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  • Writer's pictureElijah Blalock

Statement of Faith: Christ, the Holy Spirit, Salvation, and the Church

This post is adapted from a paper I recently turned in for a class. The assignment was for me to clearly and concisely state what I believed about a set of topics. Given that it's a school assignment, I'll admit that it's not the most exciting writing ever, but I thought that sharing it might prompt some interesting discussions. I invite you to read it and leave a comment. Let's see what kind of conversation we can have.

I believe that Jesus is the eternal Son of God incarnate. According to the Definition of Chalcedon, he is perfectly human and perfectly divine. He has a full human nature, including a human mind, body, and soul with all of their properties except sin, and the full divine nature in his one person. In other words, he is of the same essence (homoousios) as both humans and God. These two natures are united in the one person of Christ but are not blended or mixed in any way. The Son does not lose any of His divine attributes in the incarnation; he simply gains a human nature. Likewise, the two natures do not mean two persons. When Christ acts, it is not sometimes the divine person acting and sometimes the human person acting. Natures do not act, but persons do, so whatever Christ does, he does as one person who has two natures. This does mean, however, that the person of Christ can do things proper to both natures, such as be tempted (Mat. 4:1-11), experience hunger (Matt. 21:18), and be grieved (John 11:5) because he is human, and also forgive sins (Mark 2:5), work miracles (Mark 4:35-41), and be worshipped (Matt. 28:17) because he is God. However, this is all the work of the one Logos made flesh (John 1:14). As a result, Jesus shows us most clearly what God is like and what humans are like.

The eternal Son became man because redemption could only be accomplished by one who was both God and man. In his own person, Jesus reunited God and humanity. He had to be a man to be the obedient man who recapitulates the human race (Rom. 5:12-21), the promised seed of the woman who crushes the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15), the Son of Man who is given an eternal kingdom (Dan. 7:13-14, Mat. 26:64), and to represent humanity before God (Heb. 4:14-15). However, it was necessary for the savior to be God because only God can forgive sins and grant eternal life. God’s justice demands that sin be punished, but his love demands mercy for his creatures. There can be no conflict in God, so God must satisfy both his justice and love at once. He does this by substituting himself as a man in the place of sinners. Christ suffers the wrath of God on the cross, so that sin is justly punished and sinners are mercifully pardoned. It is critical to remember that Christ is not the victim of someone else’s wrath, but that God the Son is willingly suffering under his own wrath to pardon the sinners he loves. Because he is God in the flesh, he sufficiently satisfied God’s wrath toward all sinners in a single sacrifice (Heb. 7:27). By raising him from the dead, God vindicates his righteous Son and secures eternal life for all who believe in him (Acts 2:32-38). As Christ was raised, so shall we be raised (Rom. 6:5, 1 Jn. 3:2). Christ’s work is ongoing as he intercedes for us at the Father’s right hand and will one day return to judge and renew the world. In sum, Christ serves three offices. He is our prophet who reveals God’s character and will, our priest who reconciles us to God, and our king who rules and defends us.

While redemption is accomplished at the cross and resurrection, it is not applied to individuals at that moment. Redemption is applied when people are united to Christ through faith. Christ’s death atones for the sins of all people (John 3:16, Rom. 5:18, 2 Cor. 5:14-20, 2 Tim. 2:5-6, 2 Pet. 2:1, 1 Jn. 2:2). John Owen famously argues that if Christ died for all of humanity’s sin, then God cannot justly punish anyone for unbelief since it was atoned for on the cross, meaning that we must either accept universalism or limited atonement. I think that the texts cited above clearly state otherwise. Further, Owen misses the distinction between redemption accomplished and applied. While redemption is accomplished for the elect at the cross, it is not applied until they are united to Christ by faith (Eph. 2:1-3; cf. Ex. 12:7,13). It seems to me that the text teaches that while atonement is accomplished for all, it is not applied to those who remain in unbelief.[1]

Even with Christ’s accomplished work, no sinner will turn to him in faith on their own (Rom. 3:11). They must be drawn to Christ by God (John 6:44). Before any human response, God gives the sinner prevenient grace to respond in faith. When sinners repent and believe in Christ by the grace given to them, redemption is applied to them, and they experience regeneration. They are adopted as God’s children and filled with the Holy Spirit. They are justified, meaning that they have been declared righteous by God, and sanctified, meaning that they have been made holy and allowed into God’s presence. While this is an act of God applied to the believer at conversion, believers still falter in sin and must strive to be what God has declared them to be with the help of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 7:14-25, Eph. 4:1, Gal. 5:16-26). Those who are truly in Christ will show evidence of their salvation in their good works and will persevere in their faith until the end.

God has elected a people and predestined them for salvation (Rom. 8:29-30, Eph. 1:3-6). However, the Scripture also states that God does not desire for any to perish, and yet people persist in unbelief (1 Tim. 2:3-4). If Christ died for all people and if God wants all people to be saved, it seems wisest to say that God’s prevenient grace is resistible so that the responsibility of unbelief rests solely on the sinner rather than on God. We should understand predestination to mean that God elects a corporate people (the church, in a way analogous to Israel) and that those whom he knows will put their faith in Christ are predestined to receive the benefits won for them by Christ. I am not saying that God is unable to do these things. Instead, I am suggesting that this is how God has chosen to work in his world according to his wisdom and pleasure.

