|Peace by the blood of his cross|
The Problem of Sin
You probably remember what the problem is. It all started with human sin: We are all alienated from God because of our sin—and the alienation is mutual. Because we are sinful, we are, by nature, "hostile to God" (Romans 8:7; see also Colossians 1:21); and God, by nature, hates our sin.
It's God's side of this two-way alienation that is the focus of this post. (We'll deal with the solution to our side of the alienation problem later.) God's justice requires that he execute judgment against sin. All sinners are rightly condemned to eternal death, or to use other language from scripture, sinners are under "God's wrath," which is his perfectly righteous response to unrighteousness.
Our situation is grim, and there's nothing we can do about it. We can't fix the problem. Thankfully the story doesn't end here (although had God chosen to simply leave all sinners under his wrath, he could could have). Instead of executing justice against all humanity, our merciful God made a plan to save sinners from his own wrath.
The Problem of Mercy
Saving sinners from his just judgment required a plan of action because God can't simply ignore sin. Bruce Ware calls this "the problem of mercy":
[H]ow can a holy, just, and righteous God show mercy . . . to sinners who deserve the judgment that he, as God, is obligated to execute? . . . He cannot pretend they're not guilty. As God, he must exercise justice, and to fail to do so would be to fail to be God!2In the previous post in this series, we began discussing the Son's role in the solution to the problems of sin and mercy. To save sinful people, it was first necessary for the eternal Son to become a human being. Then the Son had to live a human life and die a human death. And this is exactly what Jesus, who was (and is) true eternal Son and true man, did.
His Saving Death
Christians call the work Jesus did in both his life and death to earn salvation for his people the atonement. The New Testament presents the work of atonement Jesus accomplished when he died on the cross for sinners in several ways: It was sacrifice, redemption, reconciliation, and more. These word pictures are different ways to see this one complex work of God. Here, I've chosen to look through the lens of reconciliation, but you can use the resources listed below to learn more about other ways to view the atoning work of Jesus.
In Jesus's work of reconciliation, God took the initiative to make peace with sinners. Because of human sin, God and humankind are, in a sense, at war with each other. God sent his Son to reconcile these two estranged parties, God himself on one side and sinners on the other. Christ came to make "peace by the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20).
Christ's blood brings peace by shielding sinners from God's righteous response to their unrighteousness. His death accomplished reconciliation by turning away, or propitiating, God's wrath toward sin, so that God can be for sinners rather than against them.
The death of Jesus propitiates God's wrath because it is a penal substitution. In his death, Jesus represented his people, enduring the penalty of death that is the just expression of God's wrath against their sin. He stood in their place and bore God's wrath on their behalf. In Christ, God did not count his people's sins against them, but counted them to the sinless Christ instead (2 Corinthians 5:19-21). On the cross, Jesus substituted for us and our sins were counted as his so that he could endure the penalty for our sin in our place. This is where the term penal substitution came from: penal for penalty, and substitution for in our place.
That Jesus endured the wrath of God against our sin on our behalf is the reason we can be pardoned. Or to put it another way, propitiation through penal substitution is the basis for our forgiveness. You might say that Jesus, in his death, earns our forgiveness.
His Saving Life
And there's more. God's plan for the Son's role in our salvation included not only his representative death, but also his representative life. Jesus earned our forgiveness by his death and he earned a record of perfect obedience for us by his life. A forgiven sinner has a righteousness "not [their] own . . . but . . . which comes through faith in Christ" (Philippians 3:9). Believers have a positive moral record achieved by Jesus in his perfectly obedient life lived on their behalf.
Jesus's death takes away the wrath of God that our sin brought upon us, and his perfectly obedient life earns eternal life for us. This two-sided work of God—forgiving our sin based on Christ's substitutionary death, and declaring us righteous based on Christ's obedient life—is called justification.
There is much more to be said about Jesus's saving life and death. They are the centerpiece of God's plan for his creation, the heart of the gospel, the sinner's only hope, and the subject of the song of the redeemed throughout eternity:
And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you . . .And here I am, trying to package it in a blog post!
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation . . . .
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:9, 12)
Here are a few ways to learn more about the saving work of Jesus.
- Study Romans 3:23-26, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Colossians 2:13-15, Hebrews 2:14-18, and Hebrews 9 and 10.
- Read up on the atonement or the work of Christ in your favorite systematic theology. It's in chapter 27 of Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. And online from Berkhof'sSystematic Theology: The Cause and Necessity of the Atonement; The Nature of the Atonement; The Purpose and Extent of the Atonement.
- Read The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance by Leon Morris, The Cross of Christ by John Stott or Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray, especially the section on the accomplishment of redemption. Or any of the book recommended in this post.
- Listen to the teaching series The Atonement of Jesus by R. C. Sproul.
 Bruce Ware, Big Truths for Young Hearts, page 128.
This post is the latest in a series of posts on truths every Christian woman should know. Here are the previous posts: