When we hear, “Christ died for our sins,” most of us probably assume we understand what that means. We think the phrase needs no explanation. But I’ve come to realize, what I thought it meant for Jesus to die for our sins was not an understanding rooted in Scripture. If we are going to understand the Gospel, we must understand what Paul really meant when he said, “Christ died for our sins.”
Typical Understanding of Jesus’ Death
This is what I used to think “Christ died for our sins” meant:
Every individual has sinned.
Because we’ve all sinned, we each deserve to die.
But Jesus stepped in and took the death we deserve.
Now, if you become a Christian, Jesus’ death is a substitute for your death.
Is that what you thought it meant for Christ to die for our sins? Consider some problems with that understanding:
First, if Jesus dying on is a substitution for our death, why do Christians still die? That’s a question that always bothered me. If death is the penalty we all deserve, but Jesus took our place on the cross, shouldn’t that mean none of us die anymore?
Second, some might argue, “Well, that’s why his death was so horrific,” because he was saving us from the brutal and torturous death we all deserve. One problem with that is Jesus told everyone who followed him, they too might be crucified (Luke 14:27). When Jesus told people to take up their cross and follow him, it wasn’t a metaphor. Countless Christians in the first century were crucified, impaled, lit on fire, and fed to lions.
Many of us have tried to answer this puzzle by saying, “Jesus’ physical death saves us from spiritual death.” In other words, Jesus suffering and dying on the cross saves us from suffering forever in hell. The problem here is there is the Bible doesn’t say anything like that. The phrase “spiritual death” is not found in Scripture.
A Better Understanding of Jesus’ Death
In the first century, Caesar ran the world; or at least he thought he did. Roman armies would destroy any group who rebelled against their rule. If a seditious group rose up, the Romans would defeat them, crucify the leaders, and perhaps even burn their city to the ground. People across the Empire gave their loyalty to Rome out of fear, knowing full well the wages of rebellion was crucifixion.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he used multiple parables to teach that though the presence of God had departed from Israel for awhile, God was still in charge and had returned to reclaim his kingdom. In his parables, Jesus made it clear that the Jewish leaders had not been good stewards of what had been entrusted to them. Every time God had sent a prophet, the leaders of Jerusalem abused and killed him. They deserved to be held responsible for their rebellion.
Like Isaiah hundreds of years before, Jesus warned them that they were in rebellion to God’s rule and foreign armies would come in and lay waste to their rebellious city,
And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh (Isaiah 66:24).
But the one who was crucified as a rebel, the one who took the punishment Jerusalem deserved, wasn’t the war-mongering zealots or the hypocritical religious leaders, but the meek, faithful, and loving Jesus. He willingly allowed himself to be offered up to the Romans as if he were the notorious rebel. As the high priest said, “It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:50).
Jesus allowed himself to be treated as the sinful one, taken outside the camp and executed like a criminal, taking the sort of punishment the people collectively deserved.
The Messiah Died for Our Sins
Notice, when Paul talks about Jesus’ death, he doesn’t say, “Jesus died for our sins,” but “Christ died for our sins.” Of course, as I’m sure you know, “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, but his title.
The word “Christ” means “anointed one.” It originally referred to the kings and priests of Israel, who were anointed with oil to indicate they had been chosen by God. The true “Anointed One” was to be both priest AND king(see Psalm 110; Genesis 14:18). The Messiah would be the one to both rule over and purify the people from their sins.
Jesus was acting as the true son of David when he allowed himself to be killed for his people’s rebellion. He knew the only way to rule over his redeemed people was to offer himself as their sacrificial lamb, to make atonement for all of their sin, trusting God to vindicate him and raise him up because of his innocence and his faithfulness.
In Accordance with the Scriptures
Notice that Paul emphasizes multiple times in 1 Corthinians 15, the Gospel story is “in accordance with Scripture.” Of course, the Hebrew Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) were the only Scriptures Paul knew at the time. And Paul doesn’t mean there are a few predictions in the Old Testament that can be pulled out of context to say, “See the prophets said it would all happen like this.”
Paul means the entire biblical narrative points to God providing a lamb (Genesis 22:8), a way for the exiled not to remain outcast (2 Samuel 14:14), and a selflessly loving and faithful King to bless and rule over the world (Psalm 2). What Jesus did for his people, as the Anointed Priestly King is the most fitting climax to Israel’s story.
It wasn’t just Jerusalem or Israel who needed an Anointed Priestly King to give himself on their behalf, it was all of humanity who had been rebellious and outcast. Jesus died the death the world collectively deserved. And by his blood, the Messiah “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and [he has] made them a kingdom and priests to our God” (Revelation 5:9-10).
