July 18, 2014 Broadcast

God So Loved the World

A Message by Sinclair Ferguson

The Bible is clear that God is love but what does God’s love look like and how should we respond? On Renewing Your Mind, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson explains the biblical definition of the matchless love of God. It’s a message he gave at the Ligonier Ministries National Conference. Hear it Friday on Renewing Your Mind.

From the series: Overcoming the World: 2014 National Conference

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Final Redemption

  2. devotional

    Redemption's Drama

  3. article

    The Blueprint of Redemption

Final Redemption

Thousands of years ago, the Lord redeemed a people from slavery in Egypt and entered into a covenant with them. But this covenant was not designed to last forever. One day, God would replace it with a new covenant that would save His people from their sins.

Hebrews 8:8–12 quotes Jeremiah 31, a clear depiction of what life will be like under the new covenant. Yesterday we saw that under the new covenant, the very law of God is to be written on the hearts of His people (Heb. 8:10). Those who receive the Law on their hearts will be the people of God (v. 10). This is not to say that God never had a people beforehand. The prophet is merely pointing out that once God writes the Law on the heart, His people will obey Him perfectly and be His people by nature. Under this new covenant there will also be no more need for teachers (v. 11), for if the Law is on the heart there will be no need to be instructed in it.

The writing of the Law on the heart is a wonderful promise, and we still look forward to its fulfillment today. But how can this be? We still look forward to its fulfillment? Are we not under the new covenant today? Do we not have the law of God on our hearts already?

To answer these questions we must look at the context of Jeremiah 31 in Old Testament prophecy and the New Testament’s teaching about its fulfillment. Jeremiah 31 speaks of the restoration from exile that was promised to God’s people. However, Jeremiah was not the only one who looked forward to this restoration. All of the prophets, in one way or another, alluded to this event. Sometimes it is seen more in terms of the “Day of the Lord” when God will destroy all the enemies of His people (Joel 3:1–16). Other prophets emphasize the renewal of creation the restoration will bring (Isa. 65:17–25).

Reading the Old Testament prophets we might think that this restoration was to be completed at once upon the arrival of the Messiah. However, when we get to the New Testament we find that this is not the case. The restoration will take longer than expected. On account of this seeming delay, some aspects of the restoration and redemption are not yet a full reality. Tomorrow we will examine the New Testament view of restoration and how it impacts our understanding of the new covenant’s present reality.

Redemption's Drama

In order to understand properly the meaning of the atonement, we must know God’s attitude toward sin and how Christ deals with this problem. Biblically speaking, we find three major ways in which transgressions affect our relationship to the Lord:

Man has incurred a debt to God. As the Creator and sovereign ruler of the universe, God has the right to impose obligations upon mankind. He demanded from Adam perfect obedience to His command (Gen. 2:15–17). Having failed to render perfect righteousness, we, in Adam, find ourselves owing a debt to God that is impossible for us to pay (Rom. 3:23; 8:1–4). We have all sinned against an infinite person, and therefore an infinite payment is required. Thus, even if I perform only one act of wickedness in my entire life, there is no way I can do enough good to make up for it. In this context, Jesus is our surety — the one who guarantees repayment of our debt.

Man is at enmity with God. We have offended the Almighty, and our relationship with Him has been ruptured (Hos. 1:2; Rom. 3:23). One of the points of the book of Job is that the Lord upholds His creation perfectly, and thus we can never legitimately claim that He treats us unjustly. We have wronged Him. Christ as our mediator fixed this broken relationship. God is angry at His people for their evil, but in love He predestined them for adoption through His Son, Jesus (Eph. 1:3–6), who was sent to stand between God and His people, thereby restoring our fellowship with Him (John 3:16).

Man has committed a crime against God. If I were to steal ten thousand dollars, it would not be enough punishment for me to repay the money. I would also have to face some kind of jail time. Someone else could repay the money for me, but the judge would not be obligated to put away any legal penalties against me. But God is gracious and has determined not only to have our debt satisfied in Christ, He has also decided to accept His death as the penalty paid for the sins of His people (Rom. 3:21–26). At the cross, God showered mercy on us by cursing Jesus in our stead. Thus His holiness is not compromised, for our sin is judged in His Son.

