An Ambassador for Christ

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:18-20)

     An ambassador is an official dignitary who represents the country that sent him into a foreign land, and his message is derived from the sending ruler. The Christian ambassador represents the Lord Jesus Christ who has called and equipped him to speak on His behalf to those outside of Christ’s kingdom (John 18:36; Acts 26:17-18; Col 1:13-14). The Christian message is simple, that God reconciles us to Himself through the cross of Christ (2 Cor 5:18-21; Eph 2:13-16; Col 1:19-20; 1 Pet 3:18), providing us forgiveness for all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:13-14), eternal life (John 10:28), and the gift of righteousness which makes us acceptable to Him (Isa 61:10; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9). 

God does not have to be reconciled to man, because that was accomplished by Christ on the cross. It is sinful man who must be reconciled to God. “Religion” is man’s feeble effort to be reconciled to God, efforts that are bound to fail. The Person who reconciles us to God is Jesus Christ, and the place where He reconciles us is His cross.[1]

paul-preaching     As Christian ambassadors, “we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5). God always goes before us and providentially coordinates our meetings with others, working in their hearts to receive our message (John 16:7-11), and rescuing from Satan’s captivity those who believe the gospel (2 Cor 4:3-4; 2 Tim 2:26). God never forces Himself on anyone, but neither does He leave unpunished those who reject the Christian message (Rev 20:11-15). Those who disregard God’s gracious offer of salvation choose to continue in Satan’s world system (John 15:19; Rom 1:18-25; 1 John 2:15-17), selecting darkness rather than light (John 3:19-20), and choosing the path that leads to eternal destruction (Matt 7:13-14). As heavenly ambassadors we are responsible to present a clear biblical message, and though we may passionately seek to persuade, we are not accountable for how others respond to it.

     As an ambassador of Christ, we are to speak and act with dignity at all times. We are to be clear in speaking God’s truth to people who are made in His image (fallen as they are). We are to point them to Christ that they might turn to Him for salvation and be born again to a new spiritual life (1 Pet 1:3, 23). We are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), “with grace” (Col 4:6), and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15-16). There’s no place for hostility in the Christian life, for “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam 1:20). Scripture tells us:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:24-26). 

     Our behavior should be consistent with the One we claim to represent. Our primary message is, be reconciled to God. Reconciliation occurs when a person turns to Jesus as Savior, believing in Him, and accepting that His death on the cross satisfied all of the Father’s demands for our sin, and that Jesus overcame sin and death by His resurrection (1 Cor 15:3-4). 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 649.

The Sin that Leads to Death

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin that does not bring death, he should ask, and God will give life to him– to those who commit sin that doesn’t bring death. There is sin that brings death. I am not saying he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin that does not bring death. (1 John 5:16-17 HCSB)

     It happens from time to time that a Christian will see another Christian “committing a sin.”  The apostle John distinguished two kinds of sin in the life of the Christian: the “sin that does not bring death” and the “sin that brings death” (1 John 5:16-17).  The “sin that does not bring death” is any sin the Christian commits that does not warrant physical death from the hand of God, though it may bring divine discipline if the believer continues in it (Heb. 12:5-13).  John does not specify which sin leads to death and which sin does not, as the punishment is finally determined by the Lord. 

     The sin that leads to death “denotes a sin habitually practiced by a believer, leading to God’s removing him from this life, but not taking away his salvation.”[1]  It refers to the Christian who has become so sinfully rebellious that God disciplines him to the point of death and takes him home to heaven.  There are references in the Bible where God personally issued the death penalty for one or more of His erring children who had defied His authority.  Examples include: Nadab and Abihu, who disobeyed the Lord in their priestly service (Lev. 10:1-3), Uzzah, when he touched the Ark (2 Sam. 6:1-7), Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11), and some of the saints at Corinth who were abusing the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:27-30). 

     Under the Mosaic Law, God willed that sin be punished, but only some sins were punishable by physical death.[2]  Sometimes God Himself executed the punishment (Lev. 10:1-3; 2 Sam. 6:1-7), and other times it was carried out by Israel’s leaders (Ex. 32:19-28).  In the New Testament, God does not call Christians to put anyone to death, but has delegated that authority solely to the governments of this world (Rom. 13:1-4), or He does it Himself (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16). 

