36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
– Acts 2:36-38 NKJV
The Promise of New Life
Over the last few posts we have been looking at the three aspects of conversion: repentance, faith and baptism. Peter, in his evangelistic sermon in Acts chapter 2, tells people what they must do to be reconciled to God, and He also tells them what God promises to do if they will meet those conditions. He makes it clear that God will do two things for those that are converted; He will forgive their sins and fill them with His Holy Spirit.
These two divine actions sum up what it means to be born again. Conversion is the role God requires men play in salvation. Through repentance, faith and baptism they respond to the Gospel message and the convicting grace of the Holy Spirit. But regeneration (i.e. rebirth) is what God does for and in the soul of the genuine convert. They are first given the right to become children of God and adopted into God’s family. Then they receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and are given a new and circumcised heart on which God writes His law. They are reborn relationally as God’s children and then internally renewed by the Holy Spirit.
These two aspects are intimately related and often blended together in various passages of the Bible. But they are nonetheless distinct and are treated distinctly in other biblical passages. The first makes the second possible, and the second is the goal of the first.
A Claryifying Note
Salvation, regeneration and redemption are three overarching terms used in Scripture to describe what God has done for men who have been alienated from God, corrupted in sin and handed over to death. These terms are applied throughout the Bible to various aspects of God’s work on behalf of His creatures. In the next several posts we are only going to look at the first two aspects of His work; namely, relational adoption and spiritual renewal. But at the risk of muddying the waters, I would like to note here that God has also promised to resurrect our bodies (along with all of creation) and give us eternal life in His kingdom. The physical and eternal aspects of God’s work are also included under the terms salvation, redemption and regeneration. But for now, we will focus on His work for and in His people which take place before the culmination of His work at the second coming of Christ.
the Forgiveness of Sins
Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.
– Romans 4:8 NKJV
Acts 2:38 Peter assures those who are converted to Christ that God will forgive them of their sins. This is not something that is done in the heart of the believer, but takes place in God’s heart towards the believer. That is to say God no longer counts men’s sins against them; He forgives the sins they have committed.
21 The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will exalt the law and make it honorable.
– Isaiah 42:21 NKJV
2 I will worship toward Your holy temple, And praise Your name For Your lovingkindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.
– Psalm 138:2 NKJV
A Divine Dilemma
But How can a God Who is holy and righteous just forget about transgressions against His law and character. It seems that simply passing over sins without any kind of penalty would put God’s kingdom on shaky ground. God warned Adam that the penalty for sin was death. Can God go back on His word so easily? And if God does not honor the authority of His law by enforcing the penalty, will any of His creatures take His law seriously?
11 Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’
– Ezekiel 33:11 NKJV
On the other hand, If God allows men to perish, then what are we to make of His mercy? And more importantly, how can the God who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked accept the fact that all of His creatures will perish? This is the divine dilemma. But of course, there is no true dilemma for God. He is the all wise Creator that knows the end from the beginning. He knew men would go astray before He created them. And He also knew what He would do to reconcile many to Himself, while allowing those who refuse His offer of salvation to justly perish.
A Dilemma Divinely Resolved
14 “For we will surely die and become like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away a life; but He devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him.
– 2 Samuel 14:14 NKJV
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
– Romans 3:23-26 NKJV
God’s Son became a man so that He could taste death for all men. He died on the cross as a public display of God’s righteousness. The Man Christ Jesus died. But since He was innocent, He was risen from the dead. Death has lost its sting; Jesus defeated death.
Now all those that identify with Him in His death share in His death. In God’s eyes they have died. We owed a debt to God’s word, “The soul that sins shall die” (Ez. 18:20). Our debt to God’s word has been satisfied in Jesus Christ’s death. God’s word is fulfilled and God’s law is honored.
But the death of Jesus Christ does not end in death, but leads to life! He has risen from the dead and defeated the power of death. When we trust in Him and identify with Him in baptism we not only share in His death, but we also share in His victory over death, we are risen to new life now and have the hope of eternal life at the return of Christ if we remain in Him.
14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face.
– Psalm 89:14 NKJV
10 Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed.
– Psalm 85:10 NKJV
Instead of punishing every person for their sins, God sent Jesus Christ to be a perfect sacrifice. All creatures in heaven and on earth will never be able to accuse God of not fulfilling His word or of belittling His law. For all eternity we will look at the price God paid by handing over His Son to lawless men and vicious demons to be brutally murdered on a cross between heaven and earth. This public display of justice magnifies God’s law and honors God’s word. And at the same time, it is the greatest display of grace and mercy that creation will ever know. Redeemed men and godly angels will for all eternity glorify God for His display of justice and grace in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ died so that God could forgive our sin and no longer hold them against us. His death makes it possible for this to be done without any harm to God’s justice, His law or His word. The justice of God’s throne is established in the cross of Christ. And at the cross righteousness and peace have kissed.
