Justification by faith is central to the mission of God to bless all the peoples of the earth; part 1

I highly recommend, first of all, that you read the recent blog post at HonorShame.com: “The meaning of Romans 3:23”. The author‘s explanation of this often-quoted verse brings out the honor-shame dynamics in the context of Romans 1–3.

The author points to the fact that Romans 3:23 speaks to the sinfulness of peoples (Jews and Gentiles)—more than to the general sin of individual persons. The blog post provides helpful background information for my blog post below.

For the sake of convenience, a key paragraph from the HonorShame.com blog is provided below. (Remember, this is about the verse, Romans 3:23—“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”)

Simply put, all does not mean “every single, individual person.” Rather, all means “both Jews and Gentiles,” or “every ethnicity.” Or most succinctly, it means “all peoples,” instead of “all people.” The primary categories in Romans 1-3 are groups, not individuals. Romans addresses the relationship between two groups of people. Group A consists of ethnic Israelites, “the circumcised,” “the Jews,” “those under the nomos/Torah.” Group B is the Gentiles, “the uncircumcised, “the Greeks,” “those without nomos/Torah. So, when Paul says “all” he has in mind both of these groups—Jews and Gentiles. The use in Romans 3:23 means “all peoples” more than “every individual.”[1]


In Paul’s letter to the Romans, the doctrine of justification by faith is tethered to the global mission of God—the blessing of salvation for all peoples. We’ll look at two passages in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome—Romans 3:28–30 and Romans 4:16–18, plus Galatians 3:7–9. All of these passages deal with justification by faith and the all-peoples mission of God.

This blog post is part one. We examine Romans 3:28–30

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

Explicit and positive

We start with the obvious. The verses contain a truth that is both explicit and positive concerning the all-peoples emphasis. God will justify persons from among both Jews (the circumcised) and Gentiles (the uncircumcised). Together, this represents all the peoples of the earth. God will bless all peoples. No people group is excluded from God’s blessing. It connects with God’s original promise to Abraham to bless all the peoples of the earth through his family (Gen 12:3, 15:5, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, 28:14).

To emphasize the radical nature of God’s gift-of-salvation-offered-to-all-peoples, Apostle Paul asks: “Or is God the God of the Jews only?” (Paul is identifying the default Jewish attitude that God belongs to the Jews only—the basis for Jewish “boasting.)

Then Paul answers, “Yes, of Gentiles also”. Concerning this answer, Robert Jewett writes:

Paul contends that the relationship of the “Gentiles” and the “Jews” to God is now exactly the same … God is the God of both ethnic groups. The revolutionary equality of all nations before God that flows from the Christ event is emphatically stated by Paul’s response to the interlocutor’s question: ναὶ καὶ ἐθνῶν (“Yes, [God] also [belongs to] Gentiles).[2]

Note well the explicit-positive principle: All nations are equal before God. It is a revolutionary idea. Paul was articulating a Christ-centered gospel which was utterly fresh—a brilliant, positive hope in his world of the Roman Empire. It challenged the status quo of empire-adoring Romans … of ethnically proud Jews … and of culturally elitist Greeks. Can you hear this gospel speaking to our world as well?

Implicit and negative

And now, the not-as-obvious. There is an all-peoples emphasis in Romans 3:28–30 that is more implicit and negative. It is implicit in the phrase, “one is justified by faith apart from works of the law”. Jewett, commenting on Rom 3:28, writes:

God’s granting of righteousness through faith in the crucified Christ counters the seemingly universal tendency to claim honor on the basis of performance or social status. It eliminates claims of cultural or ethnic superiority.[3]

In the book Saving God’s Face, Jackson Wu also addresses the ethnic issues of Jew and Gentile in the doctrine of justification by faith as taught in Romans and Galatians. After a lengthy nuanced discussion covering various perspectives, Wu concludes:

“[T]his gospel message (Gal 3:8) inherently necessitates forsaking the primacy of ethnic identity. The gospel directly challenges ethnocentrism; it is no mere corollary or application.[4]

Wow. “The gospel directly challenges ethnocentrism; it is no mere corollary or application.” Do you hear the force of these words? Ethnic, tribal or national identity is to be secondary to the believer’s primary identity as citizen in God’s kingdom, family member in the household of God (Eph 2:19). I believe it is this, our most-honorable identity in Christ, that subverts ethnocentrism and is part of the core of the gospel.

What is the implicit and negative all-peoples emphasis? It is that faith in the crucified Christ “directly challenges ethnocentrism” and “eliminates claims of cultural or ethnic superiority”. Faith in the crucified Christ necessitates forsaking ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism, cultural elitism, racism—this is what we are to negate through the gospel.

It includes and excludes

Of course, the gift of salvation in Christ includes the personal gain of eternal life and the hope of heaven. But what if we embraced a fuller meaning of justification-by-faith in Rom 3:28–30 as described above? If we did, the gift of salvation might profoundly impact the believer’s relational world when it excludes from the believer—attitudes of cultural, national, tribal, or ethnic superiority.

An audacious thought: Could this all-nations, global gospel have prevented the 1994 genocide in Rwanda when a majority of the nation was considered Christian? Could this all-nations, global gospel have a profound impact today in America—in our deeply polarized social and political climate?

Every expression of elitism, racism, and nationalism will one day fall in submission to the Lordship of Christ. This is part of a gospel expressly designed by God to bless all the peoples of the earth.

Conclusion: Could it be that the Western, individualistic legal-framework gospel emphasizes personal conscience and individual conversion—while at the same time, it unduly marginalizes the relational, social significance of the all-peoples, all-ethnicities gospel? Is this because in Western theology, the common understanding of justification by faith is missing the ethnic, relational, or social dimension of what Apostle Paul intended?

Next post: Part two—Romans 4:16–18 and Galatians 3:7–9


FOOTNOTES

1. Robert Jewett confirms this exegesis: “To fall short is an honor issue and it resonates with the competition for honor within and between groups in the Greco-Roman world. . . . Despite the claims of Jews and Greeks to surpass each other in honor and despite their typical claims that the other groups are shameful because of their lack of wisdom or moral conformity, Paul’s claim is that all fall short of the transcendent standard of honor.” In Jewett: Romans: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 280.
2. Ibid., 299.
3. Ibid., 298.
4. Jackson Wu: Saving God’s Face: A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame (EMS Dissertation Series), (Pasadena: William Carey International University Press, 2013), 276–7.

