Forgiven? How Do We Know?

My academic teaching and writing require me to consider all aspects of Christian teaching and theology. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the atonement, that is, the meaning of Christian confession that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). In the past year I’ve read thousands of pages looking for insight into this great theme. In the semester just completed my students and I spent five weeks reading and discussing N.T. Wright’s book The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. What events led the first believers to view Jesus’s death as a saving event? What do Paul and other New Testament writers mean when they say that Jesus died for us? How does his death deal with our sin? These questions and many more have been on my mind for months.

In a chapter for a book I am currently writing I briefly discuss seven theories of the atonement: (1) The Ransom Theory, which says that Jesus offered his soul to the devil in exchange for all human souls; (2) The Christus Victor Theory which says that by dying Jesus defeating the evil forces that hold us in the miserable condition of slavery, weakness, deception, corruption and death; (3) The Recapitulation Theory, which says that by living through all stages of human life, including death and resurrection, and getting it right Jesus undoes Adam’s wretched history and gives humanity a new start; (4) The Deification Theory, which argues that the Son of God by living a full human life, dying and rising, makes his divine life available to all who become united to him; (5) Satisfaction Theory in which Jesus’s death in our place pays the debt we incurred by offending God’s dignity and honor in our disobedience; (6) The Penal Substitution Theory in which Jesus voluntarily endures the just punishment merited by human violation of God’s eternal law; and (7) The Moral Influence Theory in which God’s love demonstrated on the cross provokes our repentance and evokes our love in return.

While meditating on this subject day and night for a year, something dawned on me. I asked myself this question: why do I believe I am forgiven? Why do I believe God loves me and extends me grace? Why do I believe I am free from the power of sin, death and the devil? Why do I believe God gives me a new beginning every day…that I do not need to carry a burden of guilt? What is the bottom line my assurance?

It’s not because I deserve it! If we could deserve it, we wouldn’t need forgiveness in the first place. Also—and here is the main point—it’s not because one or more of these seven theories of the atonement makes everything clear to me. In my view, each of them points toward a truth, but each is also troublingly obscure in some way. So, here is my bottom line: I believe that God’s loves me, that I am forgiven, and that God is my Father because Jesus said so. And I believe Jesus told the truth in all sincerity because he sealed his word with his blood. And I believe Jesus knew the truth of the matter because God raised him from the dead and placed his own seal on the new covenant.

Perhaps there are more reasons, more profound explanations of the atonement, more nuanced treatments of the justice and mercy of God…but this is my bottom line. When my best reasoning fails to bring peace to my heart, I cling to Jesus’s words: “Do not be afraid; you (Ron…and Susan and James) are worth more than many sparrows!” (Luke 12:7).

 

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11 thoughts on “Forgiven? How Do We Know?

  1. rich constant

    For me the Gospel has become (shorthand form) the loss of life with God, in the garden which was within his temple the Very Good Creation, and God over time (God) showing mankind’s his utter failure to love and do his good to his neighbor, so becoming so evil as to not accept his WORD made flesh. especially by his chosen people Israel (as psalms 2 comes into focus) Then the Father restores the Temple through the Messiah, The new creation, also giving Life to all that believe, making all that believe partakers of the new Life through the Spirit of life given to them allowing Them Grace because of His unfaltering Faithful Love for His Very Good Creation. in other words for me it is not about missing the mark of righteousness (SIN) as it is that I was “Dead” separated from God. SO it is That By the Fathers Love and the Sons Love for the Father and his Friends (Law of Love), that, all that believe Have life through the Spirit of Life that is given to the world by promise, to bring glory to the Father Because of the Son’s obedient faithfulness ( “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” 1 Cor. 15:3). The Servant phil. 2:1-11
    more Ron 🙂 Atonement to me, must center on Love, from the perspective of the Trinity. Don’t ya think?

