What does it mean to be ‘Lost’?

What does it mean to be Lost?   Usually, in the context of Christianity, one is not speaking of location confusion when using the term lost. To say, “he is lost,” is to say something other than, “he does not know how to make his way from his home to the church building.” The term lost is commonly used in the salvific sense, or regarding a person’s present spiritual condition and eternal destination. Much like a traveler needs to know his or her locale, destination and route in order to make a successful journey, every spiritual pilgrim needs to know his or her spiritual whereabouts, objective and way in order to enjoy the benefits of spiritual triumph.

This question concerning ‘lostness’ may be one of the most important in order to have a better understanding of what it means to be ‘found’ or ‘saved’ in the spiritual sense (i.e. what it means to be a Christian). Essentially, this question is seeking to understand a major difference between those who are Christians and those who are not. There are real distinctions between those who are lost and those who are found, but it is vitally important to know what the actual distinctions are in order to have an appropriate posture towards those in each group.

In an answer to this main question, the following structure will be provided. First, we will attempt to understand the basic nature of humanity, and subsequently try to grasp the chief end or ultimate purpose of humanity. Next, we will delve into some of the effects of sin upon human nature and how they relate to human purpose. Then we will look at the significance of using the term lost to describe every human sinner apart from or without Christ. Last, we will continue our search of the Scriptures to discover how one who is lost may become found. After all, one’s ‘lostness’ or ‘foundness’ is not merely of temporal interest. These categories, and one’s placement underneath each heading, are of supreme significance both in this life and in the eons to come.

What is the nature of humanity?   There seems no better place to begin a study of human nature than at the beginning – the act of God’s creating work. At the creation of humanity, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”[1] This phrase, though, has been at the center of much confusing talk concerning the nature of humanity. From misconceptions about God to misappropriating the ‘likeness’ of God in man, many have taken this phrase and run in strange and unhelpful directions. There is much that one may learn from this phrase, and a closer and wider look at the Scriptures is always beneficial, but we may at least gather that ‘man’ or humanity is a special or unique creation among all else that God has made.

On an aside, I quite agree with Wayne Grudem (a systematic theologian) concerning usage of the term ‘man’ as a reference to the entire human race.[2] One must refrain from postulating the unsuitable use of the masculine term to entitle all humanity unless he or she is willing to oppose God’s own use of the term. It is plain from the context of the previous verse cited that God described His own creation of humanity with the use of the masculine term in reference to the totality of male and female human beings. The Scripture also says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (emphasis added).[3] There is no mistaking the interchangeable use of ‘them’ – both male and female – and ‘him’ or ‘man.’

Grudem adds that some may find objection still and claim that the use of word ‘man’ as a suitable expression of the concept ‘all humankind’ is merely a Hebrew language feature and not to be continued in our own day. However, such an argument is unconvincing when one reads the opening sentences of Genesis chapter 5 (just a few chapters after the previous citations). “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created” (emphasis added).[4] It appears therefore that God not only uses the term ‘man’ in reference to the entire human race, but God has chosen to label or ‘name’ humankind with the same masculine term. This is not to say that ‘man’ is the only satisfactory term, but it must at the very least be considered appropriate.

At any rate, the nature of man is directly tied to the creation of man. For God is not merely the organizer of molecules; He is the special and intentional designer of all that He has created, including humankind. In other words, if one wants to know what humankind really is, one would do well to ask the God who drew man into existence and brought humans into being.

Referring to the original passage cited above, man is the unique creation of God. Man was created in the ‘likeness’ of God, and this is no easily articulated semblance. Grudem says, “as we read the rest of Scripture, we realize that a full understanding of man’s likeness to God would require a full understanding of who God is in his being and in his actions and a full understanding of who man is and what he does.”[5] Alas, a full comprehensive knowledge of God and man is something that no sensible person can claim; therefore, an attempt to communicate completely what likeness man has or is of God will result in an inadequate sketch. Yet, there is great value in the sketch.

