“Don’t miss the forest for the trees.” This familiar idiom helps people grasp the big picture and not get lost in the details. When it comes to salvation, at times Christians have lost sight of the big picture of what God is doing in salvation and have relegated it to simply “asking Jesus into your heart.” While this is a fine way to teach children, God’s redemptive plan is bigger than we can possibly imagine. We can begin truly appreciating what God is doing in the work of salvation by tracing this important topic through the pages of the Old and New Testaments.
God’s salvation of humanity began before time itself. God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). That is, God’s plan to redeem fallen sinners is an eternal decree dependent solely on His mercy and grace. Through the unfolding of redemptive history, we see how this eternal decree has worked out in the lives of God’s people.
To begin, God created a good world, free of sin and corruption. “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31).” The crowning work of creation was man and woman. Created in the image of God, they were called to spread the image of God all over the world (“Be fruitful and multiply”) and to act as the under-rulers of creation (“have dominion”). Yet they gave into the temptation to sin and, consequently, now had a broken relationship with God, bringing punishment and death into the world. However, in the midst of the curses God justly gives as a consequence of sin, there is a glimmer of hope. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15).” Theologians regard this verse as the first announcement of the gospel, or the protoevangelion. God promises to redeem sin through one who will destroy the evil one. It is this “seed promise” that must be traced in order to see the unfolding of God’s redemptive work.
The failure of mankind to live up to God’s standards is evident by the continuous fall into sin in Genesis 3-11. However, in Genesis 12, God makes a covenant promise to Abraham which ensures fulfillment; namely, that God Himself will be the one who brings about the desired ends. When the other iterations of the creation mandate were given, it was up to mankind to perform (cf. Genesis 1:28, 9:1, 11:4). Yet, in the Abrahamic Covenant, God takes the role of completing the task Himself. “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3).” The unconditional nature of God’s promise to Abraham becomes the hope through which the people of God could ever be assured of salvation (cf. Romans 4).
The giving of the law is the next question. If God’s covenant with Abraham was unconditional, why did God give the law through Moses? The Apostle Paul explains “It was added because of transgressions (Galatians 3:19).” So as God calls Moses to lead the people out of slavery, He gives them His law so they may 1) come to know, love, and serve the one true God (Ex. 20:3, Deut. 6:5-6), 2) be protected from the nations which surround them, and 3) recognize their utter failure to live up to God’s holiness. (Rom. 3:19)
The sacrificial system was put in place not merely as a means to cleanse from sin, but to point forward to a perfect sacrifice. It can be said that the law, sacrifices, and rituals were merely shadows prefiguring the reality that was to come (Colossians 2:17). King David says: “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering” (Psalm 51:16). Yes, the law required sacrifices, but David recognizes it has always been the heart that God is trying to get to.
Throughout the history of Israel, it becomes clearer that these chosen people will never live up to the holiness of God on their own. Through various rulers and kings, through exile and return, the people remained hopeless in their own strength.
Yet God had not forgotten the promise made to Abraham. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). When Christ comes to earth, God’s plan crystallizes (Matthew 1:21). The people needed a seed, or offspring to defeat the work of the serpent. When Jesus is born, the promise is fulfilled (Galatians 3:16).
Jesus is the faithful Israelite, the promised seed come to destroy the works of the serpent (Revelation 12:9). Therefore all of the unconditional promises of God belong to Him. How can we receive these benefits? By being united with Him in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:5).
Christ’s sacrificial death upon the cross atones for the sins of His people and His resurrection assures that sins have been forgiven. When individuals come to Christ in repentance and faith, they can be sure of salvation. We can be certain of the unconditional nature of salvation as promised to Abraham by virtue of our union with Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10).
At Christ’s return, we look forward to glorified resurrected bodies in which we love and serve Him for all eternity. We look forward to a New Heaven and New Earth where righteousness dwells. We look forward to the final stage of salvation where all of God’s people enter into His presence with great joy, finding all of our rest and peace in Him forever (cf. Rev. 21:3-4).
Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.
By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