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  2. ifaqtheology Post author

    Thanks, Rich! I read 3,000 pages of NT Wright last year. I think I finally understand the “faith (faithfulness) of Christ issue. “Now that school is out I am back at writing. rh

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    1. rich constant

      Ron:
      And the croud stood up and yelled, YEA!!!
      GOOD. NOW MOVINF FORWARD…
      ARE WE HAVING FUN YET????
      🙂

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      1. rich constant

        I came up with this question in 2006, now that you understand faithfulness this is seems to e a contradiction on the surface. It’s not though. Although this should be an easy one. Yes…
        Is Messiah righteous under law?
        If so,
        how is the Father righteous to curse his Son? Who is without Sin? Gal.3:10-13
        that takes into consideration this does not concern the word fulfillment and not to be confused with that. Jesus was born under the constrains of Tora law. and without Sin. gal 4.3-4
        Messiah was cursed and was in hades, Gal.3:10-13 acts 2:23-32
        took away the power of him that had control by overcoming death….How ?
        🙂
        blessings Ron

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  3. rich constant

    P.S. this question has more to do with God’s(the Trinity’s) Loving Skeem of redempshion, (and forces an anser of a loving A God (Trinity)for His family Eph 1:1-10 than a Penal Substitution Theory.
    this is where I’m at today’ one of the reasons i needed to speak with brother wright So bad. even if the cost was what I got…missed you last week. oh well deep subject for a shallow mind…

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  4. rich constant

    Messiah was cursed and was in hades, Gal.3:10-13 acts 2:23-32
    took away the power of him that had control by overcoming death….How ?

    Understanding the words life and death.
    Jesus DIED for our Sins.
    Most of us understand these words from a platonic (Greek) world view .
    “In the Hebraic worldview, human beings are a psycho-somatic unity. There is no dichotomy between the spiritual and nonspiritual. God is the Creator of all and the giver of life. Life is given as a gift (souls). There is no “soul” without a body and not body without the nephesh. When the body and nephesh are not together there is “death.”
    In Hebrew the word most often rendered “soul” in our English Bible is the nephesh and in Greek it is psyche. The word psyche occurs in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible over 900x (including the Apocrypha). New Testament writers get the word from the Septuagint.
    Most of the time psyche is a rendering of nephesh. If one opens up a standard Hebrew dictionary such as The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed William VanGemeren to the article on “Nephesh” we read “Care should be taken not to import a Greek paradigm of psychology to nepes” (vol 3, p. 133). We should heed this warning because to ignore it changes what the Bible says and means.
    In Matthew 20.28 we read these interesting words “Just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his SOUL/LIFE/psyche as a ransom for many.” Clearly the doctrine of Plato needs to be shunned in understanding what the very Jewish Jesus was saying here. It was no invisible Jesus on the Cross.”
    “Immortality, in the sacred writings, is never applied to the spirit of man. It is not the doctrine of Plato which the resurrection of Jesus proposes. It is the IMMORTALITY OF THE BODY of which his resurrection is a proof and pledge” (Millennial Harbinger – Extra, [August 5, 1833], 359).
    Campbell understood something many of his heirs do not, the NT writers were not Greek philosophers but Jewish folk nourished on the doctrine of Moses not Plato. So Campbell can say that though the language of the NT is Greek “it has the soul of Hebrew”

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  5. rich constant

    Now then after dealing with Death ad how the people understood that,i will go onward into Rom.1:16 & 17 Adam and the New Adam.

