactory answer than when in all stated to boggle everyone’s mind. So, although you are late to class, grab a seat and let’s hear what you have to say.

    In the end, it’s probably better to leave this issue to God. It’s on par with trying to reconcile the doctrines of election and free will, and how both can work at the same time. I’ve seen fellow brothers and sisters ready to go to war over both these puzzles. Seriously, I’ve seen heated arguments develop and sometimes they have gotten very ugly.

    For me, I’m perfectly satisfied with falling back on Isaiah 55: 8,9. A funny way (perhaps the only relief) to look at these verses is, “Shut up and don’t worry it, Just do what I told you to do: preach my Son,” read the memo from God.

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    • Russ, I certainly agree with you that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours. And truly, no matter what we think we know, God will do what He has planned and purposed irrespective of our views.

      However, the reason I think this subject is worth taking the time to write about is because of the way in which Scripture is handled. I’m of the mindset that Scripture interprets Scripture. Hence, I don’t want to assume that the Old Testament believers had no explicit knowledge of Christ, being as He came after them by hundreds and even thousands of years. Rather, I want to see what the New Testament has to say on the subject. When we read, Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, I want to see what the Bible says about what exactly Abraham believed.

      In other words, I think Scripture should stand on its own two feet rather than having me bullying it into saying what I want it to say.

      And honestly, I think preaching God’s Son is precisely what the passages of Scripture which talk about how a person comes to God, are doing. I mean, what else are we to say about Him besides He is the Light of the world, the One who shows us the Father?

      Surely, holding Him up as a good example for us to follow, is incomplete. If we don’t proclaim Him as Savior, then are we in fact preaching Christ?

      Becky

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      • In Romans 4 Paul does discuss what Abraham believed, which was then reckoned as righteousness. Abraham “believed God” (4:3); he trusted him (God) who justifies the ungodly (4:5). Abraham believed God’s promise to him that he and his descendants would inherit the world (4:13). This promise came through God’s grace and is guaranteed to all his descendants who share his faith (4:16). Those descendants promised include Gentiles, since God told Abraham, “I have made you the father of many nations” (4:17). Abraham believed God’s promises, and believed God gives life even to the dead and calls into existence things that did not exist (4:17). Abraham believed these promises in hope, and his faith did not weaken when he became a hundred years old, almost dead, and his wife was still barren (4:18-19). His faith remained fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised (4:20-21). It was this faith in God’s power and promises that was reckoned to him as righteousness (4:22).

        Note that Abraham’s faith was not in Jesus, but in the promises and power of God. His faith was not Christian faith, but it was a special revelation (not a general revelation) of the power and promises of God that would be ultimately fulfilled in raising Jesus from the dead, who was put to death for our sins (4:23-25).

        In Lk. 13:28 Jesus says Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the (true) prophets will be in the kingdom of God (in the end). They will be saved because of special revelations of God and His grace to them, which they believed and which gave them hope and strength to remain faithful to God. Perhaps Job would be similar to Abraham in being a more isolated individual to whom God revealed Himself in special ways, and who was considered upright (and who never heard of Jesus). So perhaps there are other such individuals throughout history and throughout the world that God has chosen to reveal Himself (without them hearing specifically about Jesus).

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      • JatB, thanks for your input. I like your close look at what Paul said in Romans 4. I’ll take one exception, however. In v. 5 Paul wrote, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

        Abraham may not have known it, but Christ is the means by which God justifies the ungodly. His belief in God as the Justifier was, in fact, belief in Jesus.

        James 2 also looks at Abraham and says,

        22 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the alter. You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

        It was after God tested Abraham by requiring Isaac’s sacrifice that He promised, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

        As near as I can determine, this is the last promise we have recorded in Scripture given by God to Abraham, and as it happens, it is the promise of the Messiah.

        We know this also from Paul:

        Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. (Gal. 3:16)

        How much did God explain to Abraham? Scripture doesn’t record any explanation at all. But I think it’s not beyond God’s power or nature to have told him more about the future. I think that’s a lot more likely than that people are saved by following the light of their own conscience.

