What God Did...
God has always been absolutely holy, and mankind was created to enjoy eternal life in his holiness, but through the deception of sin mankind became corrupt and condemned, losing access to God (Gen. 3:22-24). Life was lost. Brokenness reigned. The circumstances were completely hopeless. But roughly 2,000 years ago, the invisible God of the entire universe, motivated by his unending love for all people, dramatically revealed himself in a visible person, Jesus Christ, who would become the world's Messiah – the one person who could forever restore mankind to life with God (Rom. 1:3-4). To do this, Jesus paid the debt that we owed to God, sacrificing his life in our place. Because of the Jesus' own eternal obedience to God, he exhausted God's wrath towards our sins. God raised him from the dead, and appointed him to be the ruler over all creation, and the only means through which humans can be saved (Acts 4:12).
What We Do...
Our response, then, is to acknowledge our own individual sinfulness and to confess it fully to God, resulting in repentance – a change of mind and heart leading us to recognize that God is holy and good, that we are sinful and broken, and that we're in desperate need of a relationship with him so we can be the people we were really created to be. We place our confidence for total restoration to God for all eternity in Jesus through faith, which is personal trust (Gal. 2:20). Repentance and faith result in a powerful change in our lives, in which our lifestyles and values begin to conform to God's perfect design for us (2 Cor. 7:9). We publicly express our new identification with Jesus through baptism, which is an outward sign of inward change we've experienced. Baptism is not necessary for salvation, but is necessary for total obedience to Christ (1 Pet. 3:21).
What God Gives...
Finally, God immediately confers the results of our repentance and faith upon us – we experience salvation for the first time (Rom. 5:1-2). Salvation begins with God’s forgiveness of our sins. He credits all of Jesus’ perfection to us in justification, which is a legally-declared act of forgiveness that occurs at once and cannot be undone (Rom. 5:9). The Holy Spirit, who is himself God, then indwells us individually, cementing our unity with God, prompting us on to good works, convicting us of sin, and more (Ezek. 36:27). The Holy Spirit empowers us to experience the ongoing effects of salvation by progressively imparting Christ-likeness to us and diminishing the power of sin over our lives through our ongoing faith and obedience. This is regeneration (Rom. 8:13-17). We become members of the collective body of Christ, the church, which is comprised of all those individuals who have responded to God’s revelation in repentance and faith. The church is used by Christ and empowered by the Spirit for the glory of God and the accomplishing of his mission to restore people to God (1 Cor. 2:9-16). Finally, each member of the church eagerly awaits the final consummation of our salvation, the total glorification of our bodies and spirits, in which Christ will abolish the presence of sin in our lives forever (1 Cor. 15:51-54).
HUMANITY // Creation, Adam + Eve, Image of God
On the sixth day of creation, God specially, immediately, and personally created man (Gen. 1:26-27). The first man, Adam, was a literal-historical person formed afresh by God from the dust of the ground and the breath of his Spirit (Gen. 2:7; Jas. 2:6; Ecc. 12:6-7). Shortly after, the first woman, Eve, also a literal-historical person, was formed afresh from the man’s rib, for mutual companionship in a complementary marriage relationship (Gen. 2:20-25). Mankind was designed to have a relationship with God and each other, and was made to praise and glorify him (Gen. 3:8; Is. 43:7). Adam and Eve are the progenitors and representative head of all mankind, such that all people are of common ancestry, original design, purpose, blessing, and curse (Gen. 3:20; 1 Cor. 15:22).
The defining characteristic of Adam and Eve, and by extension all mankind, is that humanity has been created in the image and after the likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-28). Humanity is substantively created in God’s image, such that all humans have been infused with some aspects of God’s essence, giving each person dignity (Gen. 1:26a, 27). Furthermore, humanity is functionally created in God’s image, such that all humans are meant to be God’s representative in the world, giving each person responsibility (Gen. 1:26b, 28). Both men and women – and all people, regardless of ethnicity, age, economic status, nationality, even religion – share this common image, and are equals in value, nature, priesthood, standing before God as believers, and spiritual gifts in Christ (1 Cor. 11:11-12, 12: 1-7; Gen. 3:27-28, 5:1-2; 1 Pet. 3:7). Though differing functions do exist for men and women in the home and church (Eph. 5:22-23; 1 Tim. 2), the equity of value of their functions always remains intact.
SIN // Original + Inherited + Imputed Sin, Depravity, Consequences
Through Adam and Eve’s failure when tempted by Satan (Gen. 3:4-5), as the progenitors and representative head of all mankind, the original act of human disobedience committed against God in Eden has been counted against all humanity as sin, and all humanity is subject to its punishment (Rom. 5:12-19; Hos. 6:7). Sin is any failure to recognize God for who he is and have an appropriate response, thus displacing God from his right to rule one’s life, either because of idolatry for anything other than God, or unbelief about God (Exod. 20:3; Mark 12:30). Sin originated in Satan, who continues to live to destroy humanity (1 John 3:8; Ezek. 28:13-16; John 10:10).
Each person has inherited sin from generation to generation, resulting in spiritual death (Eph. 2:3). Upon each person, sin has also been imputed directly from Adam, resulting in physical death (Rom. 5:12). Finally, every person is doomed to sin personally due only to his or her personal disobedience, resulting in loss of fellowship with God, for which the only remedy is forgiveness (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:9). For every person, sin incurs guilt before God (Ps. 51:5), strains relationships with others (Gen. 3:16; Eph. 2:12-16) as well as the whole of the created order (Rom. 8:21-22). Sin has marred but not extinguished the image of God in every person (Gen. 3:7-13; Gen. 9:5-6). Every person, then, must always be treated with utmost respect and honor, no matter the lowliness of his or her status or character, for each person bears the image and likeness of the supreme God – any transgression done against another person is a transgression against God himself (Ps. 51:4; Matt. 25:40).
Sin has made humanity not as bad as it could be, but as bad off as it could be – there is absolutely no righteousness in any person apart from God (Rom. 3:10-12). Accordingly, no person is able to move towards God spiritually without God’s own previous, specific grace upon that person (John 6:44; John 15:16). Without God, each person is presently enslaved to sin (Rom. 8:1-7), and to disobey God as a lifestyle (Jas. 4:17). Without forgiveness, no person can have eternal life, and each will be separated from God eternally to suffer the punishment for disobedience (Rev. 20:11-15).
ATONEMENT // Jesus The Prophet + Priest + King, Substitution, Victory Over Sin, Forgiveness
As a prophet, Jesus Christ was the full revelation of God (Heb.1:1-2; John 1:18), foretold future events yet to come (Matt. 24:2-5), and authoritatively spoke the exact words of God (Matt. 13:54-57). As a priest, Jesus became the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5) as the sacrificial lamb (Heb. 9:26), who died to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), in order to reconcile humans to God (2 Cor. 5:19). Finally, as king, Jesus is the sovereign ruler of all believers (Luke 17:21), rules over all creation now (Col. 1:17), and will reign bodily on earth in his future Kingdom and for all eternity in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 20:4-6; 1 Cor. 15:24-28).
The cause of the atonement is God’s forbearance towards mankind’s sins, and loving mercy to uphold his justice while not condemning all of mankind (Eph. 1:5; Rom. 3:25; Isa. 53:10). Christ’s death was vicarious and penal-substitutionary: through our sin, we have broken God's law and are guilty of its penalty -- namely, death (Rom. 3:20; 6:23). Christ paid this penalty in full in order to reconcile our relationship to God (John 3:16). To reconcile humankind to himself, God sent his son to become human (John 1:1, 14), to satisfy God's law by living in perfect obedience as a human (Phil. 2:6, 8), and ultimately to satisfy God's justice by bearing the penalty of humanity's sin in his death (Isa. 53:1-6). Jesus’ death was sacrificial (Gal. 3:13), which was a ransom to God to redeem humans from bondage to sin (Isa. 61:1; 1 Pet. 1:18; Rom. 6:18). In this way, Christ willingly became the sacrifice (Heb. 10:10) in order to propitiate God's wrath -- that is, to both appease the wrath of God by paying the penalty of sin and also to cleanse his people from all sin (1 John 4:10; Eph. 1:7). At his death (or, "in his blood") Christ became the propitiation or the Mercy Seat of God, the place where blood is shed, which is effective for appeasing God’s wrath and cleansing sin (Rom. 3:25). In so doing, Jesus triumphed over all forces of evil, including Satan and his demons (John 12:31; Col. 2:15), and his faithfulness to the will of God serves as our example in order that we would live righteously in humility and love (Phil. 2:1-4; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 3:16). The intent of Christ’s death was to exhaust the wrath of God towards the sins of all mankind (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 2:2), providing atonement for every individual who would put faith in Jesus’ perfection and holiness (1 Tim. 4:10; 1 John 5:10-13).
SALVATION // Justification, Sanctification, Glorification, Purpose
God has richly blessed the whole world – all people, in all places, at all times – by restraining sin and delaying his judgments upon sin (2 Thess. 2:6-7; 2 Pet. 3:9), because of his desire that every person would come to know him personally and receive his new life that saves individuals from perishing in sin, which is eternal death (John 12:32; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). This is God’s general and universal bestowal of grace, which is unmerited favor that is applied to the whole world through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Tit. 2:11). God, therefore, has extended his invitation of salvation to every person to be received by faith (Matt. 28:18-20; Rom. 10:13-17; Eph. 2:8-9); however, because of sin no person is capable of accepting God’s invitation on his or her own (Rom. 3:10-18; Rom. 8:7). God has then drawn specific individuals to himself, his salvation, and divine inheritance (John 6:44; Rom. 8:28-30), all while continuing to convict all people of sin (John 16:8) such that they may repent (Rom. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25; Pet. 1:1-2).