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  6. rich constant

    Hey Ron thanks a lot for sending me the excerpt from your book.
    Super good.
    Although 😂
    I I also think that n t Wright is a little over weighted to the effect of Passover.
    Although in 21 through 27 of Romans, I really think that the faithfulness of Christ should be retained, only because the spirit is supposed to give glory to God through his work in the Messiah.
    Faith in Jesus, seems to bring about a justification
    Process through and objective process. By bringing myself and my faith in Jesus which indeed these verses I don’t think belong.
    There are seven other specific places where Paul uses this phrase and always in conjunction with the law and his situation in the law. One of them being Galatians 2 16 through 21. And there’s another one that’s in Ephesians I think it’s around to 3 if you needed I can I can get it for you and then there’s another one in Philippians.0
    32tn Or “faith in him.” A decision is difficult here. Though traditionally translated “faith in Jesus Christ,” an increasing number of NT scholars are arguing that πίστις Χριστοῦ (pisti” Cristou) and similar phrases in Paul (here and in Rom 3:22, 26; Gal 2:16, 20; 3:22; Phil 3:9) involve a subjective genitive and mean “Christ’s faith” or “Christ’s faithfulness”
    And there’s one more but I can’t remember it’s been years show that as far as I’m concerned dish becomes a signature of Paul’s writing and his revelation of the Gospel.
    Also in Roman 325b which I’m not real sure of but I’ll in real heavily on and for a long time now that. Passed over The Shins. A 4 time that he might be righteous something like that then in 327 I look at that in comparison with the rest of what’s going on in the third chapter of Romans as not so much the faithfulness of Christ for those who have the faithfulness of Christ but a translation of those who are of the” faith of Jesus.”
    Which brings me does sick 325A and I’m going to have to go along with what NT Wright says about that ask Christ being The Mercy Seat.
    And I’ve got reasons for that and I’m not going to go into it here but I’ll put something together for you later.
    For the most part through Jesus entering into the realm of the dead or God’s Garden Paradise before the resurrection it was still separate from God.
    Quite simple got to deal with that.
    Another big one here is no one seems to go back to the garden and deal with the evil that went on in the garden.
    And this has to do with the cleansing of the new Temple or what we would call the do the new dimensional world where there will be no evil.
    That would be crushing Satan’s head.
    Who at this point in time I think was crying perform a coup and take over the creation and live forever. Because because there could be no righteous judgement.
    From his point of view which goes along with the second chapter of 1st Corinthians that anybody messes with God’s Temple he deserves death.
    What was hidden throughout all of the ages and before the foundation of the world was the plan of the Messiah.
    But anyway that’s just the start of my issues.
    Hope to sort of kind of makes sense.
    You know you’re supposed to always ask questions and I got a couple I think I got some answers to.
    Love you bro thanks for the email.
    I like doing this a lot better because that way nobody gets to read it but you and I don’t have to be really really embarrassed about my ignorance blessings
    32tn Or “faith in him.” A decision is difficult here. Though traditionally translated “faith in Jesus Christ,” an increasing number of NT scholars are arguing that πίστις Χριστοῦ (pisti” Cristou) and similar phrases in Paul
    (here and in{ Rom 3:22, 26; Gal 2:16, 20; 3:22; Phil 3:9) involve a subjective genitive and mean “Christ’s faith” or “Christ’s faithfulness”}

    Nt wright doesn’t deal with this interesting parallel
    Gal.4:4
    4:5 to redeem those who were under the law,
    Compaired to Rom.4:4
    So we have gal 2:16- 4:4 dealing with faithfulness/AND lAW
    ALL ROM
    3:1-4 &19—31 DEALING MOSTLY WITH Faithfulness and the Law
    Concerning the father’s righteous judgement in the bringing about his GRACE and Promisies also in dealing with the Prowers and principalities( EVIL) in overcoming Death through the scriptures.
    4:4 But when the appropriate time7 had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 4:5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights.8
    Rom.3:19-20
    3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under22 the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 3:20 For no one is declared righteous before him23 by the works of the law,24 for through the law comes25 the knowledge of sin.
    4:4 But when the appropriate time7 had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 4:5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights.8
    Rom.3:19-20
    3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under22 the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 3:20 For no one is declared righteous before him23 by the works of the law,24 for through the law comes25 the knowledge of sin.

    3:25 God publicly displayed30 him31 at his death32 as the mercy seat33 accessible through faith.34 This was to demonstrate35 his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed.36 3:26 This was37 also to demonstrate38 his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just39 and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.40
    3:27 Where, then, is boasting?41 It is excluded! By what principle?42 Of works? No, but by the principle of faith! 3:28 For we consider that a person43 is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law.44 3:29 Or is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles too? Yes, of the Gentiles too! 3:30 Since God is one,45 he will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 3:31 Do we then nullify46 the law through faith? Absolutely not! Instead47 we uphold the law.

    I particularly like this rendering…inplace of abolished 3:31 “NULIFED”

    “NULIFED”
    To render inoperative
    Nt wright doesn’t deal with this interesting parallel
    Gal.4:4
    4:5 to redeem those who were under the law,
    Compaired to Rom.4:4
    So we have gal 2:16- 4:4 dealing with faithfulness/AND lAW
    ALL ROM
    3:1-4 &19—31 DEALING MOSTLY WITH Faithfulness and the Law
    Concerning the father’s righteous judgement in the bringing about his GRACE and Promisies also in dealing with the Prowers and principalities( EVIL) in overcoming Death through the scriptures.
    That’s enough from me ANYWAY A START

