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Christ for us: Reading the Bible through the Gospel

17 September, 2007

brannan22.jpg“Christ for us”: this phrase is just another way of saying “the gospel.” When Paul says to be ready to give an account to anyone who asks the reason for the hope we have, “Christ for us” proclaims our hope in a nutshell: God is holy and righteous and we are rebellious sinners; only in looking away from ourselves to Christ for us, to Christ on our behalf, do we have hope before God. Christ died the death we deserve and lived the life we should have lived, so that rather than the condemnation we earned in Adam, we receive the righteousness Christ earned for justification; and now by his grace we who believe are enabled by the Holy Spirit to die to sin and live to God. This is the gospel. This is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. And this is the consistent message of all the Scriptures.

Luther said that whenever we read about what Christ said or did, we should put ourselves in his place, doing and saying those very things–because that is the way God sees us in Christ. That’s the way to read the Bible in the conviction that Christ is for us. I want first briefly to talk about Christ’s death for us, and then talk about Christ’s life for us, focusing the whole time on understanding who Christ is and what he has done in order to read the Bible as proclaiming this gospel.

Christ’s death for us

For most of us, this is the most familiar part of the gospel message: We are all rebellious sinners who are worthy of God’s condemnation. God is just in his wrath against sin and sinners, and we prove every day that we earned the death we have deserved in Adam (Rom 5:12f.). Christ died for us on the cross, in our place, so that “by his wounds we are healed” (Is 53). He suffered God’s everlasting wrath so that we’ll never have to, and instead we receive the forgiveness of our sins.

Christ’s life for us

But I think we often miss that forgiveness is only part of the picture. God is a God who will not and cannot judge unrighteously. There is a demand upon us stemming from the covenant with Adam that is still in force, requiring perfect and personal obedience to our Creator and Lord (Deut 10:17; Prov 17:15). Adam was under law, and commanded to keep it. We know it was perfect obedience which God required of him, because it only took the first sin to make him a breaker of the entire law. This works principle is still the only requirement before God as the basis for gaining everlasting life (see Rom 2:13; Gal 3:10-12; Lev 18:5). The great tragedy of our situation—the universal human predicament—is that we do not and cannot meet the requirement for being righteous in God’s sight, not only because of our sin, but also because of our lack of any righteousness before him (Rom 1:18; Rom 3:10ff.). How then can we be acceptable to him? How can God justify the ungodly?

The only answer is that apart from the law the righteousness of God has been revealed, in the law-keeping righteousness of Christ given to us by faith. (Rom 5:16-19; 10:3; Phil 3:9; Gal 4:4). The cross was not the whole content of Christ’s work, but the culmination of the suffering and obedient purpose of Christ’s whole existence (Matt 5:17; Luke 9:51; Phil 2:7; Heb 5:7). In every thought, word, and deed, Christ could confess without fail, “I always do the will of my Father,” and he, unlike Adam, has been successful (Matt 20:28; John 17:4, 19). As a consequence of all he did, he earned everlasting life for his people (Rom 6:5-11). He is “the LORD our righteousness” (Jer 23:5, 6).

Christ for us in the Bible

If “Christ for us” is the gospel, therefore, then we need to be careful to read the Bible in a way that’s consistent with the gospel it announces to us, and not just part of it (Luke 24:25-27; John 5:39). I think a lot of us tend to restrict the ‘on our behalf’ part of what Christ did to the cross; all the rest is something else. We can readily see this in the way many of us tend to read the stories of Jesus’ own life and teaching. Too often, we read Jesus’ teachings primarily as something we are to follow and do, and see Jesus’ actions primarily as something we should try to imitate. But “Christ telling us” and “Christ showing us” are not the gospel; they’re very important, but the gospel is “Christ for us.” Let’s look at a specific example:

In the Sermon on the Mount, one of the things Jesus preaches to the crowds is that they are to “love their enemies and pray for those who persecute” them in order to be sons of God, because this is the character of God toward his enemies (Matt 5:44-46). If we read this text and immediately say to ourselves, ‘He’s right, I need to be more loving toward my enemies–I’m really going to try to work on that,’ and that’s all we get from Jesus’ words, then we’ve completely missed the point of Christ for us. We could get just about the same thing from Confucius or the Qur’an, and we’d have about the same level of success in God’s sight (none!).

There are two things we should always consider whenever we’re confronted with Jesus’ preaching, and this applies to all the Scriptures. When Jesus says “Love your enemies,” the first thing we need to realize is that he’s saying to each and every one of us, “You don’t love your enemies; this is what God’s law requires of you, and you either ignore it, twist it, or fall flat on your face trying to keep it.” Jesus is confronting us here with our hatred of our enemies, who are also our neighbors, made in the same image of God–it’s easy to love people who love you back (verse 46). But what God requires is for us “to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (verse 48). If we’re enabled by the Spirit to respond to his Word, we say with Isaiah, “Woe unto me, a sinner!” First of all, Jesus is confronting us with our sinfulness in the face of God’s holy and righteous standards.

The second thing we need to realize is that at the very same time Jesus is convicting us of sin, he is pointing us to himself, saying, “I, I am the one who loves my enemies, who prays for those who persecute me–look away from yourselves and look to me. I am the Son who is well-pleasing to my Father in all I say and do, perfect as he is perfect. I have loved you, and in me God has loved you, our enemies, even though you persecute me.” With one hand he takes away all our hope (in ourselves), while with the other he gives us an infinitely better hope (in him). Again, if we’re enabled by the Spirit to respond to his Word, we turn to Christ in faith. Second of all, Jesus is confronting us with himself as the only righteous one, the one we should trust in alone for any hope before the judgment seat of God.

Only then should we turn in faith to understand how Jesus calls us to walk with him in response to such a great salvation. Only after believing the gospel (for the first time and every time) can we rightly and faithfully take up the call to “love our enemies” and everything else Christ calls us to as a people set apart for good works befitting the children of God (Gal 4:6, 7). The gospel of “Christ for us” finds tangible expression in our deeds through the Spirit of Christ at work within us. Thirdly, then, Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow him, all the while looking not to our own crosses, but to his.

As those who believe the gospel, these are the ‘gospel lenses’ the Bible itself calls us to read it through. That’s why Luther said what he said; not because we’re good or holy in ourselves, but because Christ is good and holy on our behalf. This is the comfort and freedom of the gospel, and the message of all the Scriptures–that Christ is all our righteousness and life.

  1. 17 September, 2007 3:41 pm

    Very well said, brother.

    Wow, what a Savior!

  2. 17 September, 2007 9:08 pm

    No wonder they let you into Aberdeen. Hey Horton mentioned you first in the acknowledgments of his new book: “Covenant and Salvation.” I quickly read a few pages. Nice editing.

  3. 17 September, 2007 9:12 pm

    hey you left out Col 2:20 for the “works principle.” you’re not going ESV on me now…?

  4. 22 September, 2007 2:45 pm

    Thanks–this post is a slightly elaborated version of a high school Sunday school I did in Indiana a couple months ago that went really well. I figured if it can survive that, it can survive ANYTHING.

  5. eric permalink
    10 October, 2007 7:06 am

    man, we need this in Taiwan.

  6. creedorchaos permalink*
    10 October, 2007 1:44 pm

    Hey Eric~

    Good to here from you–how’s everything? If you want, it would be great to get an update about things on your end and put it up on CorC.


  7. creedorchaos permalink*
    10 October, 2007 3:38 pm

    Eric needs to get back here ASAP and graduate with me.


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