Does honor-shame help us understand justification by faith?

Justification by faith — an honor-shame dynamic

The doctrine of justification by faith comes primarily from Apostle Paul’s letters—to the “Romans” and to the “Galatians”.

Over the past several months, I have been reading Romans in my devotional time. I have come to believe that an awareness of honor-shame dynamics may give added clarity to the Bible’s meaning about justification.

So I am finally returning to my blog with a series of posts on justification by faith.

For the purpose of establishing a baseline of understanding about justification by faith, let‘s begin with two quotes from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

A right understanding of justification is absolutely crucial to the whole Christian faith. Once Martin Luther realized the truth of justification by faith alone, he became a Christian and overflowed with the new-found joy of the gospel. The primary issue in the Protestant Reformation was a dispute with the Roman Catholic Church over justification. If we are to safeguard the truth of the gospel for future generations, we must understand the truth of justification. Even today, a true view of justification is the dividing line between the biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone and all false gospels of salvation based on good works. [1]

Just what is justification? We may define it as follows: Justification is an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.[2]

Here is another quote; it’s from Kevin Vanhoozer’s Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity(I am about midway through reading this book.)

Lutheran theologians came to view justification as “the article by which the church stands or falls.” Philip Schaff calls justification by faith the “material principle” of the Reformation and the sum of the gospel. It is essentially the retrieval of Paul’s doctrine that God declares us righteous on the merits of Christ alone through faith alone. … What we can say is that Paul is addressing not a Jewish legalism narrowly conceived but the more radical and widespread tendency of sinners to justify themselves, either morally or intellectually.[3]

Justification by faith is “absolutely crucial to the whole Christian faith” … “the article by which the church stands or falls” … the “material principle” of the Protestant Reformation … “the sum of the gospel”.

What I want to explore it this: Will an awareness of honor-shame dynamics in various Scripture passages concerning justification help us gain even more respect for this great doctrine—and deepen our motivation for love and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ?

Below is a list of topics I plan write about in the coming weeks. By God’s grace I’ll write one post for each of the twelve topics concerning justification by faith. In each post I will highlight a passage of Scripture that features the word “justification”, “justify”, or “justified”—and then apply the hermeneutical key of honor-shame to hopefully shed some added light on its meaning.

  1. Justification by faith is God’s means of salvation—in part to “exclude boasting” before God on the part of all humanity (Rom 3:23–27).
  2. Justification by faith is central to the honorific mission of God to bless all the peoples of the earth (Rom 3:29–30; Rom 4:16–18).
  3. Justification by faith relativizes the privileged status of “the circumcised”—the Jews (Rom 3:30).
  4. Justification by faith makes possible the elevated honor status of Gentiles by being included in the people of God (Rom 3:30; cf: Eph 2:19).
  5. Justification by faith makes possible the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham—to bless all the peoples of the earth, thus preserving God’s honor and glorious reputation (Gen 12:1–3; John 12:27–28; Rom 4:16).
  6. Justification by faith entitles the sinner to the royal honorific blessing—like King David himself—of having sins and iniquities forgiven (Rom 4:1–8).
  7. Justification by faith places the believer into the honorific family lineage of ancient Abraham, our “father” in the faith—with whom we are co-heirs (Rom 4:9-25, Gal 3:1–29).
  8. Justification by faith glorifies God (Rom 4:20), while exposing all human honor claims as false glory.
  9. Justification by faith places us into the honorific status of peace with God, thus honorific access to God—through the reconciling work of the regal Lord, the Messiah-King, our Savior Jesus (Rom 5:1–2).
  10. Justification by faith gives believers a new source of honor in Christ, and therefore a new present and future glory—for the honorific practice of “boasting” in God (Rom 5:1–11, esp. v. 2, 3, 11).
  11. Justification by faith is the way that grace reigns in eternal life over sin and death (Rom 5:12–21).
  12. Justification by faith is God’s way for believers to have their longing for honor and glory satisfied in Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 8:12–30)—–“provided we suffer with him” (Rom 8:17).

Justification by faith—indeed, it is a glorious and honorific doctrine.

I look forward to writing about justification by faith in the light of the Bible’s honor-shame dynamics. I anticipate learning much. May healthy conversations arise from our exploration.


1. Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (p. 722). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

2. Ibid., p. 723.

3. Vanhoozer, Kevin J.. Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Kindle Locations 2145–2153). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. For the phrase, “the article by which the church stands or falls”, Vanhoozer cites Johann Heinrich Alsted’s Theologia scholastica didacta (Hanover, 1618). Vanhoozer also cites Philip Schaaf’s Principle of Protestantism, 80.

Honor and shame in the book of Genesis––#3: The honor of woman

This is the third in a series about honor and shame in the book of Genesis. You’ll benefit from reading this in your browser. 

honor and shame in the book of genesis3


“One of the greatest causes of poverty in the world is based on a lie—the lie that men are superior to women.” [1] –Darrow Miller

Other than the serpent’s original deception (Gen 3:1–5) that led to the Fall of humanity, what lie has caused more oppression and trauma in the world?

What lie has caused more tears?

What lie has led to more pain than this? …

“Men are superior to women.”

This was not God’s intent when he created humanity. Observe Genesis 1:26–28:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

From this text we will examine three truths: 1) Humanity is made in God’s regal image. 2) The regal image of God is both male and female. 3) The Cultural Mandate (Gen 1:28) is a regal function fulfilled by man and woman together.

1) Humanity is made in God’s regal image

First, humanity was made in God’s image—the Latin phrase is imago Dei. This speaks of the inherent regal dignity—the supreme value and honor—of all humanity. Like animals, humans are created by God. But unlike animals, humans bear God’s “image” in ways that mere animals do not—possessing a combination of qualities such as as morality, glory, spirituality, personality, and creativity—in conjunction with an eternal soul.

Keep in mind, God is not merely an impersonal Creator—an abstract “force”. God is the Almighty King of Creation (Ps 93:1; Ps 95:3, 6; Ps 96:10–13; Ps 97:1).

