God created the world and all that we see in it. Humanity, of course, is part of that creation. With the creation, God set certain standards of thought and action for all people. We find, however, due to the human rebellion against God, we all entered this world with a nature prone toward violating God’s standards, which we sum up with a single word sin. Sin stands as a barrier between an individual and God. The individual cannot approach God unless that barrier is removed.
Let’s pause for a word of general understanding. In Christian circles, people often talk of sin, original sin, and sin nature. In theological terms, people sometimes reference the phrase total depravity. Many otherwise good and knowledgeable Christians have come to embrace the popular belief that total depravity means there is absolutely no good in any person. That’s just not so!
As explained by Dr. Charles C. Ryrie in the Concise Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, “the concept of total depravity does not mean depraved people cannot or do not perform actions that are good in either humankind’s or God’s sight but no such action can gain favor with God for salvation. . .. Because of that [sin] there is nothing any person can do to merit saving favor with God.”
That makes this idea even sadder. If we were confident only bad people would be punished by God, we could probably live with that. The concept of sin and depravity, however, teach us that even the best of people is not good enough to meet God’s standards.
If this is true, if no human is good enough to meet God’s standards, what hope is there?
The simple answer, given in the Bible, is that God provided a substitute to take the punishment for fallen humanity. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:19-21, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. . .. God made him who had no sin [that is, Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Likewise, the writer of the book of Hebrews recorded, in Hebraic terminology, “After he [Jesus, the Son] had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” And again, from Paul, this time in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God demands high standards, so high that no human can meet them. Only God, in the person of Jesus Christ, could present himself before judgment without sin. In doing so, he was able to become a living sacrifice/substitute, taking on himself the punishment for others.
It was not, however, a done deal. Although the price has been paid, God expects a response from people in receiving this. Romans 4:3 gives a historical and scriptural precedent for this teaching in the New Testament. “What does the Scripture say?” wrote Paul, “‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” Applying it to now, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23) and “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8).
This can be a difficult concept to grasp. For someone who has not grown up in a religious tradition, the whole concept of sin and salvation, punishment and reward in a spiritual sense is foreign. Many others have grown up in a religious tradition built on laws, rules and regulations, and ritual. These would prefer to do something on their own to earn God’s favor. These and other difficulties often stand in the way of people comprehending the magnitude, yet simplicity, of God’s free gift.
However, our firm belief in the concept of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is based on our equally firm belief in the Bible as the inspired word of God. This is an example of a belief being built on the overwhelming weight of biblical evidence. This is the consistent teaching of the Bible, in both Old and New Testaments. This has also been the consistent teaching of the orthodox church over the past 2000 years.
But we’re still not finished. If we believe that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin, and if we are confident that it is offered to mankind as a free gift, how then do we receive this gift? What should be our response to God?
And that will be the topic of our next writing next week.