Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Christ our Savior

Luther Burbank, an American horticultural scientist who developed the sturdy Burbank potato, is quoted in the January 22, 1926 publication of the San Francisco Bulletin, as saying, “The God within us is the only available God we know and the clear light of science teaches us that we must be our own saviours.” This statement reflects the concept of what modern man conceives to be true of himself and his relationship to God: man needs salvation of some kind, but is the only one able to save himself.

How can the one who needs help provide the very help he needs? Despite his attempt to declare autonomy, Burbank finds himself wrestling other truths as well: there is something or someone known as “God”; man needs to be saved; and, there is a savior.

In the present time there are many concepts of “savior”. In literary circles, Isaac Asimov won’t refer to God, Jesus or use the name “Lord” or any other related term and has reduced religion down to a business venture.[i] To Asimov, the universe is eternal and man is just part of the perpetual evolutionary process who will evolve himself out of his problems into a higher consciousness. Asimov, balancing between true technology and fiction, proposes that man can save himself, it is just a matter of time.

Or consider Frank Herbert’s sci-fi savior, the Kwisatz Haderach, a genetically engineered messiah who becomes a god-emperor of the known universe--a human who depends on drug addiction to provide “prescience” he needs to rule the universe through treachery, debauchery, coercion, economics, ecology and technology.

To Herbert, the savior is corrupt and can’t get the job done either. Man is lost!

This word of “savior” is not a simple noun, title nor some arbitrary linguistic label. For one to call Jesus the Savior is not to invoke a religious label or lavish some meaningless title of exaltation. He is Christ the Savior, simply believe it or not. The centrality of our discussion here is that the nature and end of man necessitates Jesus Christ to be Savior; there is an objective plan and purpose at work in the atoning work of Jesus Christ the Savior; of the many results of His salvific activity, the means and results of justification should be explored; and finally, Jesus our Savior is still at work--He is Jesus Christ OUR Savior, my Savior!

Across the ages and across various circles of thought it is agreed that man is in trouble and must be saved from his trouble. The Bible calls man’s trouble sin and nothing else. Man was originally created perfect, without sin and in fellowship with God, but through his willful disobedience man sinned against God and was separated from God, out of fellowship with God. The Bible records the Lord God stating, “Behold, the man has become like one [who is left alone, stranded], from it [the tree of knowledge of good and evil] knowing good and evil . . .” (Genesis 3:22). Man was cast into lifelessness without God, being “dead in our transgressions” (Ephesians 2:5). Man’s nature is sinful because “just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). What man deserves is eternal death (Romans 6:23a).

How is man able to deliver himself from this awful state? He cannot. In order to be saved from sin, he must be delivered TO some other state and this he cannot generate in, of or from his own self. God’s plan was incited from the very beginning. Through the unfolding of time (no reference to Herbert, mind you) scripture records that God’s intention was to save man.

Though space does not permit an exhaustive treatment of the progress of redemption, there are some significant passages that reflect the biblical theology of God as Savior: Israel forgot that God was their Savior (Psalm 106:21); God will save and champion the oppressed (Isaiah 19:20); there is no Savior except for the Lord (Isaiah 43:11; 45:21); all flesh will know the Lord is Savior (Isaiah 49:26). The prophecies of the Messiah identify God when He would come to save man from sin: He would be the seed of woman to crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15); born of a virgin and be “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; John 1:14) in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:4f); would suffer and die (Psalm 22:14-18); and be raised from the dead (Psalm 16:10).

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). It is because of His free gift in Christ Jesus our Lord that man is able to escape death and have eternal life (Romans 3:23b). If man does not believe in Jesus, he is condemned already (John 3:18) and is separated from God for eternity. He is to be resurrected to eternal death in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15; 21:8). Eternal fire was created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41) and the one who does not believe deserves the punishment of their father, the devil (John 8:44). 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 clearly teaches that there is a new life in Christ, the old is gone and new is come, man is able to be reconciled to God and he able to have eternal life.

Throughout history, there have been many attempts to explain how the death of Christ covers sin. The first to fifth centuries heard arguments that said atonement was a ransom paid to the devil for fallen souls. While Anselm later proported that atonement satisfied the offenses made to God’s majesty, as if God were a feudal lord, Abelard (and the later 16th century Socinians) said that atonement was simply a moral example showing us how to love God and sacrifice demonstrating one’s dedication. The Reformers stressed that Christ became our legal substitute before God. With this foundational concept, others expanded on the atonement to say that Christ’s death was a public example of the extreme measures God undertakes to uphold the moral order of the universe and the depths of sin. In more modern times, one definition simply reduces atonement to victory over the devil.

The plan of God to save man from sin, death and eternal separation from God involves atonement. This is an ancient truth built into the very God-given laws that established Israel as a nation at its inception. Atonement is not a new concept to New Testament times as it has always been a part of God’s plan. Some reduce the term to simply “at-one-ment”, as with “at one with God”, but the definition (as such) fails as it focuses on the result of atonement and does not address how this is result actually accomplished.

In Hebrew, caphar literally means “cover, hide, obliterate”. The range of meaning includes the concept of “a price of a life, ransom”, “cover over, pacify, make propitiation”. The most concise explanation of the atonement begins in the Old Testament sacrificial system where one finds not a reformation system, a way to “turn over a new leaf” with God as some of the above theories imply, but a demonstration of the necessity to account for sin, the need to take care of it, and that man cannot take care his sin problem himself. In the Old Testament system sin and guilt were only symbolically transferred onto a perfect sacrifice. God was the only one who could declare sin obliterated. The sacrificial system was for man’s benefit to know he was, literally, covered.

Jesus has been clearly identified to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). It was necessary that He should suffer and die (Exodus 12; Isaiah 53; Luke 22:37; Mark 8:31). Jesus Himself is our substitute (John 15:13, Romans 5:8), our offering and sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2) giving His blood for our redemption and purchase (Ephesians 1:7), our propitiation (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2). The most well known question surrounding the atonement is “did the death of Christ atone for the sins of every man, or only certain men, the “elect”?” The argument has been churning on within evangelical circles for hundreds of years and will not be solved on this side of eternity, especially within this paper; however, we will acknowledge the two main views involved the particular argument (Christ died for the elect) and the general argument (Christ died for all men). The particular argument, as purported by most Calvinists, says that Christ’s death is for His people (Matthew 1:21), His sheep (John 10:11), His friends (John 15:13), that His blood was given for the church (Acts 20:28), as He loved and gave Himself for the church (Ephesians 5:25), and that His intercession is for His own (John 17:9). The opposing viewpoint originates from a more Arminian understanding, that Christ died for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 3:16,17; 1 John 2:1,2), that Christ is the savior of all men (1 Timothy 4:10) as a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:6) because He tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9).

The extent of Christ’s death and atonement is clearly applied on an individual level (Leviticus 6:2-7) as well as a national level (Leviticus 4:13-20). The principle is that sin is covered over, not seen and this atonement is for the whole world as referred to in the above generalistic argument. In his book Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry Theissen writes, “the atonement is unlimited in the sense that it is available for all; it is limited in that is effective only for those who believe. It is available for all, but efficient only for the elect.”

To say there exists a close correlation between the atonement and justification would be to understate the fact. Justification follows the atonement. E.Y. Mullins explains in “The Saving Work of Christ” that the atonement and justification are two sides of the same coin. He asks first “whether the necessity of the atonement was in God or man . . . . The necessity was on both God and man.” He continues by explaining that the atonement provided in the death of Christ was a necessity in God for man, as a provision. The atonement then, produces repentance as it reveals the nature of sin in man and “destroys the legal consciousness of the sinner by becoming the ground of his justification.” In effect, Mullins plainly states the biblical teaching that one is not justified without the atonement: “We conclude, then, that the New Testament doctrine of justification by faith based on the atoning work of Christ promotes moral and spiritual interests in two ways: First, it joins the soul to Christ in a living union which is potential of all moral attainment; and secondly, it provides for the needs of the sin-and-guilt consciousness of men and enables them thus to rise to the filial consciousness of true sons of God.”

Though there would be a tendency in modern evangelicalism to avoid terminology as “consciousness” due to New Age influences, Mullins undoubtedly emphasizes the truth that justification allows one to live a deeper Christian life as Christ is our life (Colossians 3:3-4) and the realization of the position of the believer being a child of God (1 John 3:1). Justification is clearly the result of the obliteration of sin. The word dikaiow (dikaio) includes in its range of meaning the concepts of “to show justice”, “vindicate”, “to be acquitted, pronounced and treated as righteous”, “make free or pure.” Since by the blood of Christ sin is atoned for the believer, his position before God is no longer that of an enemy under God’s wrath (Romans 5:9,10), as the believer has been declared justified, vindicated by God Himself (Romans 8:33). Guilt and sin are removed by the atonement, the blood of Christ cleanses from sin and the sinner is declared legally right before God!

(copyright James Kent Wilson, Jr. February 14, 2000. Source and footnotes have been removed for copyright protection.)

We have heard the joyful sound:
Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!
Spread the tidings all around:
Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!
Shout salvation full and free
To each shore that ocean laves--
This our song of victory:
Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!


[i] Following in Huxley’s footsteps, the entire timeline has been reduced to B.F. and A.F., where Henry Ford (and all subsequent man-made technological advances) is the mark of time; hence, “Before Ford” and “After Ford”. If memory serves me correctly I believe that Arthur C. Clarke also reflected this in his 2000 series.

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