You’re Included – Grace Leads to Godly Living
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The following program is a presentation of
Grace Communion International and Grace Communion Seminary and is made possible by generous
donations from viewers like you. On this episode of You’re Included, theologian, Dr. Alan J. Torrance, talks about the meaning of the Incarnation, and how grace leads us to godly living. Our host is Dr. J. Michael Feazell Professor Torrance, thank you for agreeing
to meet with us. It’s a pleasure to be here, Mike. Thanks
for coming. We would like to begin just asking about a
word that I’m sure my grandmother would not know what it means, but she knows what
it’s about. Could you talk about the Incarnation, and why it’s important for Christians.
The Incarnation concerns the very heart of Christian faith. If I didn’t believe the
Incarnation, I’d pack up my bags, resign my job, and go and do something useful. The
Incarnation basically affirms that God is with us as the person of Jesus Christ. It’s
absolutely fundamental to the knowledge of God. In the person of Christ we have God disclosing
God’s own very being to us. But it’s not just that in Christ God comes to us as God.
God comes to us as man, and taking to himself a human-knowing of the Father.
So when we affirm the Incarnation, we also immediately affirm the Trinity. Because the
knowledge that’s given to us in Christ is a human knowledge of the Father, and Jesus
knows the Father in the Spirit. We are taken by that same Spirit to share in Jesus’ knowledge
of the Father. But that’s not just a human knowledge of the Father, we’ve been taken
into the knowledge of a Father that belongs to the eternal Son, in and through the incarnate
Jesus. So without the Incarnation, we don’t have
anything that begins to resemble a full and final and adequate knowledge of God. But it’s
not just the knowledge of God that the Incarnation’s vitally important. The doctrine of salvation
is contingent, is dependent, upon the doctrine of the Incarnation.
Very quickly, what is the Christian doctrine of salvation? The key to understanding what
salvation’s about is the Greek words that Paul uses. Paul uses the word apolutrosis,
meaning redemption, and the key to that is three Hebrew concepts which that Greek word
translates in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.
The first is pada, meaning God delivers us from bondage. It’s a word that is used of
God’s deliverance in Israel from Egypt. So in salvation, God is delivering us from
bondage, the bondage of sin, the tyranny of sin, the disease that we cannot overcome in
and of ourselves. God does that in the Incarnation. God comes in Christ to deliver us from bondage.
That’s the first key metaphor. The second: God comes to us and deals with
the costliness of sin. There’s another Hebrew word, kipper or kofer, that is also translated
by a form of the word Paul uses for redemption, and that concerns the sacrificial offerings.
On the Day of Atonement, the priest would take a lamb, declare…and he would have [the
names of] all the tribes of Israel along his coat…he’d lay his hands on the lamb, declare
the sin of Israel—in other words, all of Israel’s sin is being laid on that lamb,
in effect. Then the life of the lamb would be taken and Israel would see the life of
that lamb, the costliness of its sin being taken from them. Or, a scapegoat. He’d lay
his hands on a goat and declare the sins of Israel, hit it on the backside, and all of
Israel in the celebration of worship would watch the goat run off into the wilderness
carrying away its sin. So, the second metaphor, in the Incarnation, God comes as human to
deal with the costliness of sin and carry our sin away from us.
The third metaphor is go’el, the kinsman redeemer. This is perhaps the most important
in some ways. There’s a provision under the covenant where if a family lost its father,
say, or a woman lost her husband, then a kinsman, a relative, would come and marry that woman
and restore that woman to an inheritance that she would otherwise lose. Or, if a farmer
falls into debt and loses his farm, the kinsman member…perhaps that man’s brother… of
that family would come and restore that person to the inheritance that was lost. Again, the
Incarnation concerns God coming as a human to restore us the inheritance that was lost
in Adam. All three metaphors are kind of intertwined.
So in the Incarnation, we have God coming to deliver us from sin and from guilt, most
importantly. People think of guilt as a good thing. Well, guilt oppresses. It can make
us ashamed of being in the presence of God. Guilt eclipses God. It can become a barrier
between us and God. In the Incarnation, God comes to deliver us from guilt, and he comes
as our kinsman redeemer, blood of our blood, flesh of our flesh, to restore us to an inheritance
that was lost. What was Adam’s inheritance? Communion with God.
All of this takes place in the Spirit. What we have is not just the doctrine of the Incarnation.
The doctrine of the Incarnation unfolds properly when we understand the doctrine of the Trinity.
Because everything Christ does is in the Spirit. Bringing humanity by the Spirit, through the
Spirit, into communion with the Father. To share in that eternal communion which is constitutive
of the being of God, which defines the being of God. God is eternally Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit. That communion of love is shared with the world in the person of Jesus Christ.
