Sanctification and the Atonement: Prophetic Word and Consecration


Love for God is central in Christian perfection; it is human’s response to God’s prior love. The Bible says: “We love Him because He first loved us.” (I John 4:19). It is God’s descending love to human that makes possible an ascending human love for God. In I John 3:16 we read “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Is at Atonement of Christ on the Cross where Jesus laid down his perfect life for sinners, in that way he shows us the true meaning of love. The word of God is clear to shows Christian holiness as the response to God’s love revealed on the cross. John wrote: “In this love, of God was manifested gotten Son into the world that we might live through Him. In this love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (I John 4:9-10).

The works of the Low verse the works of Jesus Christ

Peter Abelard in his exposition of the Epistle to the Romans he noted that “ by the term ‘law’ sometimes it is just the five books of Moses that are understood; at other times, the whole Old Testament, as in our present instance. So Saint Augustine, in the fifteenth book of his On the Trinity, says: ‘By the term law sometimes all the oracles of God are referred to, but at other times more accurately only the law which was given through Moses’.”[1]

“Because by the works of the Law” – that is, by outward observances Abelard, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans of the law to which that people gave studious attention, such as circumcision, sacrifices, keeping the Sabbath, and other symbolic ordinances of the same kind – ‘no flesh shall be justified in his sight’ – that is, in God’s sight. All such as fulfil the law merely according to the flesh and not according to the spirit will be accounted righteous in men’s sight, perhaps – that is, according to human judgment which judges from outward and visible appearances – but not in God’s.”[2]

In commenting the last part of verse 20 in Rom 3 ‘… for by the law’ Abelard said, “He relates two points to the two that have already been made: To the one where he says, ‘that every mouth may be stopped and all the world brought under the judgment of God,’ he links, ‘for through he law cometh the knowledge of sin.’ To that other utterance, ‘because by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified before him,’ he joins the words, ‘but now without [the law the justice of God is made manifest].”[3] Abelard understood that,

by particular works of the written law, that is, by those formal precepts of which natural law knows nothing, no one is justified in God’s sight; but now, in this dispensation of grace, a righteousness of God – something which God approves and by which we are justified in God’s sight, namely love –has been manifested, through the teaching of the gospel, of course, apart from the law with its external and particular requirements. Still, this is a ‘righteousness witnessed by the law and the prophets,’ who also enjoin it.[4]

Abelard in his understanding is quite clear to show in the light of Roman 3 human righteousness is by faith through works of Christ. Human righteousness depends of justice of God. Abelard said “By the faith which we hold concerning Christ love is increased in us, by virtue of the conviction that God in Christ has united our human nature to himself and, by suffering in that same nature, has demonstrated to us that perfection of love of which he himself says: ‘Greater love than this no man hath’, etc. So we, through his grace, are joined to him as closely as to our neighbour by an indissoluble bond of affection.”[5] Abelard noted that humans justification is freely, “not by any previous merits of their own, but by the grace of him – that is, God – who ‘first hath loved us’… through our redemption accomplished by Christ whom God the Father set forth to be our propitiator, that is, our reconciler.”[6] In the light of Abelard views we can understanding how is important atonement of Christ for Christian Holiness. Abelard noted that by the blood of Christ, by his death God established propitiation “not for all but only for those who believe… through faith, for this reconciliation affects them only who have believed and hoped for it.”[7]

Abelard believed all the works did by Christ are a pure manifestation of God’s love, who wanted reconciliation with us. For Abelard that is a prophetic word which the “ancient Fathers, waiting in faith for this same gift, were aroused to very great love of God in the same way as men of this dispensation of grace, since it is written: ‘And they that went before and they that followed cried, saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ (Mark 11:9, Matt. 21:9).”[8]

