What Is The Gospel?
NIV Ephesians 1:13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.
The gospel is the message of truth about our salvation, but salvation from what? Many think of salvation as deliverance from the evils of this world, and especially in terms of escaping the judgment of hell in order to go to heaven when they die. And the Scripture does speak of being saved from our enemies (Luk 1:71), all our calamities and distresses (1Sa 10:19), and the wrath of God (Rom 5:9, 1Th 1:10). But while the gospel of our salvation encompasses all of these, its message of truth speaks of a much greater salvation, and greater in a way that without it, none of these other salvations is possible. For we understand that enemies who hate us, tribulations, injustice, and even God’s anger are only consequences of a much bigger problem and not the root of the problem itself, which is sin. It was sin that first brought death into the world, and with it all of the pain, affliction, and strife that we now experience and from which we seek deliverance. Although people have always sought salvation from these consequences of sin, it is essential to understand the need for salvation from sin itself.
God is the Creator of all things, and as with any creation, it was designed to function in a certain way. Like a new car that requires an owner’s manual, God’s Creation requires direction from its Builder so it will be useful and provide the service and enjoyment for which it is intended. This is the purpose of His commands, and that purpose is not to deprive us of anything as the serpent suggested in the garden of Eden (Gen 3:5). Rather, it is to guard and protect our happiness and well-being as well as God’s own purposes. But because God’s Creation is infinitely more complex than an automobile, it requires much more than an owner’s manual—it requires a close, personal relationship with the Creator who alone can impart the wisdom and discernment necessary to leverage the many intricacies of His Creation in the way they were intended for us personally, and not misused in ways that would bring harm.
Thus, although man was created in God’s image, eternal, and with the free will to make his own choices, with that freedom also came the responsibility to exercise it carefully; cf. Gal 5:13, 1Pe 2:16. For there were choices he could make that could harm both himself and others, as well as God’s own interests. Such was the choice of the first Adam to disobey God’s command and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, through which sin entered into the world, and with it death, along with all the affliction and suffering that we now see and experience. Worst of all, man’s sin separated him from His Creator who was the very source of his life. For without His communion he would stumble deeper and deeper into darkness as a slave to the god of this age, who understood the self-destructive nature of sin that deceives one to believe that good is evil and evil is good (Isa 5:20) and used it to beguile man and take him captive to do his will (2Co 11:3, 2Ti 2:26).
Salvation From Sin and the Gospel of the Kingdom
We understand then that although God created man in His own image to have free will and has given him a wide latitude within which to exercise his will, there are choices he can make that are outside of God’s own will. For both as the Creator and as a loving Father He knows that some choices will lead to ruin. Sin, therefore, is rebellion against the will of God to do our own will. And as the root cause of all the evil in the world is sin, it follows that true, abiding salvation is deliverance from that sin, from the exercise of our own self-will contrary to God’s. It also follows that such deliverance must happen not only individually but corporately, in order that God’s righteous rule can be restored over all the earth and men might live in peace and be governed in true justice as He originally intended. Thus the message of truth is also called the gospel of the kingdom of God (Luk 16:16; cf. Mat 4:23, 9:35, 24:14), that God is in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them (2Co 5:18-19), but also restoring them to the governing principles upon which an abundant life of peace and joy can be lived by all. It was for this salvation that Christ came.
Matthew 1:21 And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.
Isaiah 9:6-7 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.
The Jews at that time were hoping for salvation from their Roman oppressors. But the Romans were only the latest in a long list of oppressors under which the nation had suffered. They might have known then, and some were no doubt beginning to understand, that there was something much greater from which they needed salvation. In the same way, many today hope for deliverance from various circumstances, perhaps a debilitating sickness or some other sorrow, often an injustice, not realizing the root cause of such sufferings from which not only they but the whole world needs deliverance if they are ever to be truly free. Hence the gospel is the good news of salvation from sin. As Jesus taught,
John 8:34-36 Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.
The gospel is the message of hope for that sort of life that is life indeed, which is the essence of eternal life. Eternal life is only obtained through communion with God our Creator and Jesus Christ through whom we were created, and so the gospel is how we can be restored to that fellowship.
John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.
1Corinthians 8:6 There is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.
Apart from this fellowship we cannot become sons to remain in His house forever but will continue as slaves to the sin that separates us further and further from God. By continuing in sin, its deceptive nature hardens our hearts against the truth that could save us, to the point that our hearts are so deceived by our sin that the truth can no longer save us, even though we are certain in our hearts that we know the truth. Such were the religious leaders who opposed Jesus so that rather than being drawn to the truth that could save them, they accused Him of being demon possessed and casting out demons by the prince of demons; Mar 3:22. Unless we are delivered from our sin, it will inevitably make us a vessel of God’s wrath, deserving only the indignation of Him who created us in His own image to bear the peaceful fruit of righteousness, but against Whom we have rebelled to our own destruction.
Romans 2:4-8 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who will render to every man according to his deeds: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
But the good news of the gospel is that God Himself has provided the means of salvation from our sin through His Son Jesus Christ, who always sought to do the will of the Father and not His own (Joh 5:30, 6:38, 8:29), and came to lead us in that path to life.
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”
Through Him we find not only forgiveness for our sins, but also deliverance from our bondage to sin, which is what separates us from life.
Romans 7:18-25 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (It is He who sets us free from our slavery to sin that leads to death.)
The good news of the gospel is that God has provided the means for us to be set free from the body of this death through His own Son Jesus Christ. For all of us by both nature and choice are foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our lives in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But the kindness of God our Savior and His love for man has appeared in the person of Jesus Christ to save us from these things, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy (Tit 3:3-5). It is by God’s grace that we are saved, through simple faith that obediently follows His Son in the way that leads to life. Such salvation is not of ourselves but is a gift from God, and no works of our own could ever earn it so that no one can boast. And yet the true salvation He brings always results in the good works for which we were created (Eph 2:8-10).
Christ’s Death and Resurrection
Central to our understanding of the gospel of our salvation is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
1Corinthians 15:3-4 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
As noted above, the salvation promised in the gospel is by grace, through simple faith that obediently follows Jesus in the way that leads to life. And the way that leads to life is actually the way of the cross that leads through death. This is completely counterintuitive to our fallen nature of sin, but such is a consequence of its self-destructive nature that deceives us to suppose that darkness is light and light is darkness. It is only by believing the gospel of our salvation and following Christ in the way of the cross that we can come out of the darkness to walk in the light of life.