Therefore, to be made in God’s image implies that all humanity is imbued with regal honor. According to the Bible, we all possess royal blood—regardless of our wealth or poverty, family name, social status, racial heritage, ethnic or national origin, level of education, or position in society. But due to the Fall and the effects of sin, we have lost and defiled our original regal identity.

This regal dimension of the image of God—imago Dei—is made even more clear when we consider the context of the Ancient Near East. John Walton writes:

The image of God as an Old Testament concept can be be understood in four categories. It pertains to the role and function that God has given humanity (found for example in “subdue” and “rule,” (Gen 1:28), to the identity that he has bequeathed on us (i.e., it is by definition, who we are as human beings), and to the way that we serve as his substitute. When Assyrian kings made images of themselves to be placed in conquered cities or at important borders, they were communicating that they were, in effect, continually present in that place. Finally, it is indicative of the relationship that God intends to have with us.[2] (bold emphasis mine)

The meaning of humans made in “the image of God”, in its social context, is powerful: Humans are vice-regents with God; we are God’s regal stewards and representatives. “As God’s stewards, we are tasked to do his work in the world; we are to be his assistants in the order-bringing process that has begun.”[3]

2) God’s regal image is male and female

Darrow Miller’s Figure 14 in Nurturing the Nations
Darrow Miller’s Figure 14 in Nurturing the Nations, page 130.

Second, humanity made in God’s image comprises both male and female. We find here the essential equality-in-being of male and female—man and woman. This means that humanity’s image of God is incomplete if it is only male or only female. The Godhead comprises both masculine and feminine qualities. Miller writes: “The masculine and feminine polarities are complementary in marriage and reflect something of the mystery of the eternal unity and diversity in the Trinity.”[4] This is borne out in the Scriptures:

  • Masculine attributes are conveyed in the common use “Father” and “Son” to describe God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. Moreover, God is “husband” to his people Israel in the Old Testament (Ez 16:32; Hosea 9:1), and Christ is the bridegroom of the church in the New Testament (Eph 5:31–32; Rev 19:7).
  • God’s feminine attributes are conveyed in the Bible’s use of feminine terminology describing God. Whereas the Bible says God is Father, we observe that the Bible says God is like a mother. Miller points out, “The Bible uses simile to state that God is like a mother, but never that God is a mother. God is like … a woman giving birth (Is 42: 14; 46:3) … a nursing mother (Is 49: 13– 15; 66:10–13) … a mother hen (Mat 23: 37; Luke 13:34) … a mother eagle (Ex 19: 4; Deut 32:10–12)”[5]

This takes us back to Genesis 1:27—the image of God is both male and female, masculine and feminine. The origin story of the Bible clearly reveals the essential equality of being—the same regal honor!—of man and woman, husband and wife.

3) The Cultural Mandate is a regal responsibility fulfilled by man and woman together

The message of Genesis 1:28 is often referred to as the Cultural Mandate. It is also known as the Creation Mandate or the Dominion Mandate.

Notice the first two phrases of verse 28: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply …’”. The blessing is given to them. And the command is given to them—male and female, man and woman. The implication is that God’s purpose and plan cannot be carried out by just men alone or by just women alone.

Again, Darrow Miller:

… it is worth reiterating that the Genesis 1: 26–28 creation mandate to procreate and exercise dominion … is given to the imago Dei: male and female. Note that a single human being, or a group of males, or a group of females cannot fulfill either part. It takes a team effort of male and female. The woman is not an object. She is not the property of man. She is equally the imago Dei. In God’s design, the responsibilities of pro-creation and dominion are shared. The mandate is for all.[6]

Equality of being for women across the entire biblical narrative

Much more can be said, of course, about the essential equality of being for women as revealed in the Bible. Scripture gives us the foundational belief in the God-created, regal honor of woman shared with the man. Here are some highlights:

  • God created woman as an egalitarian companion for man—“flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones” (Gen 2:18, 20–23)—someone equal in being and complimentarian in function or role.
  • Wisdom is portrayed as a queen—a woman of regal stature in Proverbs (Pr 3:13–18; cf. Pr 8:1; 9:1–4)
  • Proverbs 31:10–31 describes a godly wife fully engaged in family life (Pr 31:10–12, 15, 27–28), fitness (Pr 31:17), marketing and commerce (Pr 31:13–14, 24), helping the poor (Pr 31:20), teaching kindness and wisdom to others (Pr 31:26)—all rooted in healthy fear of God (Pr 31:30). This portrayal describes a woman who is neither hidden at home, nor cowering in weakness, nor stifled to be quiet. She is strong, dignified, confident (Pr 31:25–26).
  • The Song of Solomon speaks of the pleasures of the sexual relationship in the loving union between a husband and wife. It takes place in the social setting of Solomon’s Israel around 950 B.C. One of the primary meanings of this tantalizing book is stunning—in light of the traditional honor-shame standards and patriarchal values of the Ancient Near East. The stunning principle (Song 2:16) is this: The woman is equally entitled as the man to sexual pleasure and fulfillment.[7] 
  • In the Gospels, Jesus is famously egalitarian in his treatment of women. In all of his interactions with women, the woman is dignified and honored in the process. Perhaps the most famous is the account of his counter-cultural interactions with the Samaritan woman (John 4:4–42). Jesus treats women in such a radically honorific manner—while never minimizing their sin—that Miller says, “Jesus was the first feminist”.[8]
  • Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians that in Christ there is no distinction—that is, no inequality of being—between male and female. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
  • The fact that the narrative of Scripture begins and ends with “the nuptial”[9]—that is, ceremonial wedding language (Gen 2:23–24; Rev 19:7–9)—speaks of the incredibly high view of marriage, of woman, of male and female, husband and wife.

Men are not superior to women

The Bible teaches that in God’s design, men are not superior to women! The woman is straightforwardly equal—equal in being—to the man. The regal honor of man—and likewise, the regal honor of woman—is plain in numerous Scripture passages from Genesis to Revelation. How vital this is to counter the horrible lie: “Men are superior to women.”