In every way that man is like God, man carries the divine likeness or bears the image of God. The image of God is the basis for essential human value and dignity. God’s image upon humankind is the reason that man is of pronounced value and the reason that man’s degradation is not only vexing but also immoral and wicked.

It may be said, then, the nature of man or the intended essence of every human is to be like Godto bear God’s image and reflect that image to all others.

What is the chief end of man?   This question is found at the opening of both the shorter and the longer Westminster Catechisms.[6] It is the starting place of any real and meaningful approach to understanding not only the nature of man, but also the supreme and universal purpose thereof. For what purpose has man – every man, woman and child – been created? Essentially, this is a ‘meaning of life’ question. Arguably, this is one of the weightiest questions of all time. Far from being unanswerable or even complicated, the Catechism answers the question with the clear and concise statement. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That’s it! This is no small or easy thing, but its simplicity is amazingly refreshing. Indeed, the purpose for which all things have been created is to bring glory to God and enjoy the benefits of His glory upon creation (Romans 11:36; Revelation 4:11).

Because of the common misunderstanding it is important to note – submission, loving obedience, and a generally selfless posture towards God are not tyrannical and malevolent requirements upon humanity from an uncaring deity. Quite the opposite is actually true. In fact, the greater obedience and loving submission that one experiences towards their Creator, the greater joy and fulfillment he or she experiences as well (Psalm 51:12).

It is a myth that a man must put away all of his good desires and any hope for genuine self-gratification and contentment in order to love God (Galatians 5:1).

If this chief end or highest purpose seems foreign to us, it is not for some lack of truth in the claim. Instead, there is great likelihood that the truth of it sounds bizarre because of our own sinful corruption. Our failure to arrive at our chief end, our inability to achieve our highest purpose, is a universal characteristic of the sinful human race. What may be even more sobering is the cause for such devilish disorientation.

What are the effects of sin upon human nature?   Because humankind was created in the likeness and image of God, and because man’s highest purpose and greatest joy is found in the glory of God and enjoyment of Him, then every human should be marked by a fervent and passionate pursuit of godliness and participation in genuine worship of the one true God. However, the least observant among us will note that this is not the case. In fact, the exact opposite characteristics are what we find to be most ubiquitous.

Sin is any lack of conformity to or transgression of God’s law – the clear revelation of God’s own character and nature. Therefore, sin is man being less than or other than he ought; and this is to his own detriment.

Many have suggested solutions to the problem of sin, this failure to live up to or fulfill humanity’s intended design. Secularly, most would recognize a general selfishness exhibited in barbarism that is measured by degree rather than occurrence in humankind. Lying, stealing, murder, adultery, covetousness, and an unwillingness to submit to virtually any authority are all sinful expressions with which humans have become acquainted – and even comfortable in most cases.

If one thinks this assessment too harsh, he or she ought to consider the spirit and not merely the letter of God’s law. For example, if one is thinks himself successful at avoiding any transgression of the law concerning adultery because he has not had intercourse with another man’s wife, he has done well as far as he believes the law to extend. However, when he is exposed to the spirit of the law or what underlies the concise imperative – namely that everyone is to make strong efforts to preserve both their own chastity as well as others, together in thought, word and deed – then he may realize that he is utterly blameworthy.

A wise person would know that only an individual unaware of the range and depth of God’s law, or one unwilling to acknowledge it, would even hesitate to admit he and all others are completely guilty before God and exceedingly sinful.

The general posture of sinfulness rather than godly pursuit, and the pervasiveness of such offensive insolence, begs the question – WHY? From whence has this total distortion of purpose and joy come? The corruption of human nature is an inheritance from our forefather – Adam, the first man. Charles Hodge describes the grave situation by saying, “the sin of Adam injured not himself only but also all descending from him by ordinary generation.”[7] Hodge goes on to say that there are three things that may be considered subsequent results of the first sin, which was committed by humanity’s first parents. These effects include the personal and universal guilt of all humankind, the corruption of every aspect of human nature derived from our ancient ancestor, and the inability of natural man to do anything of genuine spiritual good.[8] While these consequences are biblically sound and overwhelmingly applicable, it is not expedient to address these stated results in their entirety here. Therefore, the remainder of this section will focus upon the specific effects of sin upon human nature, especially those contributing to lostness, rather than defending the validity of these stated consequences.