Jesus’ death doesn’t save us from dying. In fact, we’re called to lovingly die the same sort of death for each other (1 John 3:16). But Jesus’ death does mean that those who are united with him, both Jew and Gentile, are now part of the new Israel. We are the ones for whom the Messiah has offered himself as a sacrificial lamb to make us holy and reign over us as King.
Do you see how that’s slightly different than the way we typically explain Jesus’ death? The typical understanding is completely disconnected from the story of Israel, which means our typical explanation is not “in accordance with Scripture.”
I love you and God loves you,
P.S. If you haven’t already done so, make sure to read the introduction to this series, “What is the Gospel?” and make sure you’re subscribed to the e-mail list so you don’t miss “Part Two: He Was Buried.”
If you’re a Bible class teacher, a parent, or anyone who wants to share the truth of Scripture with others, have you ever considered how video might be a helpful tool for sharing the story of Scripture? This week I would like to invite you to listen to a conversation I had with two of my friends from Appian Media, Justin Dobbs and Stuart Peck. Appian Media also has a special giveaway exclusively for listeners to this podcast (available for a short time). Just visit AppianMedia.org/crosstalk.
In this coversation, we discussed why video is a helpful medium for communicating biblical stories and biblial truth, how video can supplement discussion-style and lecture-style classes, and how Appian Media’s resources are making an impact on people across the world.
I hope you enjoy this conversation!
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What is the Gospel? How would you summarize it? I’m afraid the way we typically define and summarize the Gospel is far different than the the apostles. Over the next few weeks, I want to share with you what I believe is the biblical summary of the Gospel. Today, I simply want to give a brief introduction to the Gospel.
Seven (Not Three) Point Outline
Most of my life I have heard people say, “The Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.” We typically point to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 as proof that these three points makeup the essential points of the Gospel story. However, I recently finished Scot McKnight’s book, “The King Jesus Gospel.” McKnight helped me realize 1 Corinthians 15 is a great chapter to help us outline the Gospel, but it’s a mistake to stop at verse 4.
If we want a true outline of the Gospel, we probably need to keep reading to at least verse 28. After reading through 1 Corinthians 15:1-28 with a fresh perspective, I believe there are at least seven important points for summarizing the Gospel.
Today I simply want to introduce you to these seven points, but over the next few weeks we will explore and discuss why each of these points needs to be part of our understanding of what we mean when we say, “Gospel.”
It’s Good News!
Before we get to the seven points, we need to establish a basic truth, the Gospel is “news.” It’s a story about something that happened. The Gospel is not a set of instructions. The Gospel is not a blueprint for how to go to heaven when you die.
The Gospel is good news about the past, the present, and the future of the world. The Gospel is the story of events that happened, are happening, and will happen. So when you use the word “Gospel,” make sure you mean a story of events, not a list of rules or instructions.
Outline of the Gospel Story
Let me encourage you to read each of these points slowly. Think deeply about each one. Consider whether or not you’ve included each point as being an essential part of the Gospel story.
Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.
He was buried.
He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
In Adam we all die, but in Christ we will all be made alive: Jesus is the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to him.
At his coming he will deliver the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet and the last enemy to be destroyed is death.
When all things are subjected to the Father, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him, that God may be all in all.
Believing and Obeying the Gospel
My whole life I have heard, and have used the phrase, when someone is baptized, “He obeyed the Gospel.” I’ve written before about how it is a serious mistake to reduce “obeying the Gospel” to being baptized.
The Gospel is the epic, world-changing story about what God has done, is doing, and will do in and through Jesus. You may have entered into this story at baptism, but you’re never finished obeying it.
For those who have become a part of this story, I want to spend the next few weeks reminding you “of the Gospel [that was] preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).
This week’s guest is Dean Meadows, the Executive Director of The Daily Apologist. Dean is incredibly passionate about helping young Christians defend their faith. It is important for every Christian to be able to defend what we believe, but it is especially important for young people who are facing a barrage of arguments from secular friends and professors.
When most of us think of “Christian apologetics,” we probably think of the old earth, new earth, dinosaurs, and evolution. However, Dean and The Daily Apologist team focus on some other areas of apologetics. They are addressing some of the philosophical questions being raised in academia, for which many of our young people are not prepared.
I hope you enjoy this conversation!
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No issue is more contentious in our culture than sexual ethics. From the outside, followers of Jesus are accused of being bigots. And from the inside, many preachers, writers, and theologians are questioning whether or not Scripture is really as clear on sexual ethics as we’ve always asserted. Co-habitation, same-sex relationships, transgenderism, and more; ours has become a tricky culture to navigate with kindness and without compromise.
Everyone Has a Sexual Ethic
Every person with whom I have discussed this issue believes some sexual behaviors are good and pure, while other behaviors are shameful and even deviant. For instance, most people in this culture would hold to a sexual ethic that condemns behaviors like pedophilia, rape, and probably incest.
Regardless of a rapist’s desires, or the length of time he has struggled with those desires, we simply do not condone rape as acceptable sexual behavior. We rightfully condemn rape as immoral, regardless of any other considerations. Similarly, most people in this culture would also condemn a sexual relationship between a 45-year-old man and an 11-year-old girl. Regardless of the man’s desires or the girl’s consent, we would all judge that relationship to be unhealthy, inappropriate, and wrong.
So, here is the question I think everyone needs to ask, “What is the standard or basis for my sexual ethic?” In other words, “By what standard do I judge one sexual relationship to be right and another sexual relationship to be wrong?” Standards by which we judge might include:
state or federal law
or something else
Everyone makes judgments about sexual behavior. No one is ambivalent on the issue. But our judgments differ because we are using different standards. So, what is your standard?
Jesus’ Sexual Ethic
Jesus had a sexual ethic. He believed some sexual behaviors were moral and others were immoral. In order for us to understand Jesus’ sexual ethic, we need to consider what he meant when he talked about “sexual immorality” (e.g. Mark 7:21). As a first-century Jewish rabbi, speaking to a Jewish audience, there is absolutely no doubt Jesus defined sexual immorality according to the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 18-20). The Law of Moses was the standard by which Jesus judged sexual behavior. Everything the Law condemned as sexually immoral, Jesus also condemned as sexually immoral (same-sex relationships, rape, bestiality, incest, etc.).
But Jesus’ sexual ethic went far deeper than a surface reading of the Law. Jesus discerned from the Law principles like these:
a married man is sinning by even fantasizing about women other than his wife (Matthew 5:28)
the story of Adam and Eve serves as a precedent for the definition and permanence of marriage (Matthew 19:4-5)
in spite of the Law’s limited allowance for divorce, leaving your spouse to marry someone else is still adulterous (Matthew 19:3-9)
Jesus did not create or void any laws about sex, marriage, or divorce. He upheld the Law of Moses, but he also dove deeper into Scripture to reveal the will of God that was always present in the heart of the Law.
The Sexual Ethic of Jesus’ People
After Jesus’ ascension, all of the followers of Jesus were Jewish. Like the Lord, they held to the sexual ethic of the Law of Moses. When Gentiles started following Jesus, the church told them they were not obligated to keep the entire Law of Moses, but there were some requirements from the Law that remained binding. In Acts 15:28-29, we read:
It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.
Like Jesus, the apostles defined sexual immorality according to the Law of Moses, but they also had a unique view of sexuality in light of the Gospel.
The Spirit-filled apostles extrapolated from the Gospel story itself a sexual ethic based on Jesus’ faithfulness and self-giving love (e.g. Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Corinthians 5-7). They taught that committing oneself to a spouse of the opposite sex was a way to model the faithfulness and self-giving love of Jesus and the church. They also taught that because Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, engaging in any sexual behavior outside of marriage was an act of defiling God’s holy temple.
Policing the World
With all of that said, the apostle Paul took the position that it is not up to the church to police the sexual ethics of those outside the church (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-13). It is our job to hold other disciples accountable for their sexual behavior, but it is not our job to hold people in the world accountable for their sex life.
If you have accepted Jesus’ offer to be his disciple, then adopting his sexual ethic is part of that relationship. Being a disciple of Jesus means, in part, allowing Jesus to dictate our sexual behavior. Our emotions and desires cannot dictate the way we behave sexually. Just because we have a desire does not mean it is right to fulfill that desire. Like the early church, we must allow the Gospel story to shape our view of sexuality and dictate our sexual behavior.
However, if someone is not a follower of Jesus, all we can do is invite them to follow Jesus, explaining to them why trusting Jesus about everything (including sexuality) is the best choice anyone can make. Criticizing their sexual behavior, shaming them because they do not hold to a biblical sexual ethic, will not help bring them to Jesus.
It’s not our job to hold them accountable for their sex life, it’s our job to share Jesus with them!
This week’s guest is Pamela Maxwell (one of my three younger sisters), who was a missionary in both France and Scotland. In this conversation, we visit about why she became a missionary, what she experienced on the mission field, some of the unique challenges she faced when she was a single woman working as a missionary, and more. I hope you are encouraged by this conversation.
