Our Total Salvation: The Two Works of Jesus on the Cross and in the Resurrection
Most people know that when Christians celebrate Holy Communion or the Eucharist, they partake of two elements, the bread and the wine, (or grape juice, depending on the church). And those who have been Christians for more than a short period of time know that the cup of wine represents the blood of Christ poured out for the sins of humanity, and that the bread represents the body of Christ broken for us. As the apostle Paul states: "For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes."
What Christians fail to realize, however, is that just as there are two elements in Holy Communion, the wine and the bread, there are two aspects to Christ’s work on the cross: the blood and the body. Let us look first at the wine, or the blood of Jesus. The blood deals with the problem of our guilty standing before God, with the sins we have committed, and the debt we owe to God for having committed them. Sinning breaks our relationship with God, and the blood of Jesus purifies us of our guilt, so that we may once again be restored to fellowship and communion with him. That is one of the reasons why the ritual is called "communion," because it represents the restoration of fellowship between God and humanity, and between ourselves and the rest of humanity.
First of all, the blood of Jesus obtains for us the forgiveness of sins, as Paul says: "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace"(Eph. 1:7). But how in the world would the blood of another human being obtain forgiveness from God? It would seem that in order to obtain forgiveness from someone I had offended that I would have to do something to either earn that forgiveness, or at least bring it about in some way, perhaps by a change in my attitude. But since we owe God perfection in the first place, there is nothing we can do in addition to perfection to make up for sins we have committed. We need another to step in and obtain that forgiveness for us.
Now according to Scripture, the wages of sin are death, as all Christians know from their first experience of salvation: all sins merit the penalty of death, both physical and eternal. We owe a debt we can never repay: we owe God our obedience, and since we have all disobeyed, we can never make up for it by obeying now, since we already owe that anyway. Paying your bills from now on until you die does not pay back debts you have incurred up until now: you are already required by law to pay them. So there is no way to pay back God for our past (or any future) disobedience by our own efforts, because perfect obedience is required at all times.
But at just the right time, God intervened and sent his son, the godly one, to die for us, the ungodly and purchase us back by his blood. Since the wages of sin are death, the only way to buy us back is through Jesus pouring out his lifeblood unto death and paying the price that sets us free from our unpayable debt. This truth should totally humble us, when we realize that we cannot contribute one iota to our own salvation, since even if I were to live in absolute perfection from now on (an impossibility apart from Christ anyway), I still could never make up for the past. The payment required by God is death. For that reason Scripture states that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Heb. 9:22). Unless someone dies, no one can be forgiven. If we die for our sins, then justice is met, but forgiveness is not obtained, because our death would be mere justice, it would have no power to save us from eternal death. No, in order for us to be forgiven, another must die and shed his blood in our place, obtaining the forgiveness of God.
The blood essentially works in two directions: it has an effect on God Himself, and it has an effect on us. The blood affects God because it appeases God’s wrath. Modern society does not like the idea of God being angry with the sin of humanity, so we dismiss the idea as the relic of a primitive humanity. But God is angry about sin, and as Paul says, "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness" (Rom. 1:18). But God’s wrath is not a desire to cruelly torment and torture human beings like an abusive parent who cares nothing for his children, but ultimately proceeds from God’s deep concern and love for His creation. His creation has been stolen by a usurper, the devil, through humanity’s own choice. God is angry that the vessels He made for His own use have been stolen away and are used by Satan to express His opposite, the spirit of self-serving self. And He is angry not only with Satan, but with us for having gone along with Satan and been receptive to his spirit.
God’s wrath does not torture us, but rather gives us over to the consequences of our sins, to experience those consequences to the fullest, so that we might see where our evil has gotten us and repent, as the prodigal son did when he realized he was living with the pigs. If we do not repent in this lifetime, we will experience an eternity of God’s wrath, but that is not torture, but rather the eternal consequence of shame and regret at having refused or failed to lay hold of God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ. Fortunately for us who believe, the blood appeases or propitiates or satisfies the demands of God’s wrath, as Paul says about Jesus, "who God put forth as a propitiation through the faithfulness (of Jesus, demonstrated) in his blood" (Rom. 3:25). Paul also says that the blood reconciles us to God, establishing peace by removing God’s hostility toward us (Col. 1:20).
The blood also removes what provokes that hostility: namely, our sins, our guilt for those sins, and so affects us as well. Paul says that we are "justified by his blood" (Rom. 5:9). To justify is to set someone or something right. When writing a document we speak of justifying the margins, or setting them straight. The blood sets us right with God so that we stand in right relationship to Him. More specifically, the blood expiates or cleanses us of our sin, as the apostle John says in his first epistle: "the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7) and later he says: "He Himself is the expiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world" (2:2).
