Foundations: The Salvation of Man
We love a good rescue story. They have all the necessary elements in place to draw us in and put us on the edge of our seats.
Conflict, drama, bravery, selflessness, sacrifice, and intensity. Rescue stories seem to resonate with something that is present in our souls.
They also produce heroes. Persons who willingly enter into life-threatening situations for the good of others. But why are we so drawn to stories of rescue? So quick to label people as heroes? Is it simply because we enjoy an exciting story, or is there a deeper reason?
Humanity is drawn to stories of rescue because at the core of every human heart lies a deep desire to be rescued. We often don't call it that, but rather recognize it as a longing for purpose and significance. As if there were something we were created to be included in, but not quite a part of. Biblically speaking, this is true.
Our desire to be rescued comes from the emptiness we experience having rebelled against our Creator. It leaves a void in our hearts and lives that only God can rescue us from. Those who have been rescued from their rebellion can attest to the purpose and significance it brings to one's life. The Bible addresses all these realities as it reveals the greatest rescue story ever told. God invites each person to not only hear this story, but to be a part of it.
Rescued From What?
Rescue stories start with conflict--a grim reality or situation that demands a heroic response. The rescue story of the Bible is no different. Scripture is clear that humanity finds themselves at conflict with God as a result of having chosen a life of rebellion and indifference towards him. The consequences of this rebellion present the grim reality we need rescue from. Having turned away from our Creator, we now face death (both physical and spiritual), despair, demonic strongholds, hell, and the righteous wrath of God.
This is not good news, in fact, it is quite the opposite. These unnerving realities are bad news that can be tough to deal with. Humanity often tries to explain them away or ignore them rather than hear the rest of the story and meet its hero.
The Good News
The Bible reveals God is merciful, gracious, and slow to anger. Although humanity has rebelled and sinned against him, he offers rescue to each and every sinner. This is done through the person and work of Christ.
The work of Christ is vast, but the Bible puts his death on the cross as the focal point. The work Jesus accomplished on the cross is remarkably good news. But how can such a violent act of injustice be good news? What is good about someone being tortured and dying in such a horrendous manner? So horrendous in fact that the word excruciating, literally meaning "from the cross", was invented to describe it.
It is good news because it was for us. More specifically, this is to say that Jesus died because of our sins. It was our sin, but his death. Throughout the Bible the penalty for sin is death. Therefore, if we sin, we should die. But Jesus, the perfect and sinless one, pays our penalty. He took our place and substituted himself for our benefit.
The Bible outlines many specific benefits that the cross of Christ accomplishes for us. We are more likely to experience these benefits in our lives when we understand the specific works that were proclaimed as "finished" by Christ as he hung in our place.
The work of propitiation. Because God is good, holy, and just, he not only feels angry about sin, but deals with it in ways that are good, holy, and just. Because God is perfect, his and anger and response to sin is perfect. Although it may seem in contradiction to the love of God, God's wrath towards sin and sinners actually flows from him being a God of love. It is love that compels God to pour out wrath on those who do evil; those that assault who and what God loves.
On the cross, Jesus becomes our propitiation. God's wrath, which we deserve, was diverted from us and onto Jesus. Jesus did not demand our blood, but offered his own to appease the wrath of God.
The work of justification. Justification is a legal term that describes how God declares guilty sinners as innocent. But God cannot lie. He cannot declare clearly guilty sinners as innocent and continue to be good, holy, and just. So, how does he do it?
We are justified by Jesus' work on the cross. Jesus paid in full the penalty for our sin--death. Not only did he die for all our sins, past, present, and future, but he also gives us his perfect righteousness. Therefore, when God looks at us, he accepts the sacrifice of his Son and can justly declare us as innocent . He sees Jesus' sinless life and not our sin and rebellion. This is not God "winking" at our sin. The price he paid to justify humanity was costly. The death of Christ was the greatest sacrifice the world has ever known. There is absolutely no other way for humanity to be justified in God's sight apart from the cross of Christ.
Paying the ransom. Every time we sin against God we accrue a debt to God. The result of our sinful lives is a debt owed to God that we are unable to pay. Because our sins are against a perfect God, the payment must be perfect. This disqualifies any human from being able to settle the debt between them and God.
Mark 10:45 declares Jesus came to pay our ransom. The cross of Christ erases any and all debts that we owe God due to our sin. Jesus provides the payment, perfection, that we are unable and unwilling to pay. In Jesus, our debt is paid and God is able to forgive our sin.
The work of redemption. The Bible speaks of sinners being enslaved to their sin. It controls them, has them in bondage, and is inescapable. It is as if sin has made humanity prisoners, locked them in a cell, and prevented any and all means of escape. If liberation is going to happen, then a Redeemer must come.
Jesus redeems us from sin, the curse of the law, Satan and demons, and our sinful nature. His work on the cross is able to set us free from the bondage we find ourselves in. We no longer find ourselves slaves to sin and actions that threaten to destroy our eternities. We are given power through the Holy Spirit and God's Word to resist what brings destruction. We are given eternal life and set free to serve and glorify Jesus.
The work of expiation. The Bible speaks of sin causing our souls to become dirty, defiled, and stained. Our sin, and the sin of others committed against us, causes us to feel unclean, guilty, and shameful. This results in humanity hiding themselves from God's presence, much like Adam and Eve sought to do after they sinned against God. The effects of sin cause humanity to live untruthfully and fearfully, afraid others will find out about their sin or the sin done against them.
The doctrine of expiation explains how Jesus takes away our sin, shame, and guilt. He cleanses our souls so our lives are motivated by love rather than guilt and shame. We no longer get our identity from sin--both the ones we commit and those committed against us. The cross provides a way for us to be made pure and whole despite how sin has affected our lives, identities, and emotions. There is no sin more powerful than the blood of Jesus.
The sacrifice and work of Jesus demands a response. It is not something we can ignore or be apathetic towards. The gospel of Jesus calls us think deeply and act. One day, when we stand before God in judgment, it will be the only thing that matters. Do not wait until that day to consider the implications the cross should have on your daily life.
The proper Biblical response to the work of Christ includes faith, repentance, and confession. We place our faith in the finished work of Christ, trusting that the cross alone makes us right with God. We go on from that point to live our lives face-to-face with God. Whereas in the past our sin caused us turn from God and his commands, we now welcome his Lordship in every area of our life. When we fail to obey we ask for forgiveness and help in being faithful to the Lord's commands. Our lives become about God rather than self. The right response to the gospel causes one to publicly declare the grace, mercy, and goodness of God through both their words and actions.
It Won't Work
Much could be written and discussed about the great salvation that is ours in Jesus Christ. In fact, we will spend eternity marveling at what God has provided for us through his Son. But when discussing such an important truth, it would be wise to briefly mention a couple, although there are many, wrong paths that are taken in the hopes of obtaining salvation. We need to be on guard against such actions and attitudes in our own hearts. When we are not, we minimize the work of Jesus and deceive ourselves into thinking we have obtained something we actually do not posses.
Self-righteousness. Since the fall, humanity has tried to pay the debt they owe God through their performance. The commands of God, which were not given to humanity as a means of justification, are still often used in an effort to justify. If the problem is our failure to obey, then the solution must be to simply perform better. While the logic used here is not completely flawed, it forgets about a number of key truths.
God's standard for righteousness is perfection. Every thought, motive, action, and attitude is to line up completely with God's rule and reign. But the line has already been crossed; the damage is done. No matter how well someone performs and keeps God's commands, there is nothing they can do to obtain perfection. Trying to perform to earn God's love, acceptance, and approval will lead to either pride or despair. Pride when someone performs well and wonders why others can't act like them, and despair when they inevitably perform poorly.
Additionally, people who try to obtain righteousness through performance often add some of their own rules to the commands of God. We can see this happening often in the New Testament as Jesus interacted with the scribes and Pharisees.
There is another form of self-righteousness which does not take into account the commands of God, but rather uses a person's own ideas of morality as the standard. In an effort to be morally good and acceptable, a person may take part in social causes, politics, charity work, or environmental stewardship. While the work they do can often be considered good, they fail to do it with a heart that is honoring and bringing glory to God.
Universalism. This worldview teaches that eventually all are saved, despite the fact some enter into eternity with unrepentant sin. This view of eternity has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. Rather than deal with the uncomfortable truths in the Word of God and submit to them, people are being deceived to think this worldview provides salvation for all. The Bible clearly speaks of an eternal hell and the need for all to repent and be rescued. While this worldview is an effort to make God appear loving, it does no such thing. Should murderers, rapists, molesters, and those who do unspeakable acts of evil be rewarded eternally? God could be defined as cruel, confusing, and unloving if this were the case. The Bible teaches that God will justly and perfectly judge those who lived their lives harming others and obscuring the image of God they were created to display.
There is distinct reason why followers of Christ sing when we gather. The salvation we have found in Jesus is transforming, joyous, and worth celebrating. No thief can steal it and no circumstance can take it away. A hymn written in 1879 says it best:
"Take the world, but give me Jesus, sweetest comfort of my soul. With my Savior watching over me, I can sing though billows roll."