This is the fifth lesson in the series What Christians Should Know and will complete this examination of the core or essential doctrines of the Christian faith. Certainly, Christianity is much, much more than five principles, but these central tenets lay the foundation upon which everything else is built. The remaining five lessons will continue to educate on other basic doctrines, ideas, and principles.
All Christians must fully understand the gravity of Who Jesus Christ is to all of us. He, and He alone, is the only path to the Father, to salvation, and to eternal life. This is why in John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” The path to Heaven, the path of atonement, and the path to forgiveness of sins is irrefutably and exclusively through Jesus. There are not multiple ways, there is only one way. Anyone who suggests otherwise is a not basing their assertions on the Word of God, and is purposely contradicting The Lord.
Accordingly, to deny that Jesus is the only way is heresy. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 10:33, “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” Rejection of Jesus is a rejection of God, and irrevocably leads to death. In what follows, I will explain why Jesus is so important and why Christless Christianity is formless and void.
I. The Incarnation and Person of Jesus Christ
Essential Doctrine: What Christians should know is that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man in one person.
That is, Jesus is unchangeably, indivisibly, and inseparably a union of human and divine natures in one being, not parted or divided into two persons, with the property of each nature being preserved.
A simple way of saying this is that Jesus, remaining what He was (God), became what He was not (a man), and will be so forever.
The Incarnation of Jesus really is the rescue mission that God executed in order to save humanity. The word incarnate means to embody in flesh or to take form. So God became a human being and took the form of a human being by becoming flesh. And this becoming did not happen after Jesus was born so that a human became God. Instead, Jesus was conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit and His virgin mother, Mary. Jesus did not have a human father.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (italics mine).
In Luke’s account of Christ’s birth, His conception is explained in more detail.
“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.”
As a result, the conception of Jesus was very miraculous, but His birth was very ordinary. The virgin birth affirms that Jesus is not some ordinary guy who has a mom and a dad just like you and me. Because He is fully God and fully man, He is very special, and His conception was necessarily miraculous. Because Mary never engaged in sexual intercourse to conceive Jesus, there was no effort on her part. This affirms that our salvation has nothing to do with human works and is totally and completely dependent on God. If Jesus did simply have a regular mom and dad that conceived Him, it certainly would be hard for anyone to believe that “god” was conceived in the same way you and I were. Furthermore, Jesus was born holy, sinless, and thus without any of the legal guilt of sin or inherited moral corruption as a result of Adam. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that sin is inherited from the father only, nor does it say that Mary was sinless. What the Bible does say in Luke 1:35 is that through the power of the Holy Spirit overshadowing the virgin Mary, the child she would give birth to would be holy. Christ also was without sin throughout His entire life, and always conducted Himself in a manner pleasing to the Father. Jesus is a “lamb unblemished and spotless.”
The birth of Jesus was not unexpected. His birth fulfilled several prophecies from the Old Testament, the same Scriptures that Judaism uses as its authoritative Word. The first allusion to Christ comes in Genesis 3:15, when God says that the seed of the woman (not the man) would crush the head of the serpent. Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Immanuel means “God is with us”). This prophecy is fulfilled in Matthew 1:18, 22-23. Micah 5:2 tells us where Jesus would be born, in Bethlehem: “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” Matthew 2:1 fulfills this prophecy. Finally, Malachi 3:1 tells us that Jesus will enter the temple in Jerusalem: “‘Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,’ says the Lord of hosts.” This prophecy is fulfilled in Matthew 21:12-13 and Mark 11:15. And because the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 a.d., we know that all of these events had to happen before that date, and they did.
The Incarnation highlights the intimacy God has with His creation. Jesus chose to enter into our physical realm as one of us in order to save us. This means that Jesus had breakfast, used the bathroom, and sat down and had dinner with His family just as you and I do. And He did this because God does not leave creation alone. He became one of us so we can say we have a savior who is very personable and who experienced everything that we do, including temptation, weariness, hunger, and thirst; He also grew and had to study in order to learn and become wise. He learned how to become obedient, had a soul, and experienced personal turmoil. Jesus has a real, human, physical body. He is not an impersonal God detached from our reality who rules from afar, and it is because Jesus “was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”
Furthermore, it’s one thing to say that Jesus was just a human being. It’s another thing to fully embrace the idea that Jesus had to be fully human in order to save humanity. The full humanity and full deity of Christ is beautifully articulated in the timeless classic, On the Incarnation by Athanasius. (For a discussion of the full deity of Christ, see What Christians Should Know Part II: Who God Is.)
