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 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.
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.
(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.
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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