That Gospel of Christ is that powerful. It not only satisfies God’s justice but it transforms lives, too. It turns sinners into saints, sons of disobedience into sons of God, children of wrath into children of promise and those dead in their trespasses and sins into those that walk worthy of their calling. There is no doubt that the Gospel transforms lives. That is precisely what Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Ga 2:20). Everyone agrees on that (I think).
There is a few ways we can go with the differences on what a transformed life looks like. It is not just a matter of becoming better or productive members of community. Nor is it chiefly about becoming better at social justice. Those, indeed, are involved but not the true essence of a life transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit through proclamation of the Gospel. The best way to explain what a converted life looks like is to go to Scripture. We find it spoken of in this manner:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:1–10).
In that text the problem of man is that he is “dead in his trespasses and sins.” That is the way in which he lives. He is an enemy of God and “by nature children of wrath.” That is man’s greatest problem. A very simple way of stating it is that man is a sinner and God stands as Judge. What he needs is spiritual life. And this spiritual life is a gracious, sovereign act of God; because He is merciful He made sinners the objects of His love. He grants us all the blessings in Christ far too numerous to cover here. Let’s not overlook two important words in this passage (and elsewhere), “saved” and “wrath” (“children of” v. 3). Here we find those two, for some, problematic words in the same text. This is important because to not have life means to be, by nature, a child of God’s wrath. Thus, to have life means to have salvation by the Lord and from the Lord. The sinner needs to be justified before our Righteous God. That is the unrepentant’s greatest need. Since it is only God that imparts life He brings it to fruition to whomever He imparts it. They will walk in the good works that He prepared them for (v.10). The Gospel transforms. But before it transforms, it saves.
It is when we start talking about the basis for our transformation, which is the death and resurrection of Christ,and its purpose that people seem to get squeamish and upset. They love to talk about “transformation” but reject propitiation. In the book Pierced for Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey and Andrew Sach, they write:
The doctrine of penal substutionary atonement states that God gave himself in the person of his son to suffer instead of us the death, punishment and curse due to fallen humanity as the penalty for sin…It is therefore unsurprising that many have been deeply troubled in recent years to hear dissenting voices raised against this teaching. We fear that Christ will be robbed of his glory, that believers will be robbed of their assurance and that preachers will be robbed of their confidence in the ‘old, old story.’ (p. 21)
They then go on to quote Spurgeon:
The gospel speaks through propitiation for sin, and if that be denied, it speaketh no more. Those who preach not the atonement exhibit dumb and dummy gospel; a mouth it hath, but speaketh not; they that make it are like unto their idol… Would you have me silence the doctrine of the blood sprinkling? Would anyone of you attempt so horrible a deed? Shall we be censured if we continually proclaim the heaven-sent message of the blood of Jesus? Shall we speak with bated breath because some affected person shudders at the sound of the word ‘blood’? or some ‘cultured’ individual rebels at the old-fashioned thought of sacrifice? Nay, verily, we will sooner cut our tongue out than cease to speak of the precious blood of Jesus Christ.(p. 22)
Then they identify where the dissensions come from:
Where did these dissenting voices come from? Many of them can be traced to the rise of liberal theology in the middle of the nineteenth century. Liberalism had little time fro the motifs of sacrifice, divine wrath and propitiation entailed in penal substitution. As Henri Blocher observes, ‘Liberal Protestants…felt outraged at the doctrine and complained about a “blood” theology, in their eyes an ugly relic of primitive stages in man’s religious evolution.’ (p. 22)
This all sounds very familiar. How often do we hear about “transformation” without any propitiation. The good example of Jesus’ life is sufficient for some but the satisfaction of God’s justice in His wrath against people that violate His moral laws is scorned.
We say amen to Zacharius Ursinus who wrote:
God forgives our sins out of his pure mercy, and free love towards us; and on account of the intercession and satisfaction of Christ applied by faith. Intercession could not be made without satisfaction, because that would be to ask of God to yield somewhat of his justice. “Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” “The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” “For it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell in Christ; and having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself.” “Ye are come to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things, than that of Abel.” “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace.” (1 Pet. 3:18. 1 John 1:7. Col. 1:19, 20. Heb. 12:24. Eph. 1:7.)*
There must be satisfaction before there is a transformation, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Ro 5:6–11).
Soli Deo Gloria!
For His Glory,
*Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (307). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.