Athanasius wrote On the Incarnation in defense of Christ’s full divinity and against Arianism, an emerging theology of the time that suggested Christ was begotten from the Father, therefore not eternal, and thus subordinate to the Father.
Had Christ not been wholly divine, Athanasius argues, then Christ would have needed a mediator Himself to bring us into koinonia (fellowship or community) with God, and that imperfect mediator would therein need another mediator, creating an endless succession of imperfect mediators without any resultant salvation. In short, in order to re-create creation and turn the corruptible (humans) back into the incorruptible, God needed the same substance, or Jesus, in order to bring that imperfect back to being perfect. Athanasius beautifully and repeatedly argues that the entire process is motivated by the love of God for His creation, and to suggest that He would impart upon us a less than perfect mediator would in fact demote and diminish that love motivation to less than steadfast, permanent, perpetual, and all-encompassing.
Athanasius says, “It was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was both born and manifested in a human body.” He also says, “The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than though death; yet He Himself, as the Word, being immortal and the Father’s Son, was such as could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, and, itself, remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put and end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection.”
Further explanation as to why Jesus incarnated is best summarized in Hebrews, a book of the New Testament addressed primarily to Jewish converts familiar with Old Testament prophecy. The theme of Hebrews is the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus as the revealer and mediator of God’s grace. In essence, Hebrews illustrates that the bridge between humanity and God is Jesus. In 2:14-17 it says,
“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] 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, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
Jesus is our great high priest, not only because He is God but because He was also fully a man. As a result, He knows exactly what it’s like to live on earth, deal with everyday problems, and struggle with real issues. Hebrews 4:14-16 says,
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The verse from Hebrews 2 uses the word propitiation. Propitiation comes from the word hilaskomai in Greek, meaning, “to atone for sin, to render one’s self, to make reconciliation or to expiate.” In other words, Christ could only represent us before the Father if Jesus became one with us. So, propitiation means turning away God’s wrath (see Leviticus 16:20-22, 17:11). In order for Jesus to turn aside the wrath of God against guilty sinners, He had to become one with us and die as a substitute for us.
Why did Jesus have to be fully human?
First, Jesus was our representative who faithfully obeyed on the behalf of all of humanity. Adam was the first man, and his disobedience in the Garden of Eden condemned all of humanity. Jesus is the last Adam or the “second man” (Adam is the first) so that “through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Since God cannot be mocked, His original intent to have humankind rule over creation is fulfilled through the perfect obedience of Jesus, who can thus rule over all creation. Second, because God is perfectly just, He is incapable of saying “never mind” to sin. So, while He is merciful and may want to forgive us, a penalty must be paid for the sin that we have committed. And that debt must be paid because, as we all know from the last lesson, the wages for sin is death. Propitiation is thus necessary because sin is incompatible with God and is offensive to His character. He may forgive sins, but if a price is not paid, then God would be merciful, but not just, which is contrary to what the Bible teaches us. And, from a logical standpoint, a God that is merciful at the expense of being just is a pushover, and people are free to do what is right in their own eyes.
Third, one day we will all stand before God to face judgment. If humanity is separated from God because of sin, only one person can serve as a mediator for us and bridge the gap between God and humans: a person who is both fully God and fully human. And this makes perfect, logical sense because how could God, being perfect, accept anything less than a perfect mediator to vouch for us? In order for God to save human beings, Jesus had to be a human being—if someone is owed $100, they will not accept apples for payment. Even more, because salvation comes only and exclusively from God, nothing from creation (which is finite and corrupt) could save us. But the eternal and timeless Jesus could, Who can bear the full penalty of sin. This is why in I Timothy 2:5 it says, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
Fourth, the Bible is filled with imperfect people who all tried to be obedient and faithful but failed, so Who can we look to as a human example on how to be divine? Jesus. He is the blueprint that we must follow: “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”
Fifth, when Jesus’s physical body rose from the dead, it served as a model by which all of humanity can follow to inherit a new, imperishable body raised in glory. This is why after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to many in a physical, tangible, and “flesh and bones” body.
