You can listen to the audio lesson here.
You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.
PART IV – Redemption Accomplished
Lesson Nine: Christ’s Obedience in Death
“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,” (1Pt. 3:18; NASB).
Christians are a peculiar people. We sing songs about death, and we sing them with joy and hope in our hearts. With a sense of great liberation, we sing of one specific death in history. When Christ died, He did not primarily come to die as our example. Certainly, there is a certain character we see on display in Him as He went to His death that is worthy of emulation (1 Peter 2:21-25). Yet we know from observing the whole counsel of Scripture that Christ’s primary purpose in death was not that of setting a good example.
Christ’s purpose in death. If His main purpose were to set a good example, how would that be anything close to good news? If His sole purpose were to set for us an example, the gospel would be reduced down to a message of works righteousness. Christ could be said to have died merely to show us how we might save ourselves. Indeed, there is much we can learn from the cross about how to more accurately and faithfully follow Christ. The primary purpose of the cross, however, was the accomplishment of our redemption.
“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,” (Isa. 53:5; NASB).
In Christ, we see that our transgressions (our violation of God’s law) and our iniquities (our evil deeds) were blotted out. As a result of the cross work of Jesus Christ our sin, which we committed in plain sight of the God who sees all things, is remembered no more. As Christ hung on the cross to receive the punishment we deserve for our sins, we now stand before God in His righteousness to receive the privilege only He deserve: the privilege of sonship.
Christ’s volition in death. This death was no mere accident. Nor was it an assassination or a death by natural causes. Such a death would not do. Instead, Christ was tried by men, received the sentencing we deserve, nailed to an accursed tree, and left to die. In this process, another far greater trial was being decided. An infinitely more important penalty was being paid. Almighty God, out of sheer sovereign love for His people and righteous judgment over sin, poured out His wrath on the Son.
“But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand,” (Isa. 53:10; NASB).
Salvation from sin and death comes to the elect by way of Christ’s willing acceptance of the punishment we deserve. The glorious news of the gospel is that Christ receives the punishment we deserve so that we can enter into the privilege only He deserves, and all of this comes to us as a result of the love of God. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Rom. 5:8; NKJV). To reduce Christ’s death down to mere example, then, is a criminal offense against the gospel and the God who secured it for us.
We see then that Christ’s mission was not merely one of perfectly obeying God in life, but it was likewise a mission of obedience in death. Christ came to this earth, took on flesh, and lived the perfect life so that He might die the perfect death. “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross,” (Phil. 2:8; NKJV). Not only did it please God to crush Him, but He willingly came to this earth for that very purpose.
Christ’s sacrifice in death. Christ’s obedience in death not only satisfied the justice of God in punishing our sin. It also met the righteous requirement of the law of God. As such, we cannot conclude our discussion of the cross without mentioning its accomplishment of our atonement through sacrifice. When Christ died on the cross, His death was not merely a penal death. It was also an atoning death. That is, it cleansed us of the sin that separates us from God.
John Murray insists that the death of Christ ought to be viewed in reference to Old Testament sacrifices. In the Old Testament, animals were regularly slaughtered to make atonement for the sins of the people. These sacrifices were expiatory, meaning that they were meant to remove the sin from the sinner in the eyes of God. Murray explains:
“This means that they had reference to sin and guilt. Sin involves a certain liability, a liability arising from the holiness of God, on the one hand, and the gravity of sin as the contradiction of that holiness, on the other. The sacrifice was the divinely instituted provision whereby the sin might be covered and the liability to divine wrath and curse removed,” (Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pg. 25).
What we have then, in the death of Christ, is a complete removal of our identity as sinners and the substitution of a much more glorious identity: the identity of sons. Christ’s sacrifice was the final sacrifice. Nor is there any other. “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,” (1Pt. 3:18; NASB).
Union with Christ. When the biblical authors speak of Christ’s obedience in life and death as it applies to us in our redemption, they speak of it primarily in terms of our union with Christ. It’s only by virtue of our union with Christ that we come to be partakers of the great privileges afforded us in the cross. As such, what Christ has accomplished for us the Spirit applies to us as He engrafts us into the body of Christ.
“1What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Rom. 6:1-3; NKJV).
When Paul writes in Romans six and seven of the Christian’s relationship to sin, he speaks of it in terms of a deceased man. We are those who have died to sin. This is an accomplished action in the past. We no longer live under the threat of the penalty or the reign of sin. When we came to faith in Christ, we were immersed (baptized) into Him and now are seen as perfectly obedient in life and death. What is true of Christ is now true of all who are immersed into Him. We weren’t merely immersed into His obedient life. We were also immersed into His death, and so we have died to sin.
Our great assurance in Christ. This is one reason that Roman Catholics and other cults of Christianity cannot rise above their guilt. If you believe that Christ must be recrucified every mass the atonement cannot possibly be accomplished, and your eternity cannot possibly be secure. The saints of the Old Testament trusted in the God who would eventually make full and final atonement for sins, and we look back to the Messiah who did fully and finally atone for them.
With this great Savior comes great assurance, an assurance that had all but disappeared until the dawn of the Reformation. The only assurance Rome could offer hinged upon the obedience of the individual in her observance of the sacraments. The Bible clearly stands in opposition to such a doctrine. Our assurance is bound up solely in the obedience of Christ in His death, His obedience in burial, and in His resurrection.
Application to evangelism. When speaking with the unbeliever about these matters, it may be necessary to convey just the general idea of what we are here describing. This can be a lot to take in at once. That’s one of the reasons why it is so important that we not merely reduce evangelism down to little five-minute encounters on a street corner, and the gospel down to a five-minute, cookie-cutter presentation. The gospel (the good news) is a multi-faceted diamond that must be observed from several different angles. Reception of the full gospel, then, requires a regular, weekly attendance to the ordinary means of grace, and especially to the preached word of God.
Again, we are not called to be about the work of making converts and leaving them as spiritual orphans. We’re called to make disciples, to baptize them, and to teach them to observe all that Christ commanded. As such, while it is important that disciples search the depths of the obedience of Christ and what is secured for us in it by virtue of our union with Him, we are not necessarily called to try to convey it all in our initial discussions with the unbelievers in our lives. For this reason also, the death of Christ should ever be a central focus of the church and her services.
“With the apostles the church affirms that it was the eternal Son of God, the Word who became flesh, the Lord of glory, who died on Calvary (Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1; John 1:1, 14; 20:28; 1 Cor. 2:8). Accordingly, in its best moments, the church has ‘gloried in nothing but the cross’ (Gal. 6:14) and has ‘resolved to know nothing among [the nations] except Christ Jesus and him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2),” (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, pp. 624-625).
What is meant in Galatians 6:14 and First Corinthians 2:2, that Paul gloried in nothing but the cross and resolved to know nothing among the Corinthian saints except Christ Jesus and Him crucified? Only that the central focus of the gospel ministry ought to be that of the cross work of Jesus Christ. The highest work of the gospel minister is to ever put the crucified Savior on display for the people of God, so that they might come to saving faith in Him and, having been saved, that they might be ushered time and again back to the fountainhead and object of their faith: their crucified Savior.
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