by Jeremy Walker/
Read all the posts published to date in this 16-part series on the essential truths of the Christian faith.
HOW IS SALVATION ACCOMPLISHED? — PART 1
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.
But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep,
sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees;
and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.
The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.
I am the good shepherd;
and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.
As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father;
and I lay down My life for the sheep.
And other sheep I have which are not of this fold;
them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice;
and there will be one flock and one shepherd.
Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.
No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.
I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.
This command I have received from My Father.
(John 10:11–18, NKJV)
We now consider our third anchor point of faith, the third truth we must face and embrace if we are to be faithful to God in our doctrine and, consequently, in our practice. We began by asking, in effect, “Who needs to be saved?” Our answer was, every person. The answer takes account of the fallen condition of all mankind, and the answer is vital, because a false diagnosis will draw forth a false remedy, if one is considered necessary at all. Our next question was, “On what basis are sinners saved?” Our answer was, by virtue of being chosen by a sovereignly gracious God.
But those who are currently lost and chosen for salvation still need to be saved. And so we must now ask, “How is this salvation accomplished?” We need to consider by what means elect sinners are saved. How can we reconcile the three indisputable facts of a holy God, a lost world, and a saved church? Where do justice and mercy meet?
The answer to this question is simply this: God’s chosen people are redeemed, they are purchased at a price. This is the third reality with which we must reckon. It points us to Christ’s atoning death while also raising issues of the purpose and intent of that death, the design and result of the atonement. To begin addressing all this, we can start at John 10:11, NKJV: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” Here we see the Redeemer, the redemption, and (addressed in the next post in this series) the redeemed.
The Redeemer: Our Good Shepherd
In the words above, Jesus of Nazareth describes himself as “the good shepherd.” It is the Lord Christ who carries out this particular action in God’s plan of redemption and he does so in this character. Here we are carried back to Paul’s words to the Ephesian church:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:2–6, NKJV)
We are blessed and chosen in Christ, in connection with him, associated with him from the beginning with respect to all of his saving acts and accomplishments.
Christ Jesus stands before us in John 10 as the incarnate God. It is vital that we grasp that truth and grip it firmly. In Matthew 1:21–23, NKJV the Lord is identified by two names which cannot be separated: Jesus and Immanuel. Mary’s son will be called Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. The virgin-born child shall be called by his name, Immanuel, which is translated, “God with us.” He is Savior. He is God with us. If he is not the last he cannot be the first, for no blood and no righteousness but that of the God-man is sufficient for what is required. He is here as the Son of Man who came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10, NKJV; see also Luke 15:4–7, NKJV). Again, when we read that this good shepherd acted for or on behalf of others, we are carried immediately into the realm of substitution, of one taking the place of others. We are engaging with Isaiah’s prophecy:
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all…. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:4–6, NKJV; Isaiah 53:11, NKJV)
The Redemption: The Shepherd Gives His Life
What then did this Jesus-Immanuel, this good shepherd, do for others? The good shepherd laid down his life: “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:3–4, NKJV). He gave himself, shedding his blood, taking our punishment, paying our ransom, securing reconciliation: “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight” (Colossians 1:21–22, NKJV). This redemption secures all that is required by it and intended in it. In this act of redemption, Christ bears all the punishment the sin of his people deserves and secures all the glory to which God is entitled. All the enmity between God in his holiness and man in his sinfulness is removed, and all the blessing from a holy God for his needy people is obtained.
This redemption must be viewed in terms of its value and its efficacy.
Value of the Redemption
With regard to its value, we must not seek to measure the worth of the redemption by some formula or calculation, as if we could reckon up the extent of Christ’s sufferings in proportion to God’s saving intent. The value of the atonement hinges upon the excellence of the person who suffered. As the God-man, incarnate divinity, Christ’s death was of infinite value in itself. It is simply beyond calculation. But this is precisely what the case requires. The sinfulness of our sin reflects and is revealed by the excellence of the person offended. The sinner’s sin is against an infinitely holy God. Our sin is infinitely offensive for that reason, and so every condemned sinner needs an atonement of infinite value.
When we think of the effect of the atonement, especially in terms of its value, we often think and argue first in terms of its extensive range—how many people it affects. But perhaps that should not be our first concern. We need to consider its intensive requirements—how much sin it covers. We must take into account not only the question of those who are chosen but also the issue of how far they have fallen. When we speak of the value of Christ’s atoning work, we should be considering and marveling at its quality before we begin to argue about its extent.
Efficacy of the Redemption
But then, with regard to its efficacy, we must grasp that the language used indicates not a possibility nor even a probability, but an actuality, a realized certainty. The grand result and definite purpose of Christ’s death was accomplished. Paul tells us that “this is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15, NKJV). Christ did not come to make sinners savable but actually to save them. He did not merely open a door for salvation, he carried his people through it. He laid down his life that sinners might live.
Of course, this does bring us to the question of the application of redemption. Christ died to save sinners…but how many and which ones? We will address that question in the next post in this series.
Part 8 of a 16-part series drawn from Anchored in Grace: Fixed Points for Humble Faith, by Jeremy Walker.
Jeremy Walker serves as a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, England, and is married to Alissa, with whom he enjoys the blessing of three children. He has written several books and has blogged at Reformation21 and The Wanderer.