    (cf., e.g., G. Howard, “The ‘Faith of Christ’,” ExpTim 85 [1974]: 212-15; R. B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ [SBLDS]; Morna D. Hooker, “Πίστις Χριστοῦ,” NTS 35 [1989]: 321-42). Noteworthy among the arguments for the subjective genitive view is that when πίστις takes a personal genitive it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Matt 9:2, 22, 29; Mark 2:5; 5:34; 10:52; Luke 5:20; 7:50; 8:25, 48; 17:19; 18:42; 22:32; Rom 1:8; 12; 3:3; 4:5, 12, 16; 1 Cor 2:5; 15:14, 17; 2 Cor 10:15; Phil 2:17; Col 1:4; 2:5; 1 Thess 1:8; 3:2, 5, 10; 2 Thess 1:3; Titus 1:1; Phlm 6; 1 Pet 1:9, 21; 2 Pet 1:5). On the other hand, the objective genitive view has its adherents: A. Hultgren, “The Pistis Christou Formulations in Paul,” NovT 22 (1980): 248-63; J. D. G. Dunn, “Once More, ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ,” SBL Seminar Papers, 1991, 730-44. Most commentaries on Romans and Galatians usually side with the objective view.
    sn Because of Christ’s faithfulness. Though Paul elsewhere teaches justification by faith, this presupposes that the object of our faith is reliable and worthy of such faith.

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  7. rich constant

    How does an apocalyptic reading of Paul differ from Wright’s?
    A friend asked this question online, so I gave it a stab in the comments.
    For me, at the level of methodology, apocalyptic readings do at least four things which are less obvious (though not absent) in Wright. It is late here, so in the morning I may remember that I have left out one or two important points, but indulge me. And of course, I am aware that “apocalyptic” does not designate a unified “school”. It has also developed considerably over the years. So I here think primarily of Martyn, de Boer, Gaventa, Campbell and such like.
    1) In apocalyptic readings there is a greater focus on the contingent historical particularity of Pauline communities, and related to this, discussion of the character and theology of Paul’s opponents.
    2) They work with a more inductive, letter focused reading of Paul, before they play with wider narratives. Though they certainly do not necessarily discount those narratives, be they Jewish or imperial “backstories”. These matters are, however, read in light of the network of themes and language within Paul’s letters. This is of course related to the next point.
    3) An apocalyptic reading endorses a retrospective epistemology. For example, it makes sure that the “problem” addressed by Paul is disclosed by the “solution”, even if its explanation is not exhausted in those terms. Wright sometimes comes close to endorsing apocalyptic concerns in theory, but at least in practice things work differently, and “backstory” themes here dominate his reading of Paul.
    4) An apocalyptic reading is likewise subject-matter or ontology orientated. For example, it will claim that historical-critical work isnecessary (see point 1), but it is not sufficient. Divine ontology (understood in Trinitarian categories) impinges on the purpose, nature and method of reading Paul. In this way, they are deeply historical in their methods, yet at the same time they resisthistoricist tendencies. “Revelation is not a predicate of history, but history is a predicate of revelation” (Karl Barth), and this means reading Paul also involves attending to a lively Word of personal address.
    To be clear, Wright also works with a trinitarian theological vision, he speaks of Paul “reimagining” and “rethinking” this or that Jewish “backstory” in light of Christ, he details, in hundreds of pages, historically orientated contextual issues, and he exegetes wide swathes of Paul’s letters. I am aware of all this. Nevertheless, this all tends to play into Wright’s main focus, namely wider narrative concerns that are of hermeneutical import.
    So, largely irrespective of contingent particularities (1 above), the network of overlapping themes in Paul (2 above), and the implicit ontological claims a reading generates (4 above), Wright will exegete Gal 3:1-5 in terms of a purported “Exodus narrative”, and linguistic links at this level will be elevated in his exegesis (and this is where 3 above plays a role).
    Naturally, there are other key disagreements concerning specific themes in Paul, though not as many as some might think. Of particular importance in scholarly discussion is the different way both evil and justification language are presented by Wright, on the one hand, and apocalyptic readings on the other.

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    1. rich constant

      a further view of N.T. wright’s view of Eschatology and the apocalyptic methods….and why we are so Not Right
      http://ntwrightpage.com/2019/04/09/hope-deferred-against-the-dogma-of-delay/
      Hope Deferred? Against the Dogma of Delay
      The idea of “the delay of the Parousia” has been a powerful yet problematic notion in biblical study and systematic theology over the last century. Powerful: it is central to the theses of Albert Schweitzer and Rudolf Bultmann, and through their influence it has continued to exercise constraint, not to say control, on many readings of the New Testament and many related theological projects. Problematic: some scholars attuned to the Jewish world of the Second Temple period have repeatedly argued that the notion as popularly conceived is based on a serious misreading of the relevant texts.
      more and a conclusion of this checker board of atonement stuff
      blessings RON

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