As a sports fan in the 1990’s, I watched every Chicago Bulls game I could possibly watch. There was simply nothing better in those days than tuning in to Michael Jordan doing his thing. He was one-of-a-kind; a unique combination of athleticism, talent, work ethic and will to win. During the 1984 Olympic trials in Bloomington, Indiana, college coaching legend Bobby Knight said about him, “He’s the best athlete, he’s one of the best competitors, he’s one of the most skilled players, and that to me makes him the best basketball player I’ve ever seen play.” I agree coach. He’s still the best I have ever seen play.
So, like virtually everyone else who followed him, I was stunned and disappointed when Michael retired at 30 years old after winning three straight championships to become a minor league baseball player. I continued to follow the Bulls next year, but I knew that there was no chance of a four-peat. Without Jordan, their reign was over because no one could do what he could do. He was the only one capable of leading that franchise to an NBA title.
Now, those are words of affirmation about Michael’s excellence, right? They aren’t meant to diminish others. They are simply true and proved to be so when the Bulls didn’t win the title for two years during his retirement, but then won it three straight years again after he left baseball to return to hoops full time. No Bulls team could win a championship except through Jordan. He was the one who enabled Chicago fans to celebrate a basketball dynasty. That’s a fact of history and those words are intended to rejoice in what only Michael could do.
Yet, for some reason, when similar words are spoken about Jesus, they are often viewed, not as positive about his greatness, but as negative about his exclusivity. After the Apostle Peter was arrested by the Sanhedrin for preaching the Gospel, he reiterated the message’s third point to them by saying,
12“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Those words from Peter are like what many fans said in the 1990’s about Michael Jordan. They aren’t intended to put others down, but rather to focus on the one-of-a-kind greatness of Christ, his unique combination of authority, virtue and divinity. According to Peter, it is an obvious fact of history that no one else has beaten sin and death like Jesus did. He’s the champion. So, to him, there is obviously salvation in no one else other than Jesus. He is only one fit to put the world right regarding sin and the only one able to save sinners. Further, that reality is obviously worth celebrating as good news because we are all on the same human team dealing with the same human condition.
Bruce Ware, Professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, puts it aptly, “Of all the people who have lived and ever will live, Jesus alone qualifies, in his person and work, as the only one capable of accomplishing atonement for the sin of the world.” Jesus himself put it more succinctly with words recorded in John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Looking back in history now, we can see that it was a mistake, then, for the religious leaders of Peter’s day to be greatly disturbed by this message, as if Jesus was preventing them from doing something that they were completely capable of doing on their own. The reality is they had no means by which they could truly and totally make amends with God for all that they had done wrong. Likewise, they couldn’t overcome all that was wrong within them, nor could they fix all that is wrong with the world. No sinner has the means to do any of those things.
Everyone who misunderstands these Biblical verses like they did fails to realize that all Christ-less religions and all forms of spirituality without him are like all Bulls teams without Jordan. They simply cannot win against the foe they are facing. That’s the point that the Bible is making. Without Jesus, no one can escape the penalty of sin, no one can overcome the power of sin and no one can get rid of the presence of sin. We cannot save ourselves from sin and nobody can save us except for the Lord.
Jesus is the only Savior of sinners. Only Christ can pay for our personal sin. Only the King can defeat our indwelling sin. Only the Son of God can undo the effects of original sin. That’s the third part of the Gospel. Let’s explore his work in those three aspects to understand why the Lord alone is qualified to save sinners and why it is such good news. First, the death of Jesus is the only means capable of saving us from God’s judgment on our personal sin.
The Death of Jesus
When I was young, I took something that didn’t belong to me and developed this intense feeling of guilt about it. Perhaps you have had a similar experience. You did something you knew you weren’t supposed to do, and you feel bad inside. You are ashamed. We all live with standards. When we break them, we have regrets. And when we think of guilt, we most often think of a personal, subjective feeling like that.
There is another kind of guilt, though. It is the forensic type. It occurs when you break the law. One day, I paused in my car at the entrance of Wal-Mart to pick up one of my sons. I was there for less than a minute as he hopped into the back seat. A few weeks later, I received a ticket in the mail indicating that I was parked illegally in a no parking zone. Apparently, a police officer was nearby taking pictures of the license plates of anyone who stopped in front of the store.