Satan’s lies and humanity’s sin have corrupted God’s glorious design and intentions. Sin is universal. So the Bible’s high, honorific—indeed, regal—view of woman is in glaring contrast to the oppression and shame suffered by women and girls in varying degrees all around the world. This has mammoth implications for family life, for church life, for politics, for education, for believers everywhere.

What are some implications for mission? We will consider this in our next post.


FOOTNOTES

1. Darrow L. Miller: Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women in Building Healthy Cultures (p. 2). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

2. John H. Walton: The Lost World of Adam and Eve, (InterVarsity Press, 2015), p. 42.  

3. Ibid., p. 43.  

4. Miller., p. 130.

5. Ibid., p. 142.

6. Ibid., p. 174.

7. See Diane Bergant: “My Beloved is Mine and I am His” (Song 2:16): The Song of Songs and Honor and Shame” in Semeia 68: Honor and Shame in the World of the Bible (The Society of Biblical Literature, 1996), p. 23–35.

8. Miller., p. 3. Comparing the role of the man to that of the woman in family and society, Miller argues throughout his book for equality in being and hierarchy in roles. He bases this on trinitarian theology. The Bible speaks of the Godhead—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—having equality in being and hierarchy in roles. Just as there is loving leadership and submission in the Trinity, there ought also to be loving leadership and submission in the family.

9. Miller., p. 235.

Honor and shame in the book of Genesis––#1: The honor of God as Creator

honor and shame in the book of genesis1


With this blog post I begin a series on what I call the “top ten honor-shame dynamics in the book of Genesis”.

#1. The honor of God as Creator

We begin with the Bible’s first verse.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

What is the honor-shame dynamic contained in this verse? On the surface, there is nothing that seems honorific here.

So I will turn to one of the great evangelical scholars on Genesis—John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School. His book, The Lost World of Genesis One, offers a helpful beginning point. This beginning point is not about honor. This beginning point is about context, that is, the intent of the original author of Genesis to communicate in his context, with his audience.

Lost World of Genesis One John WaltonSome Christians approach the text of Genesis as if it has modern science embedded in it or it dictates what modern science should look like. This approach to the text of Genesis 1 is called “concordism,” as it seeks to give a modern scientific explanation for the details in the text. This represents one attempt to “translate” the culture and text for the modern reader. The problem is, we cannot translate their cosmology to our cosmology, nor should we. If we accept Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology, then we need to interpret it as ancient cosmology rather than translate it into modern cosmology. If we try to turn it into modern cosmology, we are making the text say something that it never said. It is not just a case of adding meaning (as more information has become available); it is a case of changing meaning. Since we view the text as authoritative, it is a dangerous thing to change the meaning of the text into something it never intended to say. …

We gain nothing by bringing God’s revelation into accordance with today’s science. In contrast, it makes perfect sense that God communicated his revelation to his immediate audience in terms they understood.[1]

Walton says much, much more about these context-based truths in his book. Walton argues for a literal interpretation of the Bible in such a way that it also frees us from having to retrofit modern ideas and beliefs—whether “Young Earth” or “Old Earth” science—into the ancient text of Genesis. Yes, we believe the book of Genesis was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; we equally affirm it was written to an ancient audience for whom science had not yet been invented. As Walton says, “We therefore recognize that although the Bible was written for us (indeed, for everyone), it is not written to us. In its context, it is not communicated in our language; it is not addressed to our culture; it does not anticipate the questions about the world and its operations that stem from our modern situations and issues.”[2]

The “cognitive environment” of the Ancient Near East

In Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve, he comments on the “cognitive environment” of the Ancient Near East—and how radically different it was from that of our modern world.

Lost world of adam and eve john waltonAs an example of the foreign aspects of the cognitive environment, people in the ancient world had no category for what we call natural laws. When they thought of cause and effect … they were more inclined to see the world’s operations in terms of divine cause. Everything worked the way it worked because God set it up that way and God maintained the system. They would have viewed the cosmos not as a machine but as a kingdom, and God communicated to them about the world in those terms. His revelation to them was not focused on giving them a more sophisticated understanding of the mechanics of the world. (bold emphasis mine)[3]

Not a machine, but a kingdom and a temple

Here’s a key statement. “They would have viewed the cosmos not as a machine but as a kingdom.” Of course there is no kingdom without a king—the regal Person enthroned and ruling over that kingdom. And this is the beginning place for us to observe the regal honor of God as Creator.

Before we turn back to Scripture, here is one more quote from Walton; this builds on the idea of creation as a kingdom, and elaborates on the sacred, honorific purpose of creation.

It would not have been difficult for a reader from anywhere in the ancient Near East to take one quick look at the seven-day account and draw the conclusion that it was a temple story. … the temple was the center of God’s rule. In the ancient world, the temple was the command center of the cosmos—it was the control room from where the god maintained order, made decrees and exercised sovereignty. Temple building accounts often accompanied cosmologies because after the god had established order (the focus of cosmologies in the ancient world), he took control of that ordered system. This is the element that we are sadly missing when we read the Genesis account. God has ordered the cosmos with the purpose of taking up his residence in it and ruling over it. (bold emphasis mine)[4]

This idea of all creation as a temple for God was a jolt to my thinking. I’m not used to thinking that all nature is sacred space. But this is the assumption often made by the authors of Scripture—as you will see below. The heavens and the earth are sacred space—a royal temple for the Creator-King who is dwelling in and ruling over all he has made.

The Psalms give witness

In particular, the Psalms give witness to this honorific nature of the LORD as Creator-King. In the selection of verses from the Psalms below, take note of two things. First, observe the frequent occurrence of the words earth and heavens—clearly echoing Gen. 1:1. Secondly, observe the frequent use of honorific words: glory, name, majesty, worship, praise, exalted, King, reign, throne, etc.

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. (Ps. 8:1)

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Ps. 19:1)

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. (Ps. 22:27)

The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. (Ps. 24:1–2)

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! (Ps. 46:10)

Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. (Ps. 47:6–8)

God has not merely created a material universe. No, God has created the heavens and the earth as sacred space—a temple for worship of the one true God, King of creation!

Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them. (Ps. 69:34)

Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen! (Ps. 72:19)

Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace, that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth. (Ps. 83:17–18)

Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.” Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy. (Ps. 96:10–12)

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! (Ps. 123:1)

God is Creator-King, and creation is his temple

For a more extensive proof-text, consider Psalms 96–100. You’ll see for yourself a continuous revelation about the Creator-King.

  • God is King—enthroned, majestic, glorious, infinitely honorable (Ps. 95:3–6; Ps. 96:6–10; Ps. 97:1–2; Ps. 98:6; Ps. 99:1–5; Ps. 100:4).
  • God is Creator of the earth—and thus deserving of worship from all the earth: (Ps. 95:4–5; Ps. 96:1, 9, 11–13; Ps. 97:1, 4–5, 9; Ps. 98:3–4, 7–9; Ps. 99:1; Ps. 100:1).
  • The heavens and the earth are a templesacred space in which all peoples, nations—even all nature—rejoice together in worship of the Creator-King (Ps. 95:1–7; Ps. 96:1–13; Ps. 97:1–9; Ps. 98:1–9; Ps. 99:1–5; Ps. 100:1–5)

It is unmistakable—the heavens and the earth do not comprise a “machine” devoid of sacred honor; no, the heavens and the earth comprise an honorific temple of the Most High God, the Creator-King!

A prayer: Lord God Most High, we join the chorus of saints from across the earth and across the ages—“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” (Ps. 95:6) It is you who has made us and not we ourselves (Ps. 100:3). We submit ourselves to you in love and obedience—returning blessing, honor and praise to you—Creator-King of the heavens and the earth!


1. John H. Walton: The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2010), p. 16–17. Kindle Edition.

2. John H. Walton: The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2–3 and the Human Origins Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2015), p. 19.

3. Ibid., p. 18.

4. Ibid., p. 49.

Jesus Makes Us Clean

I’ve just redesigned my blog. I wanted a new look, and also wanted it to be easier for readers using tablets and smartphones. Hope you like the new design. The banner photo comes from our trip to Spain in May; it was taken on a country road between Malaga and Ronda. Loved the ancient arches from the Roman Empire—and the symbolism of a modern road that leads you toward the ancient.    This post originally appeared at Gospel-Life.net. It has been slightly modified. —Werner


I had just preached a sermon on how God covers our shame and restores our honor based on the Prodigal Son story. Afterward, a smiling elderly Christian woman came to me and shared how the sermon had blessed her. Wonderful!

But I was especially startled when she said. “You know, when I was a little girl, something happened to me, and I’ve never been able to get rid of it. Until today.”

It seems she knew she was forgiven of her sins, but because of the sins of another against her, she had felt defiled—literally for decades.

Sexual abuse has always been with us, but it seems more rampant and ubiquitous today. In fact, one in four women and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.

In May I had the privilege of speaking at an international Baptist church in Spain. My sermon was “Jesus Makes Us Clean.” At the end of the service, an individual was crying. Like me, she had grown up with a mentally-ill father. For years, she and her sister had been deeply embarrassed and ashamed. They felt defiled.

She was involuntarily stained by the effects of a sinful fallen humanity by a father who involuntarily suffered from schizophrenia.

Is relational pollution getting worse and worse? Maybe it’s just always been this way.

What is sin to a post-Christendom world?

Alan Mann Atonement for a Sinless SocietyIn our postmodern secular world many people no longer believe in the reality of sin. Alan Mann writes in his book, Atonement for a Sinless Society, that “geneticists, sociologists, and psychologists increasingly … allow us to live in the confidence that we do no wrong.”[1]

And as for the death of Christ, “To twenty-first-century sensibilities, the crucifixion of Jesus [is] nothing more than a primitive, barbaric, pointless death.”[2]

Part of Mann’s thesis is that the best way for secular peoples to come to terms with sin is to be presented with this: Sin is relational defilement, uncleanness, pollution.

Consider the relational defilement that most secular peoples readily acknowledge: poverty of all kinds … racism and bigotry … sexual trafficking … an epidemic of addictions … the persistence of slavery … institutional greed and corruption … violent nationalism … honor-killings … bloody culture clashes.

What does it all add up to? A dirty, traumatized, defiled, relationally polluted world!

In this world of sin, I am unclean. Isaiah observed: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and dwell among a people of unclean lips …” (Isa. 6:5).

Sin is personal—for I am an agent of sin having fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

And sin is social—for I am also a victim of the sins of others. I’m defiled by living in a world-nation-community-family of fallen humanity. Am I “playing the victim card”? No. I’m describing the complexity of the effects of sin. When it comes to sin, we are all both agents and victims.

Is Christ’s death sufficient to cleanse us from being both agents and victims of sin?

agent and victim of sinThe Psalmist David reveals this agent-and-victim duality about sin: “When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions” (Ps. 65:3).

On the one hand, I am the victim of the sins of others (“iniquities prevail against me”). On the other hand, we are all responsible agents of sin (“our transgressions”). But David’s song to God contains good news concerning his sinfulness both as an agent and victim of sin: “You atone for our transgressions” (Ps. 65:3). There is an atonement-remedy for both!

The writer of Hebrews said of the death and atonement of Christ: “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order that he might sanctify the people through his own blood” (Heb. 13:12). In his death, Jesus became unclean—he “suffered outside the gate.” Why?  “…in order that he might sanctify the people”—in order to cleanse the people. Through His death, Jesus became unclean in order to make believers clean forever.

“When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions” (Ps. 65:3). When Jesus made “purification for sins” (Heb. 1:3), He made provision to cleanse us from sins committed by us—and from sins committed against us.

Hallelujah, what a gospel! Hallelujah, what a Savior!

For more about the power of the gospel to make us clean—and how this relates to ministry among Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim peoples, see my article, The Gospel of Purity for Oral Learners: Bible Dynamics for Blessing the Unreached. See other articles at my Resources page.


1.  Mann, Alan (2015-12-18). Atonement for a Sinless Society: Second Edition (Kindle Location 121–122). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

2. Ibid., Kindle Location 94.

Why so much honor-based violence in the Bible? Part 1

Honor-based violenceThe Bible is a great big book about violence.

One could rightly say that the Bible is at once 1) God’s revelation of the origin of violence among humans, 2) a series of stories and case histories on the kinds of violence common to humanity, and 3) God’s revelation through the Jesus Christ as the cure for violence on the stage of human history.

