Founders Journal · Summer 2005 · pp. 27-33
Christ the Mediator:
Pastoral Reflections from The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Paul calls on Christians to have “distinctive walks—”as beloved children,” even seeking in our relationships, ethics, morals, and service to “be imitators of God.” Startling as this may appear, the Apostle doesn’t just toss out a mysterious command for Christians. He gives clear markers for how to be imitators of God. “Walk in love,” he tells us. But love has been distorted in our day to mean virtually anything a person wants it to mean. Thankfully, Paul qualifies his meaning by pointing to the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ. So, he means that the Christian is to walk in the particular kind of love displayed by Jesus Christ. “And walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
At least that points us in the right direction—to Jesus Christ. Yet, admittedly, rather than Scripture, many people’s traditions, superstitions, and experiences serve to inform the mind of what it means to walk in love just as Christ did. So, some consider Christ’s love to be devoid of law or justice or even discretion. Others paint Christ as just one of the boys, “the Man Upstairs,” who goes along with whatever suits one’s mood.
Obviously, Paul had a clear portrait of Jesus Christ in view when he called for Christians to find their motivation and model for walking in love in Him. But how do we know that the Christ we envision is not an imposter masquerading in our thoughts? “Well, that’s easy,” one might say. “Just give him a Bible and let him read for himself!” I agree, but where do you tell such an inquiring person to read? Certainly, you advise reading the Gospels, and while you’re at it, you also recommend reading the Epistles. For that matter, as grand as is the Christ-portrait painted in the Gospels and Epistles, you also recognize that much help can be found in the sermons of the Acts and John’s Apocalypse, so you commend these as well. But, the more you ponder your recommendation, you think about Isaiah’s prophecies of Christ and the incomparable “Suffering Servant” of chapter 53, along with the countless messianic passages in the other Prophets. And can you forget the majestic way that the Psalms portray Christ? Or how about the important prophetic material about Christ in the Pentateuch and Historical books?
The fact is, no one passage, chapter, or book of the Bible tells us all that we need to know concerning Jesus Christ. Each portion of God’s Word—Old and New Testaments—revealing Jesus Christ, contributes to a fuller understanding of the One called Son of God, Son of Man, the Word, Savior, Messiah, Good Shepherd, Prophet, Priest, King, and Lord. So, how can we capture the essence of the Scriptures’ teaching regarding Jesus Christ? There is no better place to turn than enduring confessional statements. Among Baptists, none has weathered the changing religious landscape better than The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, often called, quite simply, the 1689. So how does the 1689 help us understand the Christ that motivates and models Christian love? Chapter 8, “Of Christ the mediator,” narrowed down to paragraphs 5, 7, and 8, will suffice for present considerations.
What did Jesus Christ offer to God?
How is the Christian to walk in love? “Just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” Christ’s love is personalized, “for you,” referring to the Ephesian believers, and also broadened to include all of the elect, “for us.” Paragraph 5 in the 1689 packs together the biblical teaching of what Jesus offered to God “for us.”
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 God, procured reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.
Christ’s active and passive obedience
As God, the Lord Jesus gave the law; as Man—the Incarnate One, He kept the law, giving “perfect obedience” to the law, fulfilling the covenant of works. While “through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). The law gave life to no one due to the inherent sinfulness in the human race. “For what the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did.” On behalf of lawbreakers, God sent “His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,” as the one who perfectly fulfilled the law (Romans 8:3). He purposed and succeeded in fulfilling all righteousness in His obedience to the law (Matthew 3:15). Therefore, He qualified to be “an offering for sin,” condemning “sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3–4). The substitutionary nature of Christ’s death, “an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma,” was foreshadowed by the high priest presenting the blood of a goat on the mercy seat and by the multiplied sin offerings in the old economy. Yet, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). So, God sent His Son to do His will, so that “by this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).
Once and only once
God accepted the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf “which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God” or, as Hebrews 9:14 declares, “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God,” so, One perfectly obedient, “cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Rather than the endless sacrifice of bulls and goats that have no efficacy to remove sin, “Christ gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.” The merit of His death is obvious by the Holy Spirit offering the atoning blood to God. Unlike the practice in the Roman mass, God accepted once and for all the sacrifice of Christ to atone for our sins, so that no other offering or merit can contribute to the sufficiency of His work, nor is anything else needed to secure the salvation of the elect. Christ did the will of God in both His active obedience to the law and His substitutionary death. “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). Atonement was made through the bloody death of Christ. So efficacious and sufficient was His death that the sanctification of the elect is guaranteed. “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).
