We already saw that humankind is in need of salvation. We continue our study on essential doctrines of the Bible by looking at the saving work of Jesus Christ.
The Saving Work of Jesus Christ
God came in the flesh as Jesus Christ in order to provide salvation for His fallen creation. The Incarnation was for the purpose of the Atonement. The gospel, literally the “good news,” is that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again for our salvation. Unlike any other religion, Christianity depends upon the death and resurrection of its founder.
The holiness of God demands that He separate Himself from sinful humanity. Separation from God, the source of all life, means death—physically, spiritually, and eternally—so God’s holy law requires death as the penalty for sinners. God chose to bind Himself by the principle of death for sin. Without the shedding of blood (the giving of a life) there can be no remission or release from this penalty and no restoration to fellowship with the holy God (Hebrews 9:22). The death of animals is not sufficient to remit our sins (Hebrews 10:4), because we are much greater than they in that we were created in the spiritual image of God. Neither can an ordinary person suffer the penalty in our place, for each one deserves eternal death for his own sins.
In order to provide a suitable substitute, God came to earth as a sinless man—Jesus Christ. Jesus was the only sinless man who has ever lived, so He was the only One who did not deserve to die and who could be a perfect substitute. His death became the permanent atonement for our sins. God does not excuse our sins but has inflicted the penalty for those sins on the innocent man Christ. Thus the death of Christ was made necessary by (1) the sinfulness of all humanity, (2) the holiness of God, (3) God’s law requiring death as the penalty for sin, and (4) God’s desire to provide salvation for sinners.
There is no salvation outside the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus asserted, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). (See John 8:24; Romans 10:9-17.)
The Old Testament foreshadowed Christ’s death by animal sacrifices. God’s people offered blood sacrifices to atone for—cover, pardon, forgive, remit, or expiate—their sins. These sacrifices did not actually take away sin, but they demonstrated faith and obedience in God’s plan of salvation. On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of all time, and His sacrifice avails to all in every age who believe and obey God (Romans 3:25).
The Bible describes Christ’s death in several ways:
1. Redemption or ransom (Matthew 20:28; Galatians 3:13; I Timothy 2:6). To redeem means to deliver by paying a price; ransom is the price paid. Christ’s blood (life) was the ransom required by God’s holy law to redeem us from sin’s bondage and penalty (I Peter 1:18-20; Revelation 5:8-10).
2. Propitiation (Romans 3:25; I John 2:2). This means atonement, satisfaction, or appeasement—something that allows God to pardon sin without compromising His holiness and justice. Christ’s death fulfilled God’s just requirements, thus purchasing remission of sins (Matthew 26:28; John 1:29).
3. Reconciliation (Romans 5:6-11; II Corinthians 5:14-21). Christ the man mediates between God and men (I Timothy 2:5). As a sinless man He removed the barrier between holy God and sinful men, restoring us to fellowship with God.
4. Substitution (Isaiah 53:5-6; II Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 2:24). Jesus Christ took our place and suffered the penalty we deserved for our sins. In this sense He became the sinbearer, the sacrifice for our sins (I Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 9:28; 10:10-17).
After Christ died, His body was buried in the grave and His soul descended to hell (Hades, the place of departed souls, not the lake of fire) (Acts 2:25-32). After three days He arose with a glorified physical body, victorious over death and hell. His resurrection is essential to our salvation because it made His death effective; it secured His victory over death (Romans 4:25; I Corinthians 15:14). Because of His resurrection we have overcoming power and new life in Christ as well as assurance of future immortality (Romans 5:10; 6:4; I Corinthians 15:20-23).
Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven, where He is exalted forever (Ephesians 1:20-21; Philippians 2:9). During His earthly life, He relinquished divine prerogatives of glory, honor, and recognition and submitted to human limitations, but no longer. In heaven, Jesus Christ is openly invested with all power, authority, and glory as God.
The Cross was the one, final sacrifice for all time (Hebrews 10:12), and that supreme sacrifice provides present intercession for our sins and free access to the throne of God (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 4:14-16; I John 2:1). The Cross reverses all the consequences of sin. Everything the human race lost because of sin, the church will more than regain in Christ. Believers enjoy many resultant blessings in this life and will receive the fulness in eternity. The benefits of Christ’s work include forgiveness of sin, new spiritual life, power over the devil, healing for the body, and ultimately liberation of the creation from sin’s curse and eternal life for believers (Isaiah 53:5; Romans 8:19-23; Colossians 1:14, 20; Hebrews 2:14).
The present work of salvation has several aspects, which a person receives by faith as he repents, is baptized in Jesus’ name, and receives the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:11):
1. Justification (Romans 3:24, 26). To justify means to declare, count, or reckon as righteous. This involves forgiveness of sin, including removal of all guilt and punishment, and imputation of Christ’s righteousness.
2. Regeneration, or new birth (John 3:5; Titus 3:5). This is more than a reformation; it is the impartation of a new nature—God’s nature—with a change of desires and power to live a new life.
3. Adoption (Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:1-7). The believer is placed into God’s spiritual family and chosen as His heir.
4. Sanctification, or separation (Hebrews 10:10). At conversion, a person is set apart from sin. The Holy Spirit then continues to transform him, perfect him, and make him holy (II Corinthians 3:18; I Thessalonians 3:13; 5:23).
Christ’s atoning work is the basis of salvation in every age. Salvation always originates in God’s grace and is appropriated by obedient faith. Christ died for the whole human race (John 1:29; I Timothy 2:6; I John 2:2). The benefits of His atonement come to all who believe in Him and apply His work to their lives (John 3:16; Hebrews 5:9).
From ‘Doctrines of the Bible’ by David K Bernard