On January 6, 2022 I began a discussion of Chapter Seven of John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. Chapter Seven is entitled “The Salvation of Sinners” and it is the first of three chapters designed to sum up what Christ accomplished by His self-sacrifice.
On January 6, I commented on Stott’s ideas on propitiation, on January 13, I focused on redemption, on the twentieth and twenty-seventh I explained the idea of justification. Today we come to the last idea on salvation.
The idea of reconciliation.
I think it a bit odd that Stott has used images to explain his ideas; propitiation is the shrine, redemption is the market, justification is the law court and reconciliation is the home. These images structure Chapter Seven in the Cross of Christ.
I have not addressed the use of images before but when it comes to reconciliation, the idea of “home” is very useful and some would say appropriate. People who sell property know the connotation of words, especially the words house and home. Many words have feelings associated with them, some more than others. A house connotes a structure, a box that people live in for shelter from the elements. A home is more than a structure; it is where life occurs, where memories are made, where people go to get comfort not only from the home itself but also from the people who are living in the home.
Reconciliation is restoration. After a fight between two people, if there is a restoration of positive feelings between those people we call that reconciliation and they may desire to be in each other’s company (maybe in a home). Reconciliation can come after a period of alienation, where people are alienated from each other. As we read the Bible, most theologians would say the Old Testament is the story of man’s alienation from God due to his sinning. From Genesis (when Adam and Eve introduce sin) to Malachi, God is trying to find a way to reconcile with man. It is only when Jesus makes His sacrifice do we see some reconciliation.
Stott says that the positive benefits of this reconciliation are overwhelming.
First of all, man is adopted in the family of God. Stott calls this “the emergence of a single, new, unified humanity.” Former enemies [e.g. Jews and Gentiles] are reconciled to God and to one another. “They are now fellow citizens in God’s Kingdom, brothers and sisters in God’s family.” Stott writes “This complete equality of Jew and Gentile in the new community is a ‘mystery’ which for centuries had been kept secret but which now God had revealed to the apostles, especially to Paul, the apostle to the Gentile (Eph. 3: 4-6)” [Stott, 192].
Secondly, the reconciliation we can experience due to salvation gives us access. What that means is we can have what Stott calls “active communication” with God, essentially we can pray directly to Him. For Jews of Jesus’ time, the act of personal prayer directly to God was unknown. The chief rabbi in the temple prayed for all the people but people were not encouraged to pray directly to God. It is only when Jesus died on the cross that the “veil” in the temple was torn from top to bottom which signified that communication between God and man could happen. Note that it was torn from the top to bottom, not from the bottom to the top as a man would tear it. Ephesians 3: 12 states “we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Hebrews 10: 19-22 says “Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.”
The third and possibly greatest benefit of reconciliation is man’s chance to become the “righteousness of God”. When Jesus went to the cross He was punished for our sinning. In this process man received the gift of standing righteous before God. I have to admit that this seems too good to be true, but it was necessary for reconciliation. Sin was/and is the major barrier between God and man and despite God’s many admonitions in the Old Testament; man was never able to control his penchant for sinning. Are we able to lead sinless lives after we acknowledge God’s effort at reconciliation? Are we able to turn our backs on sin after we understand Christ’s sacrifice for us? The answer sadly is no, but God knows we can’t lead sinless lives and He loves us anyway. He knows we don’t achieve perfection: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” ( Romans 3:23). I think it is telling that Stott quotes Martin Luther who is writing to a monk who is is distressed about his sinning: “Learn to know Christ and Him crucified. Learn to sing to Him and say ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on You what was mine; You set on me what was Yours. You became what You were not, that I might become what I was not.”
In many respects man cannot grow in righteousness until there is reconciliation with God. After that happens, our lives can benefit God here on earth if we follow Him. Stott says “If God is the author and Christ is the agent, then we are the ambassadors of reconciliation” . God has taken His steps toward us and Jesus has served as the sacrifice in our place but not only do we need to come to be saved, but our human actions can inspire others to come forward also. It is humbling to think that we are the personal envoys of Jesus Christ but we can be if we try to live a righteous life. All Christians are called to speak on Jesus’ behalf as He makes His appeal through us. Stott says “It is remarkable that the same God who worked ‘through Christ’ to achieve the reconciliation now works ‘through us’ to announce it” .
As we close our discussion of Chapter Seven we return to those images of the shrine, the market, the law court and the home. All four images were used to highlight the “substitutionary” sacrifice of Christ. Romans 3: 25 says “God presented Him as a propitiatory sacrifice, through faith in His blood.” In Him we have redemption through His blood” [Ephesians 1:7]. “We have now been justified by His blood” [Romans 5: 9] and “You who once were far away have been brought near [i.e. reconciled] through the blood of Christ” [Ephesians 2: 13]. This is wonderful news people, and as God’s witnesses, it is our work to express it to people who need to hear it.
May God extend His grace to us as we try to do His work.