In studying this passage, the Lives Transforming team draws from Church history and other Scripture passages to discuss different views of atonement, justification and sanctification, and then teaches us how they practically apply in daily life.
Derek Wilder starts by expounding on Galatians 3:13. This verse states that Christ redeemed us, becoming a curse for us. But the question is, what and who did Jesus pay for, and to whom did He pay it? There have been three predominant theories to answer the meaning of atonement.
The first is the Ransom Theory, one of the earliest views of atonement as it was understood by the Church fathers. Aulen, the early Church father who originated this theory, believed that Christ was paying Satan for his right to control humankind. This theory believes that God ‘tricked’ Satan into accepting Christ’s death in exchange for his power over mankind. As Wilder and others on the team comment, there are some problems with this theory. It puts too much power in Satan’s hands and brings God’s character into question.
The second theory of atonement, which is also the most popular, is the Substitutionary Theory, articulated by a man named Anholm in 1100 AD. This theory focuses on the concept of Christ taking our place, the ‘just for the unjust’ according to I Peter 3:18. Anholm wrote a book about the importance of the ‘God-man,’ Jesus. It was important that God do the atoning, but He had to be human to do so. In answer to the question raised earlier, Christ was paying God for us.
The third theory, known as the Moral Influence Theory, was proposed by Abelard, a contemporary of Anholm. This theory draws from the ‘love’ concept. God loved us, therefore he sent Christ, not to pay for us, but to help us, to lead by example. Christ Himself said He came to ‘seek and to save those who were lost.’ (Luke 19:10). This theory seems to miss the mark when it comes to the sinful nature of man in opposition righteousness of God, however.
Moving on the next verse, we see that just as Abraham was justified by faith, so are we. Because of our faith in Christ, we are considered children of Abraham, and due to receive the blessings God promised to Him. Wilder stresses that this passage points out what the promise was – the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit.
Lives Transforming’s study then moves in to the teaching of sanctification. Justification is what Christ did for us on the cross – putting us in right standing with God. This is the beginning of our faith. The next step is sanctification. This is the progression of our faith in which we are becoming more and more Christ-like, putting to death the sinful nature.
Using key Scriptures, Derek Wilder shows that all three persons of the Trinity are responsible for the work of sanctification. We cannot sanctify ourselves.
In the 1700s, groups known as Pietists and Moravians started focusing more on the sanctification of the believer instead of on justification, as had Martin Luther and others in the Protestant Reformation. The problem with this focus is that it often leads the believer to lean too heavily on the disciplines of the Christian faith (prayer, Bible reading, practicing godliness), instead of focusing on the Holy Spirit’s work in our spirits, bringing about sanctification.
Just as we are not justified by works, but by faith; we are not truly sanctified by religious disciplines, but by our faith in the Holy Spirit’s power at work within us.
Wilder ends his discussion of the two differing views of sanctification by giving a practical, every-day example, drawn from a friend’s experience. When we respond in the flesh, even if it is the right response, we are not being sanctified. We are being the ‘martyr’, while in our hearts we have not changed.
But, if we allow our knowledge of our relationship with God to form our judgments on each situation and give us security, we can act in peace and love and show that we are truly being transformed by Him. This is what sanctification truly is.