II. The Cross
“Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words. Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.”
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was one of the most heinous, barbaric events in the history of the world, yet this horrific event demonstrates the unceasing love of God for His creation. The crucifixion and death of Christ did not have to happen, but “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” The cross, then, simultaneously represents the love and justice of God because Jesus dying on the cross atoned for our sins. Atonement in a general sense refers to the work done by Jesus in His life and death. Atonement in a specific sense refers to the debt of sin paid by Jesus through His death on the cross. Yet, despite God’s loving intent, He also could not deny that creation was tarnished by sin.
The question then remains, if God’s wrath is turned away, something still absolutely needs to pay the price of sin, because God is perfectly just. The answer is the atoning sacrifice of the blood of Jesus on the cross.
Essential Doctrine: Penal substitutionary atonement refers to the fact that Jesus bore the penalty of sin in His death, He was a substitute sacrifice for us all, and that penal substitution atoned for humanity, thereby reconciling us back to God.
It must be recognized that before Christ’s sacrifice atoned for our sins (and thus changed our relationship with God), the death of Christ had an effect on the relationship of God with us. Before Christ, there could be no redemption. With Christ, there is redemption exclusively through the debt paid for us by Christ on the cross.
The blood of Jesus therefore irrevocably pays the full debt owed because of sin. The precursor to this event in the Old Testament is the Day of Atonement, or modern-day Yom Kippur. In Leviticus 16 (long before Christ’s death), once a year the high priest would make an atonement offering for the sins of the people of Israel. Two goats would be used—one to be sacrificed and the other as a scapegoat that would be sent out into the wilderness. The sacrificed goat would bear the penalty of the people’s sins, and the scapegoat was sent out in order to remove the sin from the midst of the people. An example in the Old Testament of the wrath of God “passing over” the people is first seen in Exodus 12 when the innocent blood of a Passover lamb protects the people of Israel as God “passes over” those houses marked with blood on the doorposts and lintel.
The atonement of Jesus was simultaneously necessary for our sake, but not necessary for God’s sake. God did not have to save humanity at all, but He did because of love. God, for example, did not save the angels who rebelled against Him, and that action is perfectly just. Hence, as a result of God deciding to save humanity, the sacrificial atonement of Jesus became necessary. As a result, when Jesus died on the cross, He had already lived a life of active obedience fully and completely fulfilling the requirements of the law. Christ suffered for our sake and then died on the cross for our sake and died for our sin. Yet it is important to remember that the life of Christ was characterized by the absence of sin and exemplary righteousness.
Therefore, the death of Christ is as important as the life of Christ, because in order to be reconciled to the Father, one needs more than lack of sin. One also needs to have an upstanding character to be in fellowship with God. God isn’t neutral but overwhelmingly good, so in order to commune with Him, we have to strive higher. Such righteousness comes only from God: “And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” If the life of Christ was not important, He could have passed away immediately after birth. But because He lived a righteous life without sin, He can serve perfectly as our representative to the Father. As it should be clear by now, everything that has to do with our salvation happens as a function of God alone.
Essential Doctrine: What Christians should know is that we are saved by grace alone and through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
“Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. 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 gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
For the sake of simplicity, “works” and “law” refers to things that you do and rules that you follow. Both are incapable of saving anyone because if that was the case, Christ did not have to be crucified and die for our sins.
This is why religion saves no one, but Jesus saves everyone. This idea also nullifies any human effort, because if we are not saved by the free gift of God only, then that means that we, as sinful creations, can do something and win God over. This is false, heretical doctrine and essentially tells God “we can control you.” This central fact is one of the key differentiation points of Christianity from every other religion on planet Earth. Isaiah 64:6 says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
And, through that propitiation we regain God’s favor (because we are sinners) not by anything that we do but by the gift of His grace only, through faith in Christ only.