Currently, Pamela and her family live in Waurika, Oklahoma. Her husband, Tommy Maxwell, is the preacher for the Waurika Church of Christ. Though they are now back in the United States, they are still very much missionaries.
What will happen when Jesus returns? Will the earth, and all material things, cease to exist? That’s what I grew up believing. However, I began to realize the Bible speaks of the meek inheriting the earth (Matthew 5:5) and the saved receiving “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13; Isaiah 66:22; Revelation 21:1). I didn’t know what to do with these passages: will there be a new earth to inherit or no earth to inherit?
As I have studied the Scriptures and found biblical answers to these questions, I have found others who also embrace the biblical teaching that God’s people will inherit the earth, just as Jesus (and the prophets promised). One such brother is my friend, Josh Pappas, who preaches for the LaVergne Church of Christ. I want to invite you to listen to a very in-depth conversation we had about the new heavens and new earth.
For decades there have been countless church arguments and even splits over how “the Lord’s money” can and cannot be spent. But what if we’ve been working from some flawed assumptions? We typically assume that putting money in the collection plate is giving money “to God” and we assume the church’s bank account is a treasury of sacred funds belonging to the Lord. But are these biblical assumptions?
To Whom are We Giving?
I’ve always assumed that when the collection plate is passed on Sunday mornings that we are giving our money to God. In fact, I used to tell my children on Saturday evenings to set aside the money they would “give to God” the next morning. That’s actually a habit I am trying to break.
I’m trying to break that habit for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is inconsistent with the idea that God already owns all of our possessions. When we became followers of Jesus, we renounced all that we owned (Luke 14:33). Because of his mercies, we have given our whole selves to the Lord (Romans 12:1-2). We give money on Sundays not because we’re giving some of our money to the Lord, but because we’ve given our whole selves to him already (2 Corinthians 8:5)
But if we are not giving to God, when we put money in the collection plate, to whom are we giving? When we look at the examples of giving in the New Testament, it seems they were giving to “one another.” They were giving to support the poor, the elderly, and the spreading of the gospel.
To Whom Does the Church Treasury Belong?
The early church seems to have believed the collected funds were the shared property of the Christian community.
Acts 2:44-45 says:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
And in Acts 4:32-35 it says:
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
The church is supposed to be a community where everyone believes, “mi casa es su casa” and when we give, we are simply proving the genuineness of our love for one another (2 Corinthians 8:8). The church leaders oversee the funds and distribute them to the people, ministries, and good works where they are needed. But the funds are simply the common property of the church community.
I know of no passage in the New Testament that justifies us treating the collected funds as some sort of sacred treasury. Should the church be good stewards of collected funds? Obviously so, but no more than you and I should be good stewards of the funds in our personal accounts. It all belongs to the Lord and we should be good stewards of whatever is entrusted to us.
What Are the Rules for Spending Church Money?
And there’s the rub, “How can church funds be spent?” This is where we have massive disagreements in the church. But it seems to me our disagreements are completely unnecessary when we read Scripture contextually.
Some will point to a passage like 1 Timothy 5:9-10, where Paul gives Timothy instructions about supporting widows, to prove there are strict rules for how church funds can and cannot be spent. However, a close look at 1 Timothy 5 will reveal that it is not really about rules for how church money is spent but about protecting people (specifically young widows) from “toxic charity.” In other words, it’s not about protecting church funds from unauthorized spending, but about protecting church people from becoming spiritually unhealthy (see also 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
The church is nothing more than a gathering, or a community, of individual Christians. The New Testament never lays out one set of rules for individual Christians and a different set for the community as a whole. The money that belongs to the community no more belongs to the Lord than the money that belongs to individual Christians. The same principles that govern how you spend the money in your wallet are the same rules that govern how church leaders oversee the spending of church funds.
It seems to me we need to stop being so critical about financial decisions church leaders make. We need to realize there is as much freedom for church leaders to spend shared money on good works they believe glorify God as there is for you and me to spend personal money on good works we believe glorify God.
We especially need to stop splitting churches over how funds are spent. The New Testament says little to nothing on this issue, but it says so much about love, unity, and peace within the church. The world will not recognize you as followers of Jesus because of your congregation’s frugality but because of your love for one another.
When we put money in the collection plate we are doing it to honor God and in response to God’s love for us. In this way, you can certainly say we are worshiping when we give. But we are doing it because we have already given everything to him, because we are part of something bigger than ourselves, and because we belong to our church family and our church family belongs to us.
I don’t say this lightly, but this will probably be the best thing you listen to all day. In this episode, Iraqi-born Wissam Al-Aethawi shares the story of how he converted from Islam to Christ. He now preaches the gospel to Muslims in Michigan and travels extensively helping Christians understand, love, and share the gospel with their Muslim neighbors.