The confession mentions three specific accomplishments of Christ’s active and passive righteousness. First, He “hath fully satisfied the justice of God,” that is, Christ propitiated God with reference to His eternal justice. So that heaven, earth, and hell might know the effectiveness of Christ’s work to satisfy God’s justice and assuage His just wrath, “God displayed [Christ on the cross] publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” Lest anyone dare to accuse the gracious forgiving God of overlooking the guilt of sin and trampling upon His own divine law, His own Son died the public, shameful death of the cross. “This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just [in forgiving sinners] and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25–26). God’s justice demanded satisfaction from the condemned race. “Therefore, He [Christ] had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).
Second, Jesus Christ also “procured reconciliation.” As Paul stated so emphatically in Colossians, “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (1:21–22). Friends need no reconciliation. “Alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds,” pictures the human dilemma before the infinitely holy God, who likewise holds such rebels accountable before Him (Romans 3:19). But, out of His kindness, He has pursued reconciliation, procuring it through sending His eternal Son to become one of the condemned race, so that “in His fleshly body through death” He might effect reconciliation. Again Paul joins the theme: “God… reconciled us to Himself through Christ… God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Reconciliation required the Mediator to be God and man: to give infinite value to His death as God and to satisfy God through death on behalf of men as Man.
Third, Christ’s reconciling propitiatory work procures eternal benefits. He has “purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him.” This eternal inheritance He provides specifically for the elect. The writer of Hebrews states plainly, “For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15). “Those who have been called” identify a particular people, the elect of God, who have benefited from the death of Christ in a particular way, as those receiving “the promise of the eternal inheritance.” Who are these elect of God that has received the eternal inheritance? The heavenly song identifies them and their Redeemer. “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (Revelation 5:9–10). Christ’s death on the cross was not to provide a potential salvation, but by His death to purchase particular people, “men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Consequently, through the application of His redemptive work, He “made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God,” with a future unending, as those that “will reign upon the earth.”
How did Jesus accomplish this redemptive work?
Again, we are considering how to walk in love “just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us.” If our view of Christ lacks biblical authenticity, then so will our walk modeled after Him. Paul taught us to look to Christ, to see the depth and reach of His love, and to recognize the extent of His atoning death. The 7th paragraph of the 1689 helps us to grapple with this question.
Christ, in the work of mediation, acteth according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.
The work of mediation accomplished by Christ
A mediator faces a difficult task. He represents two estranged parties, understanding the nature of both, recognizing the cause of estrangement, and determining the measures necessary to effect reconciliation. Christ is not only called “Mediator,” but he also accomplished “the work of mediation.” “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). No one else in the human race had anything to offer God to effect reconciliation, nor did any even desire reconciliation. But Christ bore this responsibility alone as the one mediator between God and men.
Mediation required deity and humanity
For men to be reconciled to God, the mediator must act “according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself.” Christ’s deity gave infinite value and merit to His atoning death as mediator. Christ’s humanity satisfied the divine justice requiring man to die for his own sin (Genesis 3:17; Romans 6:23). Paul captured this as he exhorted the Ephesian elders “to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” God’s church was purchased by God; yet God, who is spirit (John 4:24) and immortal and invisible (1 Timothy 1:17) cannot die. Men have offended God’s law and spurned His divine authority as rebels, and so justly deserve to bear the weight of his eternal wrath. Yet none bearing His wrath can satisfy eternal justice and be reconciled to God at the same time. So, Christ “had to be made like His brethren in all things… to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). The eternal Son alone qualified to mediate between God and men. “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven; the Son of Man” (John 3:13). The one person, Jesus Christ, died in His human nature at the cross, shedding His blood in death on the cross, to ransom the elect race by vicariously bearing in His own body the full measure of divine justice. His deity gave value to His sacrifice while His humanity fully satisfied God’s requirements for justice.
