One of the most foundational questions for the follower of Jesus is, “How does the death of Jesus save sinners?” To answer this question thoroughly is to articulate the most precious truth of the gospel. As we prepare to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on Good Friday and Easter this coming weekend, it’s fitting to take some time to think through some answers to this question. This is not a question that’s easily answered, or rather, it’s not one that can be answered anywhere close to completely in a few blog posts. Nevertheless, we'll spend a few blog posts this week exploring this question. Indeed, the glory of our salvation is something that we'll surely continue to revel in greater depth throughout eternity; our great salvation is something into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12)
To explore this, I want to expand the question to more fully encompass what Jesus did to, “How does the life, death and resurrection of Jesus save sinners?” In doing so, my goal is to give us hearts of devotion and reflection as we head toward Easter this weekend.
Today: the life of Jesus.
When I was a young believer, the movie The Passion of the Christ had just come out. I remember being pretty moved by the incredible sacrifice of Christ being shown so graphically. But one of the most memorable things about that movie came from an comment I read on a blog a week after watching it. There was quite a stir about how graphic the movie was, and how focused it was on the death of Jesus as opposed to his life. One commenter claimed, however, that Jesus could have done nothing throughout his life and his sacrificial death for the sins of the elect and his work as the sacrificial lamb that takes away sin would still be complete. This commenter was basically saying that Jesus’ life didn’t matter, so long as His death paid the price for our sins. As I’ve walked with Jesus since that time, I’ve come to know and cherish how the life of Jesus, in addition to His death, saves sinners.
The best way to worship Jesus for his life is by remembering one key word: substitution. As Christians, we often use this word to refer to Jesus’ death; His substitutionary atonement. And it’s certainly true that Jesus died the death He did in our place. It’s just as true, however, that Jesus’ life is our substitute as well. That’s the deep treasure of 2 Corinthians 5:21 - "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (ESV)
When God looks at a sinner saved by the grace of Christ, He sees not only one whose sins have been paid for (which we’ll see in the next blog), but a righteous child. He sees not the bud of the flower that has yet to show its beauty, but the full bloom of Spring in its richest splendor. Just as Abraham was credited with righteousness through his faith in God, so too are we given the life of Christ to our credit before God. The great exchange of the Christian is that we receive not only the atoning death of Christ, but also His perfect life. If this were not true, then we would be as hopeless as we were before the new birth. Not only do we need our sins paid for, but we also need to be given holiness that we might stand before God continually blameless. The substitutionary life of Jesus does exactly that.
What this means is that Christians are free to be the most vulnerable, joyful, and least self-absorbed people in the world. We can be vulnerable because our sin has been paid for, and left in its place is the perfect righteousness of Christ. We can be joyful because our sin no longer weighs us down; to walk with Jesus is to walk in Jesus and in His righteousness. We can be free from self-absorption because we know that the effort of this life is not in striving to improve or perfect our own character, but the true effort of this life is to shine the light on the One whose character is already perfect.
As Easter draws nearer, spend some time in prayer and reflection, delighting in the riches of the substitutionary life of Jesus.