Matthew 16:24-25 If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.
John 12:24-26 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. 26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
Repentance for Forgiveness of Sins
According to the gospel, in order to truly live we must first die, and the expression of that death while we are still in the flesh of our earthly bodies is repentance, which was the first word of the gospel from the lips of John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter and Paul.
Matthew 3:1-2 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Acts 2:37-38 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 26:19-20 Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.
Speaking of the central importance of His death and resurrection to the gospel, Jesus specifically told His disciples what to preach for the forgiveness of sins.
Luke 24:46-47 Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Many mistakenly believe that death is the judicial penalty of sin that must be paid in order for God to forgive, and that forgiveness comes as the result of Jesus’ death who paid that penalty. But as we have seen, death is not a punishment inflicted upon a sinner for disobeying God, but rather the natural consequence of being stung with death’s poison, which is sin (1Co 15:56), by rebelling against His commands which He gives to keep him safe and preserve his life. God is always willing to forgive and earnestly desires to be reconciled to His erring children, for that is His nature—so long as there is sincere repentance upon which the broken relationship can be restored, as Jesus taught in His parables of the prodigal son and the unforgiving servant:
Luke 15:18-20 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” 20 And he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.
Matthew 18:21-35 21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 The slave therefore falling down, prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 He was unwilling however, but went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
We should also understand from this parable that if forgiveness was based upon the penal substitution of Christ’s death for our own, then the king, who represents God, could not have lawfully reinstated the debt owed since it would already have been paid. Further, the Scripture is clear that “the soul who sins will die” (Eze 18:4), not another in his place who is innocent. Rather, “the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself (Eze 18:20). We understand then that the forgiveness of sins offered in the gospel comes not because Jesus died to pay our penalty for sin, but because we repent from our rebellion against God and turn our hearts back to Him.
The Significance of Christ’s Death
But why then did Jesus even have to die? Why is His death so important to the gospel of our salvation if the forgiveness of our sins comes not from His death but from our repentance? Very simply, and as already noted, Christ had to die to show man the way to life through death, which the deceptive nature of sin had hidden from him.
Romans 6:5 If we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.
Romans 6:8 If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.
2 Corinthians 4:10 [We are] always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
Philippians 3:10-11 10 [I want to know Christ], and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
2Timothy 2:11 It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.
1Peter 4:1-2 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.
The Nature of God’s Wrath
But what about Christ’s death as a sacrifice for us? Isn’t the penalty of sin death, and didn’t Jesus die as a substitutionary atonement in our place? We should be careful to note that although Scripture does speak of divine retribution for unrepentant sin, we can also understand such punishment as God simply giving people over to the stubborn rebellion of their own self-will to reap the destruction they have sown according to the laws of their creation.
John 12:46-48 I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness. 47 And if anyone hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.
Romans 1:18-28 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.
Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life.
The Wages of Sin
Hence, the apostle Paul did not write that the penalty of sin is death. Rather, he wrote that the wages of sin is death, meaning that death is what we earn or receive as our due for serving in the employ of sin as our master as opposed to the eternal life that is our reward for serving in the employ of God unto righteousness.
Romans 6:20-23 20 For when you were slaves of sin (i.e., in the employ of sin), you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving (i.e., earning) from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God (i.e., Christians now serve God, not sin), you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Whereas death is earned by serving in the employ of sin, eternal life is free as the natural consequence of simply being in Christ Jesus. It is the deceitful nature of sin that turns this upside-down so that people suppose that because they are doing their own will that they are free and not working for and earning the wages of sin as their master. On the other hand, they suppose that to obtain eternal life they must go to work for God against their will so that to walk in the way that leads to eternal life seems to them like toil for an intolerable master, and to be saved they must work to earn it. Only by exercising the saving faith that follows Christ in the way of the cross to die to the sin of our own self-will are we able to see that we are only free when we are free from sin, and that true salvation really is completely free simply by walking in the way of life for which we were created, but from which we have fallen.
Sacrifice and Atonement
We must also be careful to understand that the purpose of the sacrifices God ordained for sin was not to purchase His forgiveness by satisfying His justice. God is not so small as to demand satisfaction for our affronts to Him before He will forgive. If He were, and we are to be like Him, that would mean that neither could we forgive without first receiving satisfaction. But of course, this is not what Jesus taught.
Matthew 6:12,14-15 12And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors… 14 For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Matthew 7:2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
Mark 11:25-26 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.
Ephesians 4:32 And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
From the time man fell into sin God had ordained a sacrifice, especially a sacrifice of blood that speaks of life, as a propitiation or way of atonement to express the contrition of a sincere repentance upon which man’s relationship to God could be restored. But we must be careful to understand that it was the repentant contrition expressed by the sacrifice that propitiated God, and not the sacrifice itself, as if it was paying the price for his sin so that he could simply purchase God’s forgiveness with the blood of another.
1Samuel 15:22-23 Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
Psalm 51:16-17 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
Isaiah 1:11 “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, And the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats.”
Jeremiah 7:22-23 I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23 But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’”
Hosea 6:6 For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Amos 5:21-22 I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.
Micah 6:6-8 With what shall I come to the LORD And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? 7 Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?
Hebrews 10:4-9 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, But a body Thou hast prepared for Me; 6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In the roll of the book it is written of Me) To do Thy will, O God.’” 8 After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast not desired, nor hast Thou taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), 9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Thy will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second.
Christ’s Heroic Sacrifice
Rather, the sacrifice of blood, which was a sacrifice in the sense that it was offered at substantial cost to the offender in order to demonstrate sincere contrition, was what God ordained for man to offer in simple faith because it looked forward to the sacrifice of His own Son, which was not a penal sacrifice in the sense of dying in our place to pay our penalty for sin, but a heroic sacrifice, offered at great cost to both Himself and the Father, showing us the way to life through death. Before Christ came the sinner could not have understood this. Still though, the sacrifice of blood that he contritely offered to make atonement with God for his sins would also have been a reminder of his own death that awaited him for his sin, but also the hope that because of the faith expressed by his sacrifice that there was yet something beyond death that he couldn’t see, but that was ultimately realized in Christ. Thus Abraham offered up his son, his only son Isaac whom he loved, in obedience to the Lord’s command, not to propitiate His favor (see again Mic 6:7 above), but to demonstrate his love for God in the very same way that God would love us. And he did so with the saving faith that sees through death to that life that is life indeed which only comes from fellowship with the Father through the Son.