McGrath in following summarize Abelard understanding of works of Christ

It is too often assumed that in his short paragraph in the Romans exposition Abelard offers a soteriology which may be summarised in one sentence: The exemplary life and death of sinless Son of God on man’s behalf reveals the nature of divine love and thus moves the sinner to a like response of love… The love of God revealed in Jesus Christ is an example of sacrificial love to be imitated in the life of the Christian, but its exemplary quality is secondary, consequent upon its redemptive character. The action of God in Christ is direct, not indirect; man’s responsive act of love is a direct result of Christ’s gracious transformation of the sinner’s person… Since man cannot save himself from his predicament of sin, he needs more than an indication of the way to Christian life. He needs to be transformed, and he can be redeemed only by grace.[9]

John Calvin – Free Justification and Good Works merit favour with God

In this subtitle we go to see how Calvin understood justification, if is by faith or by works. For Calvin that justification by works “consists only in a perfect and absolute fulfilment of the law; and that, therefore, no man is justified by works unless he has reached the summit of perfection, and cannot be convicted of even the smallest transgression.”[10] Calvin in quoting Chrysostom wrote “If any works of our follow the free calling of God, they are return and debt; but the gifts of God are grace, and beneficence, and great liberality.”[11] Calvin noted by his careful studies of Scripture works by merit is full of impurity, he said

What all our works can merit Scriptures shows when it declares that they cannot stand the view of God, because they are full of impurity; it next shows what the perfect observance of the law (if it can anywhere be found) will merit when it enjoins, ‘So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you say, we are unprofitable servants, we have done that which was our duty to do’ (Luke 17:10); because we make no free-offering to God, but only perform due service by which no favour is deserved.[12]

Like we see above Calvin did not support justification by works of merit, for him the architecture of Christian doctrine of justification is found in Christ. Quoting Paul in I Cor. 3:11 ‘Other foundation can no man lay than which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.’ Calvin said “No man, therefore, is well founded in Christ who has not entire righteousness in him, since the Apostle says not that he was sent to assist us in procuring, but was himself to be our righteousness.”[13]

Calvin tried to show by Scriptures our righteousness is “ not according to our merit but according to the good pleasure of his will; that in him ‘we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins;’ that peace has been made ‘through the blood of his cross:’ that we are reconciled by his blood; that, placed under his protection, we are delivered from the danger of finally perishing; that thus ingrafted into him we are made partakers of eternal life, and hope for admission into the kingdom of God.” (I Cor. 1:30: Eph. 1:3-5; Col. 1:14, 20: John 1:12; 10:28).[14] For Calvin the example of Christ in denying himself in obedience to Father even his death must be taken for us, because that “includes all offices of piety and holiness.”[15]

The Prophetic Actions of Jesus

There are many strong and clear evidences of the prophetic death of Jesus Christ. Indeed, there is sufficient information in the Bible about the person and works of Jesus Christ. Several aspects of Christ are sufficient for our salivation. They include the miracle of His virgin birth, His sinless life, His mighty works, His incomparable teachings, His volitional death as the necessary and sufficient sacrifice to redeem us from sin and death. On the same note, His glorious bodily resurrection from the grave and ascension back to heaven are true facts of history which can only be explained by the revealed truth that He was God incarnate, the eternal Word made flesh, the Creator who became our Saviour and has promised soon to return as our King of kings and Lord of lords.

In her book Morna Hooker tried to bring some of the miracles of Christ that are connected to his prophetic office. Specifically, his miracles are perceived as manifestations of divine power. “They are clear seen by the evangelists as indication that God is at work in Jesus”[16] For examples walk on the water, feeding vast crowds, healing man and woman and exorcizing demons, “are a sign that the kingdom of God is bursting into this world, and that Satan’s kingdom is crumbling. If, by the finger – or Spirit – of God, he is casting out demons, those the Kingdom has already arrived: the drama of the exorcisms points to the hidden reality of Satan’s defeat.”[17]

Jesus Christ the Suffering Servant

The idea of atonement of Christ is often associated with the Old Testament image of the suffering servant particularly found in Isaiah 53. The theme of suffering servant had been voiced by the Old Testament prophets for more than seven hundred years. Initially, the nation of Israel is the one that was perceived as the servant of God but later the title was applied to Christ as the faithful servant of God to accomplish God’s mission. This mission is associated with the suffering of Christ whose climax is death on the cross for redemption of both Jews and Gentiles. It is this suffering of Christ that consummated his death on the cross and constitutes the core of Christian faith.

