Well come Sunday we are going to be talking about one area of theology that has had the most discussion. It’s called Soteriology – the study of salvation. And specifically we are going to be examining what is called “Atonement Theories”. These are explanations for how Jesus’ death and resurrection actually saves us. If the question is “how are we saved” ~ atonement theories try to give us some answers.
Here’s the thing though that is interesting: there is no standard answer.
The early church in the creeds developed lots of theology around Jesus, the Trinity, and lots more. But there is no standard, all encompassing, or definitive statement. What all Christians believe is that it is through Jesus Christ that we are saved. How this actually works is where there is lots of discussion.
So we want to wade into this discussion and go over some of the different alternatives, viewpoints, and theories. The hope through this is that not only will we come to a better understanding of how Jesus saves us, but that we might continue to be saved and transformed by Jesus.
So before we get there why not give this some thought. How does Jesus’ death and resurrection actually save us? And come Sunday I’ll give you my best answer
I want to talk about the Holy Spirit, and theology in a moment. And to do that I want to use a quote from Michael Hardin.
Just a heads up though before reading further. This next quote is both true, and also challenging. And if it doesn’t challenge you, then read it again, pray, sit, and it soon will.
Here is what Michael Hardin says about the Holy Spirit, God, and theology:
If all the Holy Spirit does is to confirm your personal theology, it probably isn’t the Holy Spirit. The work of the Spirit is to conform each of us as persons and together as a people into the image of Jesus.
And this is just so true, and disturbing at the same point. It is obvious none of us are Jesus, none of us are Christ. We each have areas that need to be remade, transformed, or shaped into being Christlike.
And Hardin raises the point that if all the Holy Spirit does is comfort you, confirm your view of God, and counsel you, it probably isn’t the Holy Spirit. Because part of what the Holy Spirit does is to challenge you to conform to Christ. This means dying to parts of yourself, this means being convicted of sin and changed.
The point is that if the Holy Spirit isn’t doing any challenging or convicting, we’re probably just not listening enough…
On Sunday we began with a cartoon. And with me there is a chance that its either Calvin and Hobbes, or The Farside (which I spent more hours reading in high school than…well probably any other book).
And Gary Larson has this great cartoon that looks like this. And here was my question for Sunday – how do we know God isn’t like this? Why is this funny? Why do we laugh – knowing its not like God has a smite button? How do we know that?
Because for many years, many people had this view of God. That if you step out of line, smiting, cursing, or punishment is on its way. If you’re crops failed, its because of that sin. If you get sick, its punishment and God smiting you. So how do you know that God isn’t like this?
Well the quick and easy, and true answer is this, because Jesus isn’t.
Jesus perfectly reveals God. Jesus is entrance into understanding God. God is Jesusy. The Bible makes it clear in multiple places that God is Jesusy (Hebrews 1; John 1:18; and others). And here is why this matters because:
If you’re God doesn’t look like Jesus, you have the wrong picture of God.
And there isn’t any other way around this. Gary Larson’s wrong, God isn’t like that, because Jesus isn’t like that.
And yes this surely brings up tensions, there are difficult parts to reconcile then in the Bible. But the point is this: we cannot compromise on the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, no matter what else we do. We will need to use care in exegeting some of the Hebrew Bible in light of Jesus, but we cannot compromise the revelation of God in Jesus.
With this understanding that Jesus reveals God, we got to know Jesu a bit better. We began by looking at the divinity of Jesus.
The divinity of Jesus was actually something that was debated for a while in early Christianity. Yet there are some clear indications that Jesus is fully God, as we attest and believe, in Scripture. We looked at the sinlessness of Jesus, we looked at how he forgave sins (something only God can do), and how he accepts worship. But by far the biggest thing that testifies to his divinity, is how he was resurrected from the dead by God. God through resurrecting his son, validates all his claims about whom he is (Rom 1:14).
We then looked at the humanity of Jesus. Now this is something that was clear to the early Christians, but that we struggle more with today. We like to think of Jesus as Superman. That he dresses up in humanity, like Clark Kent, but pulls out his superpowers to do miracles and so on. But this isn’t the picture the gospels paint – Jesus was fully human and Jesus is fully human.
Michael Bird writes this, “The fact the that the Logos was able to take on human form suggest that divinity and humanity are not mutually exclusive modes of being…The incarnation is not simply God assuming human form, as if human flesh were a mask over his real nature. Rather, the incarnation is God as a human being and complexly sharing in human properties. The incarnation shows us what God intended humanity to be and what it finally will be” (Evangelical Systematic Theology)
So with that we came to our main point for Sunday. And it was this:
That Christ is the Key
Jesus is the key for everything. He is the key for understanding God. He is also the key for understanding humanity and what it means to be human. Jesus is the key to everything. If you want to know God, if you want to know yourself – look to Jesus. So that was our challenge for Sunday – go home and read the gospels. Because the more you get to know him the clearer God becomes, and how to live life becomes clearer too.
Big Idea: Christ is the key
The foundation of our faith is Jesus Christ, first and foremost.
Jesus perfectly reveals God.
The lens we interpret the Bible through is Jesus.
We can’t give up on the centre of our faith and compromise that Jesus reveals God
Reasons for Divinity of Christ: Miracles, Forgives Sin, Sinless, Accepts Worship, and Was Resurrected.
Jesus was and is human.
Incarnation when Jesus enters the world isn’t for a moment, but for eternity.
Christ is the Key
If you want to be certain about God, get close to Jesus.
Read the gospels
Our comfort does not lie in the fact that we have pure doctrine or pure revelation. Our comfort does not lie in intellectual or spiritual certainty. Our comfort does not lie in the belief that we have grasped Jesus. Our comfort and only hope is that He has grasped us, called us, named us and chosen us, all of us, and that He alone is our hope. Michael Hardin
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Have you ever thought of God as Jesusy? Is there anything in your picture of God, that isn’t “Jesusy”? How does having Jesus as the perfect revelation, give clarity to who God is? Which do you find easier to believe in: the humanity or divinity of Jesus? Why is that? Which of the gospels are you going to read?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Ask your kids what God is like. Ask them what other people think God is like. Then share with them the most important thing – what Jesus says God is like! Have them think about how Jesus reveals God. Ask them, what is Jesus like? And then tell them that’s what God is like.
On Sunday we are going to be continuing in our series looking at Theology 101. We are going to be discussing a key, or they key central tenet of Christianity: Jesus Christ. This is called Christology, and we’ll be exploring the humanity, divinity, and most of all the revelation of Jesus Christ.
The revelation of Jesus is so key to our current culture. Currently there are lots of views floating around our culture about what God is like: a grandfather, non-existent, passé, an angry vengeful warrior, someone intensely interested in personal morality, or lots of things. The God I’m interested is none of these. The God I’m interested in is the one that Christ reveals, that Christ shares, and the one that Jesus says looks like him.
And that’s what we are going to be looking at, but before we get there I have a question for you. As you think about God, and what he’s like, here’s my question – does he look like Jesus? And if he doesn’t maybe there are some changes to be made.
On Sunday we kicked off our series on Theology 101 by looking at the doctrine of God right off the bat. We talked about theology and that it is important because we are always doing theology all the time. When we look around the world and say, “Well God wouldn’t do that” – that’s theology. When we see someone in suffering and say “I’ll pray for you” that’s all theology too. Theology is intimately tied with our practice. Ou practice actually reveals our beliefs. So the point isn’t whether or not we are doing theology, but whether or not we are doing good theology.
So that’s the point of this series, to give us a good foundation to practice good theology. To practice theology that sets people free, demonstrates God’s love, and participates in the Kingdom.
And so we began by looking at first how do we get our theology?
The quick and easy answer is: the bible duh!
But it’s actually not that simple. Those people who just say all I need is the Bible, it’s enough for me! Well beside them being perhaps well-meaning that view is also naïve, incredibly arrogant, and actually just downright wrong. We all come to the Bible with preconceived notions, thoughts, and baggage. So when it comes to doing our theology, the source isn’t just our Scriptures but other things play into it as well.
There are traditionally four areas or sources for our theology. Firstly, is obviously the Bible, but there is also our experience, reason, and tradition. Experience plays a huge part in our thoughts about God. I used to think that God had a purpose in death, but after experiencing the death of my dad, I no longer think this. I think God has a purpose to abolish death, but not in death. Experience shapes us.
So too does reason. When we look at beliefs we look at how they actually logically work. Andy Bannister writes this, “The Bible tells Christians to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, not the removal of.” And that’s true.
And last but not least, we get our theology from tradition. Now this is a weak area for Evangelicals. We often think that our beliefs are what Christians have always believed. But this is not necessarily true. So it is good to know our history. Tony Lane writes, “There are two sorts of Christians. Not those who are influenced by tradition and those who are not, but those who are aware of the influence and those who are not.”
So with that introduction we launched into discussing the theology of God proper and asked this question: what is God at His core?
Lots of people have lots of different ideas or metaphors. Some people say judge, some people say creator, some people say king. But by far one of the most popular ones is that God is Holy. But I believe that God, at his core, isn’t those things, but is instead love.
To understand this we talked about the difference between God’s essence (what he always is and always has been) and God’s attributes (something God is in relation to something else). And God surely is a creator but this isn’t at his core, because there was a time when God wasn’t a creator (i.e. before he made the earth). The same holds true for God’s holiness. Holiness is always something in relation to something else. For someone to be holy, there has to be something that is unholy (a reference point). The same thing holds true for someone being tall (if you are the only person on earth – you aren’t tall because there is no reference point). The point is then that in the beginning when it was only God, God wasn’t “holy” per se because there was nothing unholy around. Holiness is to be set apart, but there was nothing for God to be set apart from.
So what is God at his core then? The answer is clear from the Bible – love. God is love is stated often. And the supreme self-revelation of God, Jesus dying and rising for us, is a revelation of self-sacrificial love. So God is love and always has been love. And that was our main point on Sunday. That God is love.
