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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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    Is it accurate to say that God died on the cross? by Dr. R. C. Sproul

    The famous hymn of the church “And Can it Be?” contains a line that asks a very poignant question : “How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” Is it accurate to say that God died on the cross?

    This kind of expression is popular in hymnody and in grassroots conversation. So although I have this scruple about the hymn and it bothers me that the expression is there, I think I understand it, and there’s a way to give an indulgence for it.

    We believe that Jesus Christ was God incarnate. We also believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross. If we say that God died on the cross, and if by that we mean that the divine nature perished, we have stepped over the edge into serious heresy. In fact, two such heresies related to this problem arose in the early centuries of the church: theopassianism and patripassianism. The first of these, theopassianism, teaches that God Himself suffered death on the cross. Patripassianism indicates that the Father suffered vicariously through the suffering of His Son. Both of these heresies were roundly rejected by the church for the very reason that they categorically deny the very character and nature of God, including His immutability. There is no change in the substantive nature or character of God at any time.

    God not only created the universe, He sustains it by the very power of His being. As Paul said, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). If the being of God ceased for one second, the universe would disappear. It would pass out of existence, because nothing can exist apart from the sustaining power of God. If God dies, everything dies with Him. Obviously, then, God could not have perished on the cross.

    Some say, “It was the second person of the Trinity Who died.” That would be a mutation within the very being of God, because when we look at the Trinity we say that the three are one in essence, and that though there are personal distinctions among the persons of the Godhead, those distinctions are not essential in the sense that they are differences in being. Death is something that would involve a change in one’s being.

    We should shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross. The atonement was made by the human nature of Christ. Somehow people tend to think that this lessens the dignity or the value of the substitutionary act, as if we were somehow implicitly denying the deity of Christ. God forbid. It’s the God-man Who dies, but death is something that is experienced only by the human nature, because the divine nature isn’t capable of experiencing death.

    Posted by John Samson on April 14, 2010 06:01 PM

    Comments

    I think what's bothering me is the idea that Christ's human nature is being discussed as a separate entity from His Divine nature. I don't believe in a half-God, half man savior. Much as a member of the Trinity is a part of the Godhead, and yet fully God, Christ was both fully God and fully man. To say any less is to say that Christ shed His Godly nature while on earth, becoming just a man, while His Godly nature was "held in long-term storage".

    For Christ to suffer on the cross, Christ's FULL nature must suffer. And that nature was at that time, and will forever be, both fully God and fully man. It rightly had to be, or as it says in Hebrews 9, His sacrifice would be insufficient at once to cover all of the Elect.

    So we must say that Christ's full nature suffered on the cross, not just his human side, or His sacrifice would have been in vain to save us. When God the Father and the Spirit forsook Christ on the cross, it can't have just been the "human Christ" who was forsaken and covered in our sinfulness, but Christ as God and man.

    This means, at the very least, that on the cross, Christ as a member of the Trinity was separated from God the Father and from the Spirit. This means that Christ as a member of the Trinity, who knew no sin, suddenly experienced the weight of sins - of all of our sins. This means that Christ, as a member of the Trinity, died for our sins.

    How did this work? How could an immutable nature of the Trinity be rocked like that? Isn't that the "mystery of the cross"? Isn't it fair to say that humanity doesn't understand HOW it was that God became incarnate, or how Christ's Godly nature was affected by the cross? However, we are told in the Bible that it DID happen. The how we may not have, but the what was clear. Sola Scriptura. It's fair to say that we don't understand how an immutable God did all this and still was immutable. However, it's not fair to say that it must not have happened or God will have broken rules that we understand only as humans.

    Just some thoughts, moments before wrestling with these same issues at a Bible study tonight.

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