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43. Explaining a mystery - how God saves His people from their sins

Christian theology in a Sudanese context. How God saves His people from their sins.

Every person who is alive is on a spiritual journey. They are doing one of these three things:

1. They are walking away from God. 2. They are walking towards God. 3. They are walking with God. In our evangelism and Christian discipleship, we need to meet these people where they are and encourage them all to walk with God. ‘Soteriology’ is the theological name for the doctrine of salvation. The word comes from the Greek words ‘soteria’ meaning ‘deliverance’, and ‘soter’ a ‘saviour’. It is often used to study different theories of the atonement – explaining exactly what Jesus did on the cross, and how it brings our salvation into real experience. It includes defining ‘salvation’. “Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). As we shall see in chapter 46, salvation was accomplished in the single event of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, but it is applied to our lives by a continuing series of steps and processes. ‘Christology’ is the study of the person, attributes and work of JesusChrist. Who Jesus really was (and is) is very important to what He has done. We have seen in chapters 31, 32, and 34 our belief that Jesus is both ‘the God Who is Man and the Man Who is God’. Jesus is unique. When we talk about Jesus, we talk about God and we talk about Man, because Jesus is one hundred per cent both. Alister McGrath lectures in Theology at one of England’s major universities, Oxford. He understands that there are four main areas of modern discussion in Soteriology. There is often some degree of overlap between them when they are discussed.

1. The element of sacrifice – the New Testament book of Hebrews clearly presents Christ’s sacrificial offering as an effective and perfect sacrifice for sin. It was able to accomplish what the Old Testament sacrifices were only able to imitate. They could not achieve what Jesus Christ did (Hebrews 9:11-15). The word ‘sacrifice’ has changed its meaning today, at least in my country. It now means more ‘an heroic action’ rather than ‘an event of religious significance’. There is discussion over whether the sacrifice of Christ was a ‘once and for all event’, or whether it is continually offered in, for example, the Roman Catholic Mass. I believe that Jesus sacrifice on the cross was full, final and complete on that one day (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 9:26; 9:28; 10:10). 2. The element of victory – the New Testament places great emphasis on the victory gained by Christ over sin, death and Satan, through His cross and resurrection. The celebration of Easter and of resurrection day on the first day of every week – a change from the Jewish Sabbath – were very important to the early Christians (Colossians 2:15; Acts 20:7; Acts 17:18; Acts 17:31-32). Some people today do not believe Jesus died on the cross. Without death there can be no resurrection! Some people today do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Without resurrection there is no victory over sin and death! Some people today do not believe in the devil. Without the devil, we must ask: ‘who was defeated’ in the spiritual warfare? I believeGod has given Christians a great victory in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:50-58). 3.The element of legal satisfaction – the idea of the death of Christ providing the basis by which God is justly enabled to forgive sin. God’s wrath has been satisfied. Sin’s price has been paid. Christ represents humanity. He was our substitute when He died on the cross. Believers participate now in the risen Christ (Romans 3:21-26; Romans 5:1). Some people today do not believe in original sin (see chapter 30) and so they see no need for this substitutionary death. Some people today say that it is not morally acceptable, in their view, for one to pay for the sins of another. Some people today believe that a truly sovereign God would find another way of reconciliation between Himself and humankind, rather than through the suffering of Christ on the cross. I believe God is the ultimate Judge. I believe the death of ‘God as Jesus’ for humankind on the cross, shows us that there is no other way people can be right with God on their own (Acts 4:12; Romans 8:1-4).

4. The element of example – Some people today believe that the most important aspect of the cross is that it demonstrates the love of God toward us. Jesus is presented by them, but as more of a martyr than a Saviour. He is shown only as an example of self-giving love for others. I believe that this is certainly not the most important aspect of Jesus’ death, although Peter does remind us of our responsibility to follow Christ’s example in submitting to unjust suffering while continuing to do good (1 Peter 2:20-24). I believe the cross of Christ did something for us and did not merely show something to us. The ‘cross events’ actually make salvation possible. They do not only illustrate the saving will of God. People who believe the cross was only an example, believe a different gospel to me.

Salvation is a word with a big and comprehensive meaning. It embraces the whole of God’s saving work in an individual from beginning to end. Salvation has three tenses in the Bible, past, present and future. John Stott records his frequent answer to the question: ‘Are you saved?’ He admits it is a kind of ‘yes and no’ answer:

  • “I have been saved (in the past) from the penalty of sin by a crucified Saviour.

  • I am being saved (in the present) from the power of sin by a living Saviour.

  • And I shall be saved (in the future) from the very presence of sin by a coming Saviour”. Ephesians 2:8, “It is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”. This verse teaches that I have been saved, in the past tense. 1 Corinthians 1:18,“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. This verse teaches that I am being saved, in the present tense. Hebrews 9:28, “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him”. This verse teaches that I will be saved, in the future tense. Salvation belongs to God (Revelation 19:1). He has given it, is giving it, and He will give it, to those who choose to live under the authority of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:10; 1 Peter 1:3-9). Christians know that they are forgiven, justified and reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ. But they also know that their own fallen nature within them, and the fallen world around about them, make them long for their salvation to be brought to its completion – which will be at the return of their Saviour (Philippians 3:20-21).

Thinking it through.

(a). What are the main differences between the Old Testament system of sacrifices, offered for God’s people, and the gospel sacrifice Jesus offered on the cross?

(b). Which attributes of God mean that He must be legally satisfied at the way sin is dealt with?

(c). Discuss your answer to the question: ‘Are you saved?'

Give Bible references to support your answer.


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