Many times, people think of the Gospel as a message about what Christ has done and invitation for us to do something in response. What has Christ done? He has died for our sins, according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3). What are we supposed to do, then? Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38). Thus, we are presented with a simple transaction: Christ has done something for us, and we are to do something in return. If we do this thing in return, then we get a reward, namely eternal life with Christ in heaven. If we do not do this thing in return, then we get a punishment, namely the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).
As commonplace and familiar as this presentation might be, it does not actually tell the whole story of the Gospel. In fact, I think there are two things missing from this picture.
In the first place, this “transactional” interpretation of the Gospel does not leave very much room for love. Christ expects that we love Him (cf. John 14:15). After all, Christ loves us! That is why He died for us: because He loves us and wants to save us from destruction. The Apostle Paul writes very poignantly on this matter: “The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). But if Christ loves us and invites us into a loving friendship with Him and God His Father, then it seems like the “transactional” approach to the Gospel is going to partly distort things.
We normally do not “love” all those persons with whom we enter into some kind of transaction or agreement! Your landlord agrees to give you a place to live, and you agree to pay him some monthly sum so that you can live there. There need not be very much love in a relationship like that! But Christ loves us, cares for us, and wants us to love Him in return. To my mind, this implies that there is something more than a mere “transaction” going on in the Gospel.
In the second place, the “transactional” presentation of the Gospel makes it sound as if Christ has already done “His part,” so that now it falls to us to do our part. Of course, Christ did say on the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30). That is true. He gave Himself once for all as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and that part of His mission is over now (Rom 6:10; Heb 7:27, 9:26; 1 Pet 3:18). There is no second sacrifice; there is no more atonement to be made. As Paul says, “Our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival” (1 Cor 5:7-8). But Christ is still working for our salvation in various ways, even if this does not include continually offering Himself as a sacrifice. He has not given up on us!
One way in which Christ continues to seek after our salvation is by interceding for us. Thus, the Apostle John writes in his first epistle:
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But 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
Christ is our advocate who pleads for us. As the Apostle Paul says,
Who is to condemn [us]? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.Romans 8:34 New Revised Standard Version
Christ therefore not only died for us, but He is also at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. As I’ve mentioned before, interceding for our salvation is the very essence of Christ’s person. John does not say that Christ’s death is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, but rather that Christ Himself is the sacrifice – as if to plead for sinners is the very definition of Christ’s person. And if this is who Christ is, then until He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, He does not cease to intercede for us.
Another way that Christ works for our salvation is by working to sanctify us. The apostles teach clearly that Christ’s goal is not merely to die for our sins and win atonement for us, but also to make us holy and righteous and so to present us before God. Consider what the Apostle Paul says:
You who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled [to God] in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him.Colossians 1:21-22 New Revised Standard Version
Why did Christ die for us and reconcile us to God? “So as to present us holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him.” He wants not only to save us from the death and destruction which our sins deserve, but also to teach us to live rightly with one another and with God our Father. As I said elsewhere, God wishes to establish in Christ a friendship which extends to all people. And obviously there can be no friendship when people do not agree on how to act! How can we be friends with God if we sin against Him day by day, disregarding His law and having no care to obey Him?
But if Christ wants not only to die for us but also to make us “holy and blameless and irreproachable,” then it is clear that He continues to work even to this day. He has not given up on us! Every day He intercedes for us to the Father. Every day He reminds us of His goodness by providing gifts and blessings to us which we cannot claim to deserve. When we sin and go off in the wrong direction, straying from His path, He comes after us, like the Good Shepherd that He is, and brings us back to the fold (John 10:11-18). He sends us the Holy Spirit in order to fill us with love for God (Acts 2:33). He does not leave us to our own devices but rather intervenes in our lives in order to bring us to God (1 Pet 3:18).
Consider the case of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9). Christ appears to him on the road toward Damascus. He reveals the truth to him. And Jesus even makes provisions for Saul in Damascus. He reveals to Ananias that he must lay his hands on Saul, so that he can receive his eyesight once more (Acts 9:10-19). Look at how Christ intervenes in the life of Saul, even after His death for the whole world! He reveals Himself to Saul, He gives him a clear direction of where he must go, He puts him in connection with other Christians, He provides a community for him, and He even heals his physical blindness. Christ continuously intervenes in the life of Saul, who later was known as Paul, showing His care for him and leading him on the right way throughout his entire life.
Christ bought us. What was the price of purchase? His own precious blood (1 Cor 6:20). Therefore, He considers that we belong to Him. He will not leave us, nor forsake us (compare Heb 13:5). He has not given up on us!