Propitiation is also discussed in I John 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.”
Isaiah 53:5 says, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.”
I Corinthians 15:3 says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”
I Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”
I John 2:2 says, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
Now that the context and meaning of the crucifixion is clear, we shall proceed to the event itself.
The crucifixion was a barbaric, brutal and arduous ordeal. The event was so catastrophic that the word excruciating was invented to describe it. When Mark 15:24 simply says that, “they crucified Him,” it does not fully convey the pain of the whole ordeal. In fact, crucifixion was the ultimate form of punishment in the Roman empire, typically reserved only for those individuals guilty of crimes against the state. Crucifixion was banned against Romans, and Jesus was crucified in the center of the other two men executed that day. The center spot was reserved for the most despicable of “scum” according to the Romans.
Before the crucifixion, Jesus was flogged by Romans soldiers. As Dr. Alexander Metherell states in The Case for Christ,
Roman floggings were known to be terribly brutal. They usually consisted of thirty-nine lashes but frequently were a lot more than that, depending on the mood of the soldier applying the blows.
The soldier would use a whip of braided leather thongs with metal balls woven into them. When the whip would strike the flesh, these balls would cause deep bruises or contusions, which would break open with further blows. And the whip had pieces of sharp bone as well, which would cut the flesh severely.
The back would be so shredded that part of the spine was sometimes exposed by the deep, deep cuts. The whipping would have gone all the way from the shoulders down to the back, the buttocks, and the back of the legs. It was just terrible.
In fact, taking the flogging and crucifixion in total, the event was so terrible that Jesus was tortured beyond recognition, as prophesied by Isaiah.
Dr. Metherell mentioned that some people die from the flogging alone, but Jesus’s suffering was far from over. In fact, all the bleeding from the flogging causes so much blood loss that Jesus presumably had low blood volume and therefore was weak, dizzy, and thirsty as He carried His own cross to be crucified. This may explain why Jesus collapsed en route to Golgotha.
Although Christ was sinless, He suffered tremendously on the cross, and crucifixion essentially meant a slow death by suffocation. Although the barbaric procedure normally took hours, in come cases, the afflicted would wait for days before they passed away. Basically, the criminal’s arms were outstretched and fastened by nails on a wooden cross. The five to seven inch nails went through the bones of the wrist (not the palm), and therefore crushed a major nerve in order to secure the body onto the cross. Routinely, the wrists were nailed very far away from the body, and so both of Jesus’s shoulders would have been dislocated to anchor Him into place. Jesus therefore would have had to support His entire bodyweight with His arms because His feet were nailed into the cross as well. Since His chest was stretched upward and sideways, it became very difficult to exhale against severe pressure. The only option for exhalation was for Him to pick up His body by the strength of His arms, tugging at the skin and soft tissue nailed into the hard, splintered wood. His torture was agonizing, and just to take a breath, He had to add to His agony. Thus crucifixion was an experiment in anguish where the simple act of breathing became a prolonged, unbearable experience.
And keep in mind that Jesus did all of this as a free loving gift even while being spat upon, mocked, and ridiculed. So if anyone ever asks you, “What has God done for you?” you can confidently affirm the living hell our Lord and Savior endured for humanity.
After Jesus had died, a soldier pierced His heart with a spear—the Bible says that blood and water gushed out.
This was just the physical pain. Jesus also suffered the psychological pain of being scoffed at while helpless. In fact, before the crucifixion, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus sweated blood, a rare yet medically possible phenomenon (hematidrosis) that only occurs under times of severe stress. And Jesus also had to suffer the emotional trauma of bearing the burden of sin for all of humanity. He, being holy, found sin detestable but had to bear the burden of all of our guilt despite His utter revulsion toward evil. Jesus was also alone on the cross, having been abandoned by His disciples and had no means of consolation. This is why Jesus cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” because bearing the burden of sin separated Him from fellowship with God, who unleashed His full fury and wrath toward sin against His only Son.