The death of Christ is meant to be understood as a substitution for sinful mankind. Through his substitutionary death Christ accomplished the following. He took our infirmities, paid for our transgressions and carried our sorrows, was crashed for our infirmities, brought us peace through his punishment and took up our infirmities. However, the crucial thing that was accomplished by the death of Christ is the forgiveness of our sins. Therefore the death of Christ can be seen as the means of release from the bondage of sin on the human side. On the God side of our redemption, the death of Christ acted propitiation because it appeased God’s wrath and fulfilled the just demands of God.

The Moral Theory of the Atonement

McGrath presents various views of how the death of Christ is to be understood. He noted,

According to Steinbart, the work of Christ is to be defined in terms of the promotion of human happiness and perfection, as the title of his most influential work suggests. The divine dispensation towards mankind is totally concerned with the promotion of a ‘supremely excellent and complete morality, which finds its personification in Jesus Christ. God demands nothing of man which is not directly and totally beneficial to man himself: the object of the Christian religion is to meet the religious and moral needs of mankind. The simplicity of the Christian religion, according to Steinbart has been threatened by the intrusion of certain religion ‘arbitrary hypotheses’, all of which relate to the doctrine of the work of Christ.[18]

McGrath noted that Semler did not agree with that historical-critical approach to this doctrine and “suggests that their historical origins lay the doctrines themselves open to criticism… It is, however, for the specifically Protestant doctrines of the satisfactory value of Christ’s death and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to man that Steinbart reserves his most devastating criticism.”[19]

McGrath noted that “… the theologians of the Aufklärung distanced themselves considerably from Orthodox understanding of the significance of the death of Christ… [because] first, the Augustinian concept of original sin is denied, with corresponding emphasis being placed upon man’s natural moral capacities… on to the second consideration: the essence of sin is considered to lie in the harm which it causes to man himself. If Christ’s death is to have any significance for man, this must therefore be located in the effect which it has upon man himself. [20]

McGrath noted different point of view from Kähler in regarding these theologians, he said

Martin Kähler pointed out, these theologians regarded Christ as having merely revealed certain significant insights concerning an eternal and unchanging situation, rather than initiating in himself a changed situation. If man can be said to have been liberated or redeemed by Christ, it is in the sense of being delivered from false conceptions of God – e.g., God as an arbitrary tyrant, who imposes arbitrary punishment or demands upon man. It is thus by the imitation of the example which is set before man in Christ that man is saved, all the intellectual obstacles to this goal having been removed through the critical application of reason. Morality and religion are, in effect, synonymous, in that each makes the same demands of man for the same reason.[21]

McGrath noted also continuity between Aufklärung and Hastings Rashdall concerning of idea of the Atonement. In his evaluation, both think “there is none other ideal given among men by which we may be saved except the moral ideal which Christ taught by his words, and illustrated by his life and death of love; there is none other help so great in the attainment of that ideal as the belief in God as he had been supremely revealed in him who so taught and lived and died. So understood, the self sacrificing life which was consummated by the death upon the Cross has; indeed, power to take away the sins of the whole world.”[22] McGrath concludes from the statements of these two theologians that “man must find his own way to salvation by his good works executed in the imitation of the example of Christ. Paradoxically, although Rashdall rejects mediaeval notions of merit with a heavy irony, he himself finally develops a soteriology which is nothing less than a doctrine of salvation through merit.”[23] McGrath in his research about main lines of theological criticism understood the analysis of Kant’s moral theology which Kant recognised that “man was free creature; with an ability to misuse precisely that freedom… man may totally ignore his apprehension of categorical moral obligation.”[24] He said “Kant argues that God treats man’s becoming well-pleasing to God as if man was already in full possession of the moral perfection … moral perfection is not to be defined in terms of the achievement of such perfection, but rather as a disposition towards this objective. In effect, the idea of absolute moral perfection is maintained as an archetype (Urbild), which man recognises as good, and towards which he works – yet which he ultimately cannot attain.”[25]

McGrath in his research noted a clear impact of Kant’s analysis of the presupposition of morality in J. H. Tieftrunk of Halle who like Kant defend doctrine of reconciliation. For Tieftrunk “the concept of the ‘forgiveness of sin’ was thus conceded to be an essential feature of a moralist understanding of the significance of the death of Christ.”[26] McGrath noted that both these men, Kant and Tieftrunk “continue to regard Christ’s death as essentially exemplary and symbolic, the moral framework within which this symbol was to be interpreted had been revised in such a manner that the concepts of divine grace and divine forgiveness were necessarily implicated in the overall scheme of Atonement… Christ’s death upon the cross revealed the full extent of God’s love for man, and thence inspired an appropriate moral response on man’s part.”[27]

Moral Influence and Total Consecration

Noble said “the heart of the ‘moral influence theory’ was propounded by Abelard in his commentary on Romans… the idea is that when we see the love of God in Christ upon the cross, we respond in love, and our responding love thus completes the reconciliation from our side… the Atonement is completed by us when we respond in love to God’s love.”[28] For Noble in verse of Watts we can find a clear connection between the ‘moral influence’ view of the Atonement and total consecration when he wrote, “When I see the love of God displayed on the cross, I fully consecrate my life, my soul, my all. It is the vision of the cross which draws from me that whole-hearted love, that love for God with heart, soul, mind and strength which is the essence of entire sanctification.”[29] Noble in his research he understood the ‘moral influence’ does not provide a clear and obvious basis for the doctrine of the Atonement. In his opinion there is inadequacy in that theory. He said

The inadequacy of ‘moral influence’ as a theory lies essentially in this, that it fails to present the Atonement of Christ as a ‘finished work’… this view of the Atonement does not provide an adequate basis for the idea of entire sanctification… the moral influence theory has no understanding of how the death of sin was objectively achieved on the cross, and so it can offer no understanding of what it means for the believer to-day to be ‘dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’… This view of Atonement places enormous weight on the response of the individual believer. It is the responding love of the individual which completes the At-one-ment. But there is no objective dealing with sin on the cross, no priesthood of Christ representing us to the Father, no actual dealing with sin, no expiation, no death of that enigmatic and paradoxical reality, as a real barrier between God and man, as sinfulness entrenched in the very flesh of humanity, in his very being, is not taken into account at all. When the individual response in love, sin just seems to be forgotten.[30]

Noble in his observation he saw how this theory of moral influence put enormous emphasis in total consecration by individual believer as a key factor to effect entire sanctification. In his opinion he said that “… may not be admitted, there will be a tendency to see entire sanctification as something we produce by our consecration… rather than entire sanctification as a gospel of grace, something God does in us and not something we achieve.”[31] For Noble is not wrong at all to understand that “… entire sanctification is a relational matter in which the healing of my personal relationship with God through whole-hearted love will heal me spiritually as a person, integrating and unifying my motivation and personality around this love for God, healing me by making me whole. But it will be in danger of seeing this merely as an ethical or psychological change which can be produced by ethical persuasion at the human level.”[32] For Dr. Noble “the salvation and sanctification of the individual can only be understood in the context of God’s universal act of Atonement in the cross of Christ, dealing with the sin and the sinfulness of the entire human race as a corporate whole. ‘Entire sanctification’ is not a human possibility, not is it achieved by my total consecration. It is an act of grace in the life of the individual, within the context of the body of Christ, the Church, made possible by God’s once-for-all act of grace in the crucifixion of the old sinful humanity on the cross.”[33]

Shepherd noted the following

Moral Influence theory is the doctrine that the main purpose of the Cross is to display God’s love with such power as to turn to him. Many would in fact deny the right of this theory to be here at all. If we search essentially for an ‘objective’ or ‘transactional’ approach, then this is no it. ‘We call a theologian a supporter of the Moral Influence Theory’, the late Rev Raymond George wrote to me, ‘if that is the only theory that he holds’. We might be tempted to conclude that this is, in truth, no theory at all, but merely a reductionist approach to the cross; something which sees the atonement as existing only in our reaction to death of Christ, just as some theologies see God as existing only as a concept the human mind. That would however be to discount the power of the cross to effect a radical conversion of spirit; furthermore, those who espouse this theory may continue to accept important aspects of other theories. ‘Moral influence’ does not easily fit into precise categories of atonement.[34]


