What Did Christ Save Us From?

Words matter, especially when it comes to the biblical responsibility of teaching. Those who lead do not have liberty to be careless or vague with their expressions. The word of God understood rightly is life to our soul (Proverbs 3:22), so there is much riding on the faithful exercise of preaching (2 Timothy 2:15).

Those realities have led me to this post. This past Sunday I taught a message from John 13 and used an illustration intended to point listeners to the seriousness of sin and the kindness of God in salvation. And while still agreeing with my premise, I had the overwhelming feeling Sunday evening that I had failed in clarity and precision.

Here is a summary of what I said:

“There is a well-known sign on Interstate 65N in Alabama that says: ‘Go to church or the devil will get you’. The sign indicates the problem is the devil and the solution is go to church. But consider first that you can go to church every single day of your life and still die apart from Christ having never been redeemed. And second, that the biggest threat to your soul is not the devil. Rather the sign should say ‘Flee to Christ or suffer the wrath of God’. What we are being saved from is not the devil. The devil is an enemy – yes. But the cross was to save us from the punishment for our sins. That punishment comes not from the devil, but rather from God. On the cross Jesus became the recipient of God’s wrath against rebellion. God the Father abandoned God the son, as he made him – in that moment – responsible for our sin.” 
– from The Jesus Series #50, Authority to Serve

My main purpose was not to ridicule the sign or those who put it up, but to get us to think about the nature of salvation. Christianity is not best understood through pithy sayings, but by deeply and thoroughly examining eternal truths. The issue is that in my own explanation regarding the work of Christ on the cross, I failed to paint a full picture of what endangers us.

Did Christ Save Us from the Devil?

My statement “What we are being saved from is not the devil” certainly needs further clarification. Indeed, Christ did save us from the work of Satan. Consider these passages: 

  • Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning since the beginning. But the son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8 (ESV)
  • Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through his death he might destroy the one holding the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. – Hebrews 2:14-15 (CSB)

The devil is the author of rebellion against God. In Genesis 3 he incites man to follow his practice of sin, the result of which is death (Romans 6:23). The devil then seeks to exploit the fallen nature of man to bring them to his will rather than God’s so that they are destroyed (2 Timothy 2:26) and thus he holds over them the power of death. But Jesus has come to destroy the devil’s work. Christ shared in our humanity, yet never sinned. While perfect, He submitted to suffering the consequence of our immorality through death on a cross. And He triumphed over the grave in resurrection, demonstrating that He has authority over both sin and its effects. By grace Jesus credits his perfect obedience to those who through faith sincerely seek his saving work. And He has granted us a spirit that loves God and finds joy in being led by him (Romans 8:15). So yes, our hope is the continual power of Christ to save us from the devil (Ephesians 6:11) which is why the kingdom of darkness battles to keep people from hearing and believing the message about Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The Importance of Understanding God’s Wrath

The original reason I chose to use this illustration is that many who acknowledge spiritual realities believe their greatest threat is the devil. And indeed, motivated by hatred for God the devil aims to bring to destruction all that He can. We ignore this at our own peril ( 1 Peter 5:8). But the devil does not administer justice and does not have the authority to sentence people to everlasting death. It is God who is the judge of the whole earth (Genesis 18:25); who pours his wrath out on the wicked (Romans 2:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:12). Jesus taught that it was wisdom to fear God as the only one who could cast a person into hell (Luke 12:5).

Many believers find it uncomfortable to talk about God’s wrath. We are tempted to conform to the world which has remade God in an image it can tolerate. With dwindling exceptions, mankind longs to conduct their lives as they choose without any thought of repercussions. Love in our culture increasingly means never saying someone is wrong. And so many have created an image of God that agrees with what they can accept: A God who would never judge anyone. The world cannot comprehend or accept a deity enthroned in glory who exercises judgement while maintaining unending, steadfast love. And most will never try. Mankind would rather reject any thought of divine punishment than accept responsibility for their own wrongdoing.

God’s Love for Rebels

I absolutely agree that those who follow Jesus should participate in a church that proclaims, relies on, and adheres to the Gospel. There is no picture of Christianity in the New Testament that does not include active participation in a community of faith. Furthermore, we are called to resist the devil in the power of God and the church is an integral part of God’s plan in this resistance. So, yes: Go to church and resist the devil. But remember that it is deadly dangerous to ignore the greatest threat to our souls, which is to fall under judgement for our sin. God is love, but His love is not exercised in allowing his creation to wander off in rebellion, living with themselves at the center of the universe. Rather He demonstrates his love by His willingness to put upon His own son the death due rebels, and subsequently share His own riches and honor with the ones who receive this gift of redemption.

Be Fearful of Immaturity

This article is based on the sermon ‘Fearing Immaturity‘, given on December 7, 2014 from the Hebrews series, which can be found in its entirety here.

God has prepared us to face the ever changing, ever challenging, ever glorious expedition with Christ, by giving us His Word and His Spirit. I am not sure if there is a book in the NT that deals with the potential and the pitfalls of life’s journey – the way that Hebrews does. This sermon / letter builds upon the biblical mandates that teach us to ABIDE, WALK in and OBEY Christ, by giving us promises of rewards IF we do these things (see 3:6, 3:14 and 4:11). and Hebrews challenges us to these mandates by giving us warnings (see 2:1 and 3:12).

When I was 19 years old, I found myself in the midst of one of the deepest spiritual crises of my life. I had professed Christ with my mouth as a seven year old, and has spent many of my early years growing up in that profession. As a teenager, I fell into a trap of immorality that would consume my thoughts, behaviors and heart for the next 10 years. I spent several of those years with no signs of spiritual life, no interest in God apart from times of want or need. But at 19, I fell under a cloud of great conviction knowing my life was no longer lined up with His word; and that sin had consumed me. And I fell under great despair and fear about my own soul. So I began reading my bible and praying – begging and seeking for God and His assurance. And I remember one day in particular before work, I was trying to read my bible – and as I thumbed through my eyes fell to a passage of scripture – Hebrews 6:

‘1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity…And this we will do if God permits. 4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned’.

In the midst of great concern about your salvation – THIS is not the text you want to come across. Because this passage – at face value – indicates there can be people who experience Christ and His Kingdom, yet fall away from it with no opportunity to return. THIS is frightening. And reading this passage that day, I cried my eyes out; I cried harder at reading this passage, than I cried over the death of my father.

Many people, good people who love Jesus, have different interpretations of this text. My intention is not to go through all of those interpretations; nor answer all of the questions surrounding it. 17 years after reading this passage for the first time, I still wrestle with what it says. But I do want us to make some observations that I pray will be beneficial for our souls & that will point us toward truth:

Observation 1: God is Greatly Concerned with Our Spiritual Maturity

More than any other aspect of our life – God is concerned with our growth in Christ. This section really begins back in Hebrews 5:11, where the writer tells the readers that He has many deep things to teach them about Christ, and the Gospel – but He has ran into a difficulty, the readers have become dull of hearing; This literally can mean ‘LAZY in UNDERSTANDING the message’ or SLUGGISH in INSTRUCTION. 5:12: For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. Surrounding this text then is the issue of spiritual immaturity: which is a failure to grow in learning and applying the Gospel; these people were bored, uninterested and lazy in the things of God – which is why 6:1 starts off with a cry, imploring them to ‘GO ON TO MATURITY’.

Observation 2: You Will Mature in Christ or You Will Fall Away from Christ

Immediately following this cry to go on to maturity, is the warning beginning in verse 4, of the impossibility of restoring someone who falls away to repentance. So, implicit in the text is that there are 2 options: Maturity or Destruction. You go on to maturity, or you risk falling away. To become a disciple of Christ is the most glorious, gracious gift of God. And it is a pathway that will be filled with ups and downs; Times of intimacy and seasons of trial. God is kind and compassionate and patient with us. But your discipleship is purposed in your salvation. You will be a maturing disciple or you will be a child of destruction.

Observation 3: This ‘Falling Away’ is Characterized by an Inability to Repent

I believe this is a key observation for us, because I think it is fairly common for people to read this passage and wonder ‘Have I fallen Away’? That was my fear 17 years ago when I mourned over this passage; And it is not my point to smooth over a Godly-fear, a Godly-sorrow that leads to repentance. But, so many of our testimonies involve a struggle with flesh; and seasons of our lives where we leave church; or leave intimacy with Christ; or find ourselves drowning in immorality. And so, is that the falling away described here? Notice verse 4, It is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened..go to verse 6, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance. This falling away ends with this individual unable to bring them self to repent. Repentance is a turning from sin; toward God. It is more than sorrow (feeling bad over what you have done) – it is sorrow that leads you to seek God’s presence. The individual who has Fallen Away in the Heb 6 sense, has lost the ability, maybe even the desire, to seek God and His forgiveness.

Observation 4: Maturity is Characterized by the Fruit of the Holy Spirit

Jesus teaches in Matthew 7, that you can distinguish the godly from the ungodly by the fruit of their lives – what their lives produce. ‘You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes. Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit’. Later in places like Gal 5, this good fruit is called the fruit of the Spirit and examples of it are listed out. And in Eph 4, we are given more insight, when maturity is defined as ‘attaining the the fullness of Christ’. So the maturity we are being compelled toward is Christ-like character (which is the fruit of the Spirit); So see this in Heb 6:7, ’For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. If it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned’. This compares and contrasts the spiritually mature from the immature. The mature OFTEN hear the Gospel (the rain), they receive it continually in their life (drinking it in) & the result is Christlikeness, spiritual fruit (which is the crop). The immature, don’t produce fruit. There’s no crop, just thorns.

Observation 5: There is No Mention of the Mature in Christ Falling Away

In Matthew 13 Jesus tells a parable of a farmer spreading seeds (the gospel) that he throws or rains down if you will, on the soil – the land. Same picture as in Hebrews 6. In this parable, the good soil receives the gospel and indeed bears fruit and yields a crop. That is obviously the mature in Heb 6. But Jesus says there will be those who hear the word and immediately receive it with joy, 21 yet he have no root in themselves; they endure for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises they fall away. So here is the spiritually immature. The gospel comes down, they joyfully receive it; they start a journey with Christ. Maybe they join a church; maybe they start serving; maybe they attend or host bible studies; go on a mission trip, – experience community, see miracles – raise their hands in worship – as Hebrews 6 says – taste the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come. Maybe they do this for YEARS and YEARS. But what they never do is mature in Christ-like character; they do not bear the fruit of the spirit. And at some point a trial will come, something will happen – they have no root to hold them into place and they fall away; just as Jesus says they will and just as Hebrews 6 describes. I believe these passages show us that it is possible to have an experience with the Gospel; a tasting of Heavenly things – that falls short of true saving faith. And when these people fail to move to maturity, at some point (maybe years and years down the road) they fall away – and based on Heb 6 may find it impossible to come to repentance. But the mature in Christ, those who have been drunk in the gospel, producing Christ-like character, Gospel-fruit – they are saved, and I believe they are persevered by the Lord; there is no mention in this text of the mature falling away; not in the Heb 6 sense of being unable to come back to repentance.

I realize that passages like Hebrews 6 are not on the surface encouraging and hopeful; but, we do not always need encouraging – sometimes we need to be warned. When I was 19 years old, failing to move to Christ-like maturity; steeped in sinful immorality; uninterested in the Christ I claimed – I did not need someone to pat me on the back and say IT’S ALL OK. DON’T FEAR HEBREWS 6. I needed the Spirit of God to take Heb 6 & warn my soul with the fear of judgment to GO ON TO MATURITY. A good, loving Father encourages His children & warns His children; & today I am so grateful for the blessing of the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom.

IF today you are immature in Christ, yet hearing His voice, then do not harden your heart. Run to Christ. Run to Him right now. Cling to Him. And even if you are the most mature Christian reading this article – Run to Christ, cling to Him and ask for more maturity.