Salvation is not (just) what Christ does. It’s what He is

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Christianity teaches that Christ is the Savior of the world (John 4:42). It teaches that Christ has died, offering Himself as a ransom for the sins of all people (1 Tim. 2:6). John has a particularly profound way of making the point:

If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:1-2 New Revised Standard Version

I think it is important to meditate very closely on what John says here.


For most people, there is a distinction between what they do and who they are. For most people, you can’t limit their entire identity to their day job, so to speak! The manager of your favorite restaurant is not merely a restaurant manager. She might also be a wife, a mother, a fan of baseball, an amateur painter, and so on. Your father was a father and a husband, but he also had various hobbies and interests, in addition to being a person with a private life of his own. And I am not merely the administrator of this website! I am also a husband, a college professor, a fan of jazz music, a brother, a brother-in-law, a son, a cousin, a friend for many, and so on. For most people, there is a distinction between who they are and what they do. Most people cannot be summarized by merely describing what they do.

But if that is the case, wouldn’t the same also hold true for Christ? Unfortunately, many people think this is true. They will admit that Jesus is the Savior of the world, the ransom of all people, the advocate for sinners. But they will also include other things here. They will describe Christ as also being any number of other things. These people will say: Yes, Christ is the Savior, but He is also…

The problem with this way of thinking about Christ is that it makes us lose trust in Him. So long as I say “Christ is Savior, but…”, I am leaving open the possibility that He is not Savior for me. After all, I am a husband and a professor, but I am not a husband or professor to everyone! No one who is not my wife can expect me to be a husband to them. No one who is not my student can expect me to be a professor to them. Thus, if we say that Christ is Savior, but He is also …, we are leaving open the possibility that Christ is not a Savior to us. And this makes us lose trust in Him.

Why would this make us lose trust in Him? Because if we are honest with ourselves, we can all find things in us that would make us unworthy of Christ. We all have sins, shortcomings, failings, mistakes, grave errors that we have committed. We haven’t forgotten about them. Once we committed them, they remained permanently imprinted in our memories. We know there is nothing we can do to make them go away, to make it as if it never happened. Those words spoken cannot be taken back; that thing we did cannot be undone. And when we look into ourselves and find all these things in us, we despair! We realize that we have messed up. And when we see that we have these things “on our record,” so to speak, we can only cower in fear of the Judgment of Christ.


The way out of this situation is to think differently about Christ. We must no longer think about salvation as merely one more thing that Christ does. Rather, we must think that salvation is what Christ is. It is His very definition as a person that He is the Savior. Look at the passage once more:

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:2 New Revised Standard Version

Look at what John says! He does not say that Christ’s death was the atoning sacrifice for our sins. That would mean that atonement would be just one more thing that Christ does. It would leave open the possibility that Christ is more than just a Savior, and thus He may not be a Savior to us. Rather, John says that He, Christ Himself, the person, is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It’s as if he said: there is nothing more to the person of Jesus than to make atonement for sinners and to bring them to God (1 Pet. 3:18). This is the whole of His identity and the substance of the definition of His person.

So there is no room for despair! Salvation is not (just) what Christ does. It’s what He is! Christ is Himself salvation. He is your Savior and mine. He has died for our sins and made atonement for us. And He will bring us to God. Like the theologian Samuel Rutherford said, Christ cares more about us than about His own life, since He gave His life in order to have us. So we do not need to fear anything from Him. He loves us, makes atonement for our sins, and teaches us how to live like children of God, shining like stars in the darkness of the world (Phil. 2:14-15).

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