Tracing Life in the History of Redemption

A Theological Account of Life

Biblical theology (BT) often traces themes through the history of redemption in the narrative of the Bible. However, while many who trace a theme in BT often begins in Genesis, biblical theologians often forget to begin with a particular point in Genesis: “in the beginning God….” Biblical theology, like dogmatic (systematic) theology, should follow the biblical ordering of the two categories of theology––God and all things in relation to God––and thus begin with the being of God. “Redemptive history must be rooted in God’s own character; its salvific missions flow forth from the inner divine processions” (i.e., God’s inner life).[1] Thus, while theology is primarily about God, “it is also about everything else insofar as it relates to God.”[2] We could cover many themes to trace in the Bible, and I am choosing to cover one in the realm of soteriology (salvation). There are numerous topics in salvation (soteriology), such as, for example, justification, sanctification, faith, grace, etc. However, there is one concept that all of these doctrines have that often gets overlooked: the concept of life. There are many aspects of the gospel, but the concept and reality of life has given me a greater appreciation of this good news of God.

Aim

My aim is to attempt to trace the theme of life throughout redemptive history as written in the Bible. To guide the reader, I present a simple summary of this post:

God, who has life in himself, gratuitously gives creatures life. Man rejects this life in sin and falls into death. However, God gives man life yet again in Christ by the power of the Spirit who renews and illumines creatures’ hearts and minds to life-awakening faith. This life will one day be consummated in the eternal bliss of God’s presence wherein creatures will live together in joy with their Creator.

To begin this account, we start with God and then direct our attention outwards while consciously keeping the reality and life of God in mind.

God: Life in Himself

God lives, is Life, and his life is in and from himself (see my earlier article on this concept here). He says, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exod 3:14), denoting that he himself is the being of self-existent life––he has life in himself. He is altogether in se and a se––in and of himself. God’s life is his life in his inner personal works as Father, Son, and Spirit––the relations of origin: the Father eternally begets the Son and so the Son is eternally begotten; both the Father and the Son eternally breathe out the Spirit and so the Spirit proceeds from both. This perfect life of God as Father, Son, and Spirit is a lively plenitude––it is trinitarian life in relation. Said in other words, aseity––God's life––is simply self-existent, trinitarian life. Jesus says, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself” (John 5:26). God’s nature to be lively as he is––as Father, Son, and Spirit. Because God is this one who has life in and of himself as Father, Son, and Spirit, he has no need––he is fully actualized, that is, he is wholly realized (actus purus). He has no lack or deficiency. Thus, there is nothing for him to add for his being to come to completion, because he already is wholly complete in and of himself. Nevertheless, because God is this one who is Life and since his nature is to generate life, he fittingly bestows life out of his own benevolence to creatures.

Creation: God Gives Life

God is not restricted in his aseity (his life in and of himself), but rather, he freely gives life to that which is not God—creatures.[3] In this, he loses nothing of himself nor does he gain anything in himself because he is already wholly realized––actus purus.[4] Because of who God is as one who has no lack or need, the act of creation tells us something: creating man was an act of gratuitous love. God had no obligation or need to create and yet he gave life to that which is not himself. In this act of creating, God created man and gave him the breath of life so that he would become a living creature (Gen 2:7) made in God’s very own image (1:26–27). Now we must maintain a dogmatic rule here: the Creator-creature distinction. Both God and creatures do live and have life, but God has it in himself whereas creatures have it from another, that is, from God. They are dependent on God for their every breath, movement, etc., but God lives in himself—he has no need (Acts 17:25–26). Even though man is made in God’s image, God and the creature are distinct.

Moving on, God placed this man in the Garden to cultivate (לְעָבְדָהּ) life in the Garden (Gen 2:15), and further, to generate more creaturely life (1:28). In this giving of life wherein man was to act in and spread the Garden throughout the world, God gave one prohibition: “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (2:17). God then tells the consequence of this law breaking: “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (2:17). This law-breaking brought a consequence that was against the very nature of creatures––death, the cessation of life. God created creatures to have life, and law-breaking, which is sin, brought death. Sin is the decreation of the creature. Adam did not carry out his God-given responsibility to guard the Garden, and a serpent slithered in.