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
– Romans 4:23-25 NKJV
In the first aspect of salvation God does not merely forgive our past sins, though that is more than we could ever hope for. Forgiveness is in one sense a negative mercy. It simply cancels our debt. That is to say, it means that God is no longer offended by our past sins. It does not imply that God is now well pleased with us. But God does not only forgive our sins, but He also grants us a standing of righteousness. The cross of Christ made forgiveness possible, but the resurrection and exaltation of Christ gives us a sure standing of righteousness with God.
By the death of Christ we are forgiven, freed from the penalty that we owed, namely death. But what could make us well pleasing to God? How could God look on us as a people that He is compelled by delight to pour blessings upon. It is one thing that God is no longer obligated by justice to put us to death, but it is another thing that we would be those He delights in and seeks to bless with every spiritual blessing.
A Pleasing Sacrifice
20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.
– Genesis 8:20-21 NKJV
2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
– Ephesians 5:2 NKJV
29 “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.”
– John 8:29 NKJV
17 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”
– John 10:17-18 NKJV
When His Father called Him to lay His life down, Christ obeyed. God was well pleased with Christ because He always did what was pleasing to the Father (John 8:29). Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross delighted the Father. Not because He somehow takes delight in violence and death, but because He loved the obedience and devotion of His Son. At Jesus’ baptism God said He was well pleased with Christ. At His transfiguration God called Him His beloved Son. And on the cross we know that God delighted in the Son as well. We know this because God vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead!
Philippians chapter 2 tells us that the reason Jesus Christ was given the Name above all names is because He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross. God established Him as the Lord of heaven and earth. All authority has been placed in His hands. This is all because He is so well pleasing to God; because He always does what is pleasing to the Father. Jesus Christ is perfectly righteous before God Almighty.
Accepting the Sacrifice
27 “for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God.
– John 16:27 NKJV
23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.
– John 14:23 NKJV
So how does this affect us? When Jesus died in obedience to the Father He opened the door of forgiveness for us. The just Judge could forgive our trespasses because justice had been vindicated by Jesus’ sacrifice. This sacrifice was well pleasing to the Father. God was not pouring out His anger on Christ while He was on that cross. No, He was delighted in the obedience of His Son. This fact was made clear when God vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at the right hand of God, above all power and authority, and above every name that is named. The obedient Man, Jesus Christ, and His pleasing sacrifice is now sitting in the presence of God delighting God’s heart. God’s anger and wrath are removed from God’s heart by the delight He has in Jesus Christ.
When someone comes to Christ, and through faith identifies with Him in baptism, God is well pleased with that soul for Christ’s sake. They are not just forgiven because Jesus satisfied death and justice, but God delights in them. He counts them as righteous and well pleasing in His sight because of the Righteous One sitting in His presence on their behalf. He is their Advocate, their Intercessor. Because of their identification with the risen Christ, God counts them as righteous. Not just forgiven, but well pleasing to Him. They are seated with Christ in heavenly places, identified and abiding in Him. And it is there, with Christ, that all spiritual blessings are poured out on them for Christ’s sake.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, … 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,
– Ephesians 1:3, 5 NKJV
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
– John 1:12 NKJV
In Christ we have forgiveness according to Ephesians 1:7. This is one of the spiritual blessings we have through Jesus Christ. But what is even more, in Ephesians 1:4 we are told that in Him we have been made holy and without blame in His sight. What a delightful salvation indeed! More than we could ask or imagine! But, God is a God of amazing, even overwhelming, grace. So there is one other blessing we receive in the first aspect of salvation. Ephesians 1:5 says we have been made children of God through Jesus Christ!
God sent His Son to earth as a man. He went to death to demonstrate the justice and righteousness of God and make a way so that we could receive the forgiveness of sins. But since this death was a righteous and obedient death, God vindicated Jesus by raising Him from the dead and giving Him the Name that is above every other name. This Righteous One stands before the Ancient of Days making intercession for us. And because we abide in Christ, God counts us blameless and righteous for His sake. But, we must note clearly Who this Righteous One is. He is not a mere man who was obedient to God. No, He is God’s own dear Son! He is the eternal Word of God made flesh for us. And here is the point: He became what we are so that we could become God’s children!
The death of Christ makes forgiveness possible. The righteousness of Christ at God’s right hand makes justification possible. But the Sonship of Christ is what makes our adoption possible. Through faith in the Son of God we have been adopted into God’s family. We are no longer enemies. We are not even merely forgiven. And we are more than righteous. We are the children of God!
New Life Begun
When a person repents of their rebellion, places their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and submits to baptism, they are promised salvation. The first part of this new life is positional. God changes their status from dead in sin to alive in Christ. This relational shift includes three distinct but related spiritual blessings. First they are forgiven for their past transgressions through the blood of Christ. Second they are justified, made holy in God’s sight, through the intercession of the Righteous One. And to crown it all off, they are made part of God’s royal Family as His dearly loved children.