Hebrews 11:17-19 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” 19 He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type.
James 2:21-23 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.
It is in this sense then that an offering for sin was ordained as the means to atone for one’s sin and propitiate God for the restoration of fellowship with Him. And it is in this sense that Jesus died for our sins, not as a penal sacrifice required to purchase our forgiveness, but as a heroic sacrifice to show us the way to life through death.
Dead to the Law
But didn’t Christ take our sins upon Him at Calvary where they were nailed to the cross with Him? Let us be careful to note what Scripture records was taken away and nailed to the cross with Jesus:
Colossians 2:13-14 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt (lit. the handwriting, cf. the KJV, referring to a legal agreement specifying a claim that one has on another according to the agreement, in this case the ordinances or decrees of the Law of Moses that God gave to the Jews to keep them separated from the surrounding nations) consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it (singular, referring to the “signed agreement” of the Mosaic covenant, not to our transgressions, plural) out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (again, referring not to our sins, plural, but to the old covenant with its requirements and decrees to which the Jews were otherwise bound, but that could only arouse the sinful passions and not deliver from them; that old covenant they had agreed to at Sinai was made obsolete by the new covenant effected by Jesus’ death on the cross, Heb 8:13).
While the idea of something owed is not absent from the meaning of the handwriting Paul mentions, it is unfortunate, but motivated by modern evangelical theology, that the NAS and other modern translations (such as the NET, NIV, and ESV) describe it in terms of a debt. For rather than the obligation owed to “abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them” (Gal 3:10), the debt owed has come to be understood in terms of a penalty required by God for our sins that we couldn’t pay, but that was paid for by Christ’s death on the cross. Interestingly, the original American Standard Version and the English Revised Version translated the word as bond, which better reflects the meaning of the word as it is used in the only other place it is found in the sacred writings with which the early church would have been familiar.
Tobit 4:20-5:3 NRS 20 “And now, my son, let me explain to you that I left ten talents of silver in trust with Gabael son of Gabrias, at Rages in Media. 21 Do not be afraid, my son, because we have become poor. You have great wealth if you fear God and flee from every sin and do what is good in the sight of the Lord your God.” 5:1 Then Tobias answered his father Tobit, “I will do everything that you have commanded me, father; 2 but how can I obtain the money from him, since he does not know me and I do not know him? What evidence am I to give him so that he will recognize and trust me, and give me the money? Also, I do not know the roads to Media, or how to get there.” 3 Then Tobit answered his son Tobias, “He gave me his bond (handwriting) and I gave him my bond (handwriting). I divided his in two; we each took one part, and I put one with the money. And now twenty years have passed since I left this money in trust. So now, my son, find yourself a trustworthy man to go with you, and we will pay him wages until you return. But get back the money from Gabael.”
Tobit 9:2-5 NRS 2 “Brother Azariah, take four servants and two camels with you and travel to Rages. Go to the home of Gabael, give him the bond, get the money, and then bring him with you to the wedding celebration. 3 You are witness to the oath Raguel has sworn, and I cannot violate his oath. 4 For you know that my father must be counting the days, and if I delay even one day I will upset him very much.” 5 So Raphael with the four servants and two camels went to Rages in Media and stayed with Gabael. Raphael gave him the bond and informed him that Tobit’s son Tobias had married and was inviting him to the wedding celebration. So Gabael got up and counted out to him the money bags, with their seals intact; then they loaded them on the camels.
We should also observe that Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written at the same time as that to the Ephesians (cf. Col 4:7-9, and Eph 6:21-22), with numerous parallel passages in the two letters, including the following that helps us better understand Paul’s words to the Colossians about what was nailed to the cross.
Ephesians 2:14-16 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one (i.e., both Jews and Gentiles into one body, the Church), and broke down the barrier (literally, the hedge, fence or wall of protection; cf. Isa 5:2,5, Mat 21:33, and Luk 14:23) of the dividing wall (that had separated the Jews from the Gentiles), 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity (“which was hostile to us”, Col 2:14), which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances (or decrees, as the NAS translates the same word in Col 2:14), that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
The Messiah whom God would send to save mankind from its sins was His own Son and of the same divine nature as Himself, but would also be fully man in order to show people the way to life through death. That man had to be born into the world, and in order to prepare the fully human home into which He would come, He set apart the Jewish nation, starting with Abraham, “in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice” (Gen 18:19). Toward this end, the regulations of the old covenant that the Jewish nation agreed to at Sinai were given to separate the Jewish nation from the Gentile nations around them and keep them holy to the Lord. But those regulations were also onerous and a “burden”, “a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear” (Act 15:10,28). Nevertheless, they were obligated by the Mosaic covenant to obey them so long as that covenant was in effect. But when Christ died upon the cross it inaugurated the new covenant in His own blood that made that old covenant obsolete. It is in this way that the cross nullified (rendered inoperative, caused to fade away, abolished) the requirements of the Mosaic law with all of its rules and regulations and put to death the enmity that formerly separated Jew and Gentile so they could become one new man. Hence, Christ’s death not only showed men the way to life through death, it also nullified the old covenant for all those who enter into the new covenant, so that they are no longer under the Law of Moses with all of its rules and regulations, but under the new law of Christ to be led by His Spirit to walk in love and thereby fulfill the righteous requirements of the law (Rom 8:4).
Romans 7:1-6 Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? 2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
2Corinthians 3:6-9 [God] made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter (i.e., of the handwriting of the old covenant written in stone), but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory (notice that the old covenant, including even the ten commandments that were written in stone, was a ministry of death, as it could only point out our sin but not deliver us from it), so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8 how shall the ministry of the Spirit (that leads one in the way of the cross to be delivered from sin) fail to be even more with glory? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation has glory (the old covenant was a ministry of condemnation), much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory (only when one enters into the new covenant inaugurated by Christ’s own blood and follows Him in the way of the cross to find deliverance from sin is he able to come to true righteousness).