        However, what we know for certain, based on Scripture, is that Abraham believed God’s promises, including that in his seed all nations would be blessed. If this was all the special revelation he had, it doesn’t negate the fact that this revelation was Christ, not some response to an inner moral law.

        Becky

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  2. I’m of two minds here. I generally agree with the reasoning in this post. But I’m also convinced that our belief is not the cause but the result of our salvation; a person is saved when God chooses to save him or her. If a person that God decided to save never hears the full Gospel, that does not prevent God from saving him or her. I don’t think that Scripture ever indicates that (after Christ’s resurrection) God has ever saved or ever will save someone without that person coming to an understanding of the Gospel, but I believe he could.

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    • I don’t think that Scripture ever indicates that (after Christ’s resurrection) God has ever saved or ever will save someone without that person coming to an understanding of the Gospel, but I believe he could.

      That’s what I’ve generally believed, and I still think it’s highly likely that all those who come to faith will hear the Gospel. However, Revelation 7:9 describes the multitude of the redeemed in heaven as coming from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.”

      I’m reasonably certain that there were people groups, entire language families, that existed when Saint John penned Revelation but died out completely before the Gospel reached their geographic location. What about South American civizations that collapsed during the European Middle Ages, or the original tribal inhabitants of Australia? (I admit that I’m fuzzy on all the history/anthropology, so if anyone has concrete facts, please do correct me.)

      And even though I believe that in today’s world all who are repentent will hear the Gospel, I think that God would hypothetically save someone who sought Him, even if for some reason that person never understood the Gospel.

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    • Well, Jonathan, I understand. Verses like 1 Peter 1:3 say as much:

      Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

      And certainly God being sovereign and omnipotent can save as He chooses. But the fact is, He revealed His plan and purpose in Scripture. I find the maybe He did it another way too reminiscent of Satan’s “Did God really say . . .” temptation of Eve. It seems to me to be a challenge to the veracity of what we DO know—that which God already told us (more than once) in Scripture.

      I don’t know how familiar you are with the story of Balaam, the prophet hired to curse Israel on their way to the Promised Land. God told him not to take the job, but when a second delegation came with the offer, God told him to go with the stipulation that he was only to say the words God gave him. Then, on the way, an angel came with a sword, as if to kill Balaam. He was only saved because his donkey stopped.

      Anyway, I bring this up because I’ve wondered and wondered why Balaam ended up going and why that angel was sent to kill him. Of course the story goes on about him blessing Israel but advising the Moabites how to undermine God’s people. But the point for this discussion is, I think Balaam’s problem was that he had God’s sure word—don’t go—but went back and asked again, essentially saying, Really? Did You really say and mean . . .

      That, I believe, is the place where Satan wants us—not trusting God but going back and saying, Really? Surely, You didn’t mean . . . How could that be possible?

      That stands in stark contrast to Abraham who believed God’s promise—that Isaac would be the beginning of a great nation—and He believed God’s command—that he was to sacrifice his son. He wasn’t running back to God saying, How can this be? He trusted that God was capable of working it out and that He would work it out.

      I think that’s the kind of faith God wants from all of us.

      Becky

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  3. Don’t misunderstand, I have no problem reading what you think, and like Johnathan, I generally agree, and maybe more than generally. Yet, if one combines the verses I mentioned above with 1 Corinthians 2:11, Deuteronomy 29:29, and Romans, Chapter One, then the mystery deepens. Personally, as I said – and it’s just me – I leave it alone. You are brave and courageous to take it on, and I would not say you shouldn’t.

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    • YIKES! Russ, this is precisely the kind of use of Scripture I decry. Your first verse, 1 Cor. 2:11 says, ” For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.” But the verse right before it says, “For to us God revealed them [the things which eye has not seen nor ear heard] through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.”

