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How Has Christ Redeemed Us?

[This article is extracted in large part from BJ Dowling, "The Death of Christ as the Devil's Destruction", Xd 26:17-20.]

To understand the sacrifice of Christ we must start with the actual work Christ did and which God from the very beginning determined that he should do. This is the reality. From it we may work back to develop our understanding of the types and shadows that point to it.

Because they come first in time, the natural tendency is to work forward from the shadows and types (or what we think the shadows and types mean), and then to define the reality in terms of the types. Thus one might argue that Christ 'needed a sacrifice'. But Christ did not need A sacrifice, in the common sense of the term; he needed THE sacrifice. In other words, he needed that God-ordained reality of which 'sacrifice' as we know it is merely the shadow and type.

Sacrifices -- Mosaic and otherwise -- though predating Christ's work in time, are just foreshadowings of that work, and have no real meaning or purpose apart from it. The picture is further confused and compounded by the concept of 'sacrifice' introduced by the apostasy. They make it mean punishment, appeasement, vicarious transfer of penalty, purchase of Divine favor, and such like. We must be very careful not to be influenced subconsciously by the contrived, non-Biblical meanings that now cling closely to the term.


The actual accomplishment which God required of some one member of the race, and which Christ voluntarily undertook to do for the race, is the meaning at the source of the ritual that we call 'sacrifice'. As an English word, 'sacrifice' has various meanings that may or may not be relevant. Its literal, root meaning is simply 'holy work' (from the Latin "sacra" -- holy, sacred; and "facio" -- to make or do).

Its current, common meaning is 'the giving up or foregoing of something for the sake of something better or someone else'. Certainly this meaning is involved in Scriptural sacrifice. It is the basic idea of choosing the good, and rejecting the evil. But this is certainly not the whole picture of Scriptural 'sacrifice', nor even the central feature of the picture.

There are two aspects in the words that are translated 'sacrifice': 'to slay' and 'to offer'. In the majority of cases the words mean 'a slaughter' ("zebach" in Hebrew and "thusia" in Greek). This is fundamental; Biblical sacrifice is a putting to death.

The other aspect is quite limited by comparison: it is 'offering up to God, causing to ascend, bringing near to God' ("minchah" and "korban" in Hebrew, "prosphero" in Greek). It might be said, then, that Christ's life was an offering, and his death was a sacrifice. And that would be true. But actually the two -- life and death -- are an indivisible sacrificial offering. His whole life was a symbolic putting to death; his death was the supreme and climactic offering of a perfect life.

From the beginning, ritual sacrifice was meant to be an obedient act of faith in God's promise of the Seed of the Woman to "(take) away the sin of the world". It was faith, prospectively, in Christ and his work. Such belief involved a repudiation of oneself, a confession of one's total inability to save oneself, and a declaration of allegiance to God and His holiness. It also involved thankfulness to God for His promised provision and deliverance from the sin-condition into which the first man had plunged the race. These aspects are more specifically delineated in the various sacrifices under the Law of Moses.
Sacrifice has to do with sin. Its background and framework is in relation to sin. It arose from the problem created by sin. It takes into consideration the punishment of sin. It recognizes that sin must inevitably bring death. But sacrifice is not the punishment for sin.
It is a conquering of sin, a victory over sin, a deliverance from sin.

Sacrifice is not a symbol of 'punishment' or "paying a penalty", although it does involve the implied confession that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). True sacrifice also recognizes that sin as a totality -- localized in the 'sin-nature' -- must be condemned and put to death in order to free a person from its grip. We make a mistake when we say that Christ 'offered a sacrifice'. We are coming at it from the wrong direction. We should say that Christ did a work that became the basis of, and gave meaning to, the shadow and type that we call 'sacrifice'.

In the beginning

God created man "very good" -- free from sin, free from death. Man disobeyed God, and this brought sin and death upon the race. While Adam was created "very good" (Gen 1:31), Paul very powerfully states that in his own flesh (and Paul was one of the best of men) was "no good thing" (Rom 7:15). And this "no good" condition of his flesh he repeatedly calls "sin". With Adam's sin and sentence, sin (as a physical principle) infected the whole race, defiled the whole race, and brought the whole race under "condemnation" of death. (This condemnation was upon the whole race, without exception, and would be upon Christ from the moment of his birth.)

After Adam sinned, God inaugurated a plan to cleanse the race from sin, and redeem it from death. This plan was that, from the race itself, there had to be one man to give himself voluntarily to remove from the race that condemnation of death, and its cause, sin. He must be one of the race, subject to all the disabilities and defilements brought on the race by Adam's disobedience, and with them equally in need of deliverance from those disabilities and defilements. These were the typical "filthy garments" of the typical high priest Joshua (Zec 3:4). who were typically cleansed and reclothed in the purity of new fresh garments, which symbolized a sin-free immortal nature.

This representative man must overcome and destroy sin and abolish death. He must thus achieve salvation from these two evils for himself, in full harmony with God's law and justice and holiness. He must do it by a life of perfect obedience voluntarily completed in a blood-shedding death.

