"God So Loved the World"
Of all sacred Scripture, there is none more familiar nor more loved than John 3.16. "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Simply believe and our faith in Jesus Christ will save us. No Christian will deny this, though some groups may point out additional requirements. It is not the purpose to discuss these here but rather to consider the free gift and how we are saved by faith. Is it so simple that it does not merit discussion.
There are so many perplexing problems; should we not devote available time and energy to the more complex? Paradoxically the simplest problems are often the most difficult to understand. Comprehension of basic truths is essential to understanding higher concepts. It is impossible to master algebra or trigonometry until we understand addition and multiplication.
"Believe and you will be saved". Believe what? How can Jesus' death save billions? If we are saved, why do we need to believe? Do we need to be saved? In his sinless state Adam had no need of a Saviour. Adam was in heart and mind before he sinned, able to live forever. Until the fatal transgression he lived without sin. When he disobeyed, an incomprehensible change came over him; from that moment it was impossible to live without doing wrong. He was lost; he was dying. His state, in so far as any effort on his part was concerned, was hopeless: he was condemned.
Why could not Adam by will power and effort overcome his tendency to sin, live down his condition and come out from under condemnation? Some teach this, saying that the glory of God is seen through the eye of faith and through the wonders of creation. The goodness and splendour of it, the selfless life and death of Jesus of Nazareth draws us to imitate. Through an unparalleled example, they say, we are inspired to do our best, magnify our will power and effort, and in time come to live a nearly perfect life. Likewise, non-Christian faiths use the same method - copying a great historical leader.
The true Christian faith, however, recognizes man's total inability to save himself through any effort or will power of his own. No matter how great, no man can save himself; no man can save his brother. In so far as the sacred record reveals, there is only one way out of Adam's condemnation. He has nothing with which to pay his debt. So God, in His great love and mercy provided a way. "He gave his only begotten Son" Jesus the Lamb of God from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13.2). Jesus died instead of Adam, thus setting him free, paying the penalty in full. "He gave himself a ransom for all" (1 Tim. 2.6).
When Adam sinned he carried the whole human race in his body in a representative sense. When he was condemned, the whole race was condemned, though still unborn. When a human being is conceived it carries with it part of the original sinful, condemned parent organism. The new life is therefore under condemnation at the moment of conception. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive"(1 Cor. 15.52) "wherefore as by one man sin entered the world and death by sin; so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Rom. 5.12). Note especially that "all have sinned". They sin because of an inherited nature. They cannot help sinning. There are no exceptions!
Rom. 5.12 is worthy of a closer look. The expression "death passed upon all men" is significant. Death passes not when we reach adult life or as a child, or even at birth. It is inherited! It passes at the union of male and female cells when a new life is formed. Many infants die prior to birth, before there is any possibility of personal sins, and yet they die. All who do live, sin personally, which is added to the original sin. Each individual is fully, completely and hopelessly lost even before birth, except that Christ came. Jesus is especially clear in His statements of this truth. "He that believes on him (Jesus) is not condemned; but he that believes not, is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3.18). And again "He that believes in the Son has eternal life; he that does not obey the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him" (3.36 RSV) "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3.3). Believe and you will be saved!
We can now consider the question: believe in what? What must we believe in to be saved? Will believing in self and works, save us? Will believing in the law or the prophets or some great religious leader? First, we must recognise our inherited condemnation and our personal sinfulness. Then we must recognise that Jesus died to take our place as a redemptive price, the ransom. (1 Tim. 2.6). The term "ransom" is commonplace in connection with kidnappings. It is the price paid for the one abducted. Jesus, in our place, served as the redemptive price, the ransom. "The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20.28 RSV). "Who gave himself for us, to redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for himself a people for his own who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2.14). Everyone, regardless of age, colour, education, where and when they live, are condemned and need a saviour. "For the love of Christ controls us; for we are convinced that one has died for all therefore all have died" (2 Cor.5.14 RSV). All were dead in God's sight, condemned to death. So Christ died for all. "He gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time."(1 Tim.2.6) "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour, that He, by the grace of God should taste death for every man"(Heb. 2.9). "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed". (1 Pet. 2.24 RSV). We must, then, first realise that we are lost, that Christ redeemed us from all iniquity and gave himself a ransom for each of us personally. This is the faith that saves us! "You are not your own; you are bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6.19). It is faith in the One who gave Himself to save us, Jesus of Nazareth, the only begotten Son.
