Why Does the Finished Work of Christ Matter to Me?
Cornerstone’s Easter and Good Friday services are less than one month away. The annual remembrance of Christ’s death and the celebration of His glorious resurrection call us to probe deeper into God’s miraculous plan for our eternal salvation.
Many Christians shy away from a study of the doctrines of the Bible. After all, just the mention of words like Theology, Christology, Pneumatology, Anthropology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology and other tongue-twisters is enough to scare anyone away. Surely a simple faith is all that any believer needs. Why get hung up with all that heavy doctrine anyway? For one very good reason! Doctrine, by definition, is what the Bible teaches, and truth sets us free.
To know the Lord Jesus as our Savior and Friend is wonderful, but there is much more to learn about what it took for Jesus to provide us with so great a salvation. The finished work of Christ is an area of doctrine that is often misunderstood or only partially understood by many Christians. Formally, this subject comes in the category of soteriology, that is, what the Scripture teaches about salvation. The Bible teaches that the salvation of mankind from the consequences of sin is both free and costly at the same time. On the one hand, salvation is a free gift to anyone who repents of sin and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Savior. But on the other hand, salvation is infinitely costly because it required the sacrificial death of the Son of God. It is this aspect of salvation that is referred to as the finished work of Christ. So here is another way of asking the question posed in the title of this article. What did Jesus mean when He said from the cross, “It is finished?” (John 19:30)
The finished work of Christ refers primarily to the fixed and final outcomes of His death on the cross. That is where the judgment of God against our sin was endured by Christ, who became our substitute to become our Savior. To plumb the depths of Christ’s finished work on Calvary would take volumes, but allow me to take a deeper dive into the truth. The New Testament uses three keywords that relate to the finished work of Christ: propitiation, redemption, and reconciliation. If you try writing a definition of these words to see if you thoroughly understand what the Bible teaches about the finished work of Christ, you will discover that it is not easy. So let me give you some help in understanding.
Well, let's start with propitiation. Here are some references in the New Testament where this word is used: Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10.
The first word "propitiation" comes from a Greek word which basically means "to satisfy wrath by sacrifice". The ancient pagan Greeks used this word when they spoke of appeasing their gods or doing something to obtain the favor of the gods. However, these ideas are not found in the Bible. God is not a blood-thirsty god who needs to be appeased! The idea of placating a vengeful god is totally foreign to Scripture. The Bible teaches that God is love and desires to have fellowship with man. But God is also holy and righteous. Therefore He cannot just smile and sweep sin under the rug and say, "Boys will be boys!" In fact, the Bible teaches that God is holy and so He has justifiable wrath and that this wrath is directed against sin (Romans 1:18). The righteous law in God’s moral universe is that the "penalty of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). In order for God's mercy to be extended to man, something must be done to remove the blockade of sin as well as satisfy the righteous claims of God's holy wrath against sin.
Man, according to the Bible, is helpless at this point. Man, the problem, cannot become the solution! And there is nothing that sinful man can do by himself to win the favor of God, who is holy. The pagan idea of doing something religious to gain the favor of the gods is never even hinted at in the New Testament. God already loves man, as John 3:16 clearly states. But the question of God's wrath and judgment against sin must be settled, and the barrier of man's sin needs to be satisfied and taken out of the way. This is precisely where Christ is the propitiation for our sins. Because He sacrificially took and suffered the righteous judgment of God against sin, Christ not only died to take away man's sin, like the scapegoat of Leviticus 16, but He satisfied or propitiated God's wrath against sin. The finished work of Christ accomplished this for us.
Redemption is another aspect of the finished work of Christ. The following New Testament Scriptures have to do with redemption: Galatians 3:13; 4:5; Ephesians 1:7; Titus 2:4; 1 Peter 1:18-19 and 2 Peter 2:1. There are several Greek words which are translated "redeem". In New Testament times these words were used particularly in reference to the ugly practice of trading slaves. Redemption takes us into the marketplace of sinners bound by chains of sin and hopelessly enslaved. To redeem means "to buy out of, and remove from, the market; to set at liberty." In the context of salvation, redemption refers to the work of Christ in setting us free from the bondage of slavery to sin with all its awful connections and consequences.
In redemption not only have we been bought back and set free from the slave-market of sin, but we have been placed as sons in the family of God. This is certainly a step further than emancipation. The word "adoption", by the way, in Galatians 4:5 does not refer to adoption as we know it today, but rather to the Roman adoption ceremony of those days. In this official family action a true son was recognized as having all the rights and privileges and dignity of a son who had come of age. As redeemed sinners, this is our present position in God's family. What grace! Although it was not silver or gold (1 Peter 1:18) that set us free, we must remember that the cost of our redemption was high. The ransom price was the precious blood of Christ. There is no teaching in the Scriptures that the ransom was paid to Satan, as some have suggested. This notion is pushing the background of the slave-market too far. The ransom price was simply what the righteous government of God demanded for our release from the effects of sin (Hebrews 9:22). Have you ever thanked the Lord for the ransom price He was willing to pay out for you? This is all because of the finished work of Christ.
Reconciliation completes this three-sided view of the finished work of Christ. Propitiation, which deals with the wrath of God, is the "God-ward" aspect of the work. Redemption is concerned with our enslavement and entrapment by sin and is thus the "sin-ward" aspect of Christ's work. Now reconciliation is the "man-ward" aspect because it directly relates to our fellowship with God. The word "reconciliation" is used in Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 and Colossians 1:20-22. The basic meaning of the word "reconcile" is "to change completely". In reference to salvation, reconciliation is the act by which God brings man into a completely changed relationship with Himself--from enmity and hostility and alienation to friendship and harmony and fellowship. When most of us think of reconciliation, we think of two people who are separated because of mutual hostilities. They reconcile when they both drop their anger and choose to make peace. However, when God reconciled us it was a one-way act of God toward man and does not involve the idea of mutual concession between God and man. It’s not like God-gives-a-little-and-we-give-a-little, as in a marriage reconciliation. Remember that God does not need to change His attitude towards us or meet us halfway. We are the guilty party--unloving, self-willed and hostile (Colossians 1:21). We need to be changed completely, not God.
A wonderful illustration of reconciliation is seen in our Lord's story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. When the son repented and acknowledged his guilt to the father, he was brought back into happy fellowship with the father who loved him. The prodigal son was not just forgiven and allowed back on the property--he was welcomed back into the family with open arms and with great celebration! Praise God that He celebrates over you. All because of the finished work of Christ.
The finished work of Christ is so big that it is universal in its scope. Look closely at 1 John 2:2; 2 Peter 2:1 and 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 and you will see that Christ's death was sufficient to take care of all the sins of the whole world--unlimited in its coverage and provision. But that does not mean that everyone has salvation. The finished work of Christ is only effective for those who believe. Sufficient and provisional for all, but only effectual for some!
This Good Friday and Easter we will take a closer look at the finished work of Christ in my Good Friday message where I will share The Seven Sprinklings of the Blood of Christ. Then on Easter, we will walk the road to Emmaus in the shoes of some downcast disciples who left Jerusalem before seeing the risen Christ. Then we will celebrate with their excitement when they realize that they had been walking with the living and resurrected Savior of the world. Cornerstone’s Good Friday and Easter will be ablaze with excitement. Don’t miss a moment.