Part five of ten today. So far we’ve looked at the event of the cross, i.e. what happened. The next three chapters examine its consequences and what it achieved. These chapters form the third section of the book, titled The Achievement of the Cross.
So what did the cross of Christ accomplish? The New Testament gives three answers: salvation, revelation and conquest. God rescues us, discloses himself and overcomes evil. Stott dedicates a chapter to each of these themes; chapter seven therefore deals with salvation. [For the sake of brevity I have left out content relating to scholars, etymology, word use in the Greek and Hebrew, historical facts, etc. Hopefully, I have not sacrificed clarity as well.]
7. The Salvation of Sinners
Christ’s salvation is portrayed using different images like propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation. Each of these presents a different facet of our salvation. Propitiation introduces us to rituals at a shrine; redemption to transactions in a market-place; justification to proceedings in a court of law; reconciliation to the experiences in a home or family. Substitution is the foundation of them all, for without it none of them has any validity.
The term appears in the following NT passages: Romans 3:24-25, 1 John 2:1-2, 1 John 4:10. To ‘propitiate’ is to appease or pacify the anger of another. Does this means that offerings and rituals can placate God’s anger? That notion sounds a lot like paganism. To distinguish biblical propitiation from pagan ideas, there are three points to be considered: a) why is a propitiation necessary? b) who is making it? c) what is it?
First answer: propitiation is necessary because sin arouses God’s wrath. Second: in a pagan context it is always human beings who seek to avert divine anger. But the Bible is clear that nothing we can do, say or offer can compensate for our sins or turn away God’s anger. God in his mercy and grace takes the initiative. His love is the source, not the consequence, of the atonement. Third: the propitiatory sacrifice is the Son of God. Thus, it is clear that God himself is at the heart of our answer to all three questions.
Redemption focuses on the plight of sinners (captivity to sin) from which they were ransomed by the cross. To redeem is to buy or buy back, whether as a purchase or a ransom.
In the New Testament, the price of our redemption is the death of God’s son (Mark 10:45). Three questions can be asked to help us understand our redemption better:
- What is the plight? We were in bondage to sin. However, even as the OT people of God were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem after deliverance from Egypt and Babylon, we the NT people of God are awaiting our final redemption, following our redemption guilt and judgment.
- What’s the price? The most common word used by the NT writers to indicate the cost is Christ’s blood (1 Peter 1:18-19, Heb 9:12). The blood of Christ is:
” ‘…an expression for the death of Christ in its salvation meaning’ or ‘redemptive significance’ “
- Who is the redeemer who has proprietary rights over his purchase? Jesus’ lordship over the church, and consequently over individual Christians is attributed to his having bought us with his own blood. For this reason we should not deny Christ, we should flee from sexual immorality and honour God.
Justification is the opposite of condemnation. It is more than forgiveness; it confers to us a righteous standing before God. It isn’t being ‘made new’ or ‘made alive’—that’s regeneration. Nor is it ‘having a righteous character’ or ‘being conformed to the image of Christ’—that sanctification, a lifelong process. Justification initiates sanctification. The NT sometimes uses sanctification as a synonym for justification to denote the holiness of our status, not of our character (e.g Acts 20:32, 1 Cor 6:11).
Justification is by faith alone, and is justification by Christ. Faith has no value in itself; its value lies solely in its object. What then is the source, ground, means and effect of justification?
- Source: God’s grace. Self-justification is impossible. God justifies, and he does it freely.
- Ground: Christ’s blood. The reason we are justified freely by God’s grace is that Christ Jesus paid the ransom-price in his blood.
- Means: by faith (also Rom 5:1, Gal 2:16) Faith’s function is to receive what grace freely offers. It is a means for grace, and the only means at that.
- Effects: we are justified in Christ. ‘In Christ’ points to the personal relationship with him which by faith we now enjoy.
To ‘reconcile’ is to restore a relationship or to renew a friendship. Biblical reconciliation begins with a reconciliation to God, and continues with a reconciliation to the community of Christ.
What were the roles played by God, Christ and ourselves in reconciliation? From 2 Cor 5:18-21, we learn the following:
- God is the author of reconciliation
- Christ is the agent of reconciliation
- we are ambassadors of reconciliation (the work of reconciliation was finished on the cross, but sinners still need to repent, believe and be reconciled)
- Each image highlights a different aspect of our human need.
“Propitiation underscores the wrath of God upon us, redemption our caotivity to sin, justification our guilt, and reconciliation our enmity against God and alienation from him. These metaphors do no flatter us. They expose the magnitude of our need.”
- All four images emphasize God’s initiative, in his love
- All four teach that God’s saving work was achieved by the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ.