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The Worth of Christ's Death

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Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     Question: “How does the death of Jesus Christ pay the penalties for all the sins of all of God’s people?”

     Answer: God told Adam and Eve that they would die if they broke His laws. The rest of Scripture continually emphasizes the fact that death is the necessary consequence of our choice to sin against God. “Behold, all souls are mine…the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4).  “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23).  “Death” in Scripture sometimes means the end of physical life, but ultimately it means the eternal suffering of body and soul in hell, separated eternally from God’s favor. And since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” everyone deserves to die eternally.

     If eternal physical and spiritual death seems a severe penalty for the sins that we’ve committed it’s only because, as sinners, we are blind to the gravity and hideousness of our sin. To reject God’s authority and pursue our own glory instead of His is to commit “cosmic treason.” The seriousness of an offense rises exponentially with the importance and dignity of the one who is offended. If you spit in my face, I may rebuke you, but that would be the extent of your punishment. If you spit in the face of a policeman, you may end up in jail for a little while. If you spit in the face of the President of the United States or the Queen of England, you will definitely spend a long time in prison. Imagine what the sufficient penalty would be for our far more serious offenses against the infinitely holy God of the universe!

     God has, in His grace, provided only one way for sinful human beings to avoid the penalty of physical and spiritual death that their sins deserve – He provides an adequate substitute who would qualify to die in the place of the guilty sinner. The Lord pointed to this salvation-by-the-death-of-a-substitute when He required the Israelites to present bloody sacrifices of blemish-free animals in order to know and worship Him. He makes it clear in Leviticus 17:11 that “atonement” (reconciling God and sinner by satisfying God’s wrath against sin) requires the death of a God-appointed substitute – “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” As it is written in Hebrews 9:22, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

     However, the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were clearly not sufficient to accomplish atonement between God and sinners. As the writer of Hebrews points out, “…in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Men and women are made in God’s image and are therefore of far greater value than the other creatures that God has made.

     Only the sacrifice of a perfect, sinless man could possibly serve as an adequate sacrifice for the life of a guilty sinner. And this is what God the Father provided when He sent His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to die on the cross in our place as our substitute. “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God…For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12-14).

     How do we get this “salvation-by-the-death-of-Christ-our-Substitute?” Jesus made this abundantly clear in John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Believe in Him as your crucified and risen Lord and put all your hope in Him.

      This begs one more question: how is Christ’s one life offered-up on the cross sufficient to pay for the sins committed by millions of those who place their faith in Him? Look at it this way: If I were to give you a quarter, you could go to the grocery store and get one piece of (small) candy in return. But what if I gave you a 1933 Gold Double Eagle coin, one of which was sold at an auction several years ago for $7,590,000? How many pieces of candy could you buy with one of those?

     Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, so His perfect human and divine life is infinitely more valuable than your life and therefore sufficient to pay for the sins of all of God’s people in every age. Add to this picture that your life was so corrupted and stained by sin that it was worthless, like a filthy rag in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6). But the beauty of God’s grace is that, as Paul says, “…while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8).       

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Can we lose our salvation?

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Senior Pastor Oakwood Presbyterian Church

QUESTION: “Does Hebrews 6:4-12 teach that it is possible to lose your salvation?”

ANSWER: First of all, for the sake of the uninitiated, let me define the issue. We would all agree (I hope) that salvation is by the grace of God alone. However, once you have placed your faith in Christ and been cleansed of all your sins (important point here: all sins - past, present, and future), is it possible to go back to a state of being lost, unforgiven, and under the eternal condemnation of God? Can God punish me for a sin for which Christ already died? If your faith is genuine, can you lose it or renounce it? I will get to Hebrews 6 in a moment, but it is helpful to look at the bigger picture of Scripture’s teaching first.

     The "point" of Calvinism that we are dealing with is the last one (the "P" in "TULIP"), "Perseverance of the Saints." Therefore, it is difficult to present a case by only dealing with the conclusion of the argument. If you don't buy the first four points - Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, and Irresistible Grace - then the last one is hard to swallow. On the other hand, if you are convinced that the Bible teaches God's sovereignty over the entire work of salvation, from beginning to end, then Perseverance of the Saints becomes the logical (and Biblical) conclusion. That is why some scholars call it the "Preservation of the Saints" – it's God's work, not ours!

     Before I get to Hebrews 6, let me share some other Scriptures that teach that the whole work of saving us, from the moment of faith, through sanctification, until glorification is the work of God which cannot be thwarted. Ephesians 2:8 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works..." The faith that saves us is God's gift to us, not our contribution to the process; it's not up to us to preserve it. John 5:24 says, "...whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." The person who believes - at that moment - crosses over to life, possesses eternal life (not conditional life), and will not be condemned...that's our Lord's promise. Philippians 1:6 says, "...He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Paul wasn't confident that the Philippian Christians would stay faithful; he was confident that God would complete His work of saving them. Jesus had the same confidence: "...this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day...everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:39,40).

     What about our experience, though? We've all known people who professed faith in Christ, only to later turn away from Him. The Bible teaches that turning away from Christ proves that your faith was never genuine to begin with. 1 John 2:19 (speaking of false teachers who left the church) – "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us." To fall away or apostatize (permanently) is evidence that your faith was not really genuine in the first place.

     Okay, now for an interpretation of Hebrews 6, a difficult passage to be sure. It speaks of a group of people who had been "enlightened," who had "tasted the heavenly gift", who had "shared in the Holy Spirit," who had "tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming age." The writer of Hebrews (Paul? Another debate for another day...) says that those people, if they fall way, could not be brought back to repentance because "they are crucifying the Son of God all over again." Hebrews was written to professing Jewish Christians who were contemplating going back to the ways of unbelieving Judaism and renouncing their faith in Christ. How you interpret the whole passage will depend on whether you assume that this "enlightened" group was made up of true believers or whether they were only professing believers who were a part of the church but never really believed.

     You can only determine the answer to that question by looking at the context of the passage – both the immediate context and the Scripture as a whole. I don't have the space to show from other parts of Scripture that the terms applied to this group ("enlightened," "tasted," "shared," etc.) can be applied to those who are "tares among the wheat." But the immediate context answers the question pretty clearly. The very next verses (7 & 8) contrast land that produces abundant fruit with land that produces thorns and thistles. This is a clear allusion to Jesus' parable of the Sower and the seeds, which illustrates the different responses that people have to the preaching of the Gospel. Some give no response (seed on the path), some give an initial, superficial response (seed on the rocks and among the thorns), and some receive the word in their hearts and it develops life-giving roots, and they bear the genuine fruit of salvation (seed in good soil). Clearly, the writer puts this "enlightened" group in the category of those that only gave a superficial response and did not produce genuine fruit.

     The final proof is in verse 9 - "Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case – things that accompany salvation." He goes on in the next verses to describe the genuine fruit that he saw in the lives of these wavering believers. The point is that those who are truly saved bear fruit of the faith that God gave to them by grace. Those who fall away show that they did not possess the "things that accompany salvation."

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