Wissam shares that hate drove him away from Islam and love brought him to Christ. He also shares how much it bothers him to hear hate and fear (which he says are very closely related) coming from his brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are going to bring our neighbors to Christ, it must begin with loving them.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul asked, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” The implications of a Christian’s body being a temple of the Holy Spirit are deep and profound. However, this sentiment is also often misapplied. What does it mean for your body to be a temple of the Holy Spirit? Does it mean you need to exercise and eat right? Does it mean you shouldn’t get tattoos or piercings? Let’s re-examine this passage in context.
How It’s Often Used
Like most misapplied proof-texts, this passage is often used inconsistently. For instance, I’ve heard Christians say it is wrong for someone to get tattoos or piercings because their body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. These folks reason that a Christian should not “deface” the temple of God.
However, the same reasoning never seems to be applied to something more traditional, like a woman having earrings. If it’s wrong to put a hole in your nose, why is it not wrong to pierce your earlobes? If it’s wrong to decorate your skin with ink, then why is it not wrong to decorate yourself by hanging jewelry from your earlobes?
Another popular application is to preach that being healthy (eating good foods, exercising, taking vitamins, etc.) is a proper application of 1 Corinthians 6:19, because healthy people are taking care of the temple of God. Inversely, they reason that overeating and/or leading a sedentary lifestyle is abusing the temple of God and is a violation of 1 Corinthians 6:19. Of course, those who use this passage in this way tend to make allowances for the unhealthy habits in which they themselves indulge, but not the unhealthy habits of others.
The Verse in Context
As always, the proper way to understand a particular verse will always be dependent on the context. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul is not talking about piercings, tattoos, junk food, or exercise. Paul is talking about sexual sin and how sexual sin defiles our bodies.
In fact, Paul is explicit that sexual sin is in a category of its own. He writes, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Sex unites the bodies of two individuals; which does not mean they are married, it means their bodies are united. When bodies are united in a sinful way, it is a sin against their bodies.
Paul taught that the bodies of Christians are holy spaces; places where heaven and earth are united because of the work of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit. Like the ground on which Moses stood before the burning bush or the space inside the Holy of Holies, your body is a holy space. To use that holy space for the purpose of sexual immorality would be like making a sacrifice to an idol in the temple (something that was wrong anywhere but was specifically a sin against the temple when it was done in the temple).
When we grasp this profound reality about our own sanctified bodies, it is a humbling moment. It makes us appreciate the fact that our bodies are something special. The Spirit of God quite literally dwells within these bodies and we are sacred space, filled with the invisible presence of God. As such, every Christian should learn “how to control his own body in holiness and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4:4) because our bodies are sacred.
As with any passage of Scripture, we should be careful to not go beyond the author’s intended application. Paul specifically said sexual sin defiles the body in a unique way, so to raise other behaviors to the same level is to ignore Paul’s point about the seriousness and uniqueness of sexual sin.
Furthermore, it is particularly egregious to apply this passage to things that are not even inherently sinful. Eating, resting, and even putting a hole or ink in your skin is not inherently sinful. Therefore, claiming these things defile the temple of God is going far beyond the point Paul was making.
Furthermore, the inconsistent ways we apply our reasoning and logic on this issue have become judgmental in ways that violate passages like (Matthew 7:1-5; Romans 14:3-4; James 4:12). It would be one thing to apply this passage to other behaviors that are inherently sinful, but it is another thing altogether to apply it to behaviors which may be unwise or culturally unusual but not inherently sinful.
Not How the Bible Works
All that being said, we shouldn’t require a Bible verse for everything, nor should we try to find a Bible verse that answers every question. I don’t need a Bible verse to tell me to look both ways before crossing the street. Common sense should tell me it’s foolish to cross the street without looking. To try to rip a verse out of context to prove it’s a sin to cross without looking cheapens Scripture and insults the intelligence of its readers (in multiple ways).
We have enough health information at our fingertips that you should know what kinds of food are healthy and what kinds of food are not. You should know the benefits of exercise, as well as the consequences of leading a sedentary lifestyle. If you choose to get a nose ring or get a tattoo, you should understand the benefits and consequences of your decision. It shouldn’t take a Bible verse to convince you to make healthy choices.
Additionally, because we have a lot of freedom to figure out how to live our lives in ways that glorify God, there are going to be people who make different decisions than you. They are going to decide to get a tasteful tattoo, pierce their nose, or eat a reasonable amount of pepperoni pizza. You’re just going to have to be okay with that, and they are going to have to be okay with the decisions you make as well.