There is no doubt that the Atonement of Christ it is necessary and sufficient for our full salvation. The law demanded that we should suffer eternal death because of our sin. However, Christ on the cross paid the penalty for our sin. It is very important to observe that the Bible’s teaching about the cross of Christ does not mean that God waited for someone else to pay the penalty of sin before He would forgive the sinner. God Himself took initiative to pay the penalty of sin — God Himself in the Person of God the Son, who loved us and gave Himself for us, God Himself in the person of God the Father who so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son, God the Holy Spirit who applies to us the benefits of Christ’s death. This is the truth of the Bible that needs to be believed and appropriated in our lives to our own good and for the glory of God.

[1] Peter Abailard, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans ( An excerpt from the Second Book), The Text On Romans 3:19-26, The Library of Christian Classic, 226, 227.

[2] Abailard, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, 277

[3] Abailard, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, 277

[4] Abailard, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, 278

[5] Abelard, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, 278

[6] Abelard, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, 279

[7] Abelard, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, 279

[8] Abailard, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, 283, 284

[9] Alister McGrath, The Moral Theory of The Atonement: An Historical and Theological Critique, Scottish Journal of Theology, Volume 38 No. 2, Scottish Academic Press Ltd. 1985, 208.

[10] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, A new Translation by Henry Beveridge, volume II, 1953, Chapter XV, 1:91, 92

[11] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, volume II, 2:91.

[12] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, volume II, 3:92.

[13] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, volume II, 5:94

[14] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, volume II, 5:94

[15] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, volume II, 8:96.

[16] Hooker, The Signs of A Prophet, 36

[17] Hooker, The Signs of A Prophet, 37

[18] Alister McGrath, The Moral Theory of The Atonement: An Historical and Theological Critique, Scottish Journal of Theology, Volume 38 No. 2, Scottish Academic Press Ltd. 1985, 210.

[19] McGrath, The Moral Theory of The Atonement: An Historical and Theological Critique, 210

[20] McGrath, The Moral Theory of The Atonement: An Historical and Theological Critique, 211

[21] McGrath, The Moral Theory of The Atonement: An Historical and Theological Critique, 211, 212

[22] McGrath, The Moral Theory of The Atonement: An Historical and Theological Critique, 212

[23]McGrath, The Moral Theory of The Atonement: An Historical and Theological Critique, 212

[24] McGrath, The Moral Theory of The Atonement: An Historical and Theological Critique, 214

[25] McGrath, The Moral Theory of The Atonement: An Historical and Theological Critique, 214

[26] McGrath, The Moral Theory of The Atonement: An Historical and Theological Critique, 216

[27] McGrath, The Moral Theory of The Atonement: An Historical and Theological Critique, 217

[28] T. AQ. Noble, The Foundation of Christian Holiness, T. A. N. Nazarene Theological Seminary, September, 1999, Lecture 2 Christian Holiness and Atonement, 21, 22.

[29] Noble, The Foundation of Christian Holiness, Lecture 2 Christian Holiness and Atonement, 22.

[30] Noble, The Foundation of Christian Holiness, Lecture 2 Christian Holiness and Atonement, 22, 23

[31] Noble, The Foundation of Christian Holiness, Lecture 2 Christian Holiness and Atonement, 23

[32] Noble, The Foundation of Christian Holiness, Lecture 2 Christian Holiness and Atonement, 23

[33] Noble, The Foundation of Christian Holiness, Lecture 2 Christian Holiness and Atonement, 24

[34] Neville Thomas Shephered, Charles Wesley and the Doctrine of the Atonement, A dissertation submitted to the University of Bristol in accordance with the requirements of degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Arts (Department of Theology and Religious Studies) Submitted September 1999, 7


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