The problem with humanity is sin—our natural propensity to love ourselves and live for our glory rather than to love God and seek his glory. But when we finally become convinced of our lost and sinful condition—with all its deadly consequences—then we cry out for the kind of help that only God can give, saying, “What must [we] do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).
By now it should be clear that the answer cannot lie anywhere in us. If anything, human beings are only getting deeper in difficulty. What we need is for God to come and save us. And this is what God does, for “salvation belongs to the Lord” (Ps. 3:8; see also Jonah 2:9). Although nature can teach us about creation and the fall, it is only in the Bible that we learn the simple truth of redemption by grace: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). This faith-based approach to salvation stands in sharp contrast to religions that rely on human effort, including versions of Christianity that in any way make good works part of the basis for salvation.
Like creation, redemption is the work of the triune God. Together the Father, the Son, and the Spirit take the loving initiative to work their eternal plan for the redemption of our lost and fallen world. Yet the primary agent of our redemption is God the Son. The salvation appointed by the Father and applied by the Spirit is accomplished by the Son. This is the grand theme of Scripture: salvation in Jesus Christ. If Genesis 1 and 2 are primarily about creation, and Genesis 3 describes the fall, then the rest of the Bible chiefly is about the love and grace God has for sinners through the person and work of his Son. The compassion of God’s saving plan is perhaps most perfectly expressed in the words of Jesus himself: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16–17).
In order to do this saving work, Jesus first entered the world that he had made and suffered the misery of its fallen condition. The same Son of God who created and sustains the universe “ultimately and permanently joined that creation in order to redeem it.” In his incarnation, which began with his miraculous conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary and became public with his birth at Bethlehem, God the Son became fully human as well as fully divine and thus experienced our embodied existence. The perfect and permanent unity of humanity and deity in Jesus Christ places God’s imprimatur on physical life in a physical world. “When God in Jesus Christ claims space in the world,” explained Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “even space in a stable because ‘there was no other place in the inn’—God embraces the whole reality of the world in this narrow space and reveals its ultimate foundation.” Writing in the seventh century, John of Damascus described the attitude a follower of Christ should take toward God and toward his creation as a result:
I do not worship matter, I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take his abode in matter; who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honoring the matter that wrought my salvation. I honor it, but not as God. . . . Because of this I salute all remaining matter with reverence, because God has filled it with his grace and power. Through it my salvation has come to me.
In his humanity, Jesus did what God demanded, perfectly obeying the law and thereby fulfilling the covenant that we had broken in Adam. Although Jesus himself was never a sinner, he nevertheless endured the sufferings and sorrows of life in a fallen world, including weakness, pain, grief, cruelty, persecution, abuse, torture, and finally death. Thus we have a God who fully understands what it is like for us to endure all the troubles and tribulations of our present existence in a world that is marred by sin.
More than that, Jesus actually did something to address our fallen condition. “It is this body of our suffering that Christ was born into,” wrote Wendell Berry, “to suffer it Himself and to fill it with light, so that beyond the suffering we can imagine Easter morning.” Jesus took on our life in order to take us into his life, achieving salvation through his crucifixion and bodily resurrection. When Jesus was crucified at Calvary, he took upon himself the punishment that we deserve, suffering God’s holy wrath and righteous curse against our sin. The manner of Christ’s death is significant. Under Jewish law, a crucified man was cursed by God (Deut. 21:22–23). This is perplexing, because as a sinless man Jesus did not deserve to be cursed. The New Testament resolves this conundrum by explaining that Jesus was cursed for our sin rather than his own. He died in our place. By his willing and perfect sacrifice, the full price for our sins was paid, and we no longer stand under the condemnation of God. With his blood, Jesus atoned for our sins and redeemed us for God.
Then on the third day Jesus was raised again, coming back from the dead with the splendor of an immortal body and the power of eternal life. The good news of salvation—the gospel of grace—is that Jesus died on the cross for sinners and rose again from the grave. This was a bodily resurrection, in which the physical corpse of Jesus returned from the dead in miraculous glory. This proved that his sacrifice for our sins was accepted by God and brought immortality to humanity.
Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition – Christian Worldview: A Student’s Guide.