Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 4: The Priestly Work of Christ


Other Posts in this Series:

In the last post, we considered how Calvinism comes to bear on the “person” of Christ with respect to His human will. Here we examine the Bible's teaching about Christ's redemptive “work” in relationship to Calvinism. Calvinism is a vital theological matrix for all three offices of Christ's work: prophet, priest, and king.

Prophet. Calvinism gives shape to Christ's prophetic office in showing how the Holy Spirit moved upon Christ's human nature to “forthtell” and “foretell” God's inerrant truth perfectly, yet without destroying His freedom or personality. Christ's accurate foretelling of the future was only possible because God would sovereignly render certain (by meticulous providence) the future Christ foretold. This is Calvinism's doctrine of compatibilistic freedom (divine determination of human choices is "compatible" with human freedom and responsibility).

King. Calvinism also provides the theological framework for Christ's kingly office as He rules and defends His people, powerfully invades their hearts, effectively subdues their sinful natures, and successfully protects them from the sinful world and Satan's schemes. He does not leave these kingly acts to the whims of human autonomy, but accomplishes them by His own sovereign power.

The Priestly Work of Christ.
In the remainder of this post, we will explore how Calvinism matters with respect to Christ's priestly work in terms of its certainty, Christ's sacrifice, and His prayers.

Calvinism matters with respect to the certainty of Christ's death. The Bible teaches that God eternally decreed that His only Son, Jesus, would be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise again. In Luke 24:6-7, two men in dazzling apparel said to the disciples, “Remember how He told you while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” The words “must be” indicate that God's eternal decree rendered Christ's death necessary and certain.

Luke 24:26 confirms: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” Christ's death was “necessary” for the redemption of sinners, so much so that God did not leave it to the “actual free wills” of men to “choose between two options,” such that they might have chosen not to crucify Him. Rather, God's decree rendered it certain that in His effective providence, sinful men would crucify the Lord Jesus.

God's decree of the sinful murder of Jesus is no mere theological speculation. Luke tells us in Acts 4:27-28, “For truly in this city [of Jerusalem] there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.” God “anointed” Christ's murderers to accomplish His purpose. Here the Bible tells us plainly that God “predestined” the killing of Jesus.

Yet though God predestined Christ's crucifixion, those who murdered Him were held responsible for their sin. Acts 2:23 says, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Those who crucified Him were “lawless,” and their “lawless” act was determined “according to the definite plan” of God. This again is Calvinism's doctrine of “compatibilistic freedom.”

Therefore, Calvinism matters because it is the only way to explain how Christ was necessarily and certainly crucified and how those who murdered Him were guilty for their sin.

Calvinism matters with respect to Christ's substitutionary sacrifice. Only Calvinism can consistently uphold penal substitutionary atonement. Calvinism teaches that Christ actually paid for our sins on the cross in history. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree.”

Christ's death was not a potential payment but an actual one. Jesus did not die for no one in particular and for everyone in general, but He died particularly for all of the sins of His chosen people. Jesus said, “I lay down My life for the sheep” (Jn 10:15) and Matthew 1:21 says, “He will save his people from their sins.” Paul wrote, “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). Christ's death, therefore, was a “particular redemption” rather than a “general redemption” because He actually redeemed a particular (elect) people from their sins.

Since Christ actually paid for the sins of a particular people, God's own justice requires His people to be forgiven and saved. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 confirms, “14. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all; therefore, all have died; 15. and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who for their sake died and was saved.” Verse 15 says Christ “died for all.” Verse 14 shows that the word “all” is qualified by the pronoun “us.” Christ did not die for all men without exception; rather, He died for “all” of “us.” Notice too the effect of Christ's death. Verse 14 says, “one has died for all [of us]; therefore, all [of us] have died.” The logic of the text is clear. Christ died for all of us; therefore, all of us will be saved. Because He died for us, we die to our sins. Christ's death for us ensures our complete salvation.

Thus, Calvinism matters because it preserves the Bible's doctrine of an actual penal substitutionary atonement by which Christ pays the total penalty for the sins of His people.  If anyone for whom Christ died were to die and go to hell to pay for his sins, there would be a "double payment," and God would be unjust.  Therefore, everyone for whom Christ died must go to heaven.

Calvinism matters with respect to Christ's priestly prayers. After His death, Christ rose again from the grave because His perfect righteousness merited His resurrection to eternal life as well as the resurrection of all who are saved in Him. He then ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of God the Father, praying for His people. So, Christ not only died for the elect, but He also prays for their salvation on the basis of His perfect life and death.

In His high priestly prayer, Christ prayed, “I have manifested Your Name to the people whom You gave Me out of the world. Yours they were, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your Word” (Jn 17:6), and “I am not praying for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours” (Jn 17:9).

Hebrews says that Christ was “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb 9:28) and that “He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25). Christ prays in heaven for the elect on earth that they will be saved and kept by God's mighty power. And the Father answers all of Christ's priestly prayers in the affirmative.

Calvinism matters because it preserves the efficacy of Christ's prayers on the basis of His actual atonement for the sins of the elect.   

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