If the citations above seem too far above the average person’s ability to grasp, then it might be helpful to simply describe how Adam’s sinful fall has impacted all humankind. The three consequences above may be explained in the following way. First, every human is counted by God as though they sinned just as Adam did from the time Adam sinned (Romans 5:12). This may seem unfair or unwarranted, but rest assured that all humans were represented well in Adam, and any guilt that he procured for other humans has been multiplied a thousand times over by the daily sin of those who may claim the lack of accurate representation. Second, every aspect of human nature – mind, body, will, etc. – has been negatively affected by the curse of God upon sin (Ephesians 2:3). This result begins to place our fingers on the pulse of lostness. Because of Adam’s sin, God cursed all creation and human nature has been marred and distorted so much so that man perceives the Object of his highest purpose and greatest joy as the most antagonistic rival to such things.

Third, man in his natural state is opposed to genuine spiritual good and godliness (Galatians 5:17-21). This truth is one of the bitterest pills to swallow, but it is also one of the simplest and most easily proven doctrines or principles of Scripture. We use the word good to describe all kinds of things. I have a good dog. I wear a good pair of shoes. I like a good cheesecake. However, we do not understand the term ‘good’ in these sentences to be expressing any moral worthiness or righteous disposition. There is no such thing as a morally worthy or righteous cheesecake (as awesome as some cheesecake might be). Good in the spiritual sense, in the sense about which God is concerned, is an attribute that no descendant of Adam can claim (Romans 3:10-18).  In fact, the Bible says it explicitly, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”[9]

The effects of sin upon the nature of humanity are farther-reaching and more deeply entrenched than any earthly human can know. The Scriptures speak of the wicked heart of man as being not only corrupt but also deceptively so (Jeremiah 17:9). In other words, no earthly man knows the depth of his own depravity because his best attempts to know his own wickedness are efforts from a mind and will that naturally and frequently deceive him.

This kind of man, a naturally sinful man – incapable of seeking his highest joy and unwilling to fulfill his greatest purpose – is lost indeed.

He knows not himself, he knows no authentic way to restore his own joy, and he is both unwilling and unable to lay down his upraised weapons against the only God who might bring him true peace, joy, stability, security, purpose, community, and freedom. God’s first words recorded after the initial sin of man were “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Truly, lost is a just description of one in such a hopeless condition.

What does the term lost indicate?   One may think it a bit odd to begin a discussion about lostness at creation, but setting the proper stage will hopefully prove worthwhile by this point in the investigation. A good and working knowledge of the intended purpose of humankind will be of benefit in understanding the overwhelming lostness that has come upon sinful humanity. The sinful natural man (every man, woman, and child descending from Adam) is lost in relation to himself, in relation to other humans, and most significantly he is lost in relation to his God.

The natural man, that man so catastrophically affected by his own sin and that of others, has lost himself.

He may try to know himself – who he truly is, or what fetches him real joy – but he cannot. When one person wants to know another, it is common to ask questions, which one perceives will reveal something about the true nature of the other. “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” “What do you like?” “What is your fondest memory?” How cruel it would be to merrily ask these questions of a man who was born into slavery. How much would one hope to learn from a man still trapped in the chains of captivity, if he poses the question “What do you do?” Will the slave disclose his true self in some answer that he might muster? What would his fondest memory be? Would this reveal any genuinely enjoyable experience or merely some temporary illusion of relief from his miserable reality?

Additionally, the natural man may ask himself a thousand questions and each one would be answered with some measure of deception. He often is unwilling to acknowledge his own bondage to sin or the incarceration of its consequences. His own desires deceive him, as he passionately chases all those things that inevitably harm him and steal his joy. Each time he thinks he has found himself, he learns ever so quickly that he was never truly found. He may be here or there, but he is always lost to himself.

