I have finished my first book, _The Essentials of the Christian Religion_. It’s a survey of the basic doctrines of Christianity along with an exposition of the Apostles’ Creed. It’s about a hundred pages long and is written in a friendly, accessible tone, meant to be easy to give to someone who is asking questions about what we believe, even someone with very little education in religion. It would also serve as a useful reminder on the basic doctrines of Christianity, and includes an exposition of the Apostles Creed. It’s available here, and will also be available through Amazon.com in a couple of weeks. Here is an excerpt, from chapter 3:
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, having taken on a real human nature, came to this earth to die for sinners. When we say that Jesus “died for us,” what we mean is that He died in our place. He was our propitiation. This is what the passage in Romans that I quoted earlier is saying. He died so that we didn’t have to. God’s justice is satisfied in that the penalty that was required is paid. Because Jesus is God, He possessed the power to endure the suffering of hell on the cross for all of His people. It is also necessary that Jesus was a true man, because God cannot die, and only in a human body could death and hell be felt.
God’s justice is seen in the cross in that God did not simply wink at the sins that people had committed. The penalty was paid and justice was satisfied. But God’s mercy is also seen, in that it was God Himself who paid that price, and God who elected to accept this substitute sacrifice instead of requiring the penalty to be paid in the flesh of the guilty. This is the meaning of propitiation, of atonement.
And so the Romans passage tells us that we have “redemption” in Christ Jesus. That is to say, we are bought back. Due to our own sins, we had been lost and were the property of death and hell. We were owned by another and not free, because of our sins. Jesus paid that debt that was owed and bought us for Himself. Now we belong to Him.
The Romans passage also says that we are “justified.” This is a most important word. Justification is the act by which someone is declared to be righteous. It is important to make a distinction here between the fact of righteousness and its declaration. In a court of law, when a jury comes back with its verdict, it declares the defendant either guilty or not guilty. The jury is only making a pronouncement with regard to the defendant’s status before the law. We hope that such a pronouncement is true to the fact, but usually we can’t know for sure. A man may be declared innocent when he is actually guilty.
Our justification in Christ is just that sort of declaration. We are held innocent before God’s law, not because of our own righteousness but because of Christ’s righteousness. Christ’s righteousness becomes our own righteousness in a legal sense. We are still sinners and will continue to be sinners until we die, but God judges us as innocent because of Christ’s sacrifice.