I want this to be brief so people will actually read it, because what I am going to discuss is so basic that I think I have, to an extent, overlooked it. While I was trying to help others see the true meaning of faith and repentance, God's sovereignty and our depravity, I simply assumed that everyone knew why Jesus Christ was our Savior.
What do I mean by that, by saying "Know why Jesus Christ is our Savior." What I mean by that is, why does trusting in Christ to forgive us of our sins and to save us from our sins, actually do so? What is so special about Christ? Why is it only through the name of Christ that we are saved?
People refer to the "shed blood" of Christ, and say that "nothing but the blood of Jesus" is what saves us. It sounds good but, I am beginning to think people have very little understanding of what that phrase means. Or what about the phrases "Jesus died for you" or "Jesus died so that you could have new life and forgiveness."
Again, great phrases, it is like Christian shorthand, but the problem is, if we do not know what these phrases mean, if they have no meaning and we just utter them like a mantra, if the words contain no knowledge of what Christ did for us to save us, then they are useless. It would be no different than saying Jesus "played the flute so that I could be forgiven of sins." Great, I can be forgiven of my sins, but I don't see what Jesus playing a flute has to do with me being forgiven of my sins, or why I should trust in Jesus playing the flute so that I can be forgiven.
It just doesn't make sense, and the same is true if we do not know why Jesus dying on the cross matters. What is it about the death of Christ on the cross that, if we believe in what He did on the cross, we will receive salvation from sin and forgiveness of sin?
In short, what does it matter if Jesus died on a cross? Why is that important? What is it that Jesus did on the cross that accomplishes salvation for me, so that by faith in what He did on the cross, I can have complete forgiveness of sins and fellowship with God again?
Romans 4:24-26 tells us that we are "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."
There are big words here. But notice, these big words relate directly to what Christ did so that we may be forgiven of our sins. In other words, you must know what this means. If you don't know what this means, you cannot have faith in Christ as Savior, because the words propitiation and justification is what we must trust in by faith if we are to be saved.
So what does justification mean? Justification means that God declares someone righteous. It means that God looks at you as sinless and with righteousness, with obedience to His law, perfect obedience, so that you are not guilty of sin and have righteousness, which means that you can be in fellowship with God again.
The problem, of course, is that we know we are not sinless, we know that we have no righteousness. So, how can God declare us righteous, if we are not righteous? How can God declare us righteous if we have no righteousness? How can God say that we have no sin when we do have sin?
The answer to these questions is propitiation. Jesus is the propitiation for our sins as 1 John 2:2 says. So it is crucial that we know what this means if we are to have saving faith in Jesus Christ. What propitiation means is that God's wrath is satisfied. To propitiate means to satisfy the wrath of God. So when the Bible says that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, that means Jesus satisfied God's wrath for our sins.
And that is the heart of the good news of the gospel. The reason my sins can be forgiven through faith in Jesus is because Jesus paid the penalty for my sins, which is God's wrath (hell), on the cross. On the cross, God poured out His wrath for my sins not on me, but instead on Jesus. And Jesus, being God, was able to satisfy, or propitiate, God's wrath. Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. He paid for my sins in full, He satisfied God's wrath, and THAT is why faith in Jesus forgives us of our sins.
It is important to note that we also need righteousness. As I said, to be justified means that we are not only forgiven of sin but also viewed as if we had positive obedience to the law of God. We were made in the image of God to reflect that image and be obedient to the law and nature of God. So to merely not break the law, to not sin, is not good enough. We also need good works to be saved. But where can those righteous deeds come from? They come from the sinless life of Christ. Jesus, on the cross, paid for our sins by suffering the wrath of God that we deserve for our sins. At salvation, through faith in what Christ did on the cross and through Christ living sinlessly, obeying the law and nature of God for us, we get his righteousness, His obedience. So faith receives what Christ did for us in His life (obeying the law of God, thus giving us righteousness) and in His death (dying for us on the cross, being the propitiation for our sins, thus wiping away our sins so that we are no longer guilty or under the wrath of God, since Jesus satisfied God's wrath for us).
Finally, Christ, because He had defeated sin and death, rose from the grave. The wages of sin is death, but Christ paid in full the wages of our sin. Therefore, sin has lost its power, and death has lost its sting. Death no longer has dominion over Christ, because Christ paid for our sins fully, satisfying God's wrath. Therefore, since God was satisfied with Christ's propitiation, God gave Jesus new life, He raised Christ from the dead. And this proves that Jesus defeated sin and death and paid for them on our behalf. Now, through faith in Christ, we have new life, free from slavery to sin and free from the wrath of God as well.
So what makes Jesus Christ the Savior of men from sin and hell? His life, His death, and His resurrection. But unless we know what it is about His life, death, and resurrection that makes Him Savior, we do not and cannot truly trust in Christ as Savior. If I walk up to a person who has never heard of Jesus and tell Him that Jesus died for his sins, that person does not know what it means for Christ to die for his sins. We must explain that to him, as I have attempted to do.
So to conclude, it is because Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins that God can justify us, thus saving us from sin and hell. We get Christ's righteousness and He gets the wrath we deserve. Therefore, we are viewed as obedient to the law through the righteousness and obedience of Christ, and we are seen as innocent of sin because Christ's blood, the propitiation, paid for our sins in full. It is faith in this, the work of Christ for us, that we receive the salvation from sin and hell that He alone has won for us.