The natural man is lost to everyone by whom he longs to be known.

People seek all kinds of relationships and so frequently fancy themselves to have found genuine community with another. Yet, where have they ever truly been known? When has the sinner ever been utterly exposed and without shame?[10] Even in the most intimate relationship of humanity – the committed marriage of one man and one woman – both males and females are disappointed in the lack of intimacy. Where one marriage relationship performs well in the area of physical experience, that same marriage may severely lack intellectual or emotional understanding. It is extremely common for males and females to perceive the greatest marital disunity in areas seemingly unrelated to each other, but every marriage suffers from the same root cause – neither sinner is fully known by the other and therefore neither can experience full rest and genuine community in the relationship.

What of the sinner’s friends? Which one knows him best, and knows everything about him? Does any friend know that his silence regarding serious matters is to the sinner’s detriment? Even a friend who knows the pain that sinful pursuit causes is unwilling or unable to engage the sinner on such ground. The friend does not know his sinful companion well enough to address him admirably and productively. What friend knows of the deepest struggles in the sinner’s heart and selflessly speaks wisdom to his sinful friend? Does he do this while receiving no benefit of his own and conveying no pretense in regards to his own struggles?

The natural man has no true friend. Not one of his dearest allies knows him fully and loves him unconditionally. He does not share complete and unreserved love with any of his peers. He has no hope of ever experiencing such loving relationship with full disclosure and cherished communion. He may be in this relationship or that group of friends, but he is always lost to others.

Most painfully of all, the natural man is lost in relationship to his God.

God is not merely the title or name that we have ascribed to some divine impersonal force that itself is guided by higher laws of so-called nature. No, God is that being which is the origin of all life, exceedingly great joy, sinless passion, righteous vigor, true goodness, pure beauty, genuine truth, unconditional love, caring benevolence, wise providence, and awesome sovereignty. For a man to lose his God is tantamount to the loss of himself and everything else. God is the one to whom he looks for guidance and affirmation; God is his foundation and stability; God is his hope and the object of his faith. Natural man has not only willingly lost his God, but he refuses to be known by the God of his longing.

The natural man will not have the only God capable of being his great joy. No, the natural man seeks to name his own god and create such an abomination in the image of his sinful desires. Sinful humanity will concoct a god whose aim is their sexual, material, or experiential pleasure. What indulgence is your craving today? There is a god made by human invention that will find its fulfillment in feeding that appetite. There is no rule except that of desire; the desire of the moment rules the natural man’s day.

It is not, however, that every natural man is easily observed as having such a curious and decadent idol as his god. On the contrary, the natural man is keenly able to deceive himself and others as to the true measure of his scandalous god. Many natural men bring their idolatrous god with them to a church building and think that this false god is the same as the Object of all other’s worship. Sinful men may even allow their imaginary god to acquire some distorted attribute of the one true God, but they will not humble themselves before the King of Glory and admit their lostness before Him. No, the natural man is convinced of his own sufficiency and does not think himself in need of an all-sufficient God. He may seek a god, an idol of his own creation, but he is always lost and away from his God who created him.

The natural man’s lostness is totally consuming.  He is lost to himself, he is lost in relationship to others, and he is lost in relation to his God. 

Augustine wrote of this lostness in the heart of a natural man when he said as to God, “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”[11] Augustine articulates the matter of this discussion well. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but the natural man is eternally and completely lost, and he is hopelessly restless in his natural state.  Augustine gives room for hope, however, when he says, “until it repose in Thee.”  Where can this restful tranquility be found, and how may the lost natural man gain such peace?

How may one who is lost become found?   As already discussed, the natural man is not merely lost for lack of knowledge or natural experience; he is lost because he does not want to be found. When the first man sinned he did not seek refuge in the bosom of his Creator, nor did he find relief in any admission of guilt or honest community with his Lord. No, he hid from the One with whom he had previously experienced real love and intimacy (Genesis 3:8, 10). This fallen sinner denied his own guilt and deceived himself as to his true culpability (Genesis 3:12-13).