Most sin does not lead to death

     It appears from reading the Bible that most sin committed by believers does not result in the Lord putting them to death, although it may bring great punishment.  It was a terrible sin when Aaron led the Israelites into idol worship (Ex. 32:1-6), but God did not call for Aaron’s death.  Samson slept with prostitutes (Judg. 16:1-4), and though he was disciplined, the Lord did not kill him.  When David had an affair with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah, it was a rotten sin that brought divine discipline.  The Lord told David, “I will raise up evil against you from your own household” (2 Sam. 12:11); however, the Lord also told David, “you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13).  It was evil when Solomon worshipped idols (1 Kings 11:1-10), but even here the Lord did not pronounce death for his sin.  Peter argued with Jesus and tried to prevent Him from going to the cross (Matt. 16:21-22), and later publicly denied the Lord three times (Matt. 26:34-35; 69-75), but Peter was allowed to live.  The apostle John twice worshiped an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9), but the Lord let him live and used him in ministry.  God’s grace and mercy is very prominent all throughout the Bible, and He repeatedly gives us ample opportunity to confess our sin and turn back to him.  Thank God for His great grace. 

God disciplines us for our good

     As God’s children, He expects us to live holy and righteous lives that conform to His will (Tit. 2:11-14; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).  When we sin, we can be restored to fellowship with God by means of confession (1 John 1:9).  If we fail to confess our sins, and choose a sinful lifestyle, we put ourselves in real danger of knowing God’s discipline.  The Scripture states, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:6).  The wise believer accepts God’s correction.  David writes, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Ps. 119:71), and later states, “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me” (Ps. 119:75).  The foolish believer rejects God’s correction, and if he perpetuates his sin, God may administer a final act of discipline and remove the believer from this world. 

     Many Christians rightfully suffer because of their sinful lifestyle (Heb. 12:5-11), and those who persist in their sin will eventually die by the hand of the Lord.  Such death is the pinnacle of suffering in this life, but we should never conclude that it means suffering for eternity.  All believers are eternally secure in Christ.  At the moment of salvation, all believers are given eternal life and imputed with God’s righteousness (John 3:16; 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9).  They are forever kept by the power of God and cannot forfeit their salvation (John 10:29; Rom. 8:38-39).  This means that when a believer dies—whatever the cause—he is guaranteed heaven as his eternal home.  At his resurrection, the Christian is guaranteed a new body just the like body of our Lord Jesus (Phil. 3:20-21). 

Summary

     It is possible for a Christian to sin, and to sin as badly as any unbeliever.  However, unlike the unbeliever, God disciplines His own (Heb. 12:5-11), and, if necessary, disciplines to the point of death (1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16).  This need not be the case.  The Christian is called to a life of holiness (1 Pet. 1:15-16), and this means learning to walk with God and do His will.  Though we still possess a sin nature, the Christian knows victory because of his union with Christ (Rom. 6:6, 11-13). 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. Restoring Fellowship with God  
  2. The Sin Nature Within the Christian  
  3. I am a Sinner  
  4. Do God’s People Ever Behave poorly?  
  5. A Christian View of Death  
  6. Atonement for Sins  

[1] Paul S. Karleen, The Handbook to Bible Study: With a Guide to the Scofield Study System (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 359.

[2] There were certain laws under the Old Testament that brought the death penalty: intentional murder (Ex. 21:12-14; cf. Gen. 9:6), attacking or cursing a parent (Ex. 21:15), kidnapping (Ex. 21:16), habitual rebellion against God (Deut. 17:12), sacrificing to pagan gods (Ex. 22:20), cursing God (Lev. 24:15-16), working on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2), being a false prophet and leading Israelites into idolatry (Deut. 13:1-5), religious human sacrifice (Lev. 20:2), the practice of divination, sorcery or witchcraft (Ex. 22:18; Deut. 18:9-14), adultery and premarital sex (Lev. 20:10-14; 21:9; Deut. 22:20-22), sex with an animal (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16), incest (Lev. 20:11-12, 14), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), and the rape of a married woman (Deut. 22:25-27).

The Maker of the Universe

Frederick William Pitt (1859-1943) was a pastor in London who was known for his doctrinal writings and poetry/hymns.  This thoughtful hymn, The Maker of the Universe, captures truth pertaining to the hypostatic union, that Christ is fully God and man.

The Maker of the Universe
As man for man was made a curse;
The claims of laws which He had made,
Unto the uttermost He paid.
His holy fingers made the bough
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.
The nails that pierced his hands were mined
In secret places He designed;
He made the forests whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung.
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood.
The sky that darkened o’er His head
By Him above the earth was spread;
The sun that hid from Him its face
By His decree was poised in space;
The spear that spilled His precious blood
Was tempered in the fires of God.
The grave in which His form was laid
Was hewn in rock His hands had made;
The throne on which He now appears
Was His from everlasting years;
But a new glory crowns His brow,
And every knee to Him shall bow.