But how does the blood accomplish this? The author of Hebrews makes this clear: "how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb. 9:14). It is our conscience that convicts us when we have done wrong, the voice of God within us that lets us know that we have violated His standard, the law of God written on our hearts. When we violate our conscience, we can either deaden it with further wrongdoing or some drug like alcohol, or we come up with some justification for what we did to make it okay in our own minds. But deep down we know the truth of what we have done, and there is no erasing it. Only the blood of Jesus can cleanse our conscience and make us whole again. The blood washes away the guilt that we experience because of our sins. That is why there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).
You might object: "But I continue to feel guilty for what I have done!" That may be true, and you may feel that way until the end of your life on earth, but the cross was not designed to deal with your guilty feelings, but with your guilty standing before God. God no longer condemns you as a sinner worthy of hell, regardless of how you feel. Your continued guilty feelings are just the occasion to exercise faith in the blood of Jesus that He has cleansed you and that there is no more condemnation. To fail to exercise this faith is to say that the blood of Jesus was insufficient to the task and is nothing short of blasphemous. As Norman Grubb has said, you are really indulging in self-pitying feelings, thinking that your sin is so bad that not even the blood of Jesus could handle it. And this train of thought really comes from Satan, the accuser of the brethren, who desperately wants us to stay focused on our feelings and not on the precious truth of Christ’s sacrifice for us. For the apostle John has said: "Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night" (Rev. 12:10). So Satan has no authority to accuse us anymore, since Christ conquered him on the cross. And now we overcome Satan "by the blood of the Lamb and by of the word of our testimony" (Rev. 12:11). Trusting in the power of Jesus’ blood and by our word of faith or testimony Satan is overcome and cast down as our accuser.
As important and powerful as the blood is, it would be sad if our salvation were limited to forgiveness and heaven after we die. What about this life? For there were in fact two consequences to the sin of Adam at the Fall of Humanity. We have already spoken about our guilt before God, but the second consequence is that we were enslaved to the devil, to do his will. The New Testament authors present the truth of our condition in a number of places. John says that we "are of our father the devil and his desires we do" (John 8:44). In his first epistle he says that "the one who sins is of the devil," (1 John 3:8), meaning that the one who sins has their spiritual source in the devil. In the same letter he says to believers: "greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4). If that "he that is in" us is the person or Spirit of Christ, then he that is in the world is also a person, that sin-causing spirit, the devil. John himself makes clear who the one in the world is when he says; "the whole world lies in the evil one" (5:19). The author of Hebrews says that Jesus became flesh and blood, that through his death "He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil."
And the apostle Paul writes of sin dwelling in the flesh: "Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me" (Rom. 7:17-20). Of course, many since the time of St. Augustine would have us believe that indwelling sin is a corruption of human nature, something wrong with our humanity. Don’t we have to live with indwelling sin our whole lives, and wait until heaven to be completely free of it? As Paul says: "In no way!" We must take seriously Paul’s statement that we have died to sin. Sin is an indwelling spirit because Paul calls it a "spirit of slavery" in Rom. 8:15 and states about our sinning that "it is no longer I who do it, but the sin dwelling in me that does the sin" (Rom. 7:17, 20). If "I" am not the doer of the sinful deeds, then another person must be, namely the person of sin, namely Satan himself. As my previous article, "Satan, Sin and the Flesh," and all of Norman Grubb’s writings make clear, indwelling sin is just another name for Mr. Sin, Satan himself, indwelling humanity and expressing himself through them. Ephesians 2:1-3 explains: "You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else." Satan was the spirit at work in or energizing the children of disobedience. And this spirit produced in us the passions of the flesh, the sinful desires. He calls this spirit the ruler or prince of the power of the air, and just as the air is the universal element in which we live and physically breathe in and out, so Satan is the spirit which we breathe in and out as our spiritual atmosphere while we were unbelievers and members of the sinful world.
So it should be clear that forgiveness is not enough to answer the plight of sinful humanity. We also need to be delivered or redeemed from our captivity to Satan. But somehow Satan has concealed from God’s people the truth of the second aspect of the atonement, the truth that would deliver them from Satan’s grasp over their lives and his operation of them and through them as vessels. That second aspect is the body of Christ, broken for us. This is represented for us in the second element in Communion, the bread, but Christians rarely if ever focus on the bread as distinct from the wine, being unaware of what was done in Christ’s body on the cross. It is as if we were sent to prison because of our guilt for our crimes, and then pardoned for our crimes, but were not released from prison. The pardon is all well and good, but most people in prison would like to be released as well as pardoned, not pardoned and then wait for a release fifty years later.
