Sunday, 16 April 2017

Why I have an Arabic letter tattooed on my wrist

I have a tattoo of the Arabic letter nun on my right wrist and I get asked about its meaning all of the time, especially from Muslims who instantly recognize the symbol and are curious about it. So a year and a half after getting it I have decided to write about its meaning if only to help me to offer a coherent response to others the next time someone inquires about it again.

Before I start, if you think that Christians should not get tattoos then you can read another post on that topic by clicking over here. If we are good to go, the letter nun is the equivalent of the English letter n and is the first letter of the word nasrani. Nasrani is what Christians are called in Iraq (it directly translates as Nazarenes) and the symbol was originally used by ISIS to identify Christians in the Mosul area. The ultimatum for these Christians was to either leave Iraq, convert or be killed. A mark that was originally meant to bring shame however has since become a symbol for the persecuted church and a call for Christians around the world to stand with and pray for those who are enduring suffering. According to some reports, some sympathetic Muslims have also joined in a show of solidarity with the ‘We are N’ movement holding leaflets stating, ‘I am Iraqi, I am Christian’, or marking themselves with the symbol as well.

On a popular level, the symbol represents the idea of rejecting injustice and showing respect to one another. It is also a reminder to pray for those who are been persecuted and even killed for their faith. On a personal level though, the symbol speaks to me of the cross of Christ in a more powerful way than an image of an actual crucifix would. Today the crucifix image can be seeing on half of Hollywood’s celebrities from Miley Cyrus to Ozzy Osbourne, it has become fashionable and devoid of any power. But the nun speaks of following Christ not just in life but even when the threat of death is real. It reminds us that Jesus conquered not by killing but by dying, violence begets violence but good overcomes evil. Every time I see it, I think of Matthew 5, I thin of Romans 12 and of the book of Revelation, I think of the believers in the persecuted church all over the world and I am encouraged by their witness. The Kingdom of God does not advance when it flexes its muscles but only when it opens its heart and responds with love in kindness and service to others. I am thankful that I live in a land where I do not need to fear for my children because of our theology, I do not have a persecution complex. But I am challenged to live out The Way in the smaller areas of my everyday life. Whether it is helping others financially even though we cannot really afford it or helping someone with a task when it is not convenient or just being nice to someone when it is not reciprocated. There is an abundance of ways to live sacrificially in the service of others.

In short then, the symbol on my wrist reminds me of Christ and of a better way of living.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Easter Sunday and the Baptism of Jesus

There is much speculation as to why Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan. Obviously He was without sin so at first glance John’s baptism of repentance can be a bit perplexing. But within the context of the atonement as identification rather than substitution as I presented it in my previous 2 posts things start to make a bit more sense. With Jesus identifying with man and the Spirit falling on Him we see the completed circle of identification. In the gospel of John we are told that the day after John the Baptist baptized Jesus, when he saw Him coming again, he said to the crowd… “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” This is remarkable, for it reveals that John understood through the vision of the dove that Jesus was identified with the Holy Spirit in His baptism. In Matthew’s account we also see the Father identifying with Jesus in this scene:-

When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

So the water baptism of Jesus reveals to us the gospel message of Him identifying with man. It also reveals the Spirit as well as the Father identifying themselves with Jesus in order that we might be identified with them! 

Pure gospel!

See part 1 in this series by clicking here
and part 2 by clicking here.

This post was adapted from chapter 8 in my book Seeing the Cross with New Eyes, page 128-129.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Why Baptism and Easter are inseparable

Yesterday I made a case for speaking of Christ's death using the language of identification rather than substitution. Today I want to continue that thought by looking into baptism a little bit.

I have heard many times before people argue over whether baptism is necessary for one to be saved. I am one of those who believe that it most certainly is necessary but unlike most in that camp, I am not referring to the act of water baptism (though I do think it is important). Rather, when I speak of the necessity of baptism I am referring to having ones identity tied together with Christ’s which water baptism is symbolic of. Most people I believe do not think of baptism in this way but rather they think of it in the same manner that one thinks of vaccinations. You get saved, you get baptized at church (usually after doing some sort of membership or basic Christian principles course) and you pretty much forget about your baptism after that. I see more to it than that, let me quote my friend Jeremy Meyers on the deeper meaning of baptism which I think is brilliantly laid out for us in his book Dying to Religion and Empire. In one particular section Jeremy had the following to say:-

“In Greek literature, “Baptism” rarely refers to what we think of as “Baptism with water.” Instead, the word refers to a wide variety of events or ideas. It is used to refer to a sinking ship or a drowning person, and also to someone who is overcome by sickness and disease and “sinks” into death. In some Greek references, it refers to people who sink into sleep, intoxication, or impotence, or even to those who are overwhelmed by faults, desires, and the magical arts. So “Baptism” does not inherently include any idea of getting dunked under water, but rather refers to being immersed, overwhelmed, or overcome by something else. When a person undergoes baptizma, it means they are no longer who they were before, but are now fully identified with someone or something else.
Therefore, whenever you see the word “baptize” or “Baptism” in Scripture, it would be wise to stop and change the word into “immersion” or “identification” and then ask yourself, “Immersed or identified with what?”

This helps to clear up some confusing passages in Scripture which talk about 'Baptism'. Take 1 Corinthians 10:2, for example, where Paul writes about the Israelites being “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” The idea Paul is conveying is that the people of Israel fully identified themselves with Moses, and he with them. In the cloud and in the sea, Moses and Israel became one. We read something similar in 1 Corinthians 12:13 as well where Paul says that by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. The idea he is getting across is that we are all one in Christ. He is stressing our unity in our identification. Baptism therefore is intrinsically connected to Christ’s work on the cross. Just as Israel was baptized into Moses, the church has been baptized into Jesus. Paul says in Colossians 2:12 that we were “buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”

In one of the most powerful portions of Scripture Paul latches on to the concept of identification and union with Christ when he writes:-

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” - Romans 6:3-8.

In Christ, we are more than just forgiven; we actually become partakers of the divine nature. Not that we become ‘gods’ ourselves but we receive it as a as a result of our union with Him. In Jesus, the One who overcame sin, we have freedom from sins heavy yoke. In the Elect One, we ourselves become elect and enjoy the privileges of Sonship. Yes, “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ”.

Can you see how the cross reaches far beyond merely someone else paying your debt? We are Christ’s very own Eve, members of His body, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Paul referred to this as a great mystery between Jesus and the church.

Even the verses that most clearly seem to advocate for substitutionary theology, like the ones describing the Old Testament sacrifices (see Leviticus 1 through 4) are understood by most scholars as a system of covering through identification with the animals by the laying on of hands on the animal’s head. Likewise when Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” was not speaking in a substitutionary manner, for the very next verse in chapter 6 verse 1 goes on to say, “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”

I believe that Jesus Himself was trying to convey this same message during the Last Supper to His disciples, He was not speaking about the divine pardon but rather a divine union. The secret to the Christian life is Christ! Just look at the language Jesus used in John 14 through 15 as I have highlighted some samplings of it below.

“In my Father’s abode are many dwellings…the Father dwells in Me…I in the Father and the Father in Me…and He will give you another Helper that He may abide in you forever…He dwells with you and will be in you…I will come to you…At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you…we will come to Him and make our home in Him…Abide in Me…He who abides in Me, and I in him bears much fruit…by this the Father is glorified…as the Father loved Me, I also have loved you, abide in My love”.

If that does not make your heart dance then read it again and again until it does. Write it out, stick it on your bathroom mirror and read it daily until the penny finally drops. This is what makes the gospel so amazing and so beautiful. If you were looking forward to a six-bedroom, double-storey mansion up in heaven one day boy are you going to be surprised in the best possible way!

Adapted from my new book Seeing the Cross with New Eyes, page 123 to 127.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Cross: Substitution or identification?

This post is an adaption from a portion of a chapter on baptism in my new book. Like much that is discussed therein, I have tried to ask different questions surrounding the fall, Christ’s death, resurrection and the gospel in order to gain new insights into what they are all about. For today (Good Friday), I would like to discuss the death and resurrection of Christ not from a substitutionary perspective but rather by using the language of identification.  This is not necessarily an objection or challenge against the answers and the conclusions we have reached in the past, but rather I feel that in approaching things from a new perspective we stand to benefit from fresh insights related to Christ’s sacrifice.

Now the typical presentation that we have of the atonement presents Christ as our substitute, the Lamb of God who dies a substitutionary death on behalf of mankind. This theology presents Jesus as the one who knew no sin who became sin for us and suffered a penalty on our behalf that we might escape its consequences. There is certainly an idea within Scripture of Jesus dying as a substitute. I do believe that there is some truth and merit in this way of thinking. Nevertheless, I believe that the substitutionary framework we have wrapped the cross in is insufficient when speaking of Christ’s death.  Because when one really starts to think things through we quickly run into problems with this kind of language.

Consider what the ‘instead of’ language does to the message of the cross. The common perception is that Jesus, the innocent Lamb who knew no sin became sin for us and we in turn received the righteousness of Christ. This I believe is good and true but I do not believe it accurately fits inside the substitution box. If it did then what penalty did Christ suffer in our stead? We know that He died on the cross and was raised back to life three days later; the innocent for the guilty. But did Christ die physically that we might escape death in this life? Or did He suffer eternal conscious torment in hell or annihilation so that we don’t have to? The answer to all of those questions is no and this presents a major problem with our substitutionary lenses that we read the Bible with because most people have the idea that Jesus died so that we don’t have to and that righteousness is ‘imputed’ on us but never really a part of who we are.

In reality, even though Jesus died for us, we still have to die as well, and even though He suffered for us, it was not some sort of ‘an eye for an eye’ legal exchange that was happening. There is simply no satisfying answer from those who teach that sinners must be tortured in hell for eternity but Christ could absorb that exact punishment in a few hours on the cross. If you believe in the eternal conscious torment of the unredeemed, think for a moment about the total number of people who have ever lived and multiply that number by the hours those people would spend in hell. The sum is impossible to do and nonsensical even to attempt for what number can be multiplied with infinity? So rather than speaking of Christ as a substitution I believe the word identification to be more accurate when we are discussing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and this is why.

Christ identifies with man

How does a lifeguard save a drowning man unless he himself gets a little wet? Imagine for a minute a little boy who has a terminal illness, his body is simply not strong enough to fight off the disease which is killing him. But consider for a moment, what if his father’s body was strong enough to absorb and fight off the disease? Imagine that they could do a transfusion where some of the child’s blood could be put into the father’s body where a resistance could be built up against the disease and then somehow this blood could be given back to the child who could now fight the disease off. Medically speaking I am not sure if this makes sense or not (although I believe anti venoms for snake bites are made using this sort of concept) but the illustration bears some resemblance to what I believe God did in Christ for us. Consider what Hebrews 2:14 says:-

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.

Notice that there is more than simply a substitution going on here. Hebrews 2:14 says that Christ shared in the same. He identifies with man by entering into our story as one of us. We who were powerless to save ourselves from death and from the devil, the one who had the power of death, have now been rescued through HIS death and resurrection. We who were powerless to resist sin have by grace been rescued by the one who knew no sin yet identified Himself with our sins. We who were condemned and under a curse have now been redeemed by the One who became a curse for us. We who were poor have been made rich by the one who took on poverty for us. How does God save man? By becoming one Himself and doing what we could not in conquering the disease that had stricken us.

Man’s identity in Christ

Here I believe is where substitutionary language really begins to fall short because we are not born into the family of God through substitution but through identification. Christ did not die so that you don’t have to. No, Christ identified Himself with us by getting down in the muck with us and walking with and dragging us out of it hand in hand.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved and gave Himself for me. – Galatians 2:20.  

