Jesus Christ, the Center of All Things

What is man’s chief problem and what is the solution?

People have a plethora of ideas and theories, but most are based simply on “fluff” and “I think…” Both Catholics and Christians will agree that it is sin, which separates us from God, and Scripture is the basis. On the solution to our sin we disagree.

This was the question that split the Western world in the days of Martin Luther and John Calvin (1500’s). The Catholic Church taught, “Christ paid the debt to justice, and taught us by His example, and drew all things to Himself” (Kent; emphasis mine). This is the view held today as Catholic dogma, and it follows in the footsteps of Peter Abelard, who believed that Christ’s death was mostly an example to us of how to die and how to live rightly before God. Luther and Calvin taught this was absolutely incorrect, because they believed the center of man’s salvation rests on Christ’s death on the cross as the full payment of our sins. They saw the main problem being man’s inability to do what is good, as Saint Augustine taught by defining Total Depravity. This led to the teaching from Scripture on Predestination and Election, also taught heavily by Augustine, denoting the absolute need for God to do the freeing from sin, not man.

John Calvin

Mark Dever, in an essay on the atonement, states clearly that “the Cross has become the symbol of our faith,” that is for Evangelicals, who follow the footsteps of Calvin and Luther in this crucial area (although Lutherans no longer hold to the original view of Substitutionary Atonement).  And in defining the atonement, what the solution is to man’s problem of sin, he writes: “Christ’s perfect sacrifice for our sins is necessary to satisfy God’s righteousness.” The argument, which is based specifically on Paul’s writing in Romans, but found throughout Scripture, states that man cannot please God by doing “good works”. Isaiah states that “all our righteous deeds (a.k.a “good works”) are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (64:6). Sin cannot be tolerated by God, the Bible clearly states, and in this the division arises.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

The Catholics make little use of the idea of the atonement. For them Christ’s death, while of value, is not central to salvation. Some say his death simply gives us a model on how to suffer and how to please God by humility. It ignores the fact that Isaiah says we can do absolutely nothing good of our own doing. Instead people are left with a moralistic kind of Christianity, to do good things in order to attain God’s favor. But God is perfect, and he cannot tolerate any thing “good” we do if it is even partly stained by evil. This is the dividing line between Catholics and Christians. One says it can appease God through good works and the “grace” given piece-by-piece through worship of the saints, prayer, confession, the Eucharist, etc. The other says it is by faith alone, believing that Christ’s death on the cross completely satisfied God’s wrath on the sinner, and that repentance from sin and belief in Christ’s work will gift us eternal life.

Ephesians 2:8-10 teach that: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” In this passage Paul clearly addresses Christians, and reminds them of how they were saved, and calls them to good works. Salvation is by faith alone in the grace given us as a gift from God. But what is this gift? Paul tells the Corinthians, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:1-4; emphasis mine). Then, and only then, can we do truly “good works”, because Christ makes us perfect before his Father, through his death on the cross. To this, Mark Dever concurs, “At stake is nothing less than the essence of Christianity.”

The atonement is the central doctrine to the Christian faith, and simply explained it is the work that Christ did on the Cross. He willingly gave up his life on the cross in order to have imputed on himself the sins of the entire world, as Isaiah 53 clearly prophesied, unleashing the full wrath of God upon his own Son.

But not only does this separate Evangelical Christians from Catholics, it also separates us from every other religion ever known to man. Every major religion realizes that there is a God, and that there is a need to be restored to him. All but Christianity teach that it is up to us to make things right with God. We must appease him through prayers, pilgrimages, alms, baptism, ancestor worship, etc. Christianity is the only that can state this, as C.J. Mahaney said about his son, that “the hope of his life [was that] Jesus, God’s perfect, righteous Son, died in his place for his sins. Jesus took all the punishment; Jesus received all the wrath as he hung on the Cross, so people like [his son] and his sinful daddy could be completely forgiven.”

