I think many people don’t really understand why Jesus had to die on the cross. Many don’t understand why we need a Savior and Redeemer. Those titles Savior and Redeemer easily roll off the tongue, but what do they really mean? I recently read an article in a daily devotional put out by Charles Stanley (In Touch Magazine, Atlanta, Georgia). The article describes briefly but clearly why we need salvation – why we need a Savior and Redeemer. I want to read each section of the article and then expand upon it so we hopefully have a clearer idea of why the Cross is so important.
The article starts out with a brief description of grace:
“Grace is God’s favor and love shown to mankind. We cannot earn it or ever be good enough to deserve it. To truly appreciate His grace, we need to comprehend certain truths about God and ourselves.”
Grace is behind the whole plan of salvation – God didn’t have to save us, or do anything for us. That’s what grace is all about – unmerited, undeserved favor.
The article continues with the first of God’s attributes that relate to our salvation:
“First, God is perfectly holy, so He cannot allow sin in His presence. When Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree, their intimate connection with Him was broken. Since all future generations inherited their sinful nature, every person is born with a disposition that is bent away from the Lord.”
God, being perfectly holy and righteous, can have nothing to do with sin. As an illustration, let me give you an example of our family dog when I was a kid. The dog would occasionally get a case of wanderlust and take off. She would be gone anywhere from a few hours to overnight. When she finally came home, she stank and was filthy. I have no idea how she got that way, but it was like she had rolled around in a sewer. While we loved that dog, we couldn’t let her in the house or have anything to do with her until she got a bath. Once the filth was removed and she was clean, the dog could resume her rightful position within the household as the family pet.
It’s a similar situation with us. God can’t have anything to do with us until we are cleaned by Jesus Christ. He loves us, and provided a way for us to be in rightful relationship with him – accepting what Jesus did for us on the Cross.
The next section of the article has to do with God’s justice:
“Second, God’s character is just. As a result, He requires payment for all sins. The penalty He demands is death (Romans 6:23), not just physically but also spiritually through eternal separation from Him.”
The article referenced Romans 6:23, which says: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NIV) Our American system of justice, while flawed, does demand that a penalty must be paid for breaking the law. While lawbreakers are often jailed and occasionally executed, monetary penalties can usually be paid by anybody – just as long as they’re paid. Likewise, God, in his mercy, permitted someone else – Jesus – to pay the penalty that is rightfully ours.
As an illustration of somebody else paying for my transgression, let me tell you about my speeding ticket in Providence, Rhode Island. I was leaving Providence for good, and the evening before I was to leave, I got a ticket from a city cop. I decided not to pay since I was leaving for Pennsylvania, several states away. I was home for a couple of weeks, then went off to graduate school in New York. While I was home, I received a summons that required me to pay $50 for my infraction or show up at court. I tore it up, and then went off to New York, figuring the City of Providence would never bother to track me down. A couple of months later, I got a call from my mother. She asked, “Did you get a speeding ticket in Rhode Island?”
“Uh, yes, why do you ask?”
“Because a town cop came around to arrest you, but I paid your fine right there and took care of it. You owe me 50 bucks. And don’t ever to that again!”
The arm of the law is longer than I thought, stretching across several states. The law in this case didn’t care who paid – it was just that the penalty had to be paid. Although I did have to pay my mother back – immediately – God wants only our devotion and loyalty, not as payment but out of love and gratitude.
God’s Love and Mercy
The last attribute that the article discusses, after God being holy and just, is God’s mercy:
“Finally, we have a merciful God who does not treat us as our actions deserve but instead extends His grace toward us. He devised a plan that would affirm His holy nature, meet the requirements of His justice, and enable us to become members of His family: He sent His Son to accomplish our salvation. Born as a human being, Jesus lived a perfect life and fulfilled the Law. He alone qualified as the one who could satisfy divine justice. Christ took our place, bore our sins, and experienced God’s wrath over our rebellion—all so that we could be reconciled to the Father.”
“God made this provision for our salvation while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). Have you acknowledged your sinful state and received His forgiveness through faith in Jesus? If so, are you expressing ongoing thankfulness for His grace?”
The article references Romans 5:8, which says: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NIV) We also read about God’s merciful act in Colossians 2:14:
He canceled the debt, which listed all the rules we failed to follow. He took away that record with its rules and nailed it to the cross. NCV
God could just let us suffer the consequences of our acts – he is under no obligation to save us from the penalty of our sins. But in his mercy, God saved us, as we read in Colossians 2:13:
When you were spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were not free from the power of your sinful self, God made you alive with Christ, and he forgave all our sins. NCV
God didn’t have to send Jesus, but out of love and mercy, he did, as we read in John 3:16-17:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” NIV
We can either stand condemned, or can accept what Jesus did on our behalf and have eternal life. John 3:18 puts it simply:
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” NIV
How we respond to what God has done for us in Jesus will be discussed in a future post.