Of course, the Bible is more than a great big book about violence, but it is certainly not less than this.

In the Old Testament, there is an enormous amount of murder, raping, bloody revenge, the stoning of sinful people, decapitation of enemies and kings, the offering of infants in ritual sacrifice, whole cities being destroyed, entire peoples and armies either enslaved or annihilated … and so much more.

In the New Testament we read of the murder of infants, the decapitation of John the Baptist, the stoning of righteous people, the bloody torture and crucifixion of the holy Son of God, the martyrdom of saints.

Blood and honorLet‘s face it: The Bible is a big book with a lot of violence, much of it honor-based violence. But why?

In this series of posts, I am proposing:

  • The Bible reveals the origin of human violence—and that it is largely honor-based.
  • The Bible describes the kinds of violence in the Bible and in our world today—and that what they have in common is that they are both largely honor-based. This reflects the pathology of sin/shame permeating humanity—as well as the cultural value of honor/shame.
  • The Bible reveals that the cure for humanity’s violence is found in Jesus Christ, and we will see that this cure may also be considered honor-based.

And if there will be one point to grab hold of from these posts, it will be this:

The numerous stories of honor-based violence and bloodshed in the Old Testament—often considered obscure, repulsive, or irrelevant—are, to the contrary, profoundly relevant entry points for the gospel in today’s world.

Gory stories and glory stories

What else will this series of posts lead to? I will contend that we must rediscover the Old Testament’s stories of violence—what I am calling the “gory stories”.

I will propose that we must teach, preach, and evangelize by using the Bible’s gory stories—for they are historic, narrative on-ramps to God’s own gory and glory Story—culminating with the good news, the gospel of peace in Jesus Christ.

Christian leaders of all kinds need to re-acquaint themselves with the bloody, gory, “adult content” of the Bible—and be willing to teach it and preach it.

The Bible’s numerous, dramatic stories of violence are there for a reason. That reason is to connect—to resonate, to speak with Christ-centered hope to a world awash in violence. For the Word of God pierces “to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow” (Heb 4:12).

We must recover the truth that the entire Bible is useful for evangelism, not merely a set of a few verses or biblical presuppositions. The entire Bible, even the gory stories can be an essential, exciting part of making disciples of all nations—so that King Jesus is known and worshiped among all the peoples of the earth.

Could it be that the peoples of the earth are actually longing to hear this gospel which speaks with blood-earnest, street-level authenticity to our worlds of violence?

Blood and honor

Blood and honorThe media is currently focused on two huge news stories of great violence and bloodshed. The first is the gruesome war in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinians. The second story involves Ukraine, Russia, and the downing of the Malaysia Flight 17, causing the death of 298 civilians. I have watched my share of news reports—and can’t help but think of the role of  blood and honor in both stories.

Blood and honor in the news? Well, journalists do not actually use the words blood and honor to talk about the events. But I believe blood and honor is just below the surface. To explain what I mean, we will explore what the Bible says about blood and honor. In this post, we will examine:

  1. how blood and honor are essentially about family honor,
  2. that blood can be both the result and cause of honor-based violence, and
  3. how the blood and honor of Jesus Christ is a completely different kind of catalyst—offering the possibility of peace instead of violence.

“Blood and honor” is essentially about family or kinship

In my forthcoming book, The Global Gospel, one of the things I do is explain nine different honor/shame dynamics in the societies of the ancient biblical world. One of these dynamics is referred to as “name/kinship/blood.” Basically, this refers to family honor.

  • Think of Medieval England and the profound importance of a family’s “coat of arms.” What’s that about? It’s about the honor of one’s distinctive family name.
  • Think of the saying, “Blood is thicker than water.” What’s that about? It’s the idea that relationships through family blood exceed all others in importance.
  • What about protecting your family reputation and name. What’s that about? Family honor, of course.
  • Add the word kinship to the mix and you have family honor spread across a large extended bloodline or clan of people—almost like an ethnic group. This is where family overlaps with God’s great promise to Abraham—that through his descendents, “all the families [that is, kinship groups] of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3).

Now many aspects of family honor are good, reflecting the way God made us to care for one another in our families.

However, because of devastating effects of sin on the human race, other aspects of family honor—or the dynamic of “name/kinship/blood” can result in great evil. You will see below that honor-based violence is often related to blood. You’ll see that blood is often both the result and the cause of honor competition and honor-based violence.

Blood as the RESULT of honor competition

The Bible’s first reference to blood is in Genesis when Cain killed his brother Abel. Cain felt jealous over the fact that “the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Gen 4:4–5). In jealousy and revenge—what I call “honor competition”—Cain killed Abel. The murder of Cain is symbolized by blood.

And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Gen 4:10–11).

What is the meaning of “your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground”? God is saying, This is murder!—the horrible injustice of killing an innocent man.

This, of course, has become a pattern for all of humanity; honor competition results in violence. Blood is the result of honor competition.

Blood as the CAUSE of honor competition

In 2 Samuel 4, the account is given of two men, Rechab and Banaah, who murdered Ish-bosheth, son of Jonathan the son of Saul (2 Sam 4:4–6). Rechab and Banal thought they could cover up their murder of Ish-bosheth by telling David they were doing him a favor:

And they said to the king, “Here is the head of Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, your enemy, who sought your life. The Lord has avenged my lord the king this day on Saul and on his offspring” (2 Sam 4:8).

Rechab and Banal sorely miscalculated:

But David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life out of every adversity, when one told me, ‘Behold, Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him at Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news. How much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own house on his bed, shall I not now require his blood at your hand and destroy you from the earth?” (2 Sam 4:9–11).

David immediately commanded that Rechab and Banaah be executed by “his young men.” In fact, “they killed them and cut off their hands and feet and hanged them beside the pool at Hebron” (2 Sam 4:12). What a gruesome result to their miscalculation.

The point here is that Rechab and Banaah thought that David would agree with the default culture of … avenging the blood of enemies by killing their offspring. As a man of God, David would have none of it. But it points to the fact that the default culture at the time recognized that family blood was a justifiable catalyst for honor-based violence; family-versus-family revenge was indeed culturally acceptable.

