What Happened on the Cross?

Question from a reader:

I hear about how much God loves us - and that He loved us before the Fall because He had us in His heart before the creation of the world. But then I hear it applied to how much He loves us now and that we should be remembering who we were before the Fall and looking at Christ not as an example for us but as an example of us. I get the idea: we can't try to imitate Christ. If He is in us then we are supposed to recognize who we are in Him.

But did Christ's sacrifice restore us to some original state of being the likeness of God or did Christ's sacrifice cover our sins and bring us into a new relationship? Maybe they are the same thing but I get so confused because there are a lot of weird ideas out there - especially the new Age ideas that say we were all made in God's image and we just have to remember who we are.

Answer from Julia (Stager) Mayo, former EPM research assistant:

Thank you for your honest questions. You address many doctrinal matters, and I will do my best to supply you with Biblical answers.

First, it is true that God loved us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). And it is true that God loves us (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8) even though we were spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1) and estranged from Him due to sin (Col. 1:21; Rom. 5:10).

In “remembering who we were before the fall,” I’m not positive I understand the point the quote is making, but I think it’s important to realize that though Adam and Eve spoke directly with God in an untainted relationship with Him, today we have the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ in us (1 Cor. 6:19; Col. 1:27; Rom. 8:10). So, we the redeemed, are able to experience fellowship with God based on the work of Christ (Heb. 4:16; Eph. 3:12).

It sounds like some of what you’ve been hearing is from a sort of Mystic interpretation of Christ’s work. You are correct in your feelings that Christ’s sacrifice is more than an act to cause us to remember who we really are. The only way of reconciling humanity to God was through the shedding of Jesus’ blood. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), so we who sinned in Adam are all condemned to death (Rom. 3:23; 5:12). Either we had to die or someone had to die in our place.

If God forgave sin without demanding satisfaction or payment He would not be a just God (Ex. 34:6-8). He would effectively be okaying sin by forgiving without consequence. It would be like He was telling humanity: “Sin’s not that bad. I’ll just forgive and forget because I love you.” But the reality is that sin is anti-God. God is neither complicit with nor neutral toward sin. He told us the wages of sin is death, and I have sinned. Somebody has to die as a consequence of my very real sins. And by God’s mercy, grace and love, it was Him.

Through His life, death and resurrection, Jesus the God-man:

  • Revealed the Father to us and lives as an example for us (Matt. 16:24-25; 1 Pet. 2:21)
  • Paid the penalty of sin in our place (Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21; Is. 53:6)
  • Satisfied (propitiated) the wrath of God that is upon the sinner (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18)
  • Cleansed us of our sins (1 John 3:5; John 1:29; Acts 15:9)
  • Redeemed us from sin and the law (Rom. 6:6; 6:14; Eph. 2:15)
  • Reconciled us to God (Rom. 5:10-11; Col. 1:20)
  • Triumphed over death and the powers of darkness (1 Cor. 15:25-26; Romans 8:1-4; Heb. 2:14-15; Eph. 1:20-23)

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15)

Now to address the image of God: God created male and female in His image (Gen. 1:27) and, fortunately for us, The Fall did not result in humanity losing that special status (Gen. 9:6). Bearing the image of God makes us human, but without Christ we live as spiritually dead and alienated from God (Col. 1:21). We can only receive eternal life through Jesus (John 5:24; 14:6), while those who reject Jesus are faced with God’s wrath (John 3:36).

Thank you for your questions. They are excellent, and the amazing thing is that the Bible has answers for all of them. I encourage you to continue to read God’s Word and prayerfully seek His wisdom whenever you become distressed due to the complexities you feel in life and faith. God has graciously provided us with His Living Word that will light our way now and forever.

Julia (Stager) Mayo holds a Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary. She was previously part of the Eternal Perspective Ministries staff, and still does occasional research work for Randy Alcorn.