After being tempted by the serpent, Adam and Eve broke the good, God-given law. Adam represented all of mankind, and as a result of his sin, man would now die and return to the ground. But there is hope: a seed––life––would come and crush the head of the serpent. This seed would come from the woman, and thus Adam gave his wife a certain name: “Eve” the mother of all living (3:20). God promised death at the point of sin, and death did come, but so did a promise of life in the Seed.

Gospel Life: Life in Christ

At many times throughout history, this seed seemed to appear: Noah, Moses, David, Solomon, etc. However, all failed in sin and returned to the ground (died). Who would free man of his deathly oppressor, Death? To re-create life in man and free him from the curse of death could only be accomplished by Life itself––God, the Creator. To grant life yet again to man, God would need to redeem man. Thus, the Father sent the Son to take on flesh––a necessity, for what is not taken on by the Son cannot redeemed. Nevertheless, in this assumption of flesh, since the Son is perfect, he remained God––a necessity, for only God can save. Life itself took on real creaturely life. Life came down and dwelt among the dead. The eternal Son took on flesh, while remaining fully divine, and began the work of redemption to prevail where the children of God failed. Providing perfect obedience, the Last Adam, Jesus, would represent all of those who would be found in him so that they could be counted as righteous in God’s sight and thus have life in the one who is Life. This perfect obedience would lead Life to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:8). How would creatures be redeemed? It would be done by the crushing of their Creator, even so, it was the will and pleasure (וְחֵפֶץ) of the Father to crush his Son (Isa 53:10).[5] But there is far more to this. The Son laid his life down so that he may take it up again, and this charge was given to him by his Father (John 10:17–18). In trinitarian fashion, the Father, Son, and Spirit were all active and raised Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, up from the grave (Gal 1:1; John 10:18; Rom 8:11). Now, because the Christ has been raised from the dead and lives, all those whom he represents have been united to him shall certainly be raised to life with him (Rom 6:5) and live. But how would these people be unified with him?

Life and Faith: The Spirit’s Indwelling

After Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, left his people when he ascended to the Father, the Father and the Son sent forth the Spirit to awaken life-giving faith in the elect. The Spirit would dwell in God’s people and illumine their hearts and minds to believe and confess that Jesus is Lord. In this faith, the elect would be sealed by the Spirit of Christ and of God and be united to their Savior. Faith “simply lays hold of Christ and his merits.”[6] Faith is the instrument in which one clings to Christ and is thus unified with him while being justified by Christ’s own righteousness. Faith in Christ does not mean that one is trusting in his own ability nor does it mean that one is relying on self-exertion. Rather, it is having “confidence in divine benevolence and salvation,”[7] which is knowing, assenting, and trusting that Christ accomplished redemption. Simply put, “Faith is clinging to Christ,”[8] and this is wrought out by the Spirit being apportioned to the elect by “the measure of faith God has assigned” (Rom 12:3). In short, the elect have Christ's very own Spirit who brings about faith in Christ and are thus unified to the living Christ, which means they to can now have life in Christ. 

Further, the Spirit takes this new creaturely life in Christ and creates a new community: the church. Rather than dying in disorder, God would bring his people into one, living body as distinct members. They would now live an ordered life in relation as a community clinging to Christ. This people, God’s church, will endure by the power of the Spirit until the return of the King.

Life Everlasting in the Bliss of Life Itself

In the day that the Son returns, creaturely life will meet its source. For those who are found in Christ, and only those who are found in Christ––those who believe and confess him as Lord and Savior and thus submit to him––their day will have no end in eternal bliss in the happy presence of the triune God. Redeemed creaturely life will truly live as Life intended life to be. The nations will come together seeing the tree of life by the river of life, which flows forth from the throne of God. They will have true life seeing God’s face and they will reign with him and worship him forever (Rev 21:1–5).