F. W. Pitt (1859-1943)

Atonement for Sins

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement [Heb. כָּפַר kaphar] for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement [Heb. כָּפַר  kaphar].  (Lev. 17:11)

And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  (Heb. 9:22)

       Sacrificial LambAtonement is a very important concept in the Old Testament.  The word atonement translates the Hebrew verb כָּפַר (kaphar) which means to “cover over, pacify, propitiate, [or] atone for sin.”[1]  The animal sacrificial system—which was part of the Mosaic Law—taught that sin must be atoned for.  The idea of substitution was clearly taught as the sinner laid his hands on the animal that died in his place (Lev. 4:15, 24; 16:21).  The innocent animal paid the price of death on behalf of the guilty sinner.  God established the Levitical animal sacrificial system as a way of teaching that human sin must be atoned for.  The atoning animal sacrifices were performed daily by the Jewish temple priests on behalf of Israelites who committed sins in ignorance (Lev. 4:1-4, 20, 26, 31).  More serious sins—those deliberately committed—were atoned for once a year on the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur—by the High Priest who would enter the Holy of Holies in the temple and sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed bull and goat on the mercy seat which was on the top of the Ark of the Covenant (Lev. 16:14-15).  There were two sacrifices on the Day of Atonement: a bull was sacrificed for the sins of the High Priest (Lev. 16:6, 11), and two goats for the sins of the nation (Lev. 16:7-10).  The sacrifice of the goats were “to make atonement [כָּפַר kaphar] for the sons of Israel for all their sins once every year” (Lev. 16:34).  One goat shed its blood on the altar, and the other was sent away into the wilderness after the High Priest had laid his hands on it and confessed over it “all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins” (Lev. 16:21).  The innocent animals died in place of those who were guilty of sin.  

Atonement means making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship. Scripture depicts all human beings as needing to atone for their sins but lacking all power and resources for doing so. We have offended our holy Creator, whose nature it is to hate sin (Jer. 44:4; Hab. 1:13) and to punish it (Ps. 5:4-6; Rom. 1:18; 2:5-9). No acceptance by, or fellowship with, such a God can be expected unless atonement is made, and since there is sin in even our best actions, anything we do in hopes of making amends can only increase our guilt or worsen our situation. This makes it ruinous folly to seek to establish one’s own righteousness before God (Job 15:14-16; Rom. 10:2-3); it simply cannot be done.[2]

       The animal sacrificial system under the Mosaic Law taught that God is holy, man is sinful, and that God was willing to judge an innocent creature as a substitute in place of the sinner.  The animal that shed its blood gave up its life in place of the one who had offended God, and it was only through the shed blood that atonement was made.  A life for a life.  The whole animal sacrificial system under the Mosaic Law was highly symbolic, temporary, and pointed forward to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  The Levitical priests would regularly perform their temple sacrifices on behalf of the people to God, but being a symbolic system, the animal sacrifices could never “make perfect those who draw near” to Him, for the simple reason that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:1, 4).  For nearly fourteen centuries the temple priests kept “offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Heb. 10:11), until finally Christ “offered one sacrifice for sins for all time” and through that one offering “perfected for all time those who are sanctified” by it (Heb. 10:12, 14).  What the Mosaic Law could never accomplish through the sacrifice of symbols, Christ did once and for all time through His substitutionary death on the cross when he died in the place of sinners. 

       Jesus’ death on the cross was a satisfactory sacrifice to God which completely paid the price for our sin.  We owed a debt to God that we could never pay, and Jesus paid that debt in full when He died on the cross and bore the punishment that rightfully belonged to us.  In Romans 3:25 Paul used the Greek word ἱλαστήριον (hilasterion)—translated propitiation—to show that Jesus’ shed blood completely satisfied God’s righteous demands toward our sin, with the result that there is nothing more for the sinner to pay to God.  Jesus paid our sin-debt in full.  There’s nothing for us to pay.  The Apostle John tells us “He Himself is the propitiation [ἱλασμός hilasmos – the satisfactory sacrifice] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. 4:10).  Jesus’ death on the cross forever satisfied God’s righteous demands toward the sins of everyone for all time!  God has “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14).  Regarding Christ’s death, J. Dwight Pentecost states:

You can be adjusted to God’s standard, because God made Christ to become sin for us.  The One who knew no sin, the One in whose lips had never been found guile, took upon Himself our sin in order that He might bear our sins to the cross and offer Himself as an acceptable substitute to God for us—on our behalf, in our place.  And when Jesus Christ identified Himself with sinners and went to the cross on their behalf and in their place, He was making possible the doctrine of reconciliation.  He was making it possible for God to conform the world to Himself, to adjust the world to His standard so that sinners in the world might find salvation because “Jesus paid it all.”  You can be adjusted to God, to God’s standard, through Christ, by His death, by His cross, by His blood, and by His identification with sinners.[3]

       Atonement for sins is the basis for reconciliation, because God has judged our sins in the Person of Christ who died on the cross in our place.  The death of Christ has forever satisfied God’s righteous demands for our sin and it is on this basis that He can accept sinners before His throne of grace.  The blood of Christ is the only coin in the heavenly realm that God accepts as payment for our sin-debt, and Christ paid our sin debt in full!  That’s good news! 

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18-19)

       Because Jesus’ death satisfies God’s righteousness demands for sin, the sinner can approach God who welcomes him in love.  God has cleared the way for sinners to come to Him for a new relationship, and this is based completely on the substitutionary work of Christ.  God has done everything to reconcile us to Himself.  The sin debt that we owed to God has been paid in full by the blood of Christ. 

This article in an excerpt from my book: The Cross of Christ: Sufficient to Save

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

[1] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers 1979), 497.

[2] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1995), 138.

[3] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mi., Kregel Publications, 1965), 89.

Christ to the Cross

The Raising of the Cross     The Raising of the Cross was painted by Rembrandt sometime around A.D. 1633.  In the painting the artist portrayed himself as one among many who placed Christ on the cross to bear the sin of all mankind.  You can see Rembrandt in the center of the painting wearing his painter’s hat.  Rembrandt is telling everyone that it was his sin that sent Christ to the cross, and that it was his hands that lifted Him up to die.  There is a richness of Christian theology in the painting. 

       I understand what Rembrandt is communicating in the picture.  It speaks for itself.  More so, I personally identify with the artist, because I see my hands raising the cross of Christ.  I too am guilty of the sin that put Him there to die in my place.  The cross of Christ is essential to  the gospel message of Christianity (1 Cor. 1:17-18; 15:3-4), and every Christian who believes in Jesus as Savior—at some point in his learning—must see himself at the cross, for Scripture declares, “we died with Him” (2 Tim. 2:11; cf. Col. 2:20). 

       When we think about Jesus, we know from Scripture that He is simultaneously the eternal Son of God and true humanity.  At a point in time, the eternal Son of God took upon Himself sinless humanity and walked among men (John 1:1, 14, 18).  In theology, this is called the doctrine of the hypostatic union.  Though He is fully God, we must always keep His perfect humanity in our thinking as well.  While in the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before the crucifixion, it was the humanity of Christ that struggled to face the cross.  In the Garden, Jesus “fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Matt. 26:39).  Jesus went to the cross as His Father willed.  When we think about the cross, we realize that it was not Jesus’ deity that died for our sins, but His humanity, as Peter tells us, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24).  Peter’s reference to “His body” speaks of the humanity of Jesus. 

       Concerning the death of Christ on the cross, The Bible reveals it was simultaneously an act of God as well as sinful men.  When delivering his sermon about the crucifixion of Jesus in Acts chapter 2, Peter declared, “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23).  In one verse, Peter captures the coalescence of divine and human wills that participated in putting Christ on the cross.  On the divine side, Jesus was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God”, and on the human side, He was “nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men [who] put Him to death.”  Jesus was not a helpless victim, torn between the will of God and sinful men, but a willing sacrifice who chose to lay down His life for the salvation of others.  The prophet Isaiah declares:

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. (Isa. 53:10-11)

       The language is plain, “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering” (Isa. 53:10a).  God punishes sin as His righteousness requires, and saves the sinner as His love desires.  It is simultaneously true that God sent and Christ went.  Christ was willing to be put to death in our place, for the Scripture declares “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2).  Jesus said “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18).  Other passages in Scripture clearly reveal that Christ went to the cross willingly and laid down His life for our benefit (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25; Heb. 7:27; 9:14).  Jesus was punished in our place so that we might have forgiveness of sins and the gifts of eternal life and righteousness (John 3:16; 10:27-28; Eph. 1:7; 2:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:21; Philip. 3:9; 1 Pet. 3:18). 

       We must not see Christ dying at a distant time or place.  Like Rembrandt, we must see ourselves at the place where Christ died.  We should see our hands driving the nails and lifting the cross.  We must see Jesus bearing all our sin, and paying the penalty of the Father’s wrath that rightfully belongs to us.  Afterward, we must see ourselves risen with Him into newness of life.  In May, 2006, while taking a seminary class on the Atonement with Dr. Paige Patterson, I wrote a poem and tried to capture in words what Rembrandt captured in his painting. 

Christ to the Cross ©

I and the Father led Christ to the cross,
Together we placed Him there;
I pushed Him forward, no care for the cost,
His Father’s wrath to bear.
Christ in the middle not wanting to die,
Knelt in the garden and prayed;
Great tears of blood the Savior did cry,
Yet His Father He humbly obeyed.

So He carried His cross down a dusty trail,
No words on His lips were found;
No cry was uttered as I drove the nails,
His arms to the cross were bound.
I lifted my Savior with arms spread wide,
He hung between heaven and earth;
I raised my spear and pierced His side,
What flowed was of infinite worth.

Like a Lamb to the altar Christ did go,
A sacrifice without blemish or spot;
A knife was raised, and life did flow,
In a basin the blood was caught.
Past the incense table and the dark black veil,
To that holy of holy places;
The blood of Christ was made to avail,
And all my sins it erases.

Now this Lamb on a cross was a demonstration
Of the Father’s love for me;
For the Savior’s death brought satisfaction,
Redeemed, and set me free.
Now I come to the Savior by faith alone,
Not trusting in works at all;
Jesus my substitute for sin did atone,
Salvation in answer to His call.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

God’s Grace to Save

For by grace [charis] you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

       Charis is the Greek word that is commonly translated grace and it means undeserved favor or unmerited kindness. It is a generous, loving, charitable act that one person does toward another who would otherwise deserve the opposite. It is love shown to one’s enemies. Grace has its greatest manifestation in the Cross of Christ where Jesus, as a substitute, bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to the human race (Rom. 5:6-10). Peter tells us that “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Christ died in place of the sinner. That’s grace. None of us deserved what Christ did when He went to the cross nearly two thousand years ago, when He hung between heaven and earth and bore the sin of all mankind and was judged in our place, bearing the wrath of God that rightfully belongs to us. How dark the sky must have been that day when, for three hours, Christ bore our sin and propitiated the Father. God’s righteousness and love intersect at the cross at the same time. Righteousness in judging our sin in His Son, and love toward the sinner He desires to save. Grace is manifested every time God offers the free gift of eternal life to sinners. Salvation is received when sinners believe in Christ as their Savior.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. (1 John 5:1)

       All four Gospels record the prisoner exchange between a notorious criminal named Barabbas and the Lord Jesus (Matt. 27:16-26; Mark. 15:7-15; Luke 23:18; John 18:40). Barabbas was in jail for insurrection, murder, and robbery, and was surely going to face death for his crimes (Luke 23:18-19; John 18:40). Jesus, on the other hand, was innocent of all the charges brought against Him. Pilate, the Roman Governor who presided as judge over the two men, knew it was “because of envy” that Jesus had been handed over to him to be scourged and crucified (Matt. 27:18; cf. Mark 15:10). Pilate knew Jesus was not guilty of the charges leveled against Him and sought to have Him released (Luke 23:20), but he proved himself a weak leader by surrendering to the insane demands of a mob who kept shouting “crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21). All of this occurred according to God’s predetermined plan (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28).

       Barabbas was in his jail cell when a Roman guard came, unlocked his door and informed him he was free to leave. I suppose Barabbas was puzzled because freedom was not what he expected. Barabbas was in a dark place with no ability to save himself. Outside the prison walls, Jesus was being led away to die in his place, the innocent for the guilty, the just for the unjust. I am Barabbas. You are Barabbas. Spiritually, we are all in a dark place without hope, facing eternal death, and with no ability to save ourselves. But there’s good news! Outside our prison is a free and innocent Man who has died in our place, who bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. Today, our prison cell is open, and we are free to leave because another man bore our penalty for us.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:6-8)

       How wonderful it is to read and learn of God’s grace in the Bible. But we must see ourselves as prisoners of sin, enslaved and unable to liberate ourselves from the chains of sin that weigh heavy upon us. If we could save ourselves by works, then Christ died needlessly. If works save us, then grace is no longer grace. It is the humble soul who knows he cannot repay God for His wonderful gift of salvation. It would be an insult of the highest magnitude to offer feeble works of self-righteousness to God in place of the work of Christ. Don’t ever tarnish the glory of the cross by trying to add your dirty human works to it (Isa. 64:6). Don’t ever try to rob God of His wonderful grace by offering cheap works as a means of salvation (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Salvation is what God does for us through the death of His Son. Salvation is never what we do for God, or even what we do for ourselves. Christ died for us, to save us, and that was an act of God’s grace. It is the empty hands of faith that welcome God’s free gift of salvation. Trust in Christ alone and let your faith rest completely in Him and His work on the cross (John 3:16).

Dr. Steven R. Cook