The Bible is clear; the natural man is hostile to the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14; Galatians 5:17). How then can any willfully lost sinner be found? In John 3:1-8 Jesus speaks in what may seem to be obscure terms, but He clarifies what must take place in order to produce such a conversion.

“Now there was a man … named Nicodemus… This man came to Jesus and said, ‘… We know that you are a teacher come from God …’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? …’ Jesus answered, ‘… That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit’” (abbreviated).[12]

Jesus essentially answers the question asked earlier (How can the lost become found?) with the statement, “You must be born again.” The Bible uses other terms to speak of the experience of being “born again.” God uses the term regenerate through the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:6), the Apostle Paul uses the analogies of life from death (Ephesians 2:5) and divine re-creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), and the Apostle Peter uses the same verbiage as Jesus from John 3 (1 Peter 1:3, 23). The Greek word Peter uses in these two instances is ἀναγεννήσας (anagennēsas), which means to thoroughly change the mind of one, so that he lives a new life and one conformed to the will of God.[13] This is the change necessary in one who is lost – namely his passionate hostility towards all things godly and genuinely good is exchanged for a new love of God and desire to glorify and enjoy Him.

The hope for the lost and natural man is not that he is able to find himself, but that the God of the universe invades his unholy ground with life from above.

Luke chapter 15 is rich with the concept of lostness and foundness. Jesus tells three stories that all illustrate something lost being found. A shepherd lost and found a sheep (verses 3-7), a woman lost and found a coin (verses 8-10), and a father lost and found a son (verses 11-32). The wonder of these three analogies is that the object found in all three is not of great value. The shepherd who lost a single sheep had ninety-nine others and would not likely have experienced tremendous pain at the loss of only one. The woman who lost a single coin had nine others, which would have been of greater monetary value than many of her peers possessed. Her remaining possessions were significant enough to keep her from panic. The son lost was a burdensome and defiant son. The father who lost this kind of son would have been reasonably understood to experience some relief from the loss.

In all three stories, however, Jesus explains that the shepherd, the woman, and the father rejoice at the rewards of their seeking efforts. These stories are not about a lost sheep, a lost coin, or a lost son; they are about the effective pursuit of the finders. The point Jesus conveyed is related to the objection He confronted with these stories. He was being accused of ‘receiving’ sinners (Luke 15:2). The sinners were rightly perceived as less than worthy of the reception, but that is exactly the point! He receives, He seeks, He loves, He knows, and He finds the sinners who are lost.

Jesus is the embodiment of God’s promise to find lost sinners.   The Gospel according to John (the 4th book of the New Testament) opens with a profound statement of Jesus’ nature and purpose. The author speaks of Jesus Christ as the union of God and man. God the Son was before all things and is Himself God (John 1:1-3); and this same God became a man, making Himself known in the person and work of Jesus Christ to sinful humanity (John 1:14, 18).

God’s truly unconditional love is demonstrated towards sinful humankind in His steadfast commitment to know and to find those who were once lost.  The Apostle Paul speaks of God’s loving before the foundation of the world those whom God would ordain to be the adopted and loved children of God through the person and work of Christ (Romans 8:29). The natural man becomes known by the God he would not have known, loved by the Father he did not love, and found by the Friend he refused to acknowledge he lost when he is born from above and made spiritually anew.

The natural man is truly lost and restless, but the effective God of salvation finds lost sinners and gives them the repose they refused to enjoy until they were truly found.

 

Bibliography

Augustine, A. The Confessions of Saint Augustine,. New York: Modern Library, 1949. Print.

Grudem, Wayne A. Making Sense of Series: One of Seven Parts from Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994. Print.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology / Volume 2: Anthropology. [Peabody, Mass.]: Hendrickson, 1999. Print.

Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2001. N. pag. Print.

Sproul, R. C. What Does It Mean to Be Born Again? Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Pub., 2010. Print.

Thayer, Joseph Henry, Carl Ludwig Wilibald Grimm, and Christian Gottlob Wilke. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with the Numbering System from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996. Print.

The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms: As Adopted by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church : With Proof Texts. Lawrenceville, GA: Christian Education & Publications Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America, 2007. Print.


[1] Genesis 1:26;  All biblical citations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

[2] Grudem.  439-440.

[3] Genesis 1:27

[4] Genesis 5:1-2

[5] Grudem.  443-444.

[6] Westminster Catechisms are based on the Confession of Faith authored and labeled at the same Westminster assembly (1643-1652).

[7] Hodge.  192.

[8] Hodge.  192

[9] Romans 3:12

[10] Genesis 2:25 speaks of human nakedness without shame. This is not merely intended to tell the reader of the physical appearance of the first humans in the Garden of Eden before sin entered into creation. They were physically naked, but they were naked in every way. They were utterly exposed to one another and yet unashamed to be so. Each was fully known and completely loved by the other.

[11] Augustine.  2.

[12] John 3:1-8

[13] Thayer.  Strong’s number 313

God is both perfectly just & amazingly gracious

Justification is the doctrine upon which every Christian relies. It is the only way that sinners may live in the presence of the holy God; they must be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and free from the stain of sin. Quoting the Westminster Confession, Hodge relays the doctrine of justification as follows: “The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him.”[1] Justification is at the core of describing how God’s plan of redemption is effective for the salvation sinners. The word itself conjures up legal connotations, such as crime, law, judge, penalty and judicial declaration. There are numerous works, including the several used as resources here, which beautifully and profoundly extract the keenest observations from the biblical doctrine of Justification. The purpose of this work is to concisely communicate the wonderful work of Christ, both positive and negative, in justifying sinners by providing righteousness, expiation and propitiation.

The Apostle Paul expressively speaks of the Gospel in Romans 3:21-26 when he says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This phrase is a commonly memorized verse for anyone who has attempted to learn the Romans Road in order to evangelize. The purpose of reciting this text is to point out the reality of universal guilt. Every human sins. The implication is that sin is not only a horizontal offense, but vertical too. Human sin is against self, others and the Creator who made and governs humanity. Those who sin are guilty before God and under the penalty of sin, namely death.

Elsewhere in the same portion of Scripture, the stark pronouncement is declared, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Death here refers, not only in the physical sense of human mortality, but also to the idea that God will distribute His ultimate judgment of wrath on all who have rebelled in sin against His righteousness. God has established the law, all humans have disobeyed it and the perfectly just Judge is obligated to deliver justice. This bleak situation is the common bond of all people. Sin yields death and judgment, everyone has sinned, and God’s righteousness demands that all sinners endure the due penalty.

In an essay on justification, the purpose of preliminarily establishing the sinner’s guilt and God’s immanent wrath is two-fold. First, the gospel is good news because of the converse situation in which the unregenerate person presently finds him or herself. Hodge explains that justification rests “on the principle that God is immutably just, i. e;, that his moral excellence, in the case of sin, demands punishment.”[2] Secondly, the redeeming work of Christ is a wonder without comparison because of the overwhelming holiness and justice of God.  Sinners may not realize and some may even choose not to acknowledge that they are hanging over a perilous pit of destruction.  God’s holy justice and consuming wrath is pointed at them every moment and God holds it back each second for reasons only known to Him. Dr. Sproul notes, “The Greek word Paul uses for ‘wrath’ is orgai. [Ro 3:18] The English word that derives from orgai is orgy… God’s anger is one of passion with paroxysms of rage and fury.”[3] God’s wrath toward sinners is no jovial or moderate thing. The gratitude felt by any sinner’s escape of such fury is beyond expression.

What reason would any sinner have for embracing a hopeful attitude, believing some escape may be found? The message of good news concerning the person and work of Christ appears all the more stunning in front of this abominable backdrop. We who believe are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation” (Ro 6:24-25a).  Jesus has given Himself as the sacrifice for sinners and suffered on behalf of all those who would trust in Him. The suffering life and excruciating death of Jesus Christ would be note worthy if only for the sake of uniqueness, especially in light of His deity. However, the biblical description of purpose behind such a work is that of representation.  Jesus is the representative of sinners before the bar of God’s judgment.  He is the one who absorbs the full wrath of God, which all sinners deserve.