      Then the next verse says, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God.” The chapter ends by saying, “We have the mind of Christ.” So in reality, the passage says exactly the opposite of what you implied.

      Deut. 29:29 confirms this. What God hasn’t revealed is of course “secret,” but He did in fact reveal, through the Law He gave Moses, that which He wanted them to observe.

      And Romans 1? That’s all about God revealing. There’s no “mystery” here.

      God has from the beginning revealed Himself, not hidden His person or plans. He’s not a God who is far off and not near. He made Man in His image. If we had no other revelation, we would still be able to know a great deal about God. But in fact He walked and talked with humans, from Adam through Moses. Then when His people begged Moses to be the go between, He continued to reveal Himself and His plans by sending them prophets and, from time to time, His Holy Spirit. His final and most complete revelation, however, was His Son, the exact image of the Deity, come in the likeness of man, who, in turn, gave His Spirit to dwell within the heart of every believer.

      The point is, God wants to be known. To suggest otherwise is not true to Scripture, I don’t think.

      And I’ll repeat—that’s what’s at stake with this inclusivism issue. Will we trust the plain and clear instruction of God or not?

      Becky

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  4. I wish I were smart enough to understand what you mean by calling Scripture a meta-narrative, but I’m not. Could you explain?

    The inclusivist view has no place for this part of Jesus’s work.

    No place for Christ’s revealing work sounds like a high claim. God has revealed Himself specifically to many — to entire civilizations — through the spread of the Gospel and the course of human history. The question is the relationship that this external revelation must have in one individual life.

    I think it’s pretty clear that not everyone receives the same grace — not even every believer, even though God’s grace is spread through all the world. For instance, I’ve known Christians who firmly believe in miracles and in the charismatic signs of the Holy Spirit’s work. I try not to dispute their claims. I think many such experiences may be invalid, but I’m willing to believe that God may sometimes reveal himself by explicit supernatural occurances to a few believers, even though that has never been my experience.

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    • Ha, bainespal, with “meta-narrative” I’m using a term I’ve heard before, which doesn’t mean you aren’t smart for not being familiar with it. If I’d been smart, I would have explained more clearly instead of using inaccessible jargon.

      The idea, as I understand it, of the Bible being a meta-narrative is that there is a larger story overarching the smaller, particular stories.

      So the story of David killing Goliath, running from Saul, eventually becoming king, is a life story unto itself, but it is also a piece of the greater story in which God promised the Messiah coming from the seed of David, to take his throne and rule forever.

      Your next question is about this statement, I assume: “The inclusivist view has no place for this part of Jesus’s work.” If people can come to God without knowing Jesus, then how is He the One who reveals the Father? He might be a revealer, but the way the Bible describes Him as the Only Begotten in the bosom of the Father who explains Him isn’t the role Christ would have if inclusivism is true. Clearly other things, in that view, could explain God.

      I’ve asked before, in these ongoing discussions, why Christ even had to come if people could find God apart from Christ. The answer was that He did provide forgiveness for the remission of sins by His shed blood. So, yes, inclusivism retains Christ’s role as Redeemer, but not as Mediator.

      I agree that God hasn’t given to each of us the exact same grace. Jesus made this clear in His parable about the talents. I just don’t see that as negating the clear teaching of Scripture that we come to God on the bases of faith in Christ. I don’t see it as negating the promises that God will draw near to those who draw near to Him.

      The real issue, I believe, is that we see God as too small to overcome the obstacles we perceive. Geographic distance–how can God possibly get the message to people far, far away? Or how can there be believers from a now defunct tribe, when we haven’t heard of any? Is God not capable of raising a witness for Himself from the very stones? I think we need to trust Him. He wouldn’t promise and not come through.

      Becky

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  5. You’re right, verses should be used in context to those that surround them. Sloppy of me. A bad attempt to address your statement, “God will do what He has planned and purposed irrespective of our views.” I think your statement sums it up. But there is certainly nothing wrong with trading perspectives.

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