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Salvation Grace and Human Life

Salvation Grace and Human Life

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1) The most basic question posed by Christianity is: “Why did Jesus have to die?” I do not mean to make the simple gospel overly complex, but how could the life and death of one person—no matter how perfect—be credited to the account of another person? After all, the basic rules of justice and fair play demand that an offender pay the penalty for his/her own indiscretions. If Christ's death is to be seen as a payment for human sin, to whom is the payment made? Does God the Father demand the payment? Or is it made to Satan? What kind of God demands a blood sacrifice when it seems that granting forgiveness is all that is required?

Is it Just a Matter of Culture?

The ways in which Christians have understood the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ have changed during the centuries. Some of the early church fathers (like Irenaeus and Origen) viewed Jesus' death in terms of a ransom. When one considers the huge number of slaves in the Roman Empire, it is not surprising that this was seen as a particularly meaningful way of looking at the reason why Jesus had to die. In addition, Jesus himself had said that he had come to “give his life as a ransom for many”.

By the time of Anselm, an Archbishop of Canterbury in the eleventh century, social conditions had changed to the extent that the ransom idea was largely discarded in favor of what came to be known as the satisfaction theory of the atonement. For Anselm, the feudal system shed light on why Jesus had to die. He viewed God as a feudal lord and sin as an insult that had dishonored the divine majesty. Sins could not be merely forgiven; they had to be compensated for or “satisfied.” Only one equal with God could adequately compensate, yet the compensation had to be made by a human. Hence, Anselm's book, Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Man?), affirms that Jesus was truly God and truly human. Still, one is left with the impression that for Anselm, Jesus' death was of greater benefit to God than it was to humankind.

Along with Anselm, the sixteenth-century reformers, Luther and Calvin, saw sin as an intruder into the universe. Sin was seen as “lawlessness” and death as the consequence. God's anger against sin meant that the penalty of sin had to be paid and “it seemed clear to them [the reformers] that the essence of Christ's saving work consisted in his taking the sinner's place.”1 This substitutionary view of Jesus' death is very much based in such biblical passages as Romans 5:19—“For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

In the last century or so, many Christians have begun to question the whole idea of ...
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