The Holy Spirit is not a force of God but is personal, just as the Father and Son are divine persons. He is of the same essence as the Father and Son, sharing the same attributes, mind, and glory. He is distinguished from the Father and Son as the one who proceeds from the Father and Son. The New Testament affirms his personhood and divinity when they confess him alongside the Father and Son (2 Cor. 13:14, Eph. 4:4, Matt. 28:19). The Spirit’s primary work is to testify to the Son, which is apparent as he inspires scripture (2 Pet. 1:20-21), works miracles (Luke 4:14), and gives boldness to the church (Acts 4:31). The Spirit is the giver of life, and as such, it is the Spirit’s work to regenerate believers, giving them new life by bringing them into fellowship with God (John 3). As the Spirit indwells us, we share in the eternal life and love of the Father and Son (John 14).

The work of the Spirit continues today, but not in exactly the same way as we see in the New Testament. As Christ was first being preached, the truth of the gospel needed to be demonstrated with signs. The Spirit is still free to do such miracles, and I believe that he still does in some circumstances. However, I think we would be mistaken to assume that these events are normative. It is not apparent to me that this was normative for most Christians even in the apostolic era. Unlike the apostolic era, we have record of the apostles teaching and miracles in Scripture, diminishing our need for signs. The Spirit’s continues as he builds the church through ordinary means. All believers are filled with the Spirit and should bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). The Spirit also grants spiritual gifts to believers to build up the church through service (1 Cor. 12).

All who believe in Christ belong to the universal church but are also called to belong to local churches. Joining such a body was not optional (Heb. 10:24-25). The church is the new covenant community (1 Cor. 11:25). Believers have been brought into a new relationship with God through the redemption won by Christ, and must now live according to certain covenant obligations—namely, to love God and to love others (Mat. 22:36-40). Love is the distinguishing mark of God’s church (Jn. 13:35, 1 Jn. 4:20-21). As such, our churches should be united, even across ethnic lines. Throughout the New Testament, the apostles strove to keep Jewish and Gentile believers united in the church. We also should strive to maintain the unity of our churches across dividing lines, ethnic and otherwise.

If the universal church is made up of regenerate believers, membership in a local church should be a sign that the member belongs to the global church as a regenerate believer. Unregenerate people cannot belong to the true church and should not be granted church membership if their lack of faith is apparent. There will be unregenerate people who appear to be true believers that infiltrate the church, but it is difficult to imagine the New Testament church admitting known non-believers to membership. Rather, the church’s mission was to reach such people with the gospel so that they could be brought in (Mat. 28:19-20). Though the church will always be imperfect this side of eternity, bodies of regenerate believers not only speak the gospel but embody it in their community (Ja. 1:18).

Because the Spirit indwells all believers and makes them priests (1 Peter 2: 5), all believers should have a say in their church’s governance. While the apostles possessed a particular authority, the church continues to have an ongoing authority to admit and remove members (Mt. 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:1-5). The church also elected the first deacons (Acts 6:1-6), and is reasonable to assume that they did the same for the elders in the absence of the apostles. The terms elder, overseer, and pastor seem to be synonymous in the New Testament, and so the two offices of the church are elder and deacon. Elders are responsible for preaching and leadership, and deacons care for the material needs of the church. The elders’ authority is derivative, coming first and foremost from Christ, who is the head of the church, but also from the congregation who ordains them. If all believers are priests to whom Christ is present, then elders are accountable in some way to the believers in their church. All believers are bound to obey the Scriptures, and congregations should cheerfully submit to the leadership of their elders so long as they are obedient to the Scriptures (1 Pt. 5:1-5). Apart from the apostles, I do not see a body in the New Testament with authority over local churches, but even if there were, it is not clear to me what such a body could do to a disobedient local church besides exclude them from fellowship. For this reason, I hold to the autonomy of the local church. I think local bodies should cooperate together and should remove disobedient bodies from their association, but they do not have the authority to coerce anything from local churches.

The sacraments are baptism and the Lord’s Supper and are means of grace, by which God ministers to believers. They are visible signs that point us to Christ’s work, and seals that mark his people. Both are only efficacious when received with faith. Baptism is the first sacrament after conversion and is only given once. In baptism, the believer is identified with Christ’s death and resurrection. It is not merely a demonstration of their faith, but a sign by which God marks his people as belonging to Christ (1 Pt. 5:21, Rom. 6:1-11). As such, only those who have experienced the new birth should be baptized, and then only by immersion (baptizo means to immerse), which signifies the death and resurrection of Christ. In the Old Covenant, the signs of the covenant were given to children born in Israel. However, there is discontinuity here in the New Covenant as the church is not an ethnic group but a group of believers.

In the Lord’s Supper, God’s family gathers at God’s table. In it, Christ is present with his church, as the church shares in his body and blood (1 Cor. 10:16-22). It seems unnecessary to me to suggest that the bread and wine are literally Jesus’ body and blood. Metaphor is more likely. However, it does seem clear that in a mysterious way, the supper brings us into closer fellowship with Christ.

Christ will one day visibly return to judge the living and the dead. No one knows when he will return, but we are to live as though it could happen at any time. When Christ returns, all the dead will be raised—believers to eternal life, unbelievers to eternal death. I cannot currently take a stance on the millennium. It seems to me that the main point of Revelation is to encourage believers to persevere, knowing that Christ will one day grant them justice and salvation no matter how bad things may be in the present.

[1] I’ve borrowed most of this argumentation from David L. Allen, who has written and spoken on this topic in numerous places. This is a good summary:

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