Fortunately God has not left us in such a situation. God has already delivered or redeemed us, if we have the eyes to see it. Christ’s bodily death on the cross delivered us from our imprisonment by and captivity to the devil, so that we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness: "having been set free from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness" (Rom. 6:18). Paul says the same things repeatedly in Romans 6: "you have died to sin, how can you live in it any longer?" (Rom. 6:2). "Whoever has died has been freed from sin (Rom. 6:7). "Sin shall not have dominion over you" (Rom. 6:14).
But how did the bodily death of Jesus accomplish this deliverance from Satan’s power? How does death free us from the spirit of sin? James gives us a hint here: "the body without the spirit is dead" (James 2:26). Death is the separation of spirit from body. When Jesus died on the cross as our representative, we all died in him, that is all believers, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:14-15: "For the love of Christ compels us, having concluded that since one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." So in the death of Christ we all died, and were separated body from the spirit which indwelt us, from the Satanic spirit of sin which enslaved us. This happened because Christ took upon himself the spirit of sin upon the cross and became the "body of sin." In Romans 6:6, Paul states: "We know that our old humanity was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and that we might no longer be enslaved to sin. Representing us on the cross, Christ took on our sin-possessed bodies and the spirit of sin which expressed himself through us: "He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ did not just bear our sins, but he became sin, he took the curse of the indwelling spirit of sin upon himself and bore it away into death, that we should no longer be enslaved to this indwelling Satanic spirit. Since, as James says, the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also the dead body of Jesus separated humanity (or at least believing humanity) from the spirit of error.
So now Paul can say that we have died to sin. But what does it mean to be dead to something? It means that it has no claim on you, that you have been separated from it, and are dead to its influence and power. Paul commands us to reckon ourselves as dead to sin, not because we are merely "positionally" dead, but because we are actually dead to sin. This does not mean we can never sin again, but that the spirit of sin, Satan, has no claim or authority to run our lives anymore and can only do so if we believe his whisperings. We are citizens of a new commonwealth, and our old country has no claim on us. If the leader of our old country proclaims a new draft to serve in his army, we need not respond, because his claim on us is false, and has been overturned by the bodily death of Christ. Satan may cause us to feel as if we were still in his camp, but he cannot make us part of his camp, though he can temporarily use the members of our body if we fail to reckon ourselves dead to his influence and disbelieve his claims on us. Of course the devil is rarely so obvious as to tell us that he is making a claim on our members or attempting to usurp authority over our bodily members. Satan merely convinces us that we are just ourselves, that we are what we think and feel rather than what God says about us in His Word. In this way Satan slips in unnoticed and regains a measure of control over our members. Most of the time it is not so much that we actively choose the way of Satan, as it is that we fail to fully appropriate the salvation that God has wrought for us.
But even the bodily death of Jesus is not the whole of our salvation: we need a new Spirit dwelling within us, as Ezekiel prophesied in the Old Testament: "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances" (Ezek. 36:26-27). God does not leave us in a state of death, body separated from spirit, but raises us from the dead in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead: "For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his" (Rom. 6:5) and "just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" (6:4). When we first believe in Christ, we receive His Holy Spirit because by our faith we are participating in the resurrection of Jesus. Spiritually we are being raised from the dead and being given a new Spirit. Having been crucified with Christ, and the false "I", Satan himself, having been expelled from our spirit, it is now Jesus Christ present within us who lives out through and expresses Himself through us, if we only trust and believe in His promise to do so: "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I’ who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). Paul can say this (and we can too!), not because he feels that way, or because it looks that way at the level of outward appearance, but because God has said so, and who are we to question what God has said about us? If we trust God that we are forgiven for our sins despite continuing feelings of guilt, should we not trust Him concerning the truth that He is living His life through us and as us despite the fact that we don’t feel like it is so? Many Christians continue to live in bondage because they fail to grasp hold of that for which Christ has grasped hold of us (Phil. 3:12). Christ has us in His grasp; He is our keeper and will keep us: we just have to trust Him. As the old hymn states: "those who trust Him wholly, find Him wholly true."
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 24 No 2
- God’s Twofold Restoration
- The Editor’s Note
- The Necessity of Doubt
- Death to Sin: The Radical Solution of the Cross
- Romans Tells Us How
- Two Problems Solved
- Our Total Salvation: The Two Works of Jesus on the Cross and in the Resurrection
- Book Review: Paul’s Key to the Liberated Life: Romans Six to Eight
- How Acquire Faith?
- Faith in Action
- Rees Howells and the New Birth
- Free From the Law of Sin and Death
- Words to Live By
- What Really Happens at Regeneration?
- The Total Remedy