Basic Christianity: Part Three: Christ’s Work…
Since I have finished commenting on Chapter 8 of John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, it is now time to swing back to his book Basic Christianity.
The timing could not have been any better for I intend to post on April 14th, three days before Christians celebrate Easter. When we were discussing Chapter 6 in Basic, the whole chapter revolved around the idea of sin. When we sin, we alienate ourselves from God, we become enslaved to sin and we become so selfish that we find ourselves in conflict with others and also God.
I love the way Stott begins Chapter 7: “Christianity is a rescue religion.”
Is that not what Christ does when He goes to His death on the cross? He rescues us from our sinful nature. He gives us a chance for the best life we can have on this earth.
“You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” [Matthew 1: 21]. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” [Luke 19: 10]. “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” [1 Timothy 1: 15] and “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son as the Savior of the world” [1 John 4: 14].
Does that sound like a rescue religion? It does to me.
Stott discusses the first goal of rescuing humanity, the one we celebrate this Sunday. We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Just as Jesus is resurrected from His undeserved death, we can also be born again from our sin burdens if we have faith in God. We can become new people in Christ because He bore our sins. He took our punishment.
We have all heard these words so much.
It is fundamental, basic…
But when I was a “new” Christian I was not sure about the significance of this act. I just lived my life but I knew I was doing things that were not the best. I put career over God, career over my spouse and career over my son. That’s how I operated. I had fallen into some bad habits. I had weaknesses in my moral life; I had mastered the art of presenting a public persona to the world but behind that public persona was a very different person, someone who had serious character flaws.
Whereas The Cross of Christ is an extremely dense look at the centrality of the cross for Christian theology, Basic simplifies, Basic helps the new Christian get oriented to his or her new religion, Basic takes what theologians have debated about for centuries and makes it understandable.
There is nothing more basic than the idea that Jesus came to save us from our sins, to show us how to live a better life.
Another basic idea is the fact that Jesus is the reconciliation between sinful man and a Holy God.
Jesus serves as the bridge.
Jesus is the lifeline that God throws to all of us.
Stott writes about what the Apostle Paul says about this “It is quite clear where this reconciliation comes from. God is its author he [Paul] says and God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” [Basic, 81-82]. Most beginning Christians are not ready to wrap their minds around the idea that God gave Himself to propitiate Himself, but that is what happened. God needed to be appeased and He sent His own Son [a part and parcel of His own being] to do the work. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life” [John 3: 16].
Propitiation does not seem “basic” and for many it can seem insane, so many new Christians dwell on John 3: 16 because it is easier to understand.
Another word that Christians hear a lot is atonement. Stott writes that atonement “denotes either an action by which two conflicting parts are made ‘at one’ or the state in which their oneness is enjoyed and expressed” . This is not made by our effort; God makes atonement for us through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul says “We have received this gift.” As I commented on alienation, enslavement and selfishness leading to conflict in Chapter 6, atonement cancels out those problems. “Sin caused an estrangement; the cross, the crucifixion of Christ, has accomplished an atonement. Sin bred enmity; the cross brought peace. Sin created the gulf between man and God; the cross bridged it. Sin broke the fellowship; the cross has restored it” [Stott, 82]. Many give their lives to Christ and take a worker attitude into their new religion; that is ludicrous because the gift is too great. None of can ever do enough to say we earned the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. We can never repay the debt.
This Sunday is a special day, a day preceded by horrors too great for any human being to bear, but instead of focusing on the horrors, we should focus on the victory. “Jesus’ resurrection proclaims His victory over sin and death. Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. Then He rose back to life, proving He is who He says He is and that He accomplished what He came to earth to accomplish. Jesus Christ is fully God, fully human, and our only Savior. It is because He is risen that we can trust in His sacrifice for our sins and receive new life in Him. His resurrection also demonstrates that His promise to resurrect us one day will come true.*”
It is spring, a time of new life as trees begin to leaf out, flowers begin to pop through the soil and yards turn from brown to green. Easter is a time when we celebrate the new life that Jesus has given to us. As you read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians [2: 1-10] he describes God’s great gift “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
The timing for this post could not have been any better, a “Basic” explanation of the significance of Easter right before Easter.
The death of Christ and His resurrection.
He begins anew.
And we can too…
*Why Do We Celebrate Easter?” Gotquestions.org website accessed 4/13/2022