Hundreds of years before Christ was crucified, Isaiah predicted that the debt owed to God would be paid, and when Jesus recognized that He had paid the full penalty for sin, He said, “It is finished.” This one-time, sufficient payment in full frees us all from condemnation. Jesus shed His blood on the cross, and His precious blood was the ransom paid to free us from sinful ways, cleansing our conscience, removing the barriers between ourselves and God, progressively cleansing us from sin, and conquering death and the accuser.
The removal of barriers is illustrated in Matthew 27:51, which says, “And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.” In the temple in Jerusalem, the veil separated the most holy place from the rest of the temple. In essence, in a building that symbolically represented barriers and precise stipulations that distanced God and man now had the divider between where God is and where we are torn.
Without Christ, we all deserve death and God’s wrath because of sin. That sin subsequently separates us from God, and enslaves us to sin. Christ sacrificed Himself to pay the penalty of sin, to propitiate for us, to bring us back into relationship with God, and to redeem us out of sin. Yet propitiation and atonement alone will bring us back to “zero” having turned away God’s wrath and having paid the price for sin. God even takes it a step further and justifies us.
II Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Justification is a legal construct from the Greek word dikaioo. God considers all of our sins immediately and instantaneously forgiven and He also declares us righteous as a function of Christ’s righteousness. God predestined everyone He would call, and “these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” The entire process is God-dependant and human-exclusive. Justification comes as a function of faith in Jesus only and no one can condemn those who God has elected. God imputes the righteousness of Christ into us. So Adam’s sin was imputed to all humankind, all that sin is then imputed to Jesus, and the righteousness of Jesus is imputed to all who have faith and believe in Him.
In Galatians 2:6, Paul elaborates and says, “Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (italics mine).
Without justification, we would not be righteous in the eyes of God and thus unable to live eternally with Him.
III. The Resurrection
Essential Doctrine: What Christians should know is that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, and on the third day, He rose from the dead.
“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen” … And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?”
The resurrection of Christ fulfills Old Testament prophecies that occurred 700 years before the event itself. Christ also prophesied about His own death and that He would rise three days later.
Effectively, the entire New Testament is a collection of books written by people who were either eyewitnesses to the risen Christ, or who obtained their information from people who were direct eyewitnesses. The apostle Paul, who had a direct and personal encounter with the resurrected Christ, wrote the majority of the New Testament. The entire book of Acts contains numerous appearances of the risen Christ to individuals and to large groups of people, and specific appearances to the disciples are located throughout the Synoptic Gospels as well.
The first thing to take notice of is that the resurrection of Jesus was very special because it was a permanent resurrection into an imperishable, eternal body. The resurrected Jesus was the “first fruits” of a novel paradigm of human life after death. This is not like Elijah raising a widow’s son from the dead; this is not like Elisha raising the Shunammite woman’s son from the dead; this is not like Lazarus being raised from the dead. All of those people have died after coming back into temporal, perishable bodies. When Jesus rose from the dead, He had a transformed, glorified, immortal, flesh and bones non-perishable body impervious to hunger, pain, suffering, death, and sickness. And that physical body was very real, which is confirmed by the fact that the disciples touched Jesus’s feet, He took bread and broke it, Thomas touched His hands and His side, He made food, and He ate and drank.
Why Christ had to raise from the dead is very simple: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” In fact, the resurrection establishes Jesus as the only religious figure in the history of existence to have ever died and then come back from the dead to tell us about it.