Blood represents family honor

Jerome Neyrey writes: [R]elatives who press for the advantage of family members are simply doing their duty to the kinship group, which is an honorable thing. Hence solidarity and loyalty among family members go without saying. Blood replicates the honor of the family.[1]

“Blood replicates the honor of the family.” Yes, and anyone familiar with a blood feud will agree. The definition of a blood feud is: “a lengthy conflict between families involving a cycle of retaliatory killings or injury.”[2] The cycle of violence is fueled by honor competition.[3]

This is why in honor/shame societies, ethics is generally trumped by honor—usually the honor of the family, family blood. The rule of law is practically irrelevant:

In Sicily too, according to the writer Leonardo Sciascia, himself Sicilian, the family is the state, a be-all-and-end-all in itself. To any Sicilian, “the exact definition of his rights and duties will be that of the family.” The mafia, the Camorra of Naples, the Corsicans, the people in Provence and in Spain, share with the Arabs self-regulatory group concepts wholly opposed to the workings of the state with norms legally defined and voluntarily obeyed. Equality under the law, that central constitutional pillar, cannot be reconciled with codes of shame and honor.[4]

Violence of family against family, tribe against tribe, nation against nation—is rampant throughout the world. An Internet search of “blood and honor” or “blood feud” brings out the ugly prevalence of this global scourge. Whether it is the Hatfields and the McCoys … or Sunni versus Shiite … Arian race against Jewish race … Chinese against Japanese … white race versus any others, it is, in essence, all honor-based violence fueled by blood.

The blood of Christ is different, hallelujah!

There is a huge contrast between the impact of blood and honor in the kingdom of this world and the blood of Christ in the kingdom of God. We have noted that blood can be both the result and cause of honor competition; we have noted that the cycle of blood feuds can be seemingly endless. But consider these verses which show that the blood of Christ is an entirely different kind of catalyst:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility … that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Eph 2:13–16, emphasis mine).

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Heb 10:19–22, emphasis mine).

Blood and honor in this world’s kingdom fuels family-against-family violence (blood feuds and vendettas)—but the blood and honor of Christ brings healing between families and kinship groups.

Blood and honor in this world’s kingdom is a catalyst for ethnic hatred and genocide—but the blood and honor of Christ is a catalyst for the acceptance, even the celebration of all ethnic groups and peoples.

Blood and honor in this world’s kingdom opens humanity to the life-killing spirit of jealousy, evil, murder, genocide, the devil—whereas the “blood of Jesus…opened for us” access to the conscience-cleansing Holy Spirit and life-giving presence of God—a new and living way!

This is our hope. This is the expectation and desire we have in Christ for a world so deeply scarred by violence and bloodshed. This is but one facet of an amazing multifaceted diamond we call “the good news”—the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.


1. Jerome Neyrey: Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), p. 53.
2. Definition from: New Oxford American Dictionary 3rd edition © 2010 by Oxford University Press, Inc. Referenced by Mac OSX 10.8.2.
3. “A blood feud is a cycle of retaliatory violence, with the relatives of someone who has been killed or otherwise wronged or dishonored seeking vengeance by killing or otherwise physically punishing the culprits or their relatives. Historically, the word vendetta has been used to mean a blood feud.” See “Famous Blood Fueds,” accessed 17 June 2013, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feud#Famous_blood_feuds>.
4. David Pryce-Jones, The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1989, 2009), p. 38.

Free new resource—“The Gospel of Purity”

Gospel of purityI’ve got a new article available as a free download. It’s called, “The Gospel of Purity for Oral Learners.” Here’s what this article is all about.

In the Old and New Testament, impurity and uncleanness relegated people as lower-status social ‘outsiders’ in varying levels of shame. The greater the uncleanness, defilement or pollution, the deeper the shame.

Likewise, cleanness, sanctification or holiness identified people as higher-status social ‘insiders’ in varying levels of honor. The greater the cleanness, purity, even holiness, the higher the honor. The Mosaic laws of Leviticus defined for the Hebrew people purity codes and the cycle of sanctification.

Though strange to Western/secular sensibilities, these purity codes are crucial to understanding both God’s covenant with the Hebrews, as well as the radical nature of Christ’s ministry. Jesus transcended Old Testament laws of ritual cleansing—offering his cure for people in shame due to moral failure, disease, disability, disfiguration, or death. The New Testament frequently uses “purity language” to describe what God has done in Christ for humanity.

The gospel is much more than a cure for sin/guilt; it is also a cure for sin as uncleanness/shame. The Western theological default toward judicial language in presenting the gospel should be supplemented by purity language for better contextualization.

The gospel of purity will better resonate with peoples in oral and honor/shame cultures. Many of these peoples are unreached in the Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim blocs—all of whom practice their own distinct cleansing rituals and are honor/shame-oriented in their cultural values. Therefore, developing an awareness of the gospel of purity is a strategic issue.

>> Click here to download the article

The gospel of grace as the crux of honor-status reversal, part 2

In my forthcoming book, THE GLOBAL GOSPEL: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World, I devote quite a few pages to the premise that honor-status reversal is a motif of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

Ephesians 2:8–9 as the crux of honor-status reversalHonor-status reversal as a horizontal/social orientation in the second half of Ephesians 2

In my previous post about honor-status reversal, we explored what this motif means in Eph 2:1–10. We found that the dynamic of honor-status reversal in verses 1–7 refers to the personal and vertical—our relationship as believers with God the Father. In Eph 2:11–22, however, the dynamic is social and horizontal. Let’s take a look.

