BIBLICAL CONCEPTS:
THE SAVING WORK OF CHRIST

The pivotal teaching of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ died on the cross in order to save sinners. It is a teaching held universally by all Christians, but, nevertheless, an idea that makes no sense, and even seems foolish, to those who don’t believe in Jesus. This should come as no surprise to us as the apostle Paul indicated this almost two thousand years ago.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. …God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

For those who believe in Christ, the idea that he died in order to bring about our salvation should not seem mysterious or foolish. In fact, we should be able to see both the “power of God and the wisdom of God” displayed in this act, and how this death results in our salvation.

The Problem
Before we begin our explanation of Christ’s saving work, we must first understand the problem that he came to solve. If we are being saved, what are we being saved from?

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

These passages show that those who are not being saved are described as perishing. This term is used by scripture to describe a state of permanent unconscious sleep, a real death, and the end of all existence. The alternative to this permanent death is the everlasting life promised by Jesus to be obtained at the resurrection. In Jesus Christ, we are being saved from death, the end of our existence, by being granted life everlasting.

The scriptures not only tell us that without Christ we are dying, they also tell us why we are dying. Throughout the scriptures we are told that death is the righteous judgment that mankind has received for their sinfulness. It started with Adam and Eve in the garden and has continued throughout history. The source of sin is our own willful desire to serve ourselves rather than God. This inherent nature, referred to in the Bible as the devil, is ingrained within us and acts as the source of our mortality.

We all have this “law of sin at work within our members;” it is a condition of our flesh, our physical bodies, inherited from our primal parents, Adam and Eve. Even when our intentions are good, we make mistakes, we fail, we sin. So not only are there sins that we commit that make us unacceptable to God, but there is also this “sin living in us,” this “sinful nature” that is, by its very essence, incompatible with the divine nature. Because of this we are all mortal and destined to die, unless something can be done about it.

The above paragraphs describe the problem from which we need salvation: we are creatures with a physical nature that is inherently sinful and mortal; because that nature is corrupt and sinful, we are creatures destined to return to the dust of the earth (Genesis 3:19). We need to be saved from this death, but in doing so, the source of that death, our sins and our sinful nature, must also be done away with. This is the work of salvation that Christ set out to accomplish. We will now take a look at what Christ did and how it achieved this goal.

The Solution
Let us begin by looking at how the scriptures describe this saving work of Jesus:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things…by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3)

But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26)

(See also Romans 5:8, Colossians 1:22, Colossians 1:13-14, 1 Peter 2:24, Mark 10:45, and Matthew 26:28)

The scriptures present it in different ways, but let us not be confused by it. Whether we read about Christ’s death, the shedding of his blood, the giving of his body, his sacrifice or the giving of his life, the scriptures are all talking about the same event: Christ’s willing death on the cross. It is this one singular event that the scriptures point to as the solution to the problem of mortality. But it is not that sacrifice alone that will save us. Our response to that death is also vital.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. (Colossians 1:22-23)

Simply stated the scriptures tell us that by means of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross God is willing to forgive the sins of those who have faith in Jesus. The forgiveness of our sins provides for our release from the law of sin and death and opens us up to the way of life. It is also what is presented as the work of salvation that Christ set out to accomplish. This provides us with an answer to the problem of mortality, yet also generates two additional significant questions. First, why would a loving God ask for the death of his beloved son as a prerequisite for the forgiveness of mankind’s sins? Or to put it differently, how does the death of Jesus bring about our salvation? And second, what does it truly mean to have faith in Jesus Christ?

How Christ’s Death Brings Salvation

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)

These scriptures are clear: although Christ was the one who went on the cross; we are all to participate in the crucifixion. God wants us to stop giving control of our lives over to our sinful nature. He wants us to recognize that our sinful flesh is fit only for death and to see that we are willing to give it up and walk in a new way prepared by His son. When God sees these changes in us, when He sees that we are willing to give up our lives, when He sees that we are willing to follow His son, then He is willing to forgive us.

At this point it is important to realize that in asking us to follow in the ways of His son, God is not expecting us to be perfect. What God is expecting is for us to change the motivating force in our lives from our own sinful flesh to that of His spirit shown forth in His son. He knows that we will continue to fail, in sin, and for that He provides forgiveness. The Bible refers to this as God’s grace (e.g. Ephesians 2:8-10). Therefore, it is not our righteous acts in following Christ that bring about our salvation, but rather our faith in God’s way of forgiveness.

Now we see from the Bible the essence of salvation. Christ’s death is the means God uses to affect a change in us, a change that God sees as vital and necessary. When God sees this change in us He is then willing to forgive us. The change involves our willingness to follow God’s son and conform to his image. Christ went to the cross representing us all, showing us the manner in which we should walk, leading the way. He asks us now to “deny our self, take up our cross and follow him.” (Mark 8:34)

Christ’s Part
Now that we have an understanding of the bigger picture, we can start filling in some of the details. For instance, why did God need to send His son to do this work? Wouldn’t anyone else have been able to die on the cross? Sure, anyone else could have died on the cross, but there was something special about Jesus.

For we do not have a high priest (Jesus) who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

Jesus Christ was sinless. He lived his entire life in obedience to his Father, and it was only this special relationship of Father to son that enabled him to do so. Christ’s perfect obedience was vital to our salvation in two ways. First, if the Father was going to provide someone whom we were going to follow, then that person had to exhibit all of the characteristics that God wanted to see in us. Therefore our savior had to be without sin, otherwise God would be telling us that sin is acceptable, which it is not. The second reason that sinlessness was necessary is that if Christ had sinned, then there would have been no justification for raising him from the grave. “The wages of sin is death.” But Christ was sinless, and God raised him from the dead, the first to receive the blessings of the new covenant (Hebrews 13:20). God promises that if we “are united with Christ in his death, then we shall be certainly united with him in his resurrection.” The basis of our resurrection from the dead is the example set by our savior, the one who represents us, Jesus Christ. So without the resurrection of Jesus our faith would certainly be in vain.

Since then the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death he might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14 NASB)

For we do not have a high priest (Jesus) who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

Jesus was of the same nature as we are. This was vitally important. As one who came to represent us, he needed to be like us. As one who came to show us that it was necessary that we overcome our sinful nature, he needed to overcome that nature. For this very reason Jesus could not have been God, for God cannot be tempted: He does not bear that nature. It was necessary for Jesus to be tempted just as we are. God cannot die; it was necessary for Jesus to put his flesh to death, to destroy it. It was necessary for him to truly bear our nature, to be like us. It is this nature that holds the power of death over us, for it leads us to sin and sin brings death. When Jesus died on the cross he destroyed that nature in himself, the source of his lusts and desires. Even though Christ was not personally sinful, it was necessary that this sinful nature, his flesh, be destroyed, and in that, he also benefited from his own death.

We may wonder if it was really necessary for Jesus to be put to death in the manner in which he was. Could he not have died a natural peaceful death and achieved the same result? Unfortunately he could not; it would not have taught the lesson that God is trying to teach us. Jesus’ death underscores the righteousness of God in requiring the utter destruction of sin at its source. Our flesh, our sinful nature, needs to be cut off; it needs to be put to death. We cannot allow it to go to its natural conclusion. There is urgency for us to cut it off now. In addition, it was necessary that this message be publicly stated for all to see. The crucifixion fulfilled these purposes.

It may seem to be a cruel plan: God subjects his only son to a violent death in order that we might be saved. Wasn’t there any other way? This is exactly what Jesus wondered in the garden on the night before he died.

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

But there was no other way. Sin is so dark that only a means as drastic and compelling as this is capable of bringing about the change in us that is required. Jesus needed to go to the cross because of human nature and to show us what is required.

Our Part
Now that we’ve seen the part that Jesus had to fulfill, our part becomes much clearer. If Jesus died as our representative, our example, then we are now compelled to take up our cross, crucifying our fleshly desires, and follow him. This begins with us dying to our old self by being symbolically buried in water in baptism, for it is in baptism that we are united with Christ in his death (Romans 6:3-6).

In baptism, our status before God changes and we access the salvation brought by the work of Christ. The old sinful self has died and now we have “clothed ourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-29); we are part of the body of Christ and now heirs to the promise of eternal life. With this new status comes the responsibility of living our lives for Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Living our lives for Christ means we need to change, we need to “crucify the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24); we need to “no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6). In this God knows that we won’t be perfect; we will fail and we will sin. Therefore his grace continues to provide us with forgiveness, for it is only by his grace that we have any hope. God’s whole plan of redemption is a gift to us that we do not deserve, but in His love, God has provided this means for those who would have faith in Him.

The Resulting Salvation
Let us now pull the pieces together and see the big picture of God’s salvation. Our problem is our mortality caused by sin, which results from our inherently sinful nature. God’s grace provides a means by which we can be forgiven for our sins. That means is the death of His son, a death that showed us that sinful flesh needs to be cut-off. If we are willing to follow the example of Jesus’ death by declaring in baptism that our sinful flesh needs to be cut-off, then God is willing to have us follow in the example of Jesus’ resurrection (Romans 6:5). And if we are faithful to Jesus, denying our selfish nature and letting the character of Christ dominate our lives after baptism, then God is willing to have us share in Jesus’ eternal life. For those who have been faithful in their efforts to change their lives spiritually, God will change their lives physically at the promised day of resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15:50-54)

Now we come to the final question. Do you have faith in what God has spoken? Do you believe what God has promised? For the scriptures say that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and that by God’s grace, through our faith, we can be saved (Ephesians 2:8). And faith in Jesus is much more than believing he existed. It is more than believing he died for our sins. Faith is believing that Jesus died showing us the way to go, showing us what we need to do to our sinful desires. Faith is believing that we must join with Jesus in his death in baptism, flee sin and live our lives for him. Faith is believing that God is willing, based on our association with Jesus, to forgive our sins, to raise us up at the resurrection, and to grant us life eternal. This is the faith held by the Christadelphians, and we invite you to share in it.


SOME RESPONSES YOU MAY HAVE TO THE ABOVE ARTICLE

So if Jesus is not God, who is he?
 

Why does man need to be saved from sin? What’s wrong with man?

Is there any evidence in the Bible that man is the source of death?

Why is there no mention of the Devil – surely he is the source of man’s death?

What is the “Kingdom of God”?
 

So if Christ died for my sins, is there something God wants from me in response?

How am I supposed to develop this faith (trust) in the Bible? What evidence is there that it is true?