From the standpoint of Christian doctrine, the resurrection has much significance. First, as believers, the resurrection regenerates all of us into new people being “born again” to a timeless hope through Christ. We are made alive by Christ and raised up with Him, so that we are continually putting to death our old sinful ways of being and living and in turn are considering ourselves alive to Christ. As a result, we are no longer in bondage to sin, and the Holy Spirit will empower the gospel to be spread to all who will hear. This regeneration turned the original apostles who were fearful—and had abandoned Jesus before His resurrection—into bold men of faith who willingly died for the risen Lord. There is certainly something powerful and moving when the original disciples were willing to die for something they had seen with their own eyes. Additionally, their paths to martyrdom were much less than glamorous. The resurrection turned skeptics and non-believers into devout followers of Christ, such as the conversion of Paul in Acts 9. It is worth noting that before Paul met the risen Christ, he made a name for himself persecuting and killing followers of Jesus. The resurrection revolutionized Jewish life and converted those Jewish followers of Jesus to, in many cases, instantaneously abandon thousands of years of tradition: they abandoned the law as a requirement for membership in the community, changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, ceased making animal sacrifices, and worshiped Jesus as Lord. In the same line of thought, the celebration of communion and baptism in the early church (practices that still continue today) highlight the significance of the resurrection, because both symbolically celebrate the death and then rising up of Jesus. It defies logic for anyone to celebrate and cherish someone’s death unless that death meant something very, very significant. And the fact that Christianity as a new religion expanded and flourished under oppressive conditions to become what it is today testifies to the power of the resurrection.
Second, the resurrection of Christ justifies believers so that there is no longer any penalty to pay for sin and no more wrath to endure from God. This is not a free pass to sin but rather an assurance, that we are all not ultimately fated to death because of sin. (Sanctification—a topic to be discussed in later lessons—refers to the continuous, everyday, progressive molding of Christians to become more like Christ. It is an internal condition and a process that happens throughout our Christian lives. Believing in Christ, becoming saved and being justified happens at the start of our Christian lives.) Only by the power of the resurrected Christ can we become dead to sin and alive to Christ. In fact, the resurrection also shows believers that the resurrection is what we all have to look forward to. Therefore, our labors on earth are not in vain, because we know eventually we will be raised up like Him into heaven.
What Christians should know is that the cross is the ultimate act of selfless love and sacrifice for the sake of others. So if you’ve ever wondered, “What has God done for me?” the answer is that He gave up everything, was rejected, tortured, suffered, and died for your sake.
Now that we have covered the core principles, I hope it has become very clear to all readers that what the Bible teaches is not a superficial, simple-minded, haphazard mess designed to delude the ignorant and enslave the masses. It is an intellectually complex, rich, and enlightening Book to which no other “book” can compare. Furthermore, the doctrine of Jesus Christ serves as the centerpiece of the Christian faith. Without Jesus, we have nothing, and we are nothing, because He holds the keys to everything. Many people in our modern world are outside who have the wrong idea about Christ and Christianity. Also, some inside have the wrong idea with even more disastrous consequences. Yet, both cohorts have the same problem: they have never read the Word for themselves and taken the time to study it. Because if they did, it would soon become very apparent that Christ did not empty Himself and submit Himself to torture and crucifixion so your life could be easy, be filled with sin, or so that you would get everything that you wanted. Never, ever make the mistake of thinking that God’s grace is cheap.
“Cheap grace” justifies sin and never requires repentance. Cheap grace is granted by us and is given for us. God is never involved. As the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer has written,
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ … Grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.
And while Bonhoeffer’s powerful words can illuminate the common fallacies of doctrine within the church, the power of Christ also reveals the inadequacies of other so-called religions as well.
Any form of polytheism fails because in such cases, there is no capital G “God” but many lowercase g “gods.” Therefore, god isn’t god at all but a subordinate line worker. Why would anyone ever worship something that is not worthy to be praised?
Any institution, organization, or person that claims they hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven also fails miserably. Jesus is the perfect mediator, the perfect high priest, and the way to the Father. To suggest that a church or a clergy member takes Christ’s place is heresy and is a tacit assertion that Christ isn’t good enough and needs some help. True, in conversing with Peter in Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” But seven verses later in Matthew 16:23, Jesus says, “But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.’” One of the simplest messages the Bible teaches us is that casting a gaze on God always succeeds. Keeping our gaze on creation always fails and opens the door for Satan to walk right in.
Every other form of Monotheism, then, is an impotent, powerless religion based on non-truth and fruitless prescriptions. For example, the Law of Moses will save no one because no one is “justified by the works of the Law.” No form of “works” will save anyone, because if you can win God over on Judgment Day because you have more checks on your religion card than the next person, that effectively subjugates God to the works. Further, works does absolutely nothing to propitiate the wrath of God because of sin, nor does rule-following pay the penalty for sin. In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices used to be a temporizing measure, but such practices were never adequate, nor did they atone for sin.
If someone were to simply say that God can “just forgive” sin, then I would agree, but the God of the Bible is also just, so He may forgive sin but a price must be paid because of His justice. If God simply says, “Never mind” to sin, then He is not righteous and can thus invite every cruel, perverse, wicked, and malicious individual to fellowship with him with a casual shrug of the shoulders.
Any faith that excludes the historical person of Jesus and the historical event of the resurrection therefore admits that there can be no propitiation, no atonement, no justification, no sanctification, and no eternal life. Without Jesus there is only one option: death.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal
 Salvation refers to the deliverance from sin and the consequences of sin.
 I John 2:23; II John 9
 This is often referred to as a hypostatic union.
 John 1:14; Philippians 2:7
 Matthew 1:18-20
 Luke 1:26-35
 Luke 2:7
 Luke 1:35
 II Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 2:22; I John 3:5
 John 15:10
 John 8:29
 I Peter 1:19
 Hebrews 4:15
 John 4:6
 Matthew 4:2
 John 19:28
 Luke 2:40
 Luke 2:52
 Hebrews 5:8
 Matthew 26:38; John 11:35, 12:27
 Luke 24:39, 42; John 20:17, 20, 27
 Hebrews 2:18
 Genesis 2:15-3:7
 I Corinthians 15:45
 I Corinthians 15:47
 Romans 5:18-19
 Galatians 6:7
 Genesis 1:26-28
 Matthew 28:18; Luke 19:17; Ephesians 1:22; Hebrews 2:9; Revelation 3:21
 Romans 6:23
 Romans 14:12; II Corinthians 5:10
 Jonah 2:9
 I John 2:4-6; cf. Romans 8:29; I Corinthians 3:18; I Peter 2:21
 I Corinthians 15:42-49; Colossians 1:18
 Luke 24:39-43; John 20:25-27
 Matthew 27:27-50
 John 3:16; cf. Romans 5:8
 Leviticus 16:10
 II Peter 2:4
 Luke 24:25-26
 Isaiah 53:6, 12; John 1:29; II Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13
 Philippians 3:9
 Galatians 2:16-21
 Romans 3:21-26
 John 19:18
 Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 195.
 Isaiah 52:14
 John 19:34
 Luke 22:44
 Matthew 26:56
 Isaiah 53:11
 John 19:30
 Hebrews 9:25-28
 Romans 8:1
 I Peter 1:18-19
 Hebrews 9:14
 Hebrews 10:19
 I John 1:7; Revelation 1:5
 Revelation 12:10-11
 Hebrews 9:26
 I John 4:10
 II Corinthians 5:18-19
 Mark 10:45; Hebrews 2:15; Titus 2:14
 Romans 8:30
 Romans 5:1
 Romans 8:33-34
 Romans 4:3, 5:17; I Corinthians 1:30
 Luke 24:1-6, 13-17
 Psalm 16, 22; Isaiah 53
 Mark 8:31, 9:30-31, 10:33-34
 Acts 9:1-9
 Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1-29
 I Corinthians 15:20, 23
 I Kings 17:17-24
 II Kings 4:18-37
 John 11:38-44
 Luke 24:39
 I Corinthians 15:42-44
 Matthew 28:9
 Luke 24:30
 John 20:27
 John 21:12-13
 Acts 10:41
 I Corinthians 15:17
 For more on circumstantial proofs of Jesus and the resurrection, I highly recommend The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998) or J. N. D. Anderson’s “The Evidence for the Resurrection” (London and Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1966).
 I Peter 1:3
 Ephesians 2:5-6
 Romans 6:4-11
 Romans 6:14
 Acts 1:8
 The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 250-251.
 Romans 4:25
 Romans 6:11
 I Corinthians 15:58
 I Thessalonians 4:17
 Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1959), 45.
 Galatians 2:16; cf. Romans 3:20
 Hebrews 10:1-10