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Last Friday I continued a personal tradition. I sat through the three-hour Good Friday service at a local church. The experience involves listening to seven pastors trying to explain of significance of the seven words that Jesus spoke on the cross. I must admit, I enjoy watching the host pastor struggle to keep seven preachers in line and make the whole thing come out even at the end of three hours. He lost the battle that day. The service ran a half hour long. I left at 3:00 anyway.

That night, I got a letter from one of our website visitors in England asking me to explain just exactly how Jesus' death on the cross resulted in the forgiveness of our sins. I wrote back, detailing the standard Christian party line.
* We are all sinners, and the wages of sin is death, so we all have to die. (Rom. 6:23)
* Jesus wasn't a sinner so he didn't have to die as punishment for his sins. (Heb. 4:15)
* Jesus died anyway, and therefore his death, which was not required for his own sins, became a free-floating gift which could be used to pay for the sins of others. (Gal. 1:4)
* Thus, our faith in Christ allows God to accept Jesus' death, rather than our own, to pay the price for our sinfulness. (Rom. 5:10)

Now, this is a great theory, until you start examining it. First, everyone dies, sinner and saint alike. It's the nature of our humanity. So our physical death cannot be a punishment for sin. Therefore, the death Paul talks about must be a spiritual death. Second, the death that Jesus voluntarily gave God as a ransom for our sins was a physical death. So you have a physical death substituting for the spiritual deaths which we owe God as a result of our sinfulness.

This makes no sense at all. If Jesus were going to save us from our physical death, his death on the cross might make the difference. But this is not the case. There is no connection between his physical death and our spiritual destiny. His death was not a solution for sin. It was the result of first century politics, and only later was it used as an explanation for how a holy God could love and forgive sinful human beings.

In any event, this need for a savior was based on a false teaching - that God judges his creation and demands perfection from us, even though he created us as imperfect beings. The church claims to teach grace - undeserved love on the part of God - but it doesn't believe in its own teaching. God created us in love, and he accepts us in love, in spite of our imperfection, simply because we are part of himself, and God cannot reject himself.

The church's teaching that faith in Christ saves us is a metaphor for God's perfect acceptance of us all. According to the church's teaching, we aren't changed by our faith in Christ: we are still sinners - God merely chooses to see us in a different light. The fact is, God chose to see us in that light long before there was organized religion.

The good news is that we are saved because of God's perfect love for all of us, not because of some ancient religious formula.

Posted 4-17-06

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2006