For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3:3.

Notice the language in all of these Scriptures is that of togetherness rather than one in place of the other. Substitution language says ‘BECAUSE of Christ’ but identification says ‘IN Christ’. The difference is subtle but it can be the difference between having a religious and intellectual understanding of what Jesus has done for us versus the power of His indwelling life within us.

But God, who in His rich mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
 – Ephesians 2:4 - 6.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; and behold, all things have become new. – 2 Corinthians 5:17.

But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. – 1 Corinthians 6:17.

This list could go on and on, there are more than two hundred places in the New Testament which make use of language that says something along the lines of ‘in Christ’, ‘in Him’ or ‘with Christ’. The reason should be obvious by now that the cross was not merely the divine pardon but the glorious union between God and man in Jesus Christ. We do not overcome death by avoiding it; we overcome it by being raised up through it unto everlasting life in Christ. Herein is our advantage, when this sick, terminal man puts on Christ and clothes himself with immortality, death is swallowed up in victory.

 O Death where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?

Adapted from Seeing the Cross with New Eyes, page 118 to 123. 

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Book update: It's here!

It took me 4 years but it is finished! My book, 'Seeing the Cross with New Eyes' has finally been published and is now available on Amazon. The goal was to have it out before Easter so I am thrilled to have made my deadline. Below is a short description about what you can expect to find inside of it as well as a few endorsements that some fellow bloggers and authors were kind enough to write for me. There is also a Kindle version in the works which will hopefully be available by the end of the month. The book is an easy read and reflects how my personal understanding of God and the atonement has shifted over the years, I hope that it touches people and opens their eyes to a more beautiful God than they had previously imagined possible. You can view it on Amazon by clicking over here.

Book Description

Why did Jesus have to die on a cross? Was it to appease His Father’s wrath or was it to undo the effects of the fall in Eden? In his first book, Wesley Rostoll tackles the tough questions surrounding the atonement, eternal life, the Book of Revelation and more; offering us fresh perspectives into the cross that will transform our understanding of the gospel message.

Seeing the Cross with New Eyes presents us with a Christ-centered theology and understanding of who God is and what He is like. It reconciles the image of the Father with what we see revealed in the Son. It is the witness of a lamb-like King heaven-bent on redeeming His creation.


Millions of people around the world are asking what the crucifixion of Jesus has to do with “real life.” Sure, we Christians know that the cross helps us “go to heaven when we die,” but is that really all there is to the cross of Christ? Wesley Rostoll’s book shouts a hearty “NO!” to that question. Beginning with Genesis 3 and taking us through the Old Testament and into the New, Wesley shows what the crucifixion of Jesus was all about. Jesus didn’t die to start a new religion or buy forgiveness of sins from God. Rather, Jesus died to reveal to us what God is truly like and to lead us into the life upon this world that God always desired for us. Read this book and start living today!

Jeremy Myers - Author and Bible Teacher at

Wesley adds his voice to a growing movement to re-examine Christian doctrine on the atonement. Writing from an evangelical view of scripture, he shows serious difficulties with understandings of our salvation that emphasise God’s wrath and His inability to forgive without someone dying, and makes a good case that Jesus died to defeat all evil, to begin a new stage of God’s kingdom on earth and to give us life in that kingdom. This short book is a useful stimulus and reference for those seeking new understandings.

Eric Hatfield - Apologist and blogger at and

Wesley Rostoll adds his important voice to a growing chorus of those who are asking questions about God, the Cross, Christ and the Kingdom - finding a God who looks like Jesus, and a more life-giving, hopeful Gospel in the process. 'Seeing the Cross With New Eyes' will challenge you, and open your own eyes as it does, to a God of Relationship and Love, and your wondrous inclusion within.

Brandon Chase -  Writer/Podcast - Life|Love -

If you have already read it, I would greatly appreciate some love in the form of an Amazon review.
If you are willing to do a review for me on your blog, reply in the comments below and I will arrange a PDF copy for you. Thank you!