Reflections on the 5th article of the EFCA Statement of Faith
The Work of Christ
We believe that Jesus Christ, as our representative and substitute, shed His blood on the cross as the perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins. His atoning death and victorious resurrection constitute the only ground for salvation.
The nature of God (specifically his holiness and justice, cf. Article 1) is the basis for the need to remedy sin. Salvation is ultimately God-centric: God’s holiness must be upheld and his justice satisfied in the face of sin. God must do the work of salvation because we are unable to remove sin and attain holiness by ourselves due to our corrupted sin nature (Rom 5:6, 8, 12-19; Col 1:21-22).
We must view Christ’s atonement in light of the Old Testament sacrificial system. God, desiring to commune with a holy people, required purity and obedience from Israel (Exod 19:5-6). When purity and obedience were violated, a blood sacrifice was necessary for the covering of sin (Exod 30:10). This is the framework for Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. Thus, Jesus’ atoning sacrifice was a propitiation, a satisfaction of God’s righteous outrage against sin (Rom 3:25; Heb 10:8-14), and an expiation, a removal of our sin (1 John 2:2; 4:10). It was substitutionary, like the bulls and goats of the Old Testament system, because Jesus died in our place (Isa 53:4-5; Rom 5:8). There are three biblical images that describe Jesus Christ’s atonement. First, Jesus’ atoning sacrifice was a means of justification, a new legal standing before God and an imputation of the righteousness of Christ by means of the satisfaction of God’s wrath (Rom 3:21-26; 5:1, 9; 10:10). Second, the atonement was a ransom, a payment made to rescue us from sin (Mark 10:45; Heb 9:15). Third, the atonement (and resurrection) was a victory over sin, evil, Satan, and death (1 Cor 15:54-57; Col 2:15; Heb 2:14-16).
Jesus’ substitutionary death was the perfect and all-sufficient sacrifice because it accomplishes salvation from all the problems of the Fall. And Jesus’ victorious resurrection defeated death and exalted Jesus to the highest place as our Lord (Phil 2:9-11). Relationally, we are reconciled to God (Rom 5; 2 Cor 5:18-21; Eph 2:11-22; Col 1:21-22) and renewed for communion with God (Rom 12:1-2; 1 Cor 15:50-51; Col 3). We are also reconciled to others (John 17:20-23; Eph 4:3-13). Functionally, we are reconciled to God’s creation (Col 1:20). We are now slaves of God and administer creation for God’s glory (Rom 6:22; Gal 6:9-10; Eph 2:10; 1 Pet 2:12; 3 John 11). And we will reign with Jesus when the Kingdom is consummated (Rev 20:6). Ontologically, our spirit is born again (John 3:3; 1 Pet 1:23), we experience a renewal of our minds (Rom 12:1-2; Col 3), and we are new creations (2 Cor 5:17; Eph 4:20-24; Col 3:9-10), and our bodies will in the end be resurrected and renewed (1 Cor 15:22-23, 49; Rev 20:4-6, 12-15; 21:4).
It must be noted that although salvation is God-centric, it is aimed at human beings. We see this in two areas: 1) God’s creation has been subject to frustration because of the presence of sin (Rom 8:20). All of creation is eagerly waiting for the children of God to be revealed so that it can be liberated from its bondage to decay (Rom 8:19, 21). The children of God are integral to the redemption of God’s creation. This is rooted in God’s original design for humanity to be fruitful, increasing in number, fill the earth, subdue, and rule over creation, as well as to cultivate and care for God’s creation (Gen 1:28; 2:15). The gospel makes it possible for human beings to again live out their divine calling to bear the image of God as they administer his creation. But the transformation of the individual human being is the key. 2) Jesus was fully human. So his sinless life, obedient substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection make him the pioneer of our faith and the only one able to bring us into God’ family (Rom 8:29; Heb 2:10-28). His finished work fundamentally transforms human beings when they trust in him by faith (Rom 1:17; 3:25ff; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:20; 3:13). We are now redeemed in our inner being, justified by grace through faith, given new life, and can live as servants of God (Rom 6:22).
Therefore, the gospel is about saving people because we are the pinnacle of God’s creation. Contrary to false gospels that attempt to make salvation about curing social ills, establishing political power, racial reconciliation, doing good works, or achieving self-actualization, the true gospel is centered on the redemption and rebirth of individual people. People are predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Rom 8:30). This then precipitates all the implications of the gospel: social justice, good works, reconciliation, creation care, and the myriad ways that people can steward God’s creation. But never are we guaranteed to achieve these things, nor are they an end in themselves. The goal of the gospel is the redemption of individual people (Rom 5:1-11). Only when Jesus returns will the presence of sin be fully removed, justice ultimately served, and God’s creation finally renewed (Rev 21-22).