The Blueprint of Redemption

R.C. Sproul

A persistent tradition claims that upon being mocked by a skeptic with regard to his doctrine of creation, Saint Augustine was cynically asked, “What was God doing before He created the world? Augustine’s alleged reply was: “Creating hell for curious souls.”

The reply was, of course, tongue-in-cheek. The Bible doesn’t speak of such a special work of divine creation before creation itself. But Augustine’s bon mot had a serious point that warned against idle speculation of God’s activity in eternity.

However, quite apart from speculation, the Bible has much to say about God’s activity “before” the world was made. The Bible speaks often of God’s eternal counsel, of His plan of salvation and the like. It is a matter of theological urgency that Christians not think of God as a ruler who ad libs His dominion of the universe. God does not “make it up as He goes along.” Nor must He be viewed as a bumbling administrator who is so inept in His planning that His blueprint for redemption must be endlessly subject to revision according to the actions of men. The God of Scripture has no “plan b” or “plan c.” His “plan a” is from everlasting to everlasting. It is both perfect and unchangeable as it rests on God’s eternal character, which is among other things, holy, omniscient, and immutable. God’s eternal plan is not revised because of moral imperfections within it that must be purified. His plan was not corrected or amended because He gained new knowledge that He lacked at the beginning. God’s plan never changes because He never changes and because perfection admits to no degrees and cannot be improved upon.

The covenant of redemption is intimately concerned with God’s eternal plan. It is called a “covenant” inasmuch as the plan involves two or more parties. This is not a covenant between God and humans. It is a covenant among the persons of the Godhead, specifically between the Father and the Son. God did not become triune at creation or at the Incarnation. His triunity is as eternal as His being. He is one in essence and three in person from all eternity.

The covenant of redemption is a corollary to the doctrine of the Trinity. Like the word trinity, the Bible nowhere explicitly mentions it. The word trinity does not appear in the Bible, but the concept of the Trinity is affirmed throughout Scripture. Likewise, the phrase “covenant of redemption” does not occur explicitly in Scripture but the concept is heralded throughout.

Central to the message of Jesus is the declaration that He was sent into the world by the Father. His mission was not given to Him at His baptism or in the manger. He had it before His incarnation.

In the great “Kenotic Hymn” of Philippians 2, we get a glimpse of this: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 5–11 NKJV).

This passage reveals many things. It speaks of the willingness of the Son to undertake a mission of redemption at the behest of the Father. That Jesus was about doing the will of the Father is testified throughout His life. As a young boy in the temple He reminded His earthly parents that He must be about His Father’s business. His meat and drink was to do the will of His Father. It was zeal for His Father’s house that consumed Him. Repeatedly He declared that He spoke not on His own authority but on the authority of the One who sent Him.

Jesus is the primary missionary. As the word suggests, a missionary is one who is “sent.” The eternal Word did not decide on His own to come to this planet for its redemption. He was sent here. In the plan of salvation the Son comes to do the Father’s bidding.

The point of the covenant of redemption is that the Son comes willingly. He is not coerced by the Father to relinquish His glory and be subjected to humiliation. Rather, He willingly “made Himself of no reputation.” The Father did not strip the Son of His eternal glory but the Son agreed to lay it aside temporarily for the sake of our salvation.

Listen to Jesus as He prays to the Father at the end of His ministry: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You… And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:1–5 NKJV). The covenant of redemption was a transaction that involved both obligation and reward. The Son entered into a sacred agreement with the Father. He submitted Himself to the obligations of that covenantal agreement. An obligation was likewise assumed by the Father — to give His Son a reward for doing the work of redemption.

In his systematic theology, Charles Hodge lists eight promises the Father gave to the Son in this pact made in eternity. Briefly they are: that God would form a purified Church for His Son; that the Son would receive the Spirit without measure; that He would be ever-present to support Him; that He would deliver Him from death and exalt Him to His right hand; that He would have the Holy Spirit to send to whom He willed; that all the Father gave to Him would come to Him and none of these be lost; that multitudes would partake of His redemption and His messianic kingdom; that He would see the travail of His soul and be satisfied.

Because God honored the eternal covenant of redemption, Christ became the heir of His Father’s promises. Because this covenant was never violated, we reap its benefits as heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.

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