By Ben Owens | June 7, 2023
I’ve noticed a sad fact. Often, Christianity gets rejected before it’s ever been understood. Without any careful thought, a man will assume he knows what Christianity is all about and then—on the basis of his faulty assumptions— dismiss it as irrelevant. It usually runs something like this:
“Christianity is really about finding personal fulfillment/a moral code/a sense of community…
“Other religions offer these same things.
“Therefore, each of us should choose the path seems to be the best fit.”
From person to person, the details vary. But it’s usually something along those lines. Christianity, we’re told, fills some temporal, subjective void. For some, it’s the need for belonging. For others, wisdom for daily life. But we all have these needs and as long as you find what works for you, that’s what matters.
It’s like exercise. Some like to swim laps. Others prefer to lift weights. Only the weirdos fixate on trying to rope everybody else into their own personal thing.
On this kind of thinking, a man feels free to dismiss Christianity not because he’s weighed the claims of Christ and found them wanting, but because he assumes all religions are about the same. And there’s a certain logic to this approach. If Christianity really is about meeting the same subjective needs as the rest of the world’s religions, then sure—take your pick. But it’s not. The premise is false.
Do I mean to say that Christianity has no interest in personal fulfillment or morality or community? No, of course not. But before we ever begin to experience these benefits, we have to face the fact that Christianity deals with a much more fundamental problem. It’s a matter of life-or-death.
Imagine a man who declares, “I don’t need a carbon monoxide alarm, my microwave oven gives me all the beeping I need! And, furthermore, I’m a bit offended at the suggestion that my microwave’s beeping is inferior to that of your carbon monoxide alarm. After all, each of us must find our own way. For me it’s a microwave. For you, it’s your carbon monoxide alarm. The important thing is that you have some beeping in your life.”
Of course, the argument is absurd. This man has committed a grave error. And here it is: he’s taken a secondary function of the device in question as its primary purpose. Having done so, he feels free to replace it with any other device that provides that same secondary function. But—as we all recognize—the beeping is not the point. Rather, a carbon monoxide alarm exists to alert residents to the presence of a deadly gas. The beeping is just the means. This man is reasoning from a faulty assumption.
So it is with the gospel of Jesus Christ. If the point were a sense of personal fulfillment or belonging, then what’s the big deal? But Jesus didn’t come to be a guru, or a life-coach, or a philosopher. He came to be our Savior.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul opens with a soaring declaration of all the benefits that Christians now possess as a result of trusting in Jesus. “In Him,” says Paul, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7-8).
“Redemption through his blood.” What’s that about? In the words of Charles Ryrie, the word Paul employs here “was usually connected with a ransom being paid as a condition of release.” It described the purchase of a slave’s freedom. Centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaiah predicted that a Messiah would come “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1).
Some seven hundred years later, Jesus would stand up in His hometown’s synagogue, read this very passage, and sit down. Luke reports that, at this point, “the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4). Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the Old Testament’s promised Liberator. But what had He come to liberate us from?
Again, Jesus gives us the answer. “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave to sin … Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” Slavery to sin—that’s the bondage from which Jesus came to liberate us.
The Bible describes all of us as slaves to sin. We are all subject to the dominating power of sin. We’re sinners by nature. We do what we know we shouldn’t. We fail to do what we know we should. It’s who we are. But it’s not who God is. God is holy, utterly morally pure and entirely distinct from all that is not. His holiness prevents Him from welcoming unholy sinners into His presence. To make matters worse, the Bible describes us as hostile to God, “alienated and enemies in [our] mind[s] by wicked works” (Colossians 1:12). Our situation is dire. But it gets worse still.
Not only are we enslaved to sin’s power, but we’re all subject to sin’s penalty. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Jesus Himself taught that this death includes the fires of hell (Mark 9). We are guilty and death is the penalty. God is as just as He is holy. He can’t look the other way while we slip in heaven’s back door. Imagine a judge who would allow a condemned criminal to go free on the basis of a personal fondness. It would be an outrage. How much more for the God who is maximally righteous?
So there we are. Hopelessly enslaved to sin’s power and anticipating the looming, inescapable prospect of sin’s penalty. This is why Jesus came. In the Lord’s own words: “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”(Mark 10:45)
A ransom. The price of our release. The word Jesus uses here is the same root word for the “redemption” Paul describes. Yes, God wanted to help us, to forgive us, to embrace us, to bless us—but our sin stood in the way. So, Jesus came to die in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). He bore the death penalty on our behalf.
The apostle John put it beautifully: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (I John 4:10)
A propitiation is a payment. Jesus dealt with the guilt of our sin by taking our punishment upon Himself. By His death, He satisfied the Father’s justice and appeased His wrath. Again, the prophet Isaiah foretold that this would be so: ““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.” (Isaiah 53:5)
This is what Paul had in view when He rejoiced that, “In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins”. Jesus paid the price to redeem us from the bondage of sin’s power and to rescue us from the awful reality of sin’s penalty.
In Christ, our sin debt is paid in full, nailed to His cross (Colossians 2:14). Because of Christ’s death on our behalf, we can be reconciled to the God against whom we’ve sinned, given new life, a new purpose, and a certain future in heaven! This is why Jesus came. And this is why Jesus is not interchangeable with any other options on offer.
Only Jesus died for our sin. As the sinless, eternal, infinite Son of God, only Jesus could. So we may find a philosophy that gives us a sense of fulfillment. We may find a group where we feel we belong. We may find a philosophical tradition that gives us the tools to face the cold, unyielding realities of life. We may find all of these things—and be the better for them—but apart from Christ, we will remain enslaved to the bondage of sin and we will anticipate the certain judgment of God.
Only Jesus solves this most fundamental problem. And this redemption is freely available to us when we simply trust in Him. “[I]f you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 10:9-11)
If you’re tempted to dismiss all of this as impossible to believe, recall that every bit of it was foretold. Nearly a thousand years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah had predicated this Divine Liberator (Isaiah 42, 61). Staggeringly, he even described His vicarious death (Isaiah 53). So it’s only fitting to give Isaiah the final word:
“Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.”