There is an unqualified statement in Acts 4.12 "Neither is there salvation in any other for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved". Jesus Christ is the one who died for us, who took our place and paid our debt. His is the only name in which our faith can save us. How can the death of one man pay the penalty for millions? No one knows the number of humans who have been born since Adam's creation. How can one take the place of many millions? When Adam transgressed, he brought condemnation on the whole race. All mankind were within his body, though yet unformed they numbered many millions. In the same way, when Jesus died and redeemed Adam, He redeemed the whole race along with Adam just as though they were yet unborn. "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor. 15.22). This does not mean that all will be saved but that all will be raised out of their graves. "All that are in the grave shall hear his voice and shall come forth" (John 5.28). "Therefore as through one trespass judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so through one act of righteousness, the free gift came upon all men to justification of life" (Rom. 5.18 RV). Thus, when Adam sinned, and the whole race with him, we personally died. When Jesus died in Adam's stead, He redeemed not only Adam but the whole race. He redeemed us personally.
Now where does faith come in? If Christ saved us at Calvary nineteen hundred years ago, why do we need to believe? How can faith save us? Perhaps a story from civil war days in the United States will cast light on this admittedly perplexing question. In the Old South, on a plantation, there were many slaves. Among these was one we will call Mose. Old Mose worked hard doing chores; tilling the fields, chopping cotton, and feeding stock. He had always wanted to be free but there was no way for him to be set free. As far as he knew he was condemned to slavery for life. But President Lincoln decided differently. He drew up and issued his now famous Emancipation Proclamation. Upon its formal publication, all slaves, everywhere, within the United States, were set free. There were no radios or TVs in those days. Newspapers were few. Mose could not read, so if the glad news were set in front of him he would still be in darkness. So Mose toiled on and on. Week after weary week went by. There was no change in the old plantation. The crack of the slave drivers' whips could still be heard. Then one day, excitedly, a neighbour came over with BIG NEWS! Breathlessly he told how President Lincoln had set the slaves free. They could pack their few belongings and go -- north. They could marry according to their own desires. They were free. Mose could scarcely believe it. It all seemed too good but in time he did believe it. He understood the great truth. Raising his hands to heaven, and with a tear in his eye, he praised God! "I'm free! free!" And at that moment he was free! Mose had done nothing to earn his freedom. He could not. Lincoln did all that was necessary or possible. When Mose heard, and believed, then he was free.
So it is with us. Though Christ died for us nineteen hundred years ago, and paid our penalty, both for inherited sinfulness and our own transgressions and omissions, we must still hear and believe. He paid it all, but until we hear and believe that we are free, we are still in our sins. Jesus died to save us. But only hearing, believing and acting on it, can make it effectual.
Man is more in need of a Saviour than ever before! More in need of a Redeemer! These are perilous times, of seducing spirits, of gross darkness. The Greek words antilutron and lutron - unlike many Greek words, have but one meaning and that is "ransom", a redemptive price. In addition the word redeem, in its several forms, is used twenty times in the New Testament. To deny the ransom, that we were in need of redemption, that Christ redeemed us with his precious blood, is no less than to deny the Christian faith! It is but the first step in the process of atonement. But redemption is the very foundation of Christianity. Without it we are in this age or any age, lost hopeless, perishing in our sins.
Great as it is, the priceless gift, bringing salvation by faith in that gift, does not constitute all of the Gospel. Rather it is the stepping stone to the high and heavenly calling of God in Christ Jesus. To those who hear and heed goes the promise of sonship, participation in the Divine nature, heirship of God and joint heirship with Christ, to be seated with Him in His throne, and to live and reign with Him. The saints will judge both men and angels. The mind of man is utterly unable to comprehend the glory and honour that God has in store for His own.
An abridged article by BJD