Galatians 3:10-13 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”
Galatians 3:23-25 Before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
Galatians 4:1-7 Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. 3 So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world (such as observing “days and months and seasons and years”, Gal 4:10, or submitting to decrees, such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch”, Col 2:20-21). 4 But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “”Abba! Father!’ 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
Understanding Scripture in Light of Christ’s Heroic Sacrifice
Having come to understand the true nature of the salvation wrought by Christ’s heroic sacrifice to deliver us from our sins, we can now better understand the numerous passages of Scripture that are typically set forth in favor of a penal sacrifice to satisfy God’s wrath so we could be forgiven.
Isaiah 53:4-6 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities (not to pay our penalty for sin, but to show us the way to life through death); The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed (from the death of our own self-will by following Him in the way of the cross to suffer in the flesh and so cease from sin, 1Pe 4:1-2). 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him (not in the sense of Him paying the penalty for our sin, but in the sense that from His great love for the lost God willed that Jesus suffer and die as a heroic sacrifice in order to rescue mankind from the sin by which we are all ensnared; Jesus subjected Himself to do that will and God raised Him from the dead to show us the way to eternal life by dying to our own self-will).
John 10:15-18 The Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep (as a voluntary, heroic sacrifice, not as the sacrifice that of necessity had to be offered to satisfy God’s justice and pay the penalty of our sin so we could be forgiven). 16 And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.
Act 2:23 NAS 23 This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God (not to make satisfaction for our sin so we could be forgiven, but to show us the way to life through death), you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
Romans 3:25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith (Christ’s blood does not propitiate God for man’s sins by making satisfaction for those sins, but by demonstrating to man the contrite submission of self-will even unto death, knowing in faith that God is able to raise us from the dead, in order to enter into the very nature of eternal life).
Romans 4:25 He who was delivered up because of our transgressions (not to pay a penalty so we could be forgiven, but to show us the way to life through death by which we are delivered from the power of sin), and was raised because of our justification.
Romans 5:6-8 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Christ, who did not have to die, heroically laid down His life for us, not to pay a penalty so we would not have to die, but to show us the way to eternal life through death).
Romans 8:3-4 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin (not to purchase forgiveness, but as the one through whom salvation from sin would come to all those who in faith subjected their own will to God’s and contritely offered the prescribed sacrifices that anticipated Christ’s heroic sacrifice; although the righteous and holy law of God could only bring the knowledge of sin, Rom 3:20, and not deliver man from its power, the sacrifice of His Son could, and it is in this way that …), He condemned (i.e., judged guilty and sentenced to death) sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (who leads us in the way of the cross to die to sin so that we can fulfill the righteousness of the Law though freed from its letter.)
Romans 8:13 For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Romans 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all (not to pay a penalty of death for sin, but to show us the way to life through death), how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
2Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin (or a sin offering, as the word may also be translated and is commonly used in the LXX; cf. Exo 29:14,36, Lev 15:30, Num 6:11, etc…) on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (not by some divine accounting trick that credits Christ’s righteousness to ourselves, but by showing us the way to the righteousness of God by following Him in the way of the cross).
Galatians 1:4 the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins (not to purchase forgiveness for our sins so that we could continue in them with no cost to ourselves, but…) that He might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and 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 me, and delivered Himself up for me (not to pay the penalty of death for our sin, but as one who otherwise did not have to die in order to show us the way to life through death).
Ephesian 5:2 And walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a (heroic) sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. (It is hard to imagine how a penal sacrifice of His own Son suffering an unjust death could have truly been a fragrant aroma to God, but it makes perfect sense if it was a heroic sacrifice.)
Titus 2:14 who gave Himself for us (not to pay the penalty for our sins so we could sin without cost, but…), that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
Hebrews 7:27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself (as a heroic, not a penal sacrifice).
Hebrews 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself (as a heroic sacrifice) without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
Hebrews 9:22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Notice it doesn’t say that God won’t forgive without a blood sacrifice, but that forgiveness simply doesn’t happen. For it is the blood that witnesses the sincerity of the contrition that makes atonement and restoration of the relationship possible. We demonstrate that contrition by following Christ in the way of the cross and subjecting ourselves to the death that we rightly deserve, knowing in faith that God is able to raise us up from the dead and give us the life that is life indeed. It is in this way that by losing our life that we save it.)
Hebrews 9:28 Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many… (not to pay the penalty for their sins to satisfy God’s justice, but to offer up the sin of the world on the altar of the cross in the same way that every acceptable sin offering signifies the offering up of one’s sin by renouncing it and turning away from it in repentance toward God; again, it is in this way that by Christ offering Himself up to show man the way to life through death that He condemned sin in the flesh by delivering us from its power, Rom 8:3.)
1Peter 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross (not so we could continue in sin and be forgiven, but…), that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
1Peter 3:18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God (Christ’s death does not reconcile God to us by satisfying His justice, but reconciles us to Him by delivering us from our sin that separates us from Him; Isa 59:1-2).
1John 2:2 He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (It is through His heroic sacrifice that shows us the way to life through death that God is propitiated for our sins, because it is by following Christ in the way of the cross and subjecting our will to His that we find complete deliverance from sin that makes reconciliation with God possible.)
1John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (not as One to die in our stead to satisfy His justice, but to die to show us the way through death by which atonement can be made to restore our relationship to God by delivering us from the power of sin).
Revelation 1:5 To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood (not from the wages of our sin, which is death, by purchasing our forgiveness with His blood, but from the power of sin by showing us through His own death the way to life by following Him in the way of the cross to die to our own sins and so be set free from the bondage of sin that separates us from God and keeps us from eternal life. He is the way, and the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him, John 14:6.)
Revelation 5:9 Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. (The blood of Christ purchased us for God not by paying a ransom to Himself to satisfy His justice, or even to the devil as the price he demanded to set us free, but to sin to ransom us from its power, as the price that was necessary to show us the way to life through death. “For he who has died is freed from sin” Rom 6:7.)
Ransomed From Sin and Delivered From the Devil
We understand then that if there was a literal person to whom Christ paid the ransom of His blood to set us free from our bondage, it was to us. But we also understand that the ransom He paid gets deposited and is effectual to deliver us from our sins only if we follow Him in the way of the cross. For again, it is he who has died who is freed from sin. By delivering us from sin Christ’s ransom also delivers us from God’s wrath, because in dying to sin we are no longer under His wrath but reconciled to Him.
Christ’s ransom that delivers us from sin through death also delivers us from the devil by nullifying the power of death through sin that he used to enslave sinners. Without Christ’s sacrificial death from which God raised Him from the dead, we would never have known that there is life through death, and would have continued to live in fear of death, slaves to our sinful nature and deceived by its poison. Without His sacrifice there was also no way for God to establish His kingdom on earth, for until men came to the knowledge of the truth that it is through death that they are set free from the sin that binds them, the world would continue to remain under the authority of the evil one. It is in this way that Jesus bound the strong man and rendered powerless the devil who had the power of death.
Luke 11:21-22 When a strong man, fully armed (with the power of sin and death), guards his own homestead, his possessions are undisturbed (his kingdom of all those enslaved by his power); 22 but when someone stronger than he (Jesus) attacks him and overpowers him (which was fully accomplished by His death and resurrection), he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied (again, the power of sin and death), and distributes his plunder (for His own kingdom purposes).
Hebrews 2:14-15 14 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; 15 and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
The Significance of Christ’s Resurrection
We have seen the significance of Christ’s death, that He died to show us the way to escape the bondage of our iniquities by following Him in the way of the cross, for he who has died is freed from sin. Inseparably related to His death and just as important is His resurrection from the dead, which assures us that if we have died with Christ we shall also live with Him (Rom 6:8). Without His resurrection we would not have that hope, and so would remain captive to the devil through our fear of death.
Acts 2:24 And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.
1Corinthians 6:14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.
1Corinthians 15:17-20 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
Having been raised to life Christ became the first fruits from the dead of all who would follow Him in the way of the cross to be delivered from the power and authority of darkness (Col 1:13). In this way He was installed as the “Son of God in Power” (Rom 1:4 NET) by His resurrection and given all authority in heaven and earth (Mat 28:18) as the promised Son of David to establish God’s kingdom not just over the Jewish nation, but over all the nations of the world.
Romans 1:4 [His Son] was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Acts 13:32-33 And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, 33 that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘Thou art My Son; today I have begotten Thee.’
Psalm 2:6-8 But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain. 7 I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee. 8 Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession.’
We understand then the importance of both Christ’s death and resurrection to demonstrate to fallen men the way to life through death and so render powerless the devil who had the power of death. The resurrection of Christ from the dead gives man the hope of his own resurrection to life by following Him in the way of the cross through death. In this hope he is delivered from the fear of death and rescued from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of God (Col 1:13). Hence, it was Christ’s resurrection from the dead that installed Him as King on His throne in order to bring God’s kingdom down to earth and wrest control over the kingdoms of the world from Satan. Those who would enter His kingdom must renounce their former master and serve Christ by taking up their own cross in the spiritual battle for the kingdoms of the world. As they follow Him, laying down their own lives to carry forth the gospel message into all the world and make disciples of all nations, Christ advances His kingdom against Satan’s. As they go, they are led by His Spirit of sacrifice that was pressed from Him in Gethsemane, surrendered up to the Father upon the cross, and poured out from the right hand of God in heaven. It is in this way that Jesus is even now upon His throne, directing the forces of His kingdom, waiting for His enemies to be made a footstool for His feet.
John 14:16-18 And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
John 15:26-27 When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me, 27 and you will bear witness also.
John 16:7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.
Matthew 27:50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
Luke 23:46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” And having said this, He breathed His last.
John 19:30 When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.
Acts 2:33 Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. (The Spirit that Christ poured out was His own Spirit that He surrendered to the Father upon the cross when He laid down His life, only to take it up again and pour it out for the life of the world; it is in this way that His grain of wheat fell to the earth and died but bore much fruit; Joh 12:24.)
Hebrews 10:12-13 But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.
Resurrection Hope in the Face of Persecution
In following Christ in the way of the cross we can expect to suffer as He suffered. As the fallen world under the authority of the devil hated and persecuted Him, it will hate and persecute us as we join His ranks.
John 15:18-20 If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.
2Timothy 1:8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.
2Timothy 2:3-4 Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
2Timothy 3:12 And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
It is the resurrection of Christ from the dead that gives us hope that as we suffer with Him in establishing His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, God will also raise us with Him to glory along with all those who throughout history gained approval (literally, obtained a testimony) through their faith.
2Corinthians 4:14-18 [We know] that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Romans 8:16-18 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Hebrews 11:36-40 Others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. 39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
1Peter 1:10-12 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.
Hence, in following Christ in the way of the cross to establish His kingdom, we understand that we are not just serving ourselves, but all those from every nation, tribe and language who would enter into that kingdom, so that apart from them we should not be made perfect. And we obtain the same testimony of faith as we are obedient to Christ’s commands to further His kingdom while patiently enduring our own sufferings, knowing in faith that God will raise us up just as He did Jesus.
Resurrection Power For Life Now
We also understand that in addition to the hope that Christ’s resurrection gives us for our own future resurrection so that we no longer fear death and can fully surrender our lives to Him now, to the extent that we enter into His death now, there is also a commensurate power of the resurrection that gives life to us now. This is, again, the power of Christ’s Holy Spirit that was poured out from heaven to wash us from our sins and regenerate us as new creatures in Christ and vessels fit for His kingdom. It is in this way that we are truly born again of His Spirit.
Romans 6:4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 8:11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.
2Corinthians 4:7-12 We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you.
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and 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 me, and delivered Himself up for me.
Galatians 5:24-25 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Colossians 3:1-3 If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Titus 3:4-7 When the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
1Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
We have seen that the gospel is the good news of salvation from our sins that have separated us from the eternal life of fellowship with God, who alone as our Creator can guide us in the path of life for which we were created. It is the blood of Christ that reconciles us to God, not by paying the penalty for our sin which is death, but by showing us the way to life through death. It is not the blood of Christ that purchases God’s forgiveness for us, but our sincere repentance. For God is always willing to forgive, so long as there is true repentance upon which our relationship to Him can be restored. God is propitious, and earnestly desires our reconciliation to Him. But the repentance that leads man back to life leads first through death, while the deceitful nature of sin by which he has been stung tells him that to live he must not die but do all that he can to save his life. Because of his sin, man cannot see that it is only through death to his self-will that he can be set free from its bondage, and so in faith must follow Christ in the way He came to show that leads to life, which is the way of the cross.
