“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2.
The centre-point of the Christian faith is the cross of Christ. Why is that? And how does the cross of Christ change the way we live?
John Stott wrote a moving explanation in his book The Cross of Christ:
“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. ‘The cross of Christ … is God’s only self-justification in such a world” as ours….’ ‘The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak; they rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.”
And how does the Cross “work”? We see how it is the entry of God into the worst of human life, into the most terrible parts of our experience, but how does it effect change in the way we live?
Sacrifice, atonement how does the cross work? How does Jesus dying change me?
Many have offered different theories, and perhaps no single explanation can stand alone.
A Ransom to Satan: This view sees the atonement of Christ as a ransom paid to Satan to purchase man’s freedom and release him from being enslaved to Satan.
Recapitulation Theory: This theory states that the atonement of Christ has reversed the course of mankind from disobedience to obedience. It believes that Christ’s life recapitulated all the stages of human life and in doing so reversed the course of disobedience initiated by Adam.
Dramatic Theory: This view sees the atonement of Christ as securing the victory in a divine conflict between good and evil and winning man’s release from bondage to Satan. The meaning of Christ’s death was to ensure God’s victory over Satan and to provide a way to redeem the world out of its bondage to evil.
Mystical Theory: The mystical theory sees the atonement of Christ as a triumph over His own sinful nature through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Moral Influence Theory: This is the belief that the atonement of Christ is a demonstration of God’s love which causes man’s heart to soften and repent.
Example Theory: This view sees the atonement of Christ as simply providing an example of faith and obedience to inspire man to be obedient to God. Those who hold this view believe that man is spiritually alive and that Christ’s life and atonement were simply an example of true faith and obedience and should serve as inspiration to men to live a similar life of faith and obedience.
Commercial Theory: The commercial theory views the atonement of Christ as bringing infinite honour to God. This resulted in God giving Christ a reward which He did not need, and Christ passed that reward on to man. Those who hold this view believe that man’s spiritual condition is that of dishonoring God and so Christ’s death, which brought infinite honor to God, can be applied to sinners for salvation.
Governmental Theory: This view sees the atonement of Christ as demonstrating God’s high regard for His law and His attitude toward sin. It is through Christ’s death that God has a reason to forgive the sins of those who repent and accept Christ’s substitutionary death.
Penal Substitution Theory: This theory sees the atonement of Christ as being a vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice that satisfied the demands of God’s justice upon sin. With His sacrifice, Christ paid the penalty of man’s sin, bringing forgiveness, imputing righteousness, and reconciling man to God.
All of these theories may possess some aspect of truth. Paul never “spells it out,” though in Romans 5 he explores the consequences of the cross: “We have been justified,” “we have peace with God”, and we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
It’s the past, present and future of our wonderful life with Jesus! When Jesus died on the cross, and when I received that “by faith”, then I was “justified”. I am now treated “just-as-if-I’d never sinned!”
And so “We have peace with God.” The war is over, the conditions of surrender have been drawn up. Peace is declared. And that past completed action of the cross brought us into a new place, into the “grace in which we stand.” And we have gained access only “by faith.” Nothing to do with how good our performance is, or how clever we are!
And so we rejoice! The Greek word is very strong: it suggests and shouting out in pleasure, whirling about in total abandon. We rejoice not only for this present situation- this grace where we now stand – but we rejoice in the prospect of the glory that is to come! We rejoice “in hope of the glory of God.”
Peace, grace and glory: what a wonderful supply!
I became a follower of Jesus because of two basic problems. Those problems related to my past, and my future. From the past, I carried the burden of a thousand wrong decisions, with all their sad consequences. From the future I drew all sorts of anxieties and fears.
Guilt for my past and anxiety for my future. That’s the alternative to the grace that Jesus offers. What an astonishing life we have been brought into, in Christ. It’s a life where I find peace, at last; where I stand in grace and where I anticipate glory now and to come.
- Go through the various theories offered here and suggest the pluses and minuses of each.
- When you first came to Christ, how did you think about the cross? Has your understanding changed now? If so, in what way?