Verses 11–12 refer to the shameful status of unsaved peoples in relation to God’s people:
  • Unclean, defiled and without hope of being made clean: “Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision” (2:11)
  • No access to the honor and benefaction of the Messiah King: “separated from Christ” (2:12)
  • As aliens in relation to God’s great people Israel: “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel” (2:12)
  • Unaware of any relational destiny in God: “strangers to the covenants of promise” (2:12)
  • Living in despair without God’s presence: “having no hope and without God in the world” (2:12)
  • Disconnected from the most honorable relationship: “far off” … “strangers and aliens” (2:12)
  • On the other side of “the dividing wall of hostility” (2:12)
Verses 13–22 refer to the reversal of our honor-status in relation to God’s people:
  • From far away in shame to very near through the honor of Christ’s blood: “you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:13)
  • Messiah King himself is our new source of honor—dispelling our compulsion for honor competition and hostility: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (2:14)
  • For a completely new kind of kinship group made in peace: “by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (2:15)
  • The shame of Christ’s body on the cross absorbed humanity’s compulsion for honor competition and hostility—to create a new body among humanity—a community of peace: “and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (2:16)
  • Both Jew and Gentile (no superiority for being Jewish) were equally in need of the preaching of this grace and peace: “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” (2:17)
  • The high honor of access to Holy God is now available to all peoples—further dispelling honor competition: “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (2:18)
  • Shameful state as strange aliens replaced by multi-dimensional honor of citizens, saints, family members: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (2:19)
  • Entering into the honor of God’s ancient story, the crux of which is the Messiah King and Son of God: “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (2:20)
  • Brothers and sisters in Christ become the new “sacred space”—wherever they are: “in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (2:21)
  • In Christ your new community is the dwelling for the most honorable, holy presence of God: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (2:22)

Ephesians 2:8–9 as the crux of honor-status reversalLet’s recall that the crux of the two dimensions of honor-status reversal is 
“Salvation by grace through faith”

What is located between these two dramatic expressions of honor-status reversal—between verses 1–7 and 11–22? The often-quoted verses about salvation by grace through faith:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8–9).

This “salvation verse” sits at the intersection of vertical and horizontal dimensions of honor-status reversal. The vertical dimension refers to a person’s relationship with God. The horizontal dimension refers to the Gentiles’ relationship with God’s people. The drama inherent in these dimensions of honor-status reversal—along with the liberation that this brought spiritually, emotionally and socially —is the context for “salvation by grace through faith.”

And the stunning impact on the gospel? Consider…

  • If salvation according to the context of Ephesians 2 is more of an honor/shame message than one of guilt/innocence, what does this mean for the way we present the gospel?
  • Could it be that being saved by grace—that having our sins forgiven—is actually the means for having our honor-status reversed in relation to God and to God’s people?
  • If salvation is both personal and social, how should this affect the way we live the gospel, and the way we share the gospel?
  • Could it be that the gospel is just as much about the covering of sin/shame and the gaining of honor—as it is about the forgiveness of sin/guilt and the gaining of righteousness?
  • Vast numbers of unreached peoples are motivated more by honor/shame than by innocence/guilt; what does this mean for believers who are trying to share with them the gospel of salvation in Jesus?

The gospel of grace as the crux of honor-status reversal, part 1

In my forthcoming book, THE GLOBAL GOSPEL: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World, I devote quite a few pages to  the idea that honor-status reversal is a motif of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

I have written in previous posts about honor-status reversal as a motif of the Bible. In this post, I want to include an excerpt from my book which explores this motif in Ephesians chapter 2. That excerpt is below, with some modifications to fit a blog format.

A closer look at honor-status reversal in Ephesians 2

Ephesians 2:1–7 gives us a dramatic picture of honor-status reversal from being “dead in trespasses and sins” to having been “raised…up with him and seated…with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” From death—to seated with Christ in exalted honor. Astounding!

Let’s take a closer look below at the profound dynamics of honor-status reversal in Ephesians 2. We will first of all look at honor-status reversal of persons in relation to God (Ephesians 2:1–7).

These first 7 verses relate to our status reversal from our original shameful position in relation to God. Verses 1–3 refer to our alienation from God:
  • Spiritually dead: “dead in…trespasses and sins” (2:1)
  • Unwittingly following the world’s spirit and devil: “following the course of this world” / “following the prince of the power of the air” (2:2)
  • Victimized by evil spirit: “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (2:2)
  • Spiritual DNA of an evil, shameful father: “sons of disobedience” (2:2)
  • Enslaved to self: “lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (2:3)
  • Destined for God’s eternal punishment: “children of wrath” (2:3)
  • Unexceptional: “like the rest of mankind” (2:3)
Verses 4–7 refer to the reversal of our honor-status in relation to God:
  • Loving intervention, undeserved, from the powerful, divine Benefactor directed toward us: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us” (2:4)
  • Gave us new life us by enjoining us to the Messiah-King: “made us alive together with Christ” (2:5)
  • Permanently raised our honor status in Christ’s resurrection: “and raised us up with him” (2:6)
  • Providing us rest and authority in relational co-regency with Christ the King: “seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:6)
  • All to display God’s riches to magnify his honor for all eternity: “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (2:6)

Ephesians 2:8–9 as the crux of honor-status reversalAt the crux of two dimensions of honor-status reversal—there it is— 
“Salvation by grace through faith”

What is located between these two dramatic expressions of honor-status reversal—between verses 1–7 and 11–22? The often-quoted verses about salvation by grace through faith:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8–9).

This “salvation verse” sits at the intersection of vertical and horizontal dimensions of honor-status reversal. The vertical dimension refers to a person’s relationship with God. The horizontal dimension refers to the Gentiles’ relationship with God’s people. The  drama inherent in these dimensions of honor-status reversal—along with the liberation that this brought spiritually, emotionally and socially —is the context for “salvation by grace through faith.”

Timothy Tennent writes: “The New Testament celebrates a salvific transformation that has both vertical and horizontal dimensions. Personal salvation in the New Testament is inextricably linked to becoming a part of the new humanity of Ephesians 2:15.”1 As salvation is vertical because sin is personal, so also is salvation horizontal because sin is corporate. According to Hiebert: “There is both personal and corporate sin and personal and corporate dimensions to God’s redemption.”2


We’ll look at Ephesians 2:11–22 in our next post. Whereas verses 1–7 reveal the vertical, personal honor-status reversal of believers, verses 11–22 reveal the horizontal, social honor-status reversal of believers.


1. Timothy C. Tennent: Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2010), 62.

2. Paul Hiebert, “The Gospel in Human Contexts: Changing Perceptions of Contextualization” in Ed Stetzer & David Hesselgrave, Eds., MissionShift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium (B&H Publishing, 2010. Kindle Edition),  99.