How we view what Christ accomplished on the cross effects how we see our relationship with God and our mission on the earth. This is the seventh and final part of my Easter series, “Jesus Christ: Savior of the World.” In this series I’ve been attempting to answer three questions:
- What does the New Testament mean by “world?”
- What does it mean that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World?
- Why should this matter to us?
In this final installment we will finish looking at the last question.
Why should this matter to us?
My series thesis has been that Jesus came to expose “this world” and free us from its effects so that we can live in it from His world. This should matter to us because if we don’t understand what’s going on here, we will continue defending “fallen” values thinking we’re serving God.
I’ve spend a lot of time explaining what “this world” is in this series so that we would not be confused about what Jesus came to free us from. But this is not the message we hear emphasized around Easter.
Have we lost the plot?
Here’s a question to illustrate my point: what exactly did Jesus accomplished on the Cross? Was He appeasing an angry God’s wrath so that God could forgive us (God saved us from God)…or was it was a rescue mission to save us from Satan’s fallen construct (“God so loved the world…”)?
The first four centuries of Christianity would’ve unanimously said to rescue us. Since the 11th century, we’ve emphasized appeasement. The early church embraced an atonement theory that goes something like this:
Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). As I shared in part six, “At the cross, Jesus judged the “prince of this world” once and for all, “having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Col.2:15). Furthermore, God vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead, declaring that Jesus Christ is Lord over all!
While there were several variations, the earliest theory of atonement has since come to be collectively known as Christus Victor (“Christ the conqueror”).
But something changed dramatically with Constantine when, in 312 AD, he attributed a military victory to having the first two letters for Christ in Greek (Chi-Rho -see symbol) on his banners. I talk more about his influence in “How Constantine changed Christianity.” Here’s a brief summary that’s relevant to our discussion here:
☧ Christianity, instead of being in conflict with the Powers of “this world,” now became the state religion of Empire.
☧ Atonement being defined as rescue from the fallen construct was eventually replaced with legal jurisprudence (courtroom). Now, God’s honor and justice needed to be satisfied in order to be able to forgive us.
☧ Salvation becomes “Christ was punished by God for our sins” (appeasement).
☧ The Church struggle against the world system was replaced with individual morality (sins/punishment). No longer is the church the “called out ones” from this world; now it’s all about having our sins forgiven so we can go to heaven when we die.
Understand that no one embraced this “satisfaction” theory of atonement before Anselm in the 11th century. Historically speaking, this would be considered a modern innovation from the early church point of view.
As J. Denny Weaver says:
“The Christus Victor theology fell out of favor, not because of intrinsic inadequacies, but because it was subversive to the church’s role as state religion. The church no longer saw the demonic as lodged in the empire, but in the empire’s enemies. Atonement became a highly individual transaction between the believer and God” *
While forgiveness of sins is critically important, we need to understand that we sin because we’re blind to this construct. Understanding this is also why we can forgive those who’ve hurt us, even “love our enemies,” because we now see that they, too, have been victimized.
The problem with this post-Constantinian paradigm shift is that it potentially creates a cognitive dissonance, where now a Christian only thinks in terms of being forgiven while being oblivious to their obeisance to the very system that Christ came to free them from. They may end up striving after the same things the “world” does, or worse, thinking it’s okay to be greedy, selfish, unforgiving, judgmental, hateful, unfaithful, domineering, prejudice, or any other form of evil.
While forgiven of their sins, they remain of the world, as well as being in the world.
Here’s what noted New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright, says about how this change in mindset has affected us:
Along the lines of what N.T. Wright was talking about in the clip, I would like to finish this series by looking at a passage in Ephesians.
Finding the plot again
8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. (Eph.3:8-12 *)
What is Paul trying to “make all see” here? First, that it’s about relationship…“the fellowship of the mystery.” As we “participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet.1:4), we enter into this mystery. And from this place of rest in Christ, we proclaim, like Jesus did, to the “mind behind the system,” the principalities and powers that energize “this world,” what are the eternal purposes of God. And in doing so, we declare to this “Babylon” beast, “Your world has been “numbered, weighed in the balances, found wanting, and now finally terminated.”
But my question is…do you know this? Do we, as the church, know this? Are we making this known to the principalities and powers?
Or, are we living in, as Wright said, a “low-grade, almost pagan understanding” of the Cross? Are we simply seeing it as an appeasement so that we could be forgiven? Beloved, it’s so much more than this!
This is why understanding what Christ accomplished on the Cross is so important. God’s eternal purpose was to have sons and daughters who would take up their prophetic destiny (Eph.1:4-7), participating in the life of Christ in God, being bringers of light into the dark world, and declaring to the principalities and powers in heavenly places that “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev.11:15) Amen.