Jesus atoning sacrifice is the work of expiation and propitiation. Expiation, according to Sproul, carries the idea that Christ “removes our sin from us and takes it away.” So then one aspect of Christ’s atoning work is that He removes the sin of sinners; He makes sinners clean. Sproul describes expiation is a horizontal work, washing human sinners, and propitiation is a vertical work, “satisfying the justice of God for us.”[4] God’s justice demands that sinners endure the due penalty for sin, namely His unbridled wrath. God is no just judge if He merely pardons the sinner and withholds punishment. Justice must be delivered, because God is the one and only perfect Judge. Therefore, the work of Christ includes enduring the wrath of God as a representative for sinners. Grudem explains that Christ’s passive obedience can be observed in several ways.[5] Jesus’ obedience was not passive in that He was inactive or unengaged during such a time, but passive in the sense that He was obedient to endure suffering that was inflicted upon Him. Christ’s suffering included the human suffering of mortal life, the physical pain of death by crucifixion, the psychological pain of bearing the sin of all those who would be recipients of His atoning work, the emotional pain of being abandoned by His friends, the unknown pain of mysterious abandonment by His Father, and finally the unimaginable pain of bearing the full wrath of God. Jesus was obedient in a life and death of suffering like no other human has ever or will ever endure.

This is one-half of the work, which Christ has accomplished, that elicits the expression that Paul makes of God, “He [is] just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Ro 3:26). This aspect of Jesus’ redeeming work on behalf of sinners may be considered the negative aspect. Negative, not because it is bad, quite the contrary; His work is incredibly good as He subtracts sin (expiation) from the sinner and places it on His own shoulders in order to bear the punishment thereof (propitiation).  The negative aspect of Christ’s work on behalf of sinners (the subtraction of sin from the sinner and the atonement of such before God) is astonishing even if unaccompanied, yet it alone does not fulfill the necessary conditions of God’s requirements imposed on corrupt humanity. One must be righteous in order to receive approval from the holy King of the universe and to enjoy restful communion with Him. Expiation and propitiation are tantamount to the taking away of the sinner’s debasement, but without a life of perfect obedience the sinner is still not righteous or worthy of the approval of the King.

As established above, in the passage cited, all humanity has sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of perfection. The completed work of Christ is both the subtraction of sinful debauchery and the filthy stain of its vestige, as well as the addition of the perfect righteousness achieved in the life of obedience that Jesus lived as the incarnate God-man. Dr. Sproul comments, “Jesus not only had to die for our sins, but also had to live for our righteousness. If Jesus had only died for our sins, His sacrifice would have removed all of our guilt, but that would have left us merely sinless in the sight of God, not righteous.”[6] Calvin explains, “from the moment when [Jesus] assumed the form of a servant, he began, in order to redeem us, to pay the price of deliverance.”[7] Jesus was not only the representative of sinners in His sacrificial death; He was also their delegate in His impeccable life.

The Apostle Paul, elsewhere in the book of Romans, explains that Christ was the second “Adam” (Rom 5). The first Adam, Paul says, disobeyed as the representative of humanity and God’s declaration of guilt on the entire human race was the result. However, Christ is the second Adam who lives an obedient life before God and as a result the “many” are “made righteous” in the sight of God. It only takes a light consideration of the contrast here to begin to marvel at the incredible distinction between the two “Adams.” The first Adam was directly created by God and placed in a marvelous garden, which he was to enjoy along with his naked wife (Gen 1, 2). The ground and plant life thereon produced vegetation for food effortlessly. For some amount of time, there was absolutely no sin and Adam had immanent communion with God. On top of all this, there was only one rule to follow and even that was a negative rule rather than a positive one, Do not rather than You must Do. Avoiding this one error indefinitely meant blessed, sinless communion with God in perfect contentment forever.