In response to God’s grace through Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin, salvation is received by faith alone (Acts 4:12; Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation is never the result or award for an individual’s good behavior, moral conduct, personal wisdom, etc. – it is only received by faith in the perfection of Christ (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-7). Those who receive salvation by faith are those whom God elected from eternity past (Isa. 45:1; Eph. 1:4, 11; 3:17; 1 Pet. 1:1-2), not based on any particular merit of those persons, but only God’s own undiscriminating graciousness (Job 42:2; Dan. 4:35; Rom. 9:14-15). This election leads to salvation (Eph. 1:3-14) and to service in the family of God (1 Cor. 12:4-31; Eph. 2:10; 4:15-16). God elected some to eternal life, but never elected anyone to sin and death, because mankind voluntarily sinned on its own (Gen. 3:6; Rom. 5:12), and because of God’s own great personal love for all people (2 Pet. 3:9) and his own inability to cause anyone to sin (Jas. 1:13). God’s past election of individuals is inaugurated by his effectual call to each elected person in his or her lifetime, which unfailingly leads those individuals to experience the salvation of Christ (John 6:44; Acts 2:38-41; 9:1-20; Rom. 8:28).
Salvation begins with conversion, which is the product of a person’s repentance and faith. Repentance is the conscious act of conforming one’s own evaluations, judgments, values, etc. to those of God, so that the person is now in agreement with God that he is a fallen and sinful human (Acts 2:38; 3:19). Faith is the positive outwork of repentance, which leads one to understand and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ as an act of trust in his righteousness alone (Luke 12:28; Acts 16:31; 28:26-27). Repentance and faith, therefore, work together to consummate one’s conversion (Acts 20:21; Heb. 6:1). At the same time a person experiences conversion, he is united with Christ by the baptism of the Spirit, which like election, calling, and conversion is an act of divine grace, not predicated on one’s good works or effort (Rom. 6:3; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 3:27). Based on this union through the baptism of the Spirit, a believer is reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10) and enters the family of God as an adopted child (Eph. 1:5), made into an heir of God’s blessings (Gal. 4:4-5) made available in Christ’s victory over the penalty, power, and presence of sin for all eternity (Rom. 6:1-14; Eph. 2:4-10; Col. 1:12). Those who are united with Christ are entirely regenerated by God spiritually and materially (1 Thess. 5:23), made into new creations that are able to experience whole life transformation into the likeness of Jesus (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; 5:17). God immediately declares and confers Christ’s righteousness upon the person united with Christ, in an act called justification, which is the legal removal of the death penalty for sin (Rom. 5:1; 8:1; 2 Cor. 5:21).
The believer who has experienced all the aforementioned blessings of God continues to be conformed into the likeness of Christ in sanctification (Rom. 8:29; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 2:2-3), which began in his or her regeneration. Though the believer is already set free from the penalty of sin (Rom. 6:23), his sanctification is the progressive, life-long removal of the power of sin over his entire being (Rom. 6:19; 2 Tim. 2:21; 1 John 1:8-10). The Holy Spirit is the major agent of a believer’s sanctification (Rom. 15:16; Gal. 5:22-23), by teaching him truth (John 17:17), empowering him to righteousness (Luke 24:49; Eph. 3:16) through conviction of sins and promptings to good works (Rom. 8:12-16), and joining him to the family of believers who encourage his holiness and help correct what is unholy (Acts 18:26; Eph. 4:25; Heb. 10:25). As the Spirit is at work sanctifying all believers, individual Christians must pursue their own sanctification by loving God (Mark 12:30; John 15:9), and obeying all that he commands and prohibits in Scripture (John 15:14; 2 John 1:6).
For those who have been justified by faith in Christ, there is no fear of ever losing salvation – the agenda of God to save an individual is something God will never forsake once actualized in election, calling, union with Christ, and justification (Rom. 8:1, 38-39; Eph. 1:13-14; Phil 1:6; 2 Tim. 2:13). All Christians, who have been justified and spend their lives being sanctified, will ultimately be fully united to Christ in a final act of God’s grace called glorification, which is the eternal removal of the presence of all sin and the full application of all Christ’s holiness in spirit and body (Rom. 8:17, 30; 1 Cor. 1:30; 15:51-54; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2-4).
The gospel increases the gratitude and joy of Christians as they recognize how wretched their sin made them, and how it destroyed their connection to God’s perfect holiness and life. This gratitude and joy manifests as Christians keep realizing how great the person and work of Jesus Christ are to wash away their most disqualifying sins and restore God’s full pleasure to them. The gospel removes the burden of begrudging religious obedience by changing our most heartfelt desires, that our greatest satisfaction would be found by pursuing conformity to God’s will for us. By following God’s will, we are given new purpose to be agents of the gospel of Christ’s reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20). We are humbled by the gospel’s grace because our reconciliation to God is based on Christ’s perfection, never our own. As we seek others’ reconciliation, our greatest concern is their spiritual restoration to God and physical well being, for we know that Christ died to save them too. In all these things, the gospel makes us true brothers and sisters with all those who have entered God’s family through faith in Jesus, and we communally live to magnify the supremacy of Christ in all things (Matt. 12:48-50).