Pastor P. T. Thomas Writer and Bible Teacher
Once an ardent evangelist was sharing the gospel with a sceptic. After patiently listening to the message, the sceptic retorted in somewhat a cynical tone:
‘Sir, in history we see many innocent, righteous and great men who had to sacrifice their precious lives. Their contemporaries could not understand them and they were subjected to inhuman hardships and tortures. Those they loved and served killed them; as in the case of Jesus Christ. Their fellow men could not understand their worth and value. The great philosopher Socretes is another example. They never sought to defend themselves and escape. Rather, they willingly sacrificed their lives for the values they upheld. Why don’t you hold that their blood too has atoning value? How is Jesus’ crucifixion different from the sacrificial death of other great, holy men?
This is a question that deserves an answer. Even today, many do ask the same or similar questions.
The most important truth to be highlighted in answer is the unique identity of Jesus Christ. Who Jesus is what makes Jesus’ sacrificial death incomparable and valuable. Jesus Christ is true God come as the perfect man. This glaring truth is more than convincing an answer to a sincere seeker of truth.
Nevertheless, God in His compassion and condescension has revealed many more great truths about the uniqueness and absolute perfection of the way of salvation prepared in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death was no more martyrdom. Jesus’ incarnation and propitiatory death on the cross was not an arbitrary decision of God imposed on mankind to blindly believe and accept or get lost. Jesus’ truth, life, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and every other detail was in fulfilment of the law of God prescribed by God for the salvation of the sinful mankind. This precise compliance to the law of God in what makes Jesus’ death the perfect sacrifice and the only way for salvation. It is in this fact that the Old Testament is significant in the foundation of the doctrine of salvation.
Sin in a clear reality in every human heart. Conscience is the ever alert judge passing judgement on every word, dead and even thought. All stand convicted before this resident judge. Moreover, all are well aware of the impartial judgement of God to come. Some try to convince themselves that this life is all that is; and that there is no God they are accountable to. But today atheism is almost extinct, especially among the educated. This is why one of man’s primary concerns has even been the propitiation of his sins and attaining salvation.
Sages of the ancient world had devoted their whole life, seeking and searching for a way of salvation. As sin is first and foremost rebellion against God, they should have sought after God’s will and plan for man in this predicament. But most of them devised means and methods which appeared plausible for them. Their thoughts and plans were primarily directed towards appearing an angry God, rather than orientating themselves before God for His favour. Consequently, various people-groups under different sages evolved various rituals, ceremonies, offerings, sacrifices and so on giving rise to different religions.
All the while, God was not unconcerned about the plight of mankind. God was dealing with man through the conscience, the created universe and various other ways. But no one would take God as God, the absolute authority and the sole source of all goodness. At last Abram from Ur of Chaldean in Mesopotamia responded to God’s call trusted God as God. Abram took God on his world, believed Him and obeyed Him implicitly. God counted his faith in God as righteousness. His progeny, the Israelites were chosen as the favoured people-group among mankind. God gave them over to hard slavery in Egypt. It formed them into a close-knit family. God delivered them from slavery under the leadership of Moses.
The Israelites were led out into the wilderness with no sowing, reaping or vegetation. There God fed them with mannah and made them secure under His cloudy shelter. God revealed His glory and majesty to His people. The them God gave His law and the precepts they were to keep to escape the punishment of sin. As man was seeking what they should do to propitiate for their sins, God revealed it to them through the Israelites. “The man who does these things will live by them” (Lev. 18:5; Rom.10:5) is the caption under which the law of God was given.
God chose the Israelites as the representative of the whole mankind. God gave them His law whereby they may live (attain eternal life) by keeping them. God gave them all encouragements to keep the law. They were promised prosperity and prominence among the nations. Also they were warned of the punishments, if they break them. In spite of all that God did for them, even the Israelites, the best bred among mankind, could not keep them. As the climax of God’s dealings with them their promised Messiah Himself dwelt among them and ministered to them. Yet they failed miserably. ‘What more could have been done for my vineyard them I have done for it?’ asked the Lord (Isai.5:4).
Couldn’t the all-knowing God know that even the Israelites would fail in keeping His law? Then why did God allow even a dispensation for them? God allowed it to make man realize his inability to keep the law of God and earn salvation. Man is basically arrogant. Even to God Almighty, he would say: ‘If you had clearly told us what to do, we would have done it.’ To stop such arrogant words and to prove his own inability to man, God waited for a dispensation. And then at the fullness of time God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to do what the law could not. As man is weakened by the sinful flesh, no one could keep the law and merit righteousness. God in His condescending love come under the law in the likeness of sinful flesh, lived a flawless life, according to the law took up man’s sin in His body and offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice. Thereby, Jesus fulfilled the divine law (Rom. 8:3,4; Gal. 4:4; Matt. 5:17) Jesus Himself has said that He came to fulfill the law and just before He gave up His spirit, Jesus cried out in glorious triumph: “It is finished!” (Matt. 5:17; John 19:30) It is no more sacrificial death, but the perfect sacrifice meticulously fulfilling all the righteous requirements of the law of God. Thus we can see that the New Testament doctrine of salvation is solidly founded on the unalterable law of God given in the Old Testament.
The Bible very specifically makes it clear that the righteousness we enjoy is the righteousness of the law. It is enjoyed by those who are in Christ by faith and live not according to the sinful nature, but according to the spirit (Rom. 8:4). The perfect righteousness wrought by Christ through His perfect sacrifice is imputed to by being in Christ by faith. That is why we are counted righteous in Christ (Colo. 2:14). His righteousness is imputed to us as we are in Him. Not only the uniqueness of the person of Jesus Christ, but also the manner of His life and death, in street adherence to the law of God makes the way of salvation unique and perfect, reaching out to the whole mankind of all nations and all ages. As all the precepts of the divine law is fulfilled in all its perfection, no more rituals or sacrifice is needed any more. In Him we are made righteous by faith ensured by a life according to the spirit.