Sinful, alienated, diseased humanity is taken and re-created and given to participate in
that eternal communion of love. A lot of people think of God as kind of
individual voyeur God, who kind of sits in a rocking chair at some distance watching
the world and condemning all that goes on. A lot of liberal theology is exactly like
that. That’s why very often liberal theology is full of exhortations and condemnations,
you know, bullying us into social action of some kind or another. That is a pauper’s
understanding of God. The God of the heart of the Christian faith
is a God whose being is eternally one of love and communion. A self-contained individual
isn’t capable of love. Without doctrine of the Trinity, it wouldn’t make sense to
talk about the love of God. 1 John suggests God is love. That actually is required to
be understood in Trinitarian terms because there’s an eternal triune communion of loving.
So I mentioned knowledge of God. The Incarnation opens out knowledge of God by getting us to
share in Christ’s human knowing of the Father, which at the same time is the eternal Son’s
knowledge of the Father. No one knows the Father save the Son and those to whom…?…and
salvation. It’s also incredibly important for worship.
When you turn up on a Sunday morning…I’m sure you’re a lot more holy man than I am.
But sometimes on Sunday morning I turn up in church and I don’t feel in the mood to
worship. I feel that’s a terrible confession. I ought to, but for whatever reason, maybe
I’m worried about my work or worried about my family, I’ve got concerns and so on.
And you go into church and you’re going to try and find the energy to pray and to
sing hymns and to worship and so on. And very often, in charismatic churches, they poof
up the energy with lots of choruses and so on.
One of the great answers to this problem is to remember what worship is. Worship is the
gift of participating in the incarnate Son’s eternal communion with the Father. So before
we ever go into the church, the worship’s already going on. The Son is adoring the Father.
The Priest, the sole Priest of our confession, is providing that everlasting worship in our
place and on our behalf in the Spirit. And when we enter into the church… (well of
course it doesn’t just happen at church, it happens at home)…when we worship, we’re
not starting something that wasn’t previously going on. We’ve been taken by the Spirit
to share in what is going on and to participate in the prayer that the High Priest is offering
for me and for my family, concerning my work-related problems, et cetera. The praise and the rejoicing
that goes on in the mind of Christ I’ve been given to participate in by the Spirit.
The fact that it is in the Spirit would seem to indicate that we don’t see it. There’s
not evidence to us that it’s going on, except that the word of God says so. Is that where
faith comes in to believe the word of God that it’s true for us, regardless of the
fact that we may not see it or feel it? Precisely. Faith is a form of sight. It’s
a form of healing as well. Remember when Simon made that confession about the Christ? Jesus
said, “Flesh and blood hasn’t revealed that to you, but your Father who is in heaven.”
Faith is about being given the eyes to see and the ears to hear, to recognize what we
otherwise simply wouldn’t see. Sometimes I face struggles because sometimes we begin
to doubt when we trust our own physical hearing and seeing. The Spirit gives us the conviction,
the recognition of what’s going on. Two years ago my wife died of cancer, and
she was ill for three and a half years until she died. It was a very difficult time. I’ve
got four boys; it was a difficult time for the family. During that period, sometimes
it was difficult to understand and see purpose in all of this. We prayed for her to be healed,
and she wasn’t healed, so on and so forth. There were times when it was quite a challenge
not to give up and find oneself disoriented. But one of the…again, just a return to the
Incarnation, because this is so pertinent to faith. The heart of the Incarnation is
the doctrine that Christ knows our weaknesses, takes our questions, our doubts to himself,
(“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”) and identifies with us in our suffering.
By the Spirit we are united with that. We don’t float free of the cares of this world.
We are given to recognize the One who stands with us in the concerns of this world, who
knows our weaknesses, our doubting, our blindness, who in every respect is as tempted as we are
and knows our struggles. He knows even our sense of god-forsakenness at times, “My
God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” One of the most moving things that I’ve
experienced when Jane was dying in the final weeks of that awful period was the Spirit’s
giving one the sense that God’s solidarity with one, was present with us in and through
this grief, that God is Immanuel, God with us.
A lot of people ask the why questions. If you’re Christians, why is God not healing
Jane? Even if they didn’t ask it verbally, you tended to feel that people were thinking
that. But far more important than the why question is the where question. I don’t
know why God allowed Jane to die of cancer, but I do know the answer to the where question.
Where was God in and through that process? He was right with us in that grief, in sustaining
myself and my family and giving us the eyes to see and recognize his presence in and through
that misery. So when we’re talking about faith, we are
simultaneously talking about the Spirit. It’s so easy for us to make faith become a work.