It is in this way then that the blood of Christ propitiates God, not by dying in our place as a substitutionary atonement for our sins, but by offering Himself as a heroic sacrifice to show us the way to eternal life by following His example of submission to the will of the Father and dying to our own self-will in order to be set free from the power of sin. He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, and so Christ suffered in the flesh in order that we might arm ourselves as soldiers in His kingdom with the same purpose, living the rest of our lives in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men but for the will of God (1Pe 4:1-2). For not everyone who says to Him “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who surrender their own will to do the will of the Father, Mat 7:21.
Jesus was also raised from the dead to render powerless the devil by delivering us from our fear of death, which kept us in slavery to him, because that fear prevented us from seeing that it is only through death that we actually find our deliverance from the bondage of sin (Heb 2:14-15). We can follow Christ in the way of the cross to suffer and even die with Him, knowing that He who raised Jesus will also raise us with Jesus. Only by taking up our cross daily and dying to our self-will are we able to cease being a slave to sin and escape from the snare of the devil to become true sons of God who remain in His house forever (Joh 8:34-36). It is in this way that the Son sets us free and we are delivered from the domain of darkness to enter into His kingdom (Col 1:13), to serve Him as soldiers of the cross in furthering His kingdom on earth. To the extent that we enter into His death now by dying to our self-will, we also experience the resurrection power that raised Him from the dead and that enables us to walk in newness of life as we are led by His Spirit. It is in this way that as we follow Him in the way of the cross and crucify our fleshly desires that He washes away our sins and sanctifies us in holiness, so that we are truly born again of His Spirit. And it is in this way that the Spirit is a pledge or earnest of what is yet to come when we too are raised from the dead, imperishable, along with all those who since man first fell into sin have longed for His appearing; 2Co 1:22, 5:5, Eph 1:14.
What Must I Do To Be Saved?
Now that we better understand the gospel of our salvation we also understand that in order to truly be saved we must be saved from our sins, and to be saved from our sins we must follow Christ in the way of the cross to die to our own self-will. We also understand that while that deliverance from sin will only be fully completed at our physical death at which time we can say that we have really and fully been saved because the last vestiges of our sinful flesh will have passed away, that salvation begins at a point in this life when we come to the knowledge of the truth and believe the gospel message, deciding in our hearts, though yet slaves to sin, that we want to follow Christ in the way of the cross that leads to life. At that time in a very real sense one may also be said to be saved, for as long as he continues on that path to life, though it leads through death, he can be sure that “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6). In this way, even the thief on the cross next to Jesus with nothing more than the simple expression of a contrite heart could be saved.
However, we must also understand that just because one is saved in this sense that he no longer has the free will to later change his mind and decide the cost is too high and turn back from that way that leads to life. Jesus taught that it is not those who put their hand to the plow and look back who are fit for the kingdom of God (Luk 9:62), but those who endure to the end who will be saved (Mat 10:22, 24:13). He warned those who would consider following Him to count the cost, lest after laying a foundation they are unable to finish (Luk 14:27-30). For the seed of life sown by Jesus will sprout even in rocky or thorny soil, but only that which is sown on good soil will not wither or be choked out to bring forth the fruit of righteousness that will endure to eternal life (Mat 13:3-7, 18-23). It is in this way that those who were once “saved” by deciding to follow Jesus may yet “fall away” when faced with the actual cost of following Him in the way of the cross. We understand then that while one may be said to have been saved by a profession of faith and initial repentance from sin, that does not mean that he is therefore saved for all eternity regardless of what he does and can no longer turn away from the path that leads to life. More precisely, those who are on that path to life are in the process of being saved, and it is those who daily take up their cross and deny themselves who remain in that way of the cross to endure to the end and be saved.
We understand then that there is much more to be done in order to truly be saved than just a trip down the aisle at church. While salvation is a free gift from God available to all, like a gift it is not ours unless we receive it. For “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (Joh 1:12). We must “take hold of the eternal life” to which we are called in Christ Jesus (1Ti 6:12) for “many are called but few are chosen” (Mat 22:14).
Luke 13:23-24 And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, 24 “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
We take hold of the eternal life offered by the gospel by entering into a covenant with God that is not unlike the covenant of marriage a woman enters into with a man. For this reason the Bible refers to the redeemed as the Bride of Christ. As in the marriage relationship, by joining ourselves to Christ in covenant we become one with Him so as to find greater strength than we have in ourselves, strength even to follow Him in the way of the cross that leads to life and obtain victory over sin. Indeed, Scripture declares that we become partakers of the divine nature and His divine power provides for us everything pertaining to life and godliness through our true knowledge of Him (2Pe 1:3-4).
As in the covenant of marriage, to enter into this covenant with God we must die to ourselves and live for another, for Him who died for us. In this way we unite ourselves with Christ in the likeness of His death in order that we may also be united with Him in the likeness of His life. For only when our old man of sin is put to death with Christ can we also be raised up with Him as a new man of righteousness. Thus to enter into this covenant with God that saves us from our sins we must take up our cross and follow Him outside of the gate bearing His reproach (Heb 13:13), to join Him there at the holy altar of Calvary in the sweetest of communions where we become like Him in His death so that we may also become like Him in His life. For unless we die, we cannot live. And unless our grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it cannot bear fruit (Joh 12:24). Thus Jesus admonishes all those who would follow Him:
Luke 9:23 If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.
But how exactly does one take up his cross daily and crucify the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5:24)? More practically, we can understand uniting ourselves with Christ in His death by three steps that are often cited in Scripture as requirements for salvation and which also have parallels when entering the marriage covenant.
First Step: Believe In The Lord Jesus Christ
The first step is to “believe in the Lord Jesus”, even as a young woman comes to believe in a man—that he will protect her and provide for her and make for her a new home—to the end that she forsakes her home in this world to become his wife and subject herself to Him. With the same faith exemplified by the patriarch Abraham, who forsook his home in this world to follow God into the land of promise, we too must come to believe in the Lord Jesus to such an extent that we are willing to forsake all of our love for the world and the things of the world to follow Him in the way of the cross into His kingdom of righteousness.