Two natures in one person
Though Christ died in the flesh we do not hesitate to affirm with Paul that God “purchased [His church] with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). The 1689 expresses so well the difficulty we often face when trying to distinguish the two natures of the one person of Jesus Christ. “Yet by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.” John L. Dagg, obviously influenced by this confession, confirms this idea in saying, “attributes or works which belong to one nature, are ascribed to his person, denoted by the name which is derived from the other nature.” And so, even such a bold statement as, “God died for me,” in the spirit of Acts 20:28, does not run contrary to biblical revelation in the unity of Christ, since, as Chalcedon affirmed, “the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person.” Again Dagg makes this very point in illustrating the biblical phenomenon of ascribing what is peculiar to one nature to a title that denominates the other: “He is called God, and the Lord of Glory, when his blood and crucifixion, things pertaining to his human flesh, are the subjects of discourse. ‘They would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.’” Though this transfer of language indicates without doubt the singularity of the person, this must not lead us to the false conclusion that the natures lose their proper distinctions, or as the confession states, “each nature doing that which is proper to itself.” Dagg again reminds us of this point in saying, “The union of the natures does not confound the properties peculiar to each. The humanity is not deified, nor the divinity humanized.” The confession reminds us of this transcendently mysterious, but necessary, truth, that the single person Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, embodies all the relations, experiences, attributes, and salvific transactions of both the divine and human natures. Only thus is He the author of eternal salvation to all who trust in Him.
For whom did Christ atone?
Since Jesus Christ, who “gave Himself up for us,” did not come to save sinners only potentially but actually to “purchase for God with [His] blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation,” the 1689, paragraph 8, affirms this, followed by the certainty of the generous gifts contained in His redemption (Ephesians 5:2; Revelation 5:9).
To all those for whom Christ hath obtained eternal redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same, making intercession for them; uniting them to himself by his Spirit; revealing unto them, in and by his Word, the mystery of salvation, persuading them to believe and obey, governing their hearts by his Word and Spirit, and overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner and ways as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation; and all of free and absolute grace, without any condition foreseen in them to procure it.
Jesus Christ declared the certainty that the Father had given to Him a particular people, who would definitely come to Him and whom He would never cast out (John 6:37). Jesus came specifically to atone for the sins of a people from all ages and ethno-linguistic groups whom the Father had given Him thereby redeeming them. Jesus shows His own commitment to this plan by explaining, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39). For this reason, the Lord declared, “I lay down My life for the sheep,” an act accomplished by Christ when He “gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God” (John 10:15; Ephesians 5:2). And so Jesus Christ could pray, not for the world in general, but for all of those for whom He died: “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours” (John 17:9). The 1689 affirms the certainty that those whom Christ has secured by His redemptive work, He will “certainly and effectually apply and communicate” the generous bounty won through His death and resurrection.
As believers face the daunting command, “walk in love, just as Christ loved you and gave Himself up for us,” the assurance is given that all the Christian needs to exercise such a walk is found in Jesus Christ and His redemptive work (Ephesians 5:2). The confession articulates seven specific blessings connected with Christ’s determination to redeem, justify, sanctify, and glorify the elect of God. First, Christ intercedes for us: “Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Romans 8:34). Second, Christ unites us to Himself by the Spirit, who seals us and remains the earnest of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). Third, Christ reveals to us the mystery of salvation through the Word: “all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you”; “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world”; “In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will” (John 15:15; 17:6; Ephesians 1:8b-9a). Fourth, Christ persuades us to believe and obey: “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 5:20). Fifth, Christ governs us by His Word and Spirit: “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God”; “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (Romans 8:14; John 17:17). Sixth, Christ overcomes all of our enemies by His omnipotence and wisdom: “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death” (1 Corinthians 15:25–26). Seventh, Christ lavishes the riches of His grace upon His people, as the 1689 expresses, “in such manner and ways as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation” (Ephesians 1:9-11). All that He does for us, He does “all of free and absolute grace, without any condition foreseen in them to procure it.”
Our model for walking in love, as well as our motivation, is found in the redemptive, sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. Unless we take the time to study and ponder the depth of such love, we impoverish our ability to “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” The Baptist Confession of 1689 serves us well, in concisely picturing Jesus Christ and His work, as well as providing ample citations from the Word of God for our meditation. The confession aids our looking to Christ.
1John L. Dagg, Manual of Theology (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Press, 1982), 201.
2Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. 2, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993 from 1931 edition), 62.