Another little recap:
A couple of weeks ago now, we discussed a second evangelical distinctive (but one that occupies the central place of our whole faith), our commitment to Christ. Everything stands and falls with our understanding of Christ, especially his death for our sins.
This area of Christian belief is what theologian Karl Barth regarded as “the heart of the message received by and laid upon the Christian community.” As he saw it, “a mistaken or deficient perception here would mean error or deficiency everywhere…From this point either everything is clear and true and helpful, or it is not so anywhere.” When it comes to our understanding of Christ and especially his atonement, we are dealing with significant matters, and we carry a heavy load of responsibility
To consider the atonement we looked at 1 John 4:9-10, and picked out a few key points to consider. The passage reads as follows:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
The three key points we considered were the following:
We are sinners. The world is a place that needs life because it is a place of death. We have sins that need to be atoned for (v. 10). The sending of the Son into the world was with the purpose of allowing us to “live through him.” The clear implication is that apart from him, we are not truly alive. We are beings that are only living into a portion of what God wants for us because we have chosen to live for something far less than God.
Jesus is the unique Saviour of the world. The salvation he gives was accomplished in his death on the cross. As verse 9 makes plain, “This is how God showed his love.” This way and no other way. Jesus is the unique expression of God to us. He is the one and only Son of God. In our time this claim to uniqueness is what causes the greatest offense. But Scripture is clear that there is no one like Jesus. His gift to us was to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He died for us. This is what we need, because we are sinners.
What happened in Jesus was an expression of God’s love for us. Not only in this passage, but in Romans 5, Jesus’ death is declared to be the expression of God’s love. “God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” This was not another cultic sacrifice made to appease or bribe an angry deity, as some religions of the first century would imagine. Jesus wasn’t trying to convince his Father to be merciful. Jesus was the expression in person of God’s love for us. His love always comes first, always precedes our response. And this is what sets Christianity apart from any ordinary concept of “religion.” Religion is always about humans offering something to God. The gospel we have heard in and through Jesus is something we can only respond to. It’s never us first. It’s always him.