Act 16:30-31 “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.”
1John 2:15-17 Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever.
Second Step: Repent!
The second step towards entering into the covenant with God that saves us from our sins is inseparably related to the first—repentance. For as in the covenant of marriage, this covenant is founded upon that sincere love in which each party considers the other as more important than himself, even to the laying down of his life for the other. “God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Christ laid down His holy life for us. In like manner, we demonstrate our covenant love for God by dying to those things which are displeasing to Him; we lay down our sinful lives for Him. In repentance we turn away from all our unrighteous deeds, sinful thoughts, and impure motives to walk in that love which flows from a sincere faith, a pure heart and a good conscience (1Ti 1:5).
Acts 3:19 Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
Acts 20:20-21 I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
2Timothy 2:24-26 And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
Hebrews 6:1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
Third Step: Be Baptized
The third and final step for entering into covenant with Christ has to do with the legal aspects involved, similar to saying “I do” when entering into a marriage. In the marriage relationship described in the Bible there was a period of betrothal similar to what we think of as being engaged. During this time the groom would prepare a place for his bride while the bride prepared herself for the groom. However, unlike an engagement, the betrothal was much more binding with the couple already considered to be man and wife, although the marriage had not yet been consummated. This consummation took place at a wedding feast following the period of betrothal. So too is it in our relationship to Christ. The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, “I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2Co 11:2). Of interest to us here is how we enter into that betrothal. As in our culture an engagement ring is often given as a sign and symbol of the engagement, and the couple exchanges vows in the presence of witnesses to make their relationship legally binding, so is the ordinance of baptism given as a sign and symbol of our betrothal to Christ, which also makes our relationship to Him legally binding.
Galatians 3:27 NAS 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (To be clothed with Christ is to come under His care and provision as a wife to a husband; cf. Ruth’s words to Boaz in Ruth 3:9 “Spread you covering over your maid,” that the NET translates as “marry your servant”. See also Eze 16:8 “Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord God.”)
1Peter 3:21 And corresponding to that (the flood waters from which Noah and his family were safely delivered but that, like our sins that sweep us away, destroyed the antediluvian world), baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience (i.e., “the pledge of a good conscience”, NET, to be united with Christ, just as in a marriage covenant)—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Baptism is an especially appropriate rite for entrance into the new covenant because it offers a physical picture of the spiritual realities that take place when one believes the gospel and makes the decision to follow Christ in the path through death that leads to life. Listen as the apostle Paul explains the significance of baptism to the salvation promised by the gospel:
Romans 6:3-4 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
The Gift of the Holy Spirit
The physical water of baptism that washes the dirt from our bodies is also a picture of the spiritual water of the Holy Spirit that washes away our sins.
Acts 1:4-5 And gathering them together (just before His ascension), Jesus commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
As we are baptized in or with water physically to identify with Christ’s death and resurrection, so are we baptized in or with the Holy Spirit spiritually to become one with Him and members of His body (1Co 12:13), just as a wife becomes one with her husband. This Spirit of Christ, that subjects itself to the will of the Father even unto death trusting in faith that He will raise us from the dead, was pressed from Jesus in Gethsemane, surrendered to the Father at Calvary, and poured out on the day of Pentecost. This Spirit is also described as a gift, for just as a bride receives gifts to establish her new home when entering into the marriage covenant, so do we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when we enter into covenant with Christ to establish our new life in Him. Indeed, it is precisely this gift of the Spirit that enables us to live in holiness in a way we never could apart from Christ in the flesh.
Acts 2:37-38 NAS Now when they (the Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost) heard this (the proclamation of the gospel), they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 22:16 And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.
Romans 8:11-14 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you. 12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
Titus 3:3-7 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
We have seen that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of salvation from the power of sin. Sin is the sting of death, a deadly poison that works death in all who are stung by it. It works death by deceiving them to believe that in order to live they must have their own way, when in fact to live they must like Jesus surrender their self-will to their Creator. “Whoever seeks to keep his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his life shall preserve it” (Luk 17:33). This salvation from our sins that also promises the hope of eternal life is provided as a free gift of God’s grace to all who will receive it. But to receive it costs us our life in this world. For to receive it we must enter into a covenant with Him that is not unlike the marriage covenant for which a bride must forsake her home in this world to enter into with her husband. To enter into this covenant we must take up our cross and follow after Jesus in the laying down of our lives, becoming like Him in His death so we may also become like Him in His life. We accomplish this as we come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ that He is worthy to give Him our hand in covenant and submit our will to His, turn our hearts away from the world, the flesh and the devil in repentance from our sins to love Him only, and be baptized into His name. At that time we receive the Holy Spirit of promise who enables us to devote ourselves to God as the Bride of Christ in all righteousness and holiness.
What Must I Do After I Am Saved?
We have just seen that at our baptism we become legally joined in covenant to God as the Bride of Christ. And yet this is only the very beginning of the eternal relationship to which God calls us in His Son Jesus. At this stage, our salvation is no more complete than is a marriage at the time of betrothal. For we have just barely been introduced to our Savior and have yet to enter into the fulness of our covenant relationship with Him. Like a pure virgin betrothed to Christ we must prepare ourselves as a bride for her groom and come to the wedding feast of God’s Son to consummate our covenant relationship to Him.
Put on the Garments of Salvation
In the marriage relationship described in the Bible, a bride would prepare herself for the consummation of her marriage at the wedding feast by beautifully adorning herself in a manner similar to what brides still do today. In this same way, we must prepare ourselves for the consummation of our salvation in Christ by adorning ourselves with the wedding clothes provided to us by the Father as a free gift of His grace. In faith, having laid aside our old garments stained with sin we must through the power of the Holy Spirit put on the fine linen of righteousness; that is, having laid aside the old man we must put on the new. In still other words, having been united with Christ in the likeness of His death, we must also be united with Him in the likeness of His life.