But this is actually a practically challenging thing too. Because if God at his core is love, then as Christians our core should also be love. We should be known and seen as people of love first and foremost. Because love isn’t’ about how you view yourself, but how others view you. So if no one thinks you’re loving, you probably aren’t. The point is that we need actions behind our beliefs and demonstrate love. That’s the challenge I gave this week, to choose one person to demonstrate love to. Because if God is self-giving love, we as his followers should also show self-giving love. Love is at the centre of God, and it needs to be at our centre too.
Big Idea: God at his core is love.
The truth is, we are all doing theology all the time.
The Bible was not written so that we would know about God, It was written so that we could become more like God
To follow God well, you have to know him well too
Theology literally means the study of God
Theology is not the study of the ideas about God; it is the study of the living God. Michael Bird
Theology is communal.
Theology is a communal study of the living God.
We get our theology from the Bible, Reason, Experience, and Tradition.
The Bible tells Christians to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, not the removal of. Andy Bannister
There are two sorts of Christians. Not those who are influenced by tradition and those who are not, but those who are aware of the influence and those who are not. Tony Lane
The Bible is our primary authority, but not our only authority.
Love is the fundamental divine attribute. Love is not merely one attribute of God among many. Rather, “God is love” is the foundational ontological statement we can declare concerning the divine essence. Stanley Grenz
God at his core is loving relationally.
Being loving isn’t how you see yourself but how others see you.
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Before today, what would have been your answer for what’s at God’s core? What shaped you to believe that? Who are you being called to love? How will you do it this week? Of the four areas (reason, experience, Scripture, tradition) which one do you feel most comfortable with? Which one don’t you feel comfortable with? What is one theology question you’ve always wanted answered?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Talk about how God is love at his core. Maybe have your kids draw a picture, paint a picture of God being love, and then decide on whom you can love as a family. Maybe a school friend, maybe a neighbor, maybe someone sick. Ask them, and then make something happen!
No expert can tell you how to best love your neighbour…Only the Spirit can guide you into faithful presence, which is the love of Christ. Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight Friesen
I think that this quote is just so – challenging and true. We know as Christians we are called to move out into our neighbourhoods, and love our neighbours. If we aren’t loving our neighbours well, we aren’t following Jesus well. That’s just true.
But the difficulty is in how to do this. We often at least in Christian circles, look to experts to tell us this. And if you don’t believe me, just look at how popular conferences and seminars on “How to Be Missional” are. They are everywhere (and I’ve led some…).
The point though is that no expert can adequately tell you how to love your neighbour. And to love our neighbours well, we don’t need more experts, we need a change in focus. We need to focus on Jesus and his Spirit.
It is only Jesus that can truly lead us into loving our neighbours well. It is only through listening to his Spirit that we can discern the right ways and the right times to show love in practical action. In all honesty what we probably need is less experts in our lives, and more dependence on Jesus. This isn’t a knock against practitioners, experts, and people who are inspiring us to live like Jesus. But that’s just the point, they can only inspire us to live like Jesus. It is only Jesus Christ himself who can direct us to live like him, who can transform us into his likeness.
So loving our neighbours is crucially important. And experts and practitioners are important too. But what is most important is learning to listen and follow Jesus and his Spirit well – because that’s the true first step in learning to love our neighbours well.
The other day I was reading through Ephesians, and one verse just jumped out at me.
It always seems weird to me how sometimes you’re reading the Bible and a verse just leaps off the page, and you wonder, “Has that always been there”. I don’t know how many times I’ve read Ephesians, but I can tell you that this for sure isn’t the first time. But here is the verse that just caught my attention:
“Instead, we will hold to the truth in love” Ephesians 4:15
And that verse just sounded so beautiful to me. Because isn’t that what we should be doing? Isn’t that what our world needs? For us as Christians to hold to the truth in love?
Because I don’t think we, as Christians, are so good at holding truth in love. We’ve got the hold the truth in self-righteousness down pat. We really know how to hold the truth in judgment over someone. We know how to hold truth in anger and aggressive verse quoting. But do we really know how to hold the truth in love?
I just think that this is something so worth striving for. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if when people talked about you or I they said, “They sure know what they believe, but they are so gracious with their beliefs” or “Even though we disagree, their love shines through.”
For me that verse just so clearly gave me a goal – for love to permeate all of my interactions. That I might hold the truth in love, share the truth in love, and live the truth in love.
I’m sure I must have read that verse before, but for today it just seemed brand-new, and needed more than ever.
Because God loves us, we don’t have to be afraid. Because God loves us, we are free to love others-even our enemies. And after all, once you take fear off the table, how many enemies do you really have? Brian Zahnd
So deep and so true.
Why not re-read it a few times and ask Jesus to help you take fear off the table.
Because being free of fear makes you free to love.
I think I might be raising a theologian, or maybe better put Hudson is teaching me to be a better theologian. Hudson shared this with me about his grandpa who died, but whom he desperately wants to see.
“Daddy you know Grandpa is coming back because he loved God, just like Jesus who loved God died and came back”.
Yep that about covers it, that’s Easter, resurrection, and good theology all wrapped up in one simple sentence. Sometimes the young are the smartest.