"Cristo Redentor" Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

And why did Christ Jesus, as a man yet being fully God, choose to die in our place, to take away our sins and promise us eternal life? As Peter tells us: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (I Peter 3:18). Christ died on the cross for my sins in order to reconcile me to God, the Creator of the world, and to legally make me perfect before him because Christ paid fully for all of my sins, and of yours too.

Bibliography

Kent, William. “Doctrine of the Atonement.” The Catholic Encyclopedia.  Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 11 Apr. 2010 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/   02055a.htm>. Web.

Turner, William. “Peter Abelard.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 12 Apr. 2010 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01036b.htm&gt;. Web.

Dever, M. (2006, May). “Nothing But the Blood.” Christianity Today.

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5 thoughts on “Jesus Christ, the Center of All Things

  1. Chris, I used to think exactly the way you do–it was how I was raised. I’d like to point out that Saint Augustine, who you rely on heavily for your argument, is and was a Catholic. Also, if you would like to read more about what the Catholic Church teaches about atonement, I encourage you to read the Catechism (a book that sums up the key doctrines.) The section about Christ’s s role is here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P1M.HTM

    “Whoever searches for truth is searching for God, even without realizing it.” -Edith Stein

  2. Hey Cousin Christen!

    Thanks for the feedback. I think we should get together over the summer and talk some.

    I actually wrote a 15 page research paper on Saint Augustine for a class on Roman Catholicism. The teacher got his doctorate from St. Louis University, the top Catholic Seminary.
    So I have read “Lumen Gentium” and some of “Gaudium et Spez” from Vatican II and had already read the document you mentioned.

    I will be putting my paper on Augustine on my website here soon. I will have to disagree with you on his views, he wasn’t a “Catholic” as you would describe one today. He held to Substitutionary Atonement and taught Total Depravity and invented what we know today as “Calvinism.” I think I can safely say I have done my homework on him, and he is the kind of guy that the Catholic Church would have to excommunicate if he were around today. That comes from reading his “City of God”, “Confessions”, “On Predestination”, etc.

    Not that he would fit the mold of today’s Christian either. He was a brilliant thinker, outside the box, yet one that taught, above all else, salvation by faith alone. He literally deplored works-based salvation. His “fire” against Pelagius, who held what we would consider “Armenian” and modern Catholic dogma, was against the fact that he taught salvation through works. Augustine systematically disproved him, basing it on the impossibility for man to pay for his own sins aside from the complete remission by Christ’s work on the cross.

    So my essay here is Augustinian in nature, I think I can freely say that, and most Catholic Theologians can’t go against that.

    Remember, just because he is a “Saint” doesn’t make him a Catholic. The first Pope, as we understand him today, did not wield that type of power until the 700’s, with Saint Gregory the Great. And it wasn’t until Leo, 1000’s that Europe understood the pope as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

    Much more can be said, and there is a lot of debate, but also much truth to be found. I have looked carefully at Catholic dogma, and while they get most things right, I cannot accept their doctrine on Salvation, first and foremost. The pope issue is largely secondary to that. I have looked at it, and it has come up logically and (more importantly) Biblicaly innacurate, so I must remain “Evangelical” and will “Protest” as a Protestant to the death. Man is saved by grace alone because of the death of Christ on the Cross that took away all of my sins and made me righteous before God.

    Anyways, much more can be said, we should discuss it sometime.

    Christopher.

  3. Hey Chris,

    Good post. I liked what you had to say but there is one single sentence that stood out to me and it was this: “Every major religion realizes that there is a God, and that there is a need to be restored to him”.

    There are many other religions out there, even major ones, like Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, and other major religions that don’t necessarily believe in a god. But you are right, one of the main things that differentiates us from other religions is the fact that other religions is all about me. It’s all about what I can do and how much I can accomplish. Good thing we have a God that loves and that it’s not about us, because if it were, we would never reach salvation on our own!

    Keep it up brother!

    Moon

  4. Moon,

    Thanks for your comment. And you are right, I should have rephrased it to say “god(s)”.

    It is out of love that God has chosen to redeem humanity out of its sin–how blessed we are! Truly our God is worthy of our praise, our Redeemer and our Almighty Fortress.

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