However, Jesus, the second Adam, had much different circumstances.  In fact, the pinnacle of Christ’s obedient life was His time of fasting in the desert (Matt 4). Jesus had been fasting for forty days and was now in solitude in the desert when He experienced His temptation from the devil. This was no lush garden and He had no full belly. Jesus was seemingly all alone. Incredibly, His response was obedience rather than rebellion, even in obviously desolate conditions. The second Adam was a human representative, like the first, but His representation was one of perfect righteousness. Sinners, then, may rely on Jesus’ righteous obedience, as they understand their own lack thereof.

Salvation is wholly a work of the Lord. God supplies all we need and satisfies all of His demands in the person and work of Jesus Christ. God declares sinners righteous and provides the means by which He may declare them so. During the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther’s day, the defining call was the phrase “Justification by faith alone,” sola fide. Sproul says this phrase is “merely shorthand for ‘justification by the righteousness of Christ alone.’ His merit, and only his merit, is sufficient to satisfy the demands of God’s justice. It is precisely this merit that is given to us by faith. Christ is our righteousness. God clothes his filthy creatures with the coat of Christ’s righteousness.”[8]  This imagery of clothing is helpful for a more accurate understanding of the concept.  The sullied sinner who receives the blessed joy of eternal reward in the presence of God almighty does so, not based upon his or her renewed fervor to live well, but because he or she has been covered by the foreign righteousness of Another. Christ’s righteousness is alien to the sinner, but imputed (assigned or accredited) to him or her by God because of the work of Christ.

Every sinner who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit rests all his or her confidence in escaping God’s judgment on the completed work of Christ. Unlike most other religions and philosophies, Christianity is a worldview based on the inability of humanity to fix anything and a total reliance on God to reconcile whom He will to Himself. God demonstrates His own graciousness in granting sinners the gift of redemption, which can only be found in Christ Jesus. It is not hard to notice the legal notions in J. I. Packer’s comments on the matter when he says, “Whenever God fulfills his covenant commitment by acting to save his people, it is a gesture of ‘righteousness,’ that is, justice. When God justifies sinners through faith in Christ, he does so on the basis of justice done, that is, the punishment of our sins in the person of Christ our substitute; thus the form taken by his justifying mercy shows him to be utterly and totally just (Rom. 3:25-26), and our justification itself is shown to be judicially justified.”[9]

In summary, the whole of humanity is guilty before a righteous Judge. This Judge is like no other. He is omniscient and omnipotent. Added to these ominous capabilities is His attribute of aseity; that is, He is self-existent and will never cease to be. This dreadful combination to sinners means certain and unending punishment for their rebellion. There is no way of escape in them and no hope that the Judge will simply forget or become careless concerning their malfeasance. Holiness and righteousness is the requirement, but sinners are covered in the stinking filth of the opposite. In this miry and hopeless state, God does something most unexpected; He pronounces His declaration of righteousness upon sinners who are not. He does so without the slightest impugning of His own righteousness and this seems all the more conflicting. One may wonder, How can this be?

Indeed, it is a wonder. God declares the sinner righteous in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. This is possible only because Christ is the provision of God for expiation, propitiation and righteousness. The Apostle Paul describes God as the “Just” and the “Justifier.” God commands humans, “Be holy as I am holy” (Lev. 11:44). Only because of the completed negative and positive work of Christ’s obedience can God and the sinner be thus.


[1] Hodge, C. (1997). Vol. 2: Systematic theology : 481–482. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Sproul, R. C. Romans. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009: 38.

[4] Ibid: 103.

[5] Grudem, Wayne A., and Jeff Purswell. Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999: 251.

[6] Sproul, R. C. The Work of Christ: What the Events of Jesus’ Life Mean for You. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2012: 71.

[7] Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997.

[8] Sproul, R. C. What Is Reformed Theology?. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005: 67.

[9] Packer, J. I. (1993). Concise theology: A guide to historic Christian beliefs. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.