Graeme Goldsworthy on the Gospel, Atonement, Satisfaction and Justification

Graeme Goldsworthy,The Goldsworthy Trilogy former Moore College lecturer, is a highly influential theological thinker and author of recent times. His “trilogy” is available on Amazon Kindle right now for the stunning price of 20 cents. It includes three key works: Gospel and Kingdom, Gospel and Wisdom, and The Gospel in Revelation.

I recall a few months ago (in the context of another related discussion) my friend and colleague Mark Earngey pointing out why Goldsworthy is so significant. Goldsworthy’s life work is built on integrating the grand sweep of biblical narrative with its central theme, the gospel. The gospel, for Goldsworthy, has at its very heart the amazing truth that Christ died as a satisfaction for sin (in doctrinal terms, “penal substitutionary atonement”).

I thought it would be worth providing a few select quotes from Goldsworthy in his chapter on “Justification by Faith in Revelation” to illustrate this. Here he is seeking to integrate the historic reformed articulation of the gospel with the biblical narrative of Christ’s victory in the book of Revelation.

Graeme Goldsworthy, The Gospel and Revelation, Chapter 3 (“Justification by Faith in Revelation”):

The Christian view of this life and the life to come is defined by the person and work of Christ. Unfortunately, the on-going relevance of the gospel to our life-view is often forgotten by Christians. How many Christians can give a credible statement on how we gain acceptance with God? Far too few. And even fewer seem to have any clear idea about how our acceptance with God relates to daily life and godly living. Furthermore, what has been described as ‘warmbath’ Christianity encourages the idea that the heart of the Christian message has to do with being able to live an unruffled existence. Such an approach leads in time to the obscuring of the real issue which the gospel forces upon us: ‘How can the sinner find acceptance with a righteous God?’

In order to answer this question biblically we must accept the Bible’s answer. We must be prepared to come to terms with the kind of distinctions that the Bible makes in setting forth the work of God for our salvation. In Chapter 1 we saw that the gospel is the hub of all biblical teaching. It is the heart of the Christian message and permeates all Christian truth. It bears repeating that those who are impatient with the vital distinction between the gospel as the work of God FOR US in Jesus Christ, and the fruit of the gospel (sanctification) as the work of God IN US by his Spirit will never grasp the meaning of the fact that the gospel is the central fact upon which all else hinges.

The Bible does not depict the sinner as one who has accidentally picked up some filth through inadvertent contact with what is unclean. He is in fact utterly blameworthy for his defilement. He stands guilty and condemned. To be set right before God he must be purged of uncleanness and forgiven. Having said that, we must be careful to observe that the gospel way of forgiveness takes place on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Christ and his atoning death. In other words, for a sinner to be made righteous in himself, he must first of all be declared righteous by faith. The great transaction of justification on the grounds of Christ’s merits is God’s way of saving us. The justified sinner is the one whom God declares to be ‘not guilty.’ He does this on the basis of Christ’s righteousness which he imputes, or credits, to the sinner who believes the gospel. The justified sinner is one who has received by faith the gift of the righteousness of Christ to clothe him before the searching eye of a holy God. He possesses by faith everything that belongs to Christ as God’s true man. He is as acceptable to God as Jesus was when God called him ‘beloved Son’ (Matthew 3:17).

This imputation to the sinner of a righteousness which is not his own, is not a legal fiction. It is a just transaction because the sinner’s debt has been fully paid and God’s justice is satisfied. It is also a loving transaction because the recipient never deserves such kindness. John is telling us in Revelation 7 that God’s sealing of his saints and the washing of one’s robe in the blood of the Lamb, amount to the same thing. The outcome is sure and so the believer is given a basis for full assurance of salvation.

When we speak of justification we are using a formal or technical way of referring to the gospel and its meaning. Through the life and death of Jesus the believer is accounted by God as free from the guilt of sin, and is thus accepted by God as his child. It is this message that permeates all that John is saying to us in Revelation. We note that it was the preaching of this gospel which led to the occasion for the writing of Revelation. Thus from the beginning the historic events of the gospel stand at the centre of the message.

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