Such a life and death publicly condemned sin (in all its aspects), justified God's law, exalted God's holiness, and manifested God's justice. The obedient death that completed that obedient life was to condemn and destroy sin in himself.

God required an actual destroying of sin

God required, not a symbol, not a shadow, but a reality: a real overcoming and conquering of sin, a real condemning and destroying of sin. And that is what Jesus accomplished for himself. His obedient death was just as real and necessary a part of his salvation as was his obedient life. And what he did in his death was no more a mere shadow than what he did in his life.

The blood-shedding death (rather than a 'natural' death) was required by God for sin's public condemnation, and God's public justification. Christ on the cross was a public repudiation of sin, a public confession that God's sentence on sin -- the whole 'sin-constitution' through Adam -- was just (Col 2:15' Rom 3:25,26).

The putting to death of Christ was to show God's justice. How did it do so, if Christ never sinned? How can it possibly manifest God's justice to put a perfectly righteous man to a violent death? Why -- if sin must be condemned publicly and God justified publicly for His condemnation of sin to death -- why, of all people, pick the only man who never sinned to do it to? To answer this question correctly puts us well along the way to understanding the atonement. Christ had no sins. Therefore his death made the issue crystal clear that it was the body of sin, sin's flesh, the "law of sin... in (the) members, that was being condemned and put to death. And it had to be done in this way before any one of the race -- Christ included -- could be cleansed from the sin-constitution. This was God's requirement for cleansing the race from sin, in harmony with His holiness.

Some say his sacrifice was merely a type, a shadow, a symbol. They say God was simply declaring to man: "This is what by justice should happen to you. It shouldn't happen to this man; he has no connection with it, but I am just doing it to him to illustrate what should be done to you."

It is difficult to see either logic or justice in this. How is sin "condemned", or how is God's justice "manifested", by arbitrarily putting to death the one person who had never sinned, just as a sample of what should happen to sinners? This is a strange way of portraying God's justice: to choose, as the example of what should be done to sinners, the one man who had nothing to do with sin!

If we do not see Christ being "made... sin" (2Co 5:21) as God's plan for cleansing the whole race from sin's flesh, then we shall never make any real sense out of Christ's death, or see how it simultaneously destroyed sin and manifested God's justice.

Human flesh is Scripturally 'sin'

There is in all human flesh -- as a result of the sin and sentence of Adam -- an evil defiling principle that the Bible calls "sin in the flesh", "the law of sin... in (the) members", "sin that dwelleth in me", "sin... working death in me", and so forth. It is Paul in Rom 7 who goes into this most fully; but what the Spirit says throughout the Scriptures about the flesh and the natural mind and the heart of man repeatedly testifies to this sin-defiled condition of all human flesh: "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death (this body of death, mg)?" (Rom 7:24).

As pointed out in numerous quotations from the pioneers, the sin-caused and sin-causing principle that is in human flesh is called 'sin' by the Scriptures. Certainly this is, as some have said, metonymy. ('Metonymy' is simply the title for a figure of speech by which the name of something is extended to its related aspects.)

Sin most literally is an act of disobedience against God's law. By metonymy, and very reasonably, God extends the name 'sin' to that principle of evil in all human flesh that came by sin and causes sin. But let us not suppose that this secondary aspect of sin is not real because it is metonymical. God Himself inspired men to use the term 'sin' to include the evil, sinful principle in all human flesh. Let us not belittle His choice of words, but rather let us ask: Why did He do so? And what bearing does the fact have on salvation? We find that the fact that He did so is a very important step in the developing picture. Paul, continuing his exposition from Rom 7, says: "to be carnally (fleshly) minded is death... the carnal (fleshly) mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom 8:6-8).

This identifies the flesh as 'sin', and justifies the name the Bible gives it. What better definition of sin is there than "enmity against God... not subject to... God, neither... can be..."? That is the flesh: all mortal flesh -- it is flesh that belongs to 'King Sin'! That is why it had to be crucified. That is why the crucifixion of Christ was a declaration of God's justice and holiness and righteousness. That is why Christ, who successfully fought sin's flesh all his life, voluntarily crucified it -- in life and in death wholly, completely.

Our oneness with Christ: a common sin-nature

This evil principle in the flesh -- Biblically called 'sin' -- is the essential unifying factor between Christ and us; sharing the same human nature makes it possible for our sins to be done away in his blood-shedding. It is our common, mutual problem. He solved it and escaped it, cleansing himself from its defilement in God's appointed way. And he now offers, by God's merciful arrangement, to reach down and lift us out -- if we give total devotion to him. That was the very purpose of his creation and work.

The work Christ did -- the essential, race-redeeming work that was foreshadowed from the beginning -- was the overcoming and destroying of sin in himself, and necessarily, for himself. As a moral and physical reality, Christ could conquer and destroy sin only in himself. That was the arena of his total victory over sin, by which he laid the eternal foundations for his further work: the ultimate salvation of those individuals who by faith enter into him and lay hold of the victory he has won.

Christ -- in the appointed way, and with God-provided help and strengthening -- had to cleanse himself from sin, and destroy sin in himself. That is the root and basis and only real meaning of what we call 'sacrifice'. It was his only way to his own personal salvation. He was made "perfect through sufferings" (Heb 2:10), and this was the "suffering" required. He was redeemed "by his own blood" (Heb 9:12; 13:20), and this was the manner in which that blood must be shed.