Isaiah 61:10 I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Rev 19:7-9 Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. 8 And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. 9 And he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’”
Ephesians 4:21-24 You…have been taught… 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Colossians 3:5-10,12-14 Therefore (since we have been united with Christ in His death) consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him… 12 And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
Keep Oneself Chaste
It is very important for those who would come to the wedding feast to be dressed in the garments of salvation provided to them by the Father. For just as in the marriage relationship, those who would join themselves in covenant with God must keep themselves pure and chaste, undefiled by sin. So important was marital faithfulness that unfaithfulness was the one and only exception Jesus allowed in His prohibition against divorce (Mat 5:32, 19:9; cf. Mat 1:18-19). Such is a serious warning for us to not commit spiritual adultery with the world against God but to truly lay aside the old man of sin, keeping him crucified with Christ, and adorn ourselves with the wedding clothes of righteousness.
Matthew 22:8-14 NAS 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.” 10 And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. 11 But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed in wedding clothes, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?” And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.
James 4:4 NAS 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Romans 7:2-3 NAS 2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband (the old man of sin) while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then if, while her husband (the old man of sin) is living, she is joined to another man (to Christ), she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband (the old man of sin) dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress, though she is joined to another man.
Be Filled With The Spirit
It is also very important for those who would come to the wedding feast to be filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit, lest the lamp of His word (Psa 119:105) go out and give us no light by which to see and come to the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness. For let us recall that the Holy Spirit is given as a gift to teach us all things and lead those who would make covenant with God into holiness. Thus as a final preparation, a wise virgin would also take along plenty of oil for her lamp when she went out to meet the bridegroom, lest he tarry and her lamp go out before He come to receive her.
Matthew 25:1-12 Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 And five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6 But at midnight (the darkest hour of the night) there was a shout, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7 Then all those virgins rose, and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the prudent, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9 But the prudent answered, saying, “No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10 And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut (just like in the days of Noah). 11 And later the other virgins also came, saying, “Lord, lord, open up for us.” 12 But he answered and said, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you” (as a man knows his wife at the consummation of their marriage, cf. Gen 4:1, KJV).
Come To The Lord’s Supper
In like manner to the custom still practiced at wedding receptions today in which the bride and groom symbolize their becoming one flesh by eating each other’s cake and drinking each other’s wine, so do we come to the wedding feast of God’s Son to eat of the true food of His flesh and drink of the true drink of His blood (Joh 6:53-56) and so consummate our covenant relationship to Him. God has prepared this feast from His word for all who will come (see Isa 55:1-2), and it is by sharing in its communion that we are joined to Him in indissoluble union to become bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh, even partakers of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4), the very Bride of Christ (cf. Eph 5:31-32). And just as the ordinance of baptism was given as a sign and symbol of our betrothal to Christ, so is the ordinance of the Lord’s supper given as a sign and symbol of our coming to the wedding supper to eat of the covenant meal and consummate our relationship to Him.
John 1:1,14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth
John 6:48-51,53-56 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh… 53 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.
Matthew 26:26-28 And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”
Conceive of His Life Through the Seed of His Word
Only here at the marriage supper of the Lamb will we enter into the fullness of our relationship to Christ. For here as we eat with Him and He with us (cf. Rev 3:20) the imperishable seed of His word will find a place in our hearts to take root and grow. Indeed, according to the original purpose for our creation to be fruitful and multiply and fill the whole earth (Gen 1:28), we come to the wedding feast and consummate our relationship to Him in order that we may conceive of His life through the seed of His word and His life may be formed in us. Listen again to Paul’s words to the Romans:
Romans 7:4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God.
1Peter 1:23 For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God.
Bear the Fruit of Christ
Finally, having conceived of His life we must like the fertile soil of an expectant mother nurture and care for that new life within us by eating the healthy food of God’s truth while abstaining from the strong drink of falsehood and all pollutions of the flesh. For the imperishable seed of God’s word can only grow up to bear fruit in a good and honest heart (see Luk 8:15). And that tiny seed of Christ’s life must be brought to maturity in our lives. We must attain to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Eph 4:13)—first the blade, then the ear, then the mature grain in the ear (Mar 4:28)—that in the fullness of time we may bear the fruit of His seed, both as spiritual nourishment for His people and as a source of His imperishable seed that may be sown in the hearts of still others. For we give birth to the life of Christ in the great miracle of eternal life as that life is formed in others and they too are born again into the household of God.
Galatians 4:19 My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you…
Ephesians 5:31-32 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
We have seen that the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to enter into a covenant relationship with God that delivers us from the power of sin to bear the fruit of righteousness for which man was originally created. To enter into that relationship we must take up our cross and follow after Jesus, forsaking our home in this world and laying aside our old garments of sin. To consummate that relationship we must come to the wedding feast God has prepared for us from His word, taking care to be filled with the oil of His Holy Spirit and adorned with the garments of salvation. For only as we prepare ourselves as a bride for her groom in holiness and righteousness of the truth will we enter into the fulness of our salvation to bear the fruit of the seed of His word in our lives, for which God will surely come looking, and without which we are in danger of being cast out of His kingdom.
2Peter 1:3-11 His divine power (through the gift of the Holy Spirit) has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature (i.e., joined to God in covenant), having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
 This satisfaction theory of Christ’s atonement is actually a relatively recent understanding in the history of the church and is what most people today are taught as the gospel, but it was not the understanding of any Christian for centuries after Christ.
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The Atonement of Christ's Blood: Understanding How the Blood of Christ Saves and Reconciles us to God
- What is the relationship between Jesus’ sacrifice and our redemption, forgiveness and receiving an inheritance per the terms of the covenant / will that was effected by His death?
- From what, and to what, are we saved? Is it Jesus’ death alone that saves us? What part does His resurrection have in our salvation?
- Does the justice of God demand the satisfaction of blood before He will forgive, similar to what pagans throughout history have believed?
- What was the purpose of the Old Testament sacrifices?
- Does blood alone atone for sin?
- How does Christ’s death render powerless the devil?
- To whom was Christ’s life given as a ransom? From what are we ransomed?
- Why did Jesus not only die, but suffer and die? If all that was necessary was His shed blood, why didn’t God sovereignly ordain a more merciful death for His own dear Son?
- What is the relationship between a will or testament, and a covenant? What was willed to Jesus as an inheritance from His Father, and what was willed to us through the new testament in His blood?