Conclusion

To conclude, I would like to highlight three points about life in this history wherein God creates and recreates creaturely life. 

(1) The act of God creating is a free, gratuitous act of love. From having knowledge of God in himself, God’s external works are illuminated and reveal to us that he is loving and generous. If God is truly a se (independent for his own existence and has life in and from himself), he did not have to create as if he lacked something. He did not need anything outside of himself. There is no need in God because God fully is. Thus, since God is a se and perfect, being wholly complete in himself not needing anything outside of himself, creation is a voluntaryfree work meaning that it is a work of love—he gives what belongs only to him even when he is not obligated to do so. He does not restrict in envy (he has nothing to envy!). He does not create because he needed to do so. Rather, he gives life as a free gift to creatures out of goodness, love, generosity, and benevolence. As Webster says:

“Creation is a work of wholly adequate love. Part of this love’s adequacy is its voluntary character: it is fully spontaneous and self-original, nothing more than God’s will being required for creatures to come to be. But creative divine volition is not caprice but purpose, direction of entire capacity to another’s good; and it is purposive love, most of all because this other does not antecede the gift of its own being but receives the gift of life from God. Love gives life and love gives life.”[9]

Moreover, God does not just give in a stingy manner. Rather, he lavishes his creatures with gifts. When God created man and put him in the Garden, God gave him all the trees and plants to eat from except for one. Thus, God is lovingly gracious to give life, and further, to give everything abundantly. Further, the life that God gives in Christ is not any smidgen of life, it is abundant life (John 10:10).

(2) Sin is not mere disobedience, it is the decreation of the creature, which is death. As man is made in the image of the living God, he rightly lives by God’s will. Man is meant to live. Further, God’s mandate is not to just live, but also to multiply life (Gen 1:28). However, in sin, man is not just disobeying, he is rejecting life that God gives because he would rather choose sin, which leads to death. Sin is thus the decreation of man––it goes against what man should do and be.

(3) Finally, redeemed life is life in Christ and is real human life. Having life in Christ does not negate man really living. One text comes to mind: “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” (Gal 2:20). The space to expound this passage is limited, but in the meantime, this should suffice: redeemed life is life in Christ wherein he lives for us, and by faith, we really do live in Christ.[10] In other words, our life is life in Christ, and this life in Christ is really our life. In this stage, then, we live by faith until that day where faith shall turn to sight and hope shall turn to glad fruition when the nations come together and reign with God, see his face, and worship him forever and ever. And oh what life shall be like then!




[1] Michael Allen, “Knowledge of God,” in Christian Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic eds. Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), 26.

[2] Ibid., 22.

[3] Truly, “God is the giver of life,” because it is only his to give since he himself is Life (John Webster, “‘Love is also a Lover of Life’: Creation Ex Nihilo and Creaturely Goodness,” Modern Theology 29, no. 2 [April 2013]: 168).

[4] Actus purus necessarily implies immutability––nonchangeability (Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011], 235). Hence, there can be no addition or subtraction in God.

[5] Care must be taken here in saying that it was pleasing to God to crush his Son. This is not a case of cosmic child abuse, but rather, the delight in an atoning sacrifice, it was propitiatory––the satisfying of the wrath of God (Rom 3:21–26). Whereas God was not pleased with Israel’s sacrifices of bulls and goats (Isa 1:11), the sacrifice of the Christ was a pleasing aroma (Eph 5:2; cf. Gen 8:20–21).

[6] Horton, Pilgrim Theology, 268.

[7] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.2.15.

[8] Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 269.

[9] John Webster, “‘Love is also a Lover of Life,’” 168.

[10] See Michael Allen, “It is No Longer I Who Live: Christ’s Faith and Christian Faith,” in JRT 7:1, 3–26.