His great work was not a mere shadow, not a mere symbol illustrating what should be done to someone else. It was an actual, essential accomplishment: the self-cleansing from, and destruction of, sin. He did not just typify this: he did it. He did not 'pay the penalty' for someone else. He did the actual job of destroying sin that God's holiness required to be done for the race to be saved. He did it in and for himself so that it might then be for us too, who become a part of him. He, as the representative man, the new nucleus of the race (the "last Adam"), must first be transformed and glorified, so that others may also be transformed and glorified in him.

Did Christ need a sacrifice?

But did Christ 'need a sacrifice'? Perhaps we can see it more clearly this way: Christ, as one of the race, and as the embodiment of the race, needed what the whole race needed -- the reality that is simply foreshadowed by the ritual of sacrifice. He did not need a 'sacrifice' as such, in the shadowy, typical sense of the term, and neither do we. We need, as he with us needed, the reality that God's holiness and wisdom demanded from some man for the salvation of any of the race.

Starting within the condemned, defiled race, he -- with faith and by God's strengthening -- was delivered out of it. That work was his sacrifice.

Ritual can never save anyone. It is true that ritual may be required by God (as baptism in this dispensation, and circumcision and sacrifice in the Mosaic) as an act of humility and obedience to connect us with the reality, and to bring us its benefits. And when God requires a ritual then salvation is impossible without that ritual. But a ritual must have a fulfilling reality: a shadow must have a fulfilling substance. Christ's actual accomplishment -- the destruction of sin -- is the reality and substance of which baptism and breaking of bread, sacrifice and circumcision, are the representative rituals.

It was not for himself only that he redeemed himself. He was specifically created to redeem the race (of which he was only a part), and he joyfully accepted the great work for which he was born, the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world (Joh 1:29). Someone had to win his way out of the sin-constitution, in the righteous way God appointed, with whom God could deal as the race. There was no one already in the race -- nor naturally ever would or could be -- that could do it. So God in love especially created one within the race, and specially strengthened him so that he could do what had to be done.

Two extremes

In the past Christadelphians have tended to explain the atonement either too mechanically or too superficially. It has been demonstrated that the sacrifice of Christ was not a mere mechanical device: there was grim reality behind his work, for himself first and then in prospect for us. With us, as with Christ, nothing is actually accomplished by the magic wand of ritual; there must be a real doing, a real labor, a real victory and overcoming of "the motions of sins... in our members".

The sacrifice of Christ is not just, superficially, 'a way to get your sins forgiven', and nothing else. There is more, so much more. Sin as a totality is being addressed and at last conquered in Christ, and in us. If we cannot see this picture, then we just have two disjointed, unconnected things: (1) our sins, and (2) Christ's sacrifice. And we have to invent a shadowy link between the two in the name of 'ritual', which just boils down to substitution. In that case, Christ was not actually treating sin as it ought to be treated, and had to be treated to solve the problem. If he had no sin in his flesh to overcome and destroy, then he was not destroying sin, but just once more typifying how it ought to be destroyed.

The main issue

The fact that Christ offered for himself first, and was cleansed and redeemed from the sin-constitution by his own blood, is crucial to a full understanding and appreciation of the atonement. It is the essential link that binds him to us and makes his death on the cross a declaration of God's holiness and justice (as it is said to be). This full and correct view makes his personal perfecting and cleansing efficacious for us as a true representative (one in need of the same thing), and not as a mere ritual substitute (just illustrating something not applicable to himself).

Once we confess that Christ offered for himself (Heb 2:10-15; 4:14--5:9; 7:27: 9:7; 12:21-28; 13:20), then the picture is clear. Until we make this vital link secure we leave his sacrifice an isolated enigma, a shadow, unrelated to reality and accomplishment: a symbol and nothing more, a yawning chasm between his work and our need. As John Thomas put it:

"Sin could not have been condemned in the body of Jesus, if it had not existed there... The purpose of God... was to condemn sin in the flesh: a thing that could not have been accomplished, if there were no sin there".

Separating Christ from his brethren

It is quite possible, either in being too mechanical and ritualistic, or in being too simplistic, to separate Christ from his brethren. This is a serious mistake. Any theory that has two different salvations -- one for Christ and another for his brethren -- must be wrong. We all, the whole race, need the same thing. And what we need is not just a ritual that points, but an accomplishment that finishes; a real, actual victory over the sin nature, that we can (in God's mercy) enter into and share.

God deals with the race as a race, but on an individual basis. That sounds like a contradiction, but it is not. God is saving the race, as the race, in and through Christ. But He is not saving the whole race, just those members of the race who individually take advantage of His provision of salvation for the race.

By the grace of God, Christ is the firstfruits of them that sleep. Having "obtained eternal redemption" for himself, he extended that salvation, by the mercy of God, to all who make themselves part of him, who enter into Christ through belief and baptism.

"Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1Co 1:30).

"God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself... For He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2Co 5:19,21).

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