Once again, Plantinga begins his chapter—this time on redemption—in an unusual place: with God’s first act of mercy towards humanity after the Fall. After He convinced an ashamed Adam and Eve to confess their sin, God cursed creation and especially the man and woman, describing the hardships they would face because of their disobedience. But He also made them clothing to wear, garments of animal skin much sturdier than flimsy fig leaves. A little later in the story He makes a covenant with Abraham that He knows humankind will be unable to keep, promising salvation. From the beginning, God’s wrath is tempered with mercy. Rather than leave humanity exposed and naked before the sin and evil we have let into the world, God shelters us, guides us, and plans to suffer for us.
Clearly, Christ’s ministry, sacrificial death, and resurrection are the heart, the climax, and the fulfillment of God’s plan to redeem creation, including His Church. But there is much, much more to it than just the gospel story. What comes before (from clothing in the garden, to the covenant with Israel and Old Testament law) and what comes after are also critical to the Christian faith and life.
First, how do we “get in on salvation”? Plantinga describes Christ as the perfect example of a repentant sinner. He was baptized, endured scorn and mockery, and ultimately was put to death. Christ was also the perfect human being, a sinless, humble servant, the exact image of God the Father. We receive salvation by imitating Christ—first by repenting of our sin, and then by being baptized. Baptism does not dispense grace—God justifies us invisibly, in His own time and by His own methods. But it mirrors what God is doing “behind the scenes,” so to speak, by modeling Christ’s death and resurrection. We enter the water dead in sin; we emerge new creations, alive in Christ, and members of His body, the church.
But what happens then? What does the Christian life look like after justification—God’s act of grace whereby all our sins past, present, and future are forgiven, and Christ’s righteousness is attributed to us even though we are still sinners? Plantinga speaks of a “double grace”; the first grace is justification, and the second is sanctification, a process that extends throughout this life and into the next. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit which, day by day, transforms our lives into the image of Christ. It enables us to inch closer and closer to the perfect humility, patience, compassion, kindness, and self-giving love that Jesus Christ demonstrated to us. Continuing to grow in our salvation, oddly enough, is also imitation of the Savior.I’ve deliberately left until now a topic that Plantinga mentions earlier in his chapter—the ten commandments. According to Plantinga, it is not until we’ve been led out of slavery to sin that we are given the law, and the law, surprisingly, makes us not slaves but free men and women. Grace liberates us so that we can live within the bounds of God’s will for us. Now, Plantinga says that the law restrains us so that we can flourish, but I would say instead that the law constrains us. At moot, two of the mentors led a poetry workshop. In it, they discussed how the strict rules of many poetry forms, rather than squelching the poet’s creativity by forcing it into an unnatural shape, actually free the poet to create even more beautiful poetry. The rules provide a framework and foundation for the poem. They constrain, rather than restrain. The same is true of God’s law. Just as a well-written sonnet is more beautiful because it has a certain number of lines, a specific rhyme scheme, a precise meter, so a life is more beautiful when lived according to certain standards—God’s standards.