“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The first sentence of Scripture is essential to the gospel story. It tells us that the world is not the result of chance but the direct and creative work of God. He called existence into being and it burst forth in glorious life. The crown of His creation was man and woman.
God fashioned, breathed life into and placed His very image on Adam and Eve. They bore God’s image and were commanded to represent Him to all of creation. They too were to burst forth – not just with life but – with the glorious display of God’s nature and character, reflecting the radiance of His holiness and righteousness.
But sin entered the scene. The man and his wife ate of the fruit (Genesis 3:6). The crown of creation, called to reflect the glory of God, treacherously disregarded the command of God and rebelled in disobedience at the promise of “being like God” (Genesis 3:5). The result of their sin was a cosmic fall passed on thereafter to their offspring and to all of creation (Romans 5:12; Romans 8:20-21).
We are the offspring of Adam. The consequence of our first parent’s sin is our own inability not to sin! We sin because we are innately sinners. The scripture states that “the imagination of the thoughts of [our] hearts are only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). It states elsewhere: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless, no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).
We have become the very enemy of Him whose image we bear (Colossians 1:21). Held captive by our sins we are morally unable to do the good that God requires (Romans 7:13-24). Just as nothing good dwells within a decayed corpse, in the same way, we have no innate goodness to offer God (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 7:18). We are utterly deserving of His just wrath with no hope of escape within ourselves. This is indeed a problem! “What a wretched people we are! Who will rescue us from this body that is subject to death” (Romans 7:24)?
“Thanks be to God, who delivers us through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:25)!” God the Son, Jesus Christ the Lord is able to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29)! And He alone is able. But why? Church Father, Anselm of Canterbury explains:
Man the sinner owes God, on account of sin, but he cannot repay, and unless he repays it, he cannot be saved. [This is a dilemma, for] there is no one…who can make this satisfaction except God Himself…But no one ought to make it except man…[Therefore] it is necessary that one who is God-man should make it. Hence the incarnation of God in Christ...He is the only Savior, since in Him alone were the “man should” and the “God could” united.
There is no other savior but Christ because in Him alone is the unity of God and man—He is our last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45)! "Therefore, as [Adam's] trespass led to condemnation for all men, so [Christ's] act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men" (Romans 5:18). In Christ, God the Judge becomes our Justifier (Romans 3:26). But how?
God displays His absolute hatred for sin and satisfies His justice against our wickedness when He crushes His Son on the cross—making Him our substitute in judgment (Isaiah 53:10; 1 John 4:10). He then takes the sinless life (the active obedience) of Christ and covers the justified—making Him our substitute in righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus Christ "died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, was buried, and was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). His resurrection signifies God's satisfaction and guarantees the eternal life of all believers (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). He has ascended to the right hand of the Father and will return again to judge the earth and make all things new (Mark 16:19; Revelation 21:1-4).
Those who believe this and repent (turning away from sin and clinging in faith to Christ), go from enemies of God to His adopted children (Galatians 3:26). They are given a new nature that enables them to submit to God in obedience (Romans 8:1-17). And the Spirit begins to sanctify them, making them progressively in practice what they are by declaration—righteous. That's Good News!
And it is news that demands a response. For in reality, no one is neutral to it. You have either recognized your need for Christ as your mediator before God or you stand as your own defense attorney. There is no third category. Only those who repent will be saved from God's eternal judgement (John 3:18). R.C. Sproul explains the following concerning faith.
Faith is effectual only if one personally trusts in Christ alone for salvation. It is one thing to give an intellectual assent to a proposition but quite another to place personal trust in it…We cannot have affection for Christ until we recognize and acknowledge that we are sinners and that we desperately need His work on our behalf.
Salvation is of the LORD. May His Spirit give you eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to believe and trust. I pray that from Calvary's cross wave upon wave of grace would reach you, deal with your sin, wash you clean, renew your heart, strengthen your will, draw out your affection and kindle a flame in your soul. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12).
The New Life
And if you have indeed taken refuge in Him, to you I give this reminder: God justifies and sanctifies. You were born unable to please God, but now have a new nature that enables you to submit to God in obedience (Romans 8:1-12). The moment you are declared righteous through faith in Christ, you are also empowered by the Holy Spirit to walk in righteousness. This isn't instant perfectionism but the gradual process of yielding to one’s new nature while denying the old sin nature (Ephesians 4:22-24). It is an active and ongoing conformity with Christ.
So “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). God is at work in you that you might work out the fruit of your justification in obedience that pleases Him. So come on and work it out!
Know that a faithful church is a gift and a gracious means of sanctification. There, we are joined with one another for accountability, mutual encouragement, repentance and the practice of Christian disciplines. So “stamp eternity on your eyeballs”, grasp the hand of another believer and work out your own salvation for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work!
1 John R. W. Stott, The Incomparable Christ (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001) 97.
2 R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2014), 238-9.
3 Arthur G. Bennett, The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, available online at Out of the Ordinary, accessed April 15, 2014, http://out-of-theordinary.blogspot.com/2014/03/privileges.html.
4 Jonathan Edwards