The intention of Christ’s incarnation

by Mike Ratliff

5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:5-10 NASB)

One of the first books I bought after I began studying theology was The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by 17th Century Puritan Dr. John Owen. The following is an excerpt from the introductory essay for this book:

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is a polemical work, designed to show, among other things, that the doctrine of universal redemption is unscriptural and destructive of the gospel. There are many, therefore, to whom it is not likely to be of interest. Those who see no need for doctrinal exactness and have no time for theological debates which show up divisions between so-called Evangelicals may regret its reappearance.”

As I reread Book 1, over the last couple of days, I was actually amazed at how edifying it is for the Christian to read of the propitiatory work of Christ on the Cross specifically for his or her behalf, that is, to purchase them specifically by His blood.

15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. (1 Timothy 1:15 NASB)

25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NASB)

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5 NASB)

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27 NASB)

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14 NASB)

As we read these passages it is easy to become confused if we are not careful and think that the writers of the New Testament were teaching the very thing John Owen was teaching against, universal redemption. However, that confusion comes from a light reading rather than a deep study. For example, here is Titus 2:11 from the NA28 Greek text:

11 Ἐπεφάνη γὰρ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ σωτήριος πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις (Titus 2:11 NA28)

11 Appeared for the grace of the God deliverance to all mankind (Titus 2:11 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

The grace spoken of here is not just the divine attribute of grace, but Jesus Christ Himself, grace incarnate, God’s supremely gracious gift to fallen mankind (John 1:14). The word the NASB translated as “men” and I as “mankind” is ἀνθρώποις or anthrōpos. This is referring to humanity in general, as a category, not to every individual. We acknowledge fully that our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross was sufficient to cover every sin of every one who believes  (John 3:16-18; 1 Timothy 2:5,6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2). Paul also told Titus in the very first verse of this epistle, “…for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness…” In other words, salvation becomes effective only through the faith of God’s elect. Out of all humanity, only those who believe will be saved (John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24, 38. 40; 6:40; 10:9; Romans 10:9-17).

The following is en excerpt from The Death of Death in the Death of Christ pp. 61-62

It was no more nor less than the curse of the law of God which he underwent for us: or he freed us from the curse “by being made a curse,” Gal. iii. 13; which contained all the punishment that was due to sin, either in the severity of God’s justice, or according to the exigence of that law which required obedience. That the execration of the law should be only temporal death, as the law was considered to be the instrument of the Jewish polity, and serving that economy or dispensation, is true; but that it should be no more, as it is the universal rule of obedience, and the bond of the covenant between God and man, is a foolish dream. Nay, but in dying for us Christ did not only aim at our good, but also directly died in our stead. The punishment due to our sin and the chastisement of our peace was upon him; which that it was the pains of hell, in their nature and being, in their weight and pressure, though not in tendence and continuance (it being impossible that he should be detained by death), who can deny and not be injurious to the justice of God, which will inevitably inflict those pains to eternity upon sinners? It is true, indeed, there is a relaxation of the law in respect of the persons suffering, God admitting of commutation; as in the old law, when in their sacrifices the life of the beast was accepted (in respect to the carnal part of the ordinances) for the life of the man. This is fully revealed, and we believe it; but for any change of the punishment, in respect of the nature of it, where is the least intimation of any alteration? We conclude, then, this second act of God, in laying the punishment on him for us, with that of the prophet, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all,” Isa. liii. 6: and add thereunto this observation, that it seems strange to me that Christ should undergo the pains of hell in their stead who lay in the pains of hell before he underwent those pains, and shall continue in them to eternity; for “their worm dieth not, neither is their fire quenched.” To which I may add this dilemma to our Universalists:— God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men, or all the sins of some men, or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: “If the Lord should mark iniquities, who should stand?” Ps. cxxx. 3. We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty,” Isa. ii. 20, 21. If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins. Let them choose which part they will.

How can I improve on Dr. Owen’s logic there my brethren since it is totally grounded in God’s Word as ours should be? My main motive for writing this tonight was that I am deeply concerned because the time grows short and the enemy seems to have his hirelings everywhere. Let us cling to the Cross of Christ and His truth, never letting go of either as we point all who will hear to the one and only way to eternal life in Him.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

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