Suddenly Alan Torrance does, like in a heroic way, he has faith. No, faith is about the
work of the Spirit, taking Alan Torrance in all his frailty, confusion, doubting, and
loneliness and suffering, and giving him the eyes to see and hear the grace of God in the
context of doubt and suffering and so on. So I think that’s the answer one ought to
give. Faith is a form of discernment. It’s through the hypostasis, the substance, in
Hebrews 11:1, of things hoped for. It’s where we see and discern that which is the
object of our hope. Is our faith a participation in Christ’s
own faith? That’s exactly what faith is. Faith is the
gift of sharing by the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father. In the incarnate
Son’s communion with the Father, his human communion with the Father, his faith. There’s
a big debate in New Testament circles which is incredibly important. Since Reformation
times, we’ve always tended to emphasis in the Protestant churches justification by faith,
as if Alan Torrance is justified by his faith, I don’t think that’s Paul’s argument.
There’s a grammatical issue. Paul says we are justified, and then the question is whether
he says by faith in Christ or by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. It depends whether the genitive
there is objective or subjective. There’s a very strong case, when Paul says it in two
or three places that we are made righteous or justified through the faith of Jesus Christ,
he means precisely that; we were made righteous through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ rather
than through our faith in Jesus Christ. So the point you just made couldn’t be more
important. Our righteousness, our justification does not lie first and foremost in our faith—it
lies in the faith and faithfulness of our incarnate Lord.
That would mean that when we’re experiencing doubt, which is not uncommon for us to be
full of doubt from time to time, we don’t need to fear that God has left us because
we don’t have good enough faith, because our trust really is in Christ himself to have
faith for us. You couldn’t put it better. I completely
agree with that. And that is gospel. That is good news. You see, it wouldn’t be good
news if God comes to me and says, “Alan, if you have faith, and if you somehow manage
to sustain that faith to the point you die, then you’ll go to heaven, you’ll be saved,
and so on and so forth.” Because I don’t have the confidence in my ability to sustain
that. But what the good news of the gospel is, is
that God comes and provides that faith, and that faithfulness, for us and on our behalf.
The parable of the prodigal son is one of my favorite parables. It’s often told as
a story of confession. The prodigal son comes home because he’s repented, and because
he’s repented, the father accepts him home. That’s just nonsense. That’s not the story.
He comes home for one reason and one reason only, and it couldn’t be more plain—because
of the quality of the pig food! He wants to use his father still further.
The whole point of the story is that the father, who is a wealthy dignified nobleman, ran—that
means he grabbed his robes up around his waist—humiliated himself in order to run and embrace his son—before
he had heard any statement. It’s a great parable of the love of the
father. But the gospel goes further. There’s a non-parallelism between this parable of
the prodigal son and the gospel. The whole time that the son was in the far county, the
father was at home. In the gospel, we have the Father going (in the person of the Son)
and setting up home in the far country to be with the son and to be where the son is.
And, just to continue the non-parallelism, in the person of the Son, God completes all
that was required of the prodigal. He offers the faith, the worship, the worth-ship…
all that is required is fulfilled in him, in the place of the son. So that by the Spirit,
the son might be given to recognize the meaning of grace; that all, as John Calvin put it,
all parts of our salvation are complete in Christ, the head of the human race. Wonderful
good news. Remarkable. Some people, upon hearing that and hearing
that explicated, get uncomfortable and say well, if that’s true, then that would just
give me the freedom to behave improperly. It would give me freedom to sin and not worry
because I know that God has forgiven me and loves me despite my sins, so there has to
be something wrong with that, because it would promote…especially among our teenagers…why
if they heard something like that, they would go out and sin all the more.
That’s invariably the response that one gets. Let’s just think about that for a
minute. Great question. Let’s think up an analogy.
I was blessed with a very devoted, faithful, loving wife. There’s one period in my life
when I was involved in theological conversations in Holland, in the Netherlands. I was quite
regularly going off to Amsterdam. Lots of non-theological things go on in Amsterdam,
and it’s sometimes known as sin city. (I used to pull Jane’s leg about this.) Let’s
just imagine that my wife had come to worry as to whether I was actually engaged in illegitimate
activities on my travels, wherever those travels were.
Two responses she might have given. She might have said, “Alan, I just want you to know
that if you even contemplate involving yourself in any illicit activities while you’re away
in your travels, I get the kids and I get the car and you’re going to pay for this
the rest of your days. She could have just spelled out the ramifications and implications,
the costliness of any sinning I got up to. Or she might have said this: As she waved
me goodbye from the front door of my house, “Alan, I just want you to know that if ever
you find yourself in trouble, no matter what comes your way, I’ll always be there for
you. You’ll always be welcome home. I’ll always love you, I’ll always be there for
you.” That sounds a little bit Mills and Boonish. [Mills & Boon publishes romance novels
in the U.K.] But ask yourself…which is most likely to
lead me to engage in un-theological activities on my trips to Amsterdam? There is absolutely
no question in my mind that I’d be much more likely to go my own way in the first
situation, because the first response basically said, well, there’s no real unconditional
love between us, it’s a contractual deal. If you play the game, then I’ll play my
part, etc. That’s not love. The second was genuine, unconditional, costly
love, and that is what converts us, and that’s what makes us faithful. I don’t think antinomianism
(the repudiation of law) is a consequence of discovering God’s grace, seeing the extent
of God’s grace for what it is. I think it’s exactly the opposite. When we are brought
by the Spirit, we are given the eyes to see the lengths to which God goes out of unconditional
love for you as a particular person, as an individual. When you see that and are given
to live in the light of that, you’re liberated from sin. It doesn’t encourage us to go
and sin, thinking it’s not going to matter. It has exactly the opposite effect.
That’s the difference between what’s called legal repentance and evangelical repentance.
When we’re presented with a law, I don’t think repentance is anything sincere. It’s
when we’re presented with the gospel, the euangelion, the unconditional love and forgiveness
of God, when we see that, believe it, given our eyes to recognize it and to affirm it,
that sets us free from sin. It actually liberates us from sin. It’s an evangelical metanoia.
A metanoia is the word for conversion. It just means the transformation of our minds.
When we’re presented with unconditional love, it transforms our minds.
So the church is often trying to prop up the gospel either by dangling people over the
pit or setting up conditions: if you commit this sin, you’re beyond the pale. No. We
should have the courage to trust in the grace of God and the work of the Spirit getting
people let in, liberating people by giving them eyes to see the meaning of the unconditional
freeness of grace. It reminds me of Paul’s letter to Titus
[2:12] where he says, “For it is grace that teaches you to say no to ungodliness.”
Precisely. I like that. Why did I take five minutes to say what you said in a sentence?
Exactly. It’s like when people ask that question,
it doesn’t work like that. Christians who receive the grace of God don’t think like
that. There’s no question at all: good, devout
Christians sin. I don’t mean to claim that I’m a good Christian, but I sin all the
time. Why do I sin? Why do I sin when I believe so strongly in the unconditional freeness?
I am absolutely convinced when I look at a moment that I’m sinning, it’s because
for that moment, I’ve lost my faith. I’m not actually believing in the grace of God.
When to believe in the grace of God is to believe that the risen, crucified Jesus, the
sole Priest of our confession, is before us now saying, “Alan, there is nothing you
can do that will separate you from my love,” and when I believe that, when I’m presented
with that and have the eyes to see that and hear it, I’m not tempted to sin. It’s
when I look away from that, that sin becomes a temptation. So the answer to sin, I think,
is for the church to continue to remind people of the unconditional, costly freeness of grace
in Jesus Christ. It’s when we’re living out of that reality that we’re liberated.
Not just liberated from sin but, more importantly, from the desire to sin.
So it’s fair to say that the gospel is not about rules and law-keeping. The gospel is
about the positive relationship that we’re brought into with God and with one another.
In other words, the gospel is a gospel of relationship, not behavior.
Precisely. And that’s not just the New Testament. That’s the heart of the Old Testament. Exodus
20, the Ten Commandments, the laws, where do they start? The first one, “I am the
Lord thy God who has brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”
When people talk of the Ten Commandments, they immediately want to start with the “thou
shalts” and the “thou shalt nots.” But it only makes sense in the context of that
first verse, which spells out the nature of God’s unconditional covenant commitment
to Israel. He loves Israel and has delivered them from bondage in that love.
It should read…I am the Lord thy God which has delivered you from Egypt…therefore,
as I am unconditionally faithful to you, Have no other God’s before me. And as I am unconditionally
faithful to all of Israel, so be faithful to each other. Don’t kill, don’t commit
adultery, don’t lie, don’t steal, etc. In other words, the Torah, the Jewish law,
the commandments, are simply spelling out the structure, the logic of a relationship
of love and faithfulness. The key concept in the first five books of the Bible, the
Pentateuch, is God’s hesed, God’s covenant faithfulness, or berith—that’s the word
for covenant. In other words, it’s about relationship. The whole of the Pentateuch
is a relational gospel. So when Jesus summed up the law, in love God
and your neighbor as yourself, he wasn’t introducing some new formula, he was being
a good Jew. He was simply summarizing the heart of the Ten Commandments. So I couldn’t
agree more with what you just said. You’ve been watching You’re Included,
a production of Grace Communion International.