Salvation’s Threefold Cord
It is instructive to observe that the ancient creeds of the Christian Church say nothing about the teachings and miracles of Jesus. In fact, the entire concentration of those creeds is directed to only three aspects of God’s Son: his Incarnation, his Passion and Death, and his Resurrection in glory. All three of those “events” pertain to the redemption of the human race. This is the classical triadic structure of Christian soteriology. The church fathers who took a hand in the crafting of those creeds believed that this triadic structure of redemption corresponds to man’s threefold alienation from God.
First, man is alien to God by reason of creation itself, inasmuch as man has a nature different from God’s. This initial alienation, however, has been redeemed by God’s taking on our human nature in the Incarnation. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14; cf. Colossians 2:9). The Incarnation itself, accordingly, was integral to our redemption. That is to say, we would not be saved unless Jesus Christ were both truly divine and truly human. This was a point made repeatedly by the conciliar fathers who defended the Christian faith against Arius, Nestorius, and the other heretics. The church fathers were persuaded that the Christological heresies were very serious, because they touched on the reality of human redemption.
Moreover, the Word’s assumption of our humanity in the Incarnation was perceived to be the medium by which human beings may become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Those same church fathers expressed this ineffable truth with great boldness, saying, “God became man so that man might become god.” This transformation by grace was the goal of human existence and man’s ultimate reason for being in this world at all.
Second, man is alien to God by reason of sin, a legacy to which all human beings are heirs, because “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19). To overcome this alienation, Jesus died on the cross, thereby reconciling us to God. Holy Scripture is repetitious and emphatic on this point, insisting that “when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10).
Integral to the reconciling death of Christ was the sacrificial shedding of his blood, whereby God washed away the sins of the world. Indeed, a chief biblical image of the reconciliation on the cross is the blood of Jesus, poured out in libation for the sins of the world. The New Covenant is established by this redemptive shedding of his blood (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24).
The necessity that Christ shed his blood for our redemption is established by a general principle governing the biblical sacrifice for sins—namely, “without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). In Christ, therefore, “we have redemption through his blood, the remission of our sins” (Ephesians 1:7). Jesus “himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree . . . by whose stripes you are healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Thus, the bloodshed and death of Jesus are redemptive.
Third, man is alien to God by reason of death, because death is inseparable from sin. By reason of Adam’s offense, “sin entered into the world, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12). Indeed, “sin reigned in death” (5:21). Paul goes to Genesis 3 to explain “the reign of death” (Romans 5:14,17).
In the Bible death is not natural, nor is it merely biological, and certainly it is not neutral. Apart from Christ, death represents man’s final separation from God (Romans 6:21,23; 8:2,6,38). The corruption of death is sin incarnate and rendered visible. By rising from the dead, Christ overcame man’s bondage to the power of death. When death, therefore, this “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26), has finally been vanquished in our own risen flesh, human salvation will be complete.
Thus, the resurrection of Jesus was redemptive. Indeed, it was essential to our redemption, because Christ “was delivered up for our offenses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
Just as the sufferings and bloodshed of Jesus were integral to the redemptive value of his death, so his passing into glory and his seating at the right hand of God pertain to the fullness of his resurrection. This theme is especially developed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which describes Jesus’ ascension in glory as an entry into the heavenly sanctuary as the eternal High Priest, the one Mediator of the New Covenant.
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“Salvation’s Threefold Cord” first appeared in the May 2004 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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