The Work of Jesus Christ in Redemption

Posted: December 14, 2009 in Christian

crucifixion

From a correct biblical understanding of the nature of man, we must not accept the idea that we are guilty of Adam’s sin. No, Adam alone was guilty of his sin. However, we do share the consequences of his sin. We are born into corruption, and with an inherited tendency or inclination toward sin. All of us sin, and so we deserve the consequences of sin: spiritual and physical death, and eternal separation from God in hades.

Between the time of Adam’s fall and the coming of Christ, there were many righteous men and women, whom we read about in the Old Testament. But they, even through their godly lives, were unable to reverse the consequences of the Fall. Grace could act on them from the outside, as it did on the Prophet Moses, so much so that he had to cover his radiant face as he descended from Mount Sinai. However, this was only a temporary radiance, as the Holy Scriptures and Fathers say. He and all the Old Testament prophets did not have the Grace of the Holy Spirit abiding within them, as their personal strength and power. And after death, everyone, even the most righteous, went down into hades, being cut off from Paradise and heaven.

During the Old Testament period, God gave laws to the Hebrews to help them live righteous lives. He instituted animal sacrifices, which the Hebrew’s were to make as offerings for sin. These sacrifices were a prefiguration of Christ’s sacrifice, to prepare the people of God to understand and accept the meaning of Christ’s death on the Cross. But neither the sacrifices nor the laws were able to restore mankind to the state he had lost at the Fall.

A perfect, blameless sacrifice was needed—a man who was without sin—in order to destroy the consequences of sin. That was why Christ came. The first Adam fell from his original designation, bringing everything into ruin. Therefore Christ, Who is called the Second Adam or the New Adam, came into the world to fulfill man’s original designation and restore what was lost. But Christ did even more than that. He not only restored man to what Adam was before the Fall: He gave man the possibility to become that which Adam was supposed to become, what Adam could have become had he not fallen.

Now, having looked at the pre-Fall state and the consequences of the Fall, let us look more closely at how Christ restores man to the pre-Fall state and in fact beyond and above this state.

The how of the redemption, like the nature of God the Holy Trinity, is ultimately a mystery. And yet the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers help us to approach this mystery. They enable us to understand and believe in our redemption by Jesus Christ in such a way that, believing, we can receive the gift of salvation.
Our redemption by Jesus Christ began with His incarnation. When He took flesh, He became like us in everything except sin (cf. Heb. 4:15). In assuming human nature, He deified it. Since human nature is one, this gave us the potential of being deified as well: not deified by nature and Sonship, as Christ was, but deified by Grace and adoption.

But with Christ’s incarnation, man was still not able to actualize the potential for deification. Because of his spiritual corruption, man was an impure vessel. Because of the barrier of sin, man could not receive and keep the Grace of the Holy Spirit within himself. So Christ, having overcome the barrier of nature at His incarnation, now had to break down the barrier of sin. He would do this through his death. As St. Nicholas Cabasilas says, “Christ broke down the three barriers that separated man from God: the barrier of nature by His incarnation, the barrier of sin by His death, and the barrier of death by His Resurrection.”

As God, Christ knew He had come to earth to die for man, and in dying to rise from the grave. On the day before His crucifixion, He said: Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour (John 12:27).

Through his single spiritual death (at the Fall), Adam brought a twofold death into the world—spiritual death and bodily death. St. Gregory goes on to say, "The good Lord healed this twofold death of ours through His single bodily death, and through the one Resurrection of His body He gave us a twofold resurrection. By means of His bodily death He destroyed him who had the power over our souls and bodies in death, and rescued us from his tyranny over both."

This, again, is because human nature is one. St. Paul writes: If by one man’s offence death reigned by one [that is, Adam], much more they which receive abundance of Grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign by one, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17).
Following the words of Christ and St. Paul in the Scriptures, the Holy Fathers use a juridical or legal model to explain how Christ broke down the barrier of sin separating man from God.

The juridical explanation can be expressed in basic terms as follows: At the Fall, death was the sentence for sin. When He died on the Cross, Christ took upon Himself that sentence, but since He was without sin and thus undeserving of the sentence, the sentence was abolished for all mankind, and mankind was freