The Christian Understanding of Christ's Saving Work
This is the fifth of an ongoing series of articles exploring Calvary Grace’s Congregational Confession of Faith.
V. Christ's Saving Work
We believe that by His perfect obedience to God and by His suffering and death as the perfect Lamb of God, Jesus Christ obtained forgiveness of sins and the gift of perfect righteousness for all who trust in God through Christ. We believe that Christ, through living a perfect life and dying in our place, the just for the unjust, absorbed our punishment and appeased the wrath of God against us.
We believe that this atonement of Christ for sin warrants and impels a universal offering of the gospel to all persons, so that to every person it may be truly said, “Whosoever will may come for cleansing at this fountain of life, and whoever does come, Jesus will not cast out.” We believe, moreover, that the death of Christ also obtained the omnipotent New Covenant mercy of repentance and faith for God’s people.
At the heart of the Christian message is the fact that we are now delivered from sin and death to the hope of resurrection and eternal life because of Jesus Christ. But what did Jesus do that made the difference?
This fifth paragraph in our Congregational Confession of Faith explains how the Son of God obeyed his Father's will and so saved a multitude that cannot be numbered to be his Bride.
First, it stresses Jesus' perfection and sinlessness. Jesus lived a perfect life of perfect obedience.This not only qualifies him to be the "spotless lamb" sacrificed for sin, in fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system, but also enables him to "count" his perfect righteousness to us, "imputing" it to our account so that when we sinners stand before God at the judgment we will be clothed in "white garments" not our own. In other words, Jesus' perfect life is legally considered our own life, meaning a just God can remain just and yet still justify us despite our sinfulness.
Jesus does not only count his righteousness to us, but takes our sinfulness and guilt and counts them to himself. As the Lamb of God, he is slain as a sacrifice for sin. God poured out the wrath on him that should have fallen upon us. He took our place on the Cross. As a result, our justification is complete. Jesus "appeased" the wrath of God, soaking it up until there was none left against us, with the result that our justification can, indeed, be considered "finished" (John 19:30), "once for all" (Romans 6:10, Hebrews 9:26).
This stands as a rejection of so many other religious systems, which seek to have human beings establish their own righteousness through good works or self-denial. The Gospel of Christ's Saving Work says we cannot save ourselves or make ourselves righteous enough; we need an outside, "alien" righteousness given to us from another. Moreover, we can't atone or make up for our own sinfulness; the gravity of our crimes is simply too great. We committed high treason against the King of All, defacing the glory of the only infinitely valuable Being, and as a result there's simply nothing we would be able to do to "make up for it." We need someone capable of paying the price to take the punishment, and so God himself, in the person of the Son, became a man and took the punishment. Being God, he was capable of paying the price and his sacrifice was infinitely valuable. Being man, he could pay for the sins of men.
The second part of this paragraph makes clear that Christ's atonement is the grounds for a universal offer of the Gospel. That is, because of what Jesus did, Christians have a duty to proclaim the Gospel to anyone and everyone, contrary to the heretical teachings of hyper-Calvinism which holds that only those believed to be "elect" should be evangelized. Now, we do believe that Jesus' atonement was definite, paying for the specific sins of specific people, and thus actually saving those for whom it was offered. It has been said that "Jesus died for all, but not for all in the same way." For God's chosen people, Jesus' atonement covers their sin. For those who are not God's people, the atonement--because it is sufficient and once-for-all, covering all sins including the sin of unbelief--cannot cover them, for they are lost. But the atonement does still have bearing upon them in many ways. Since Jesus died for elect in all ages, including those not yet born, God delays his final judgment on account of what Christ has done so that he will see all his own be brought to salvation. This delay in judgment is indeed a measure of temporary mercy even for the non-elect. Furthermore, the fact that God continues to send rain on the righteous and the wicked, to provide many common blessings to every human being, is indeed grace even to the non-elect. This grace is called "common grace" by theologians, and God's continual provision of it to those who will nevertheless eternally reject him is consistent with God's character precisely because of what Jesus did on the Cross. The only reason, indeed, that the non-elect enjoy any blessing at all is because of the Cross and the delay in God's judgment that it guarantees. Ironically, then, for the non-elect this life will be "your best life now," because of this common grace. The delay in judgment, furthermore, means that many of the non-elect will hear the Good News. The atonement was such a God-glorifying act that even its very proclamation brings honour and praise to God, whether it is accepted or not. Therefore, Christians are to multiply God's glory by spreading this message to as many as they can.
What the atonement also obtains is repentance and faith for God's people. No one is able to believe the Gospel unless God grants him the ability to repent (Acts 11:8) and faith in Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:29). Because Jesus paid for all our sins, God is righteous and just to overcome our inability to believe as we should and turn from our sin. This he does by changing our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit. This part of the statement, then, denies that human beings are able to come to God on their own, and explains that those who do come do so because of what God has done.
All this is to say that Jesus' saving work "got the job done." We don't need to add to it or perfect it or finish it--Jesus did that. He is mighty to save.
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