Incredulous, I went before the judge to plead my case. I couldn’t believe law enforcement didn’t have anything to better to do with their time than issue violations like that. Yet, the reality is, even though I didn’t feel guilty in the slightest bit, I did, in fact, break the law. That was made very clear to me that day. I was pronounced guilty and had to pay the fine as punishment. People who break laws should be punished commensurate with the laws they break. It is called justice.
Thus, it is with humanity and God. Everyone has broken God’s law to some degree, and we will all stand before Jesus Christ to give an account for our lives. You will appear before the judge of the universe to have the case of your life adjudicated.
Now, as you envision that heavenly court date, you may not actually feel a sense of guilt about your life in the aggregate. In other words, sure, you have messed up some, but overall, you view yourself as a relatively good person. So, you may have a sense of skepticism that your “lesser” sins are a problem with God, like it is simply misbehavior that’s not worth policing. Furthermore, the idea that your misdeeds warrant a penalty could even be offensive to you. Perhaps you have some inclination to plead your case with him.
While that may be a common viewpoint, it is not a helpful one because the judgment will not be you compared with the rest of humanity or you compared with your own view of what should be judged. The judgment will be your entire sinful life contrasted with the entire holiness of your Creator. When that assessment happens, the Bible indicates we will all be pronounced guilty for our personal sin and sentenced accordingly. There will be justice.
The good news about that justice is that God can show mercy to you through the death of Jesus. How does the demise of a man who lived a couple thousand years ago help you with your looming death and impending judgment? Though it may seem like distant, unrelated history, his death is the most pertinent event of your future. Understanding why starts with understanding the character of God.
God is righteous, fair, impartial, and objective. And since he is just, your sin must be punished. He isn’t willing to overlook it. He is not going to give you a wink and a nod in the heavenly courtroom, and announce, “John is guilty, but I am not going to punish him for what he has done wrong. Instead, I’m going to let him go. In fact, I’m going to reward him with eternal life.” God will not do that because that’s called corruption, not justice, and he does not have an ounce of corruption in his nature.
And if you think about it, you really don’t want God to behave in a dishonest manner, do you? Do you want him to do act fraudulently with people who have sinned against you? Should he release and reward them? How about the worst evildoers you can think of? Would it be okay to let them off the hook too? Of course not! Though we aren’t thrilled about the prospect of justice for ourselves, we all have an inner desire to have the demands of justice satisfied for the world.
The Gospel announces that Jesus satisfied those demands so that you can experience mercy. On that Roman cross, Jesus of Nazareth offered his sinless life to God as payment for your sin. He experienced every dimension of Hell on your behalf, suffering all the wrath of God for all your transgressions. He died in your place.
Since he is the Christ, the perfect person, he is the only one who could lay down his life for us in this way. He is the only acceptable sacrifice. No one else’s life qualifies for this exchange because everyone else has sinned in some way. Since he is God the Son, he is also the only one who could bear infinite wrath. No one else can endure the fury of God’s judgment on the sins of humanity because everyone else is a finite being. As the Apostle John wrote:
He is the propitiation (wrath absorbing substitute) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2
Moreover, through his atoning death, he has secured the capacity to expiate forensic guilt. In other words, he made amends with God for us and has, therefore, achieved the right to release us. When you stand before God in judgment, Jesus can justify you. If you plead your case, you will be doomed, but he can plead his case on your behalf. Without compromising God’s justice in any way, he can extend mercy.
The death of Jesus is the only means capable of saving us from God’s judgment on our personal sin. It is the only hope we have for a pardon. That’s why we celebrate him. Jesus is the only savior of sinners. Similarly, his resurrection life is the only means capable of saving sinners from the power of indwelling sin. This is really good news too.
The Resurrection of Jesus
There is a tale in the Christian community of Pierre Paul Roux, a colleague of Louis Pasteur who lived during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His granddaughter died of black diphtheria, so he was determined to save others from it. He theorized that if a creature was infected by the bacteria, fought it off and lived, its blood could be used to cure the infected who were dying. The victorious one could bring that victory to others.
According to some oral tradition about his life, he gathered 20 horses and swabbed them on their faces with the diphtheria bacteria. Every horse developed the symptoms of the infection, fell to the ground, and died, except for one. It lingered on its side for several days, but then, miraculously recovered and stood upright. The horse won the battle against the power of the infection and was raised to live again.
Supposedly, he and other scientists drew as much of its blood as possible and immediately rushed to a nearby municipal hospital in Paris where they pushed their way past the staff into a ward where babies were quarantined. With the blood of that victorious horse, they inoculated every one of them, redeeming hundreds of lives. Those children were saved by the blood of an overcomer.
That tale has a Christian parallel of good news about the resurrection of Jesus. Since the beginning of humanity, people have been infected with sin. At the most profound level, it is what is ruling us, and it is what is killing us. But like Pierre Paul Roux, God the Father has seen our plight and is determined to save us from this insidious spiritual disease.
To do that, the Son of God incarnated to live a natural human life under God’s law without breaking any of it; Jesus fulfilled the law with his sinless life. Then, like the horse in that tale, he laid down his innocent life and miraculously picked it up again. Jesus knew no sin, but he became sin on behalf of sinners so that by his death and resurrection he would not only pay the penalty for sin, but also personally defeat the power of sin.
Having achieved victory over sin in life by fighting off every temptation, he then conquered sin’s greatest consequence – death itself. Thus, now the Victorious One can share his victory with others. As a result of his shed blood, the one and only Overcomer can empower people to overcome their own indwelling sin. Such good news! There will be justice and there will be purity.
Obviously, he doesn’t purify us from sin by an injection of his actual blood into our bodies through a needle. These are spiritual realities, not physical, so the way he does it is spiritual. Having ascended to his heavenly throne, he can now pour his Holy Spirit into your heart, and thus, dethrone sin in you.
That act doesn’t completely eliminate all the sin within you, but it does break the power of its dominion over your life and replace it with the very presence of God. The Lord reigns over all and he applies that reign to people by sending his Spirit to reign in the throne room of their souls. It’s quite a genius strategy. Since the human problem is within, King Jesus conquers us from within. John Calvin puts it this way…
Sin does not reign in them for the Spirit does not let it flourish.
As Christians look forward beyond our death to the day that Jesus will right all that is wrong within us, he gives us a foretaste of that future purity now by placing the compelling purity of his Holy Spirit to rule over us. We used to be slaves to sin, but we have been set free from that cruel oppressor to serve our kind and gentle master Jesus. Though the presence of sin remains, he leads us out of our habitual practice of sin by purifying us internally. That is how he is saving us from our indwelling sin. It is by the power of his resurrection life.
And I invite you to consider…who else can do that work?
- Can religions? Which of their founders have beaten sin and death?
- Can human counselors or improvement programs? What can they do but offer advice and modify outward behavior patterns?
- Can education? Why would more information lead to ontological transformation?
- Can your spouse or your best friend? Aren’t they sinners who need saving too? How will they save you?
- Can you? How can you possibly alter the composition of your own soul?
Friend, when you consider all the other options, it is not hard to realize the truth. Only Jesus can save you from the power of your indwelling sin. He is the only Savior of sinners. Lastly on this third part of the Gospel, Jesus return is the only means capable of saving sinners from original sin.
The Return of Jesus
In 2000, our son Matt was born with post axial hypoplasia in his left leg. This condition can have a variety of bone abnormalities. In his case, his left femur, tibia and fibula were not the same length as those on his right and would likely never ‘catch up’ during his growth to maturity. In addition, of the twenty-six bones that most people have in their left foot, Matt had just two. The doctor was unable to determine if those two were phalanges or metatarsals as there were no other bones whatsoever inside the flesh that bore a vague resemblance to a typical human foot.
The painful solution to this condition was amputation of that foot when he was just seven months old to create a heel pad on the distal end of his limb. That surgery allowed him to be fitted for a prosthetic left leg which could address both disabilities created by the condition. First, it provided a substitute foot so that he would be able to walk. Second, the knee down nature of the device created a way to artificially lengthen the left leg as he grew so that it could always be the same length as the right leg.
Now, as his parents, my wife and I have obviously done all we can to help Matt with his disability. That’s what you do when you face something wrong in life, particularly with those people you love most. You do your best to make it right. Further, we have celebrated the advancements of technology that have helped him. Isn’t it amazing that he was the first of our four children to walk?! I’ll never forget when he stood up and ambled across our kitchen floor at just 11 months old. Such a precious memory.
Matt even played baseball in high school. I can still vividly envision the homerun he hit into the parking lot at Wheeling or the double off the wall with the bases loaded to beat an undefeated Buffalo Grove team. We rejoice in all that he has been able to do physically as well as in all that people have done to help him overcome the challenges presented by his body.
Yet, we also clearly understand what cannot be done for him. We cannot give him a new left leg and foot with all the bones and proper development. Oh how we wish we could! We would give up our own in a heartbeat so that he could have them. But, alas, we can’t make the situation right.
You see, none of the good that has been done removes the sense of loss we feel for him regarding what cannot be done. In other words, we have hopes for his earthly life that can and are being realized, and for that we are very grateful. But we have no hope for true physical wholeness for him on this planet. That isn’t available to him, or to anyone for that matter, in this life. It awaits in the next.
The world is not right and there are some things we can’t resolve:
- Hurricanes tear through the Gulf of Mexico and flood multiple states. We know they are coming. We prepare for them, but we can’t stop them.
- We create laws to stop racism and protest when it happens, but it still lingers in the hearts of people.
- We organize our house and care for our lawn, but the laundry piles up and drought & grubs turn the grass brown.
- We bombard cancer with chemotherapy and radiation, but it returns to grow until it overtakes life.
- We try to keep the winter salt off the car but rust invariably develops causing a breakdown.
Humanity continues to strive for utopia, but original sin makes it impossible to achieve. Remember the illustration of a chemical change in the post entitled The Gospel (Part 2) – SIN. The cake has been baked and no one can do anything about it; no one, that is, except Jesus Christ.
The good news about the Lord is that he has promised to return to Earth to right all that is wrong with this world. He is not just interested in justice and purity. He is determined to usher in glory. The Apostle John saw a vision of the Lord doing just that and recorded it in Revelation 21. About this promise, Jesus said,
“Behold, I am making all things new. Write this down for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Jesus is going to make everything new. Forty days after his resurrection, he ascended into Heaven. At an unknown time in the future, he will descend from Heaven in the same form and in the same way that he left. After he returns, he will start his work of making everything new by giving Christians new bodies, patterned after his resurrection body.
Whereas our current bodies are flawed, weak, natural, sinful, and perishable, our new bodies will be like his – complete, invulnerable, spiritual, holy, and immortal. With the same power he used to raise himself from the dead, he will raise you, Christian. He’s not going to enter into your grave and perform CPR. He’s going to transform your current body, whether it is alive or dead when he returns, into a glorified one.
Then, with the same power Jesus used to create the cosmos from scratch, he is going to create a new glorified world. Since the Scripture is silent on the scope of the change, we don’t know if he plans to resurrect the entire universe, just the Milky Way, or simply our solar system. It is difficult to have certainty on how pervasive sin is and how thoroughly it has corrupted what God has made.
What we do know is that he world that we currently experience will be transformed such that all the effects of original sin will be overcome. Jesus will eliminate the presence of sin, setting the creation itself free from its bondage to corruption. And the results will be astounding.
Disease will end and everlasting health will begin. Disabilities will be made permanently whole. Discord will give way to constant harmony. Decay will reverse into perpetual growth. Tranquility will replace disorder and success will supplant disaster. Even death itself will die. Revelation 21:4 describes his return in this way:
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
This is the Gospel hope we have for our son Matt, ourselves and everyone else: a New Heavens and New Earth where righteousness dwells. No one but Jesus, the Son of God, can create this eternal life. He is the only one who can save us from all that is currently wrong, the only Savior of sinners.
Hopefully, this Gospel is coming into crystal clear focus for you as well as giving you great joy! We are now 75% of the way through it. The depth of the message can be somewhat disorienting, but the simplicity is evident. First, Jesus is the LORD. Second, he is putting the world right regarding SIN. Third, he is the only SAVIOR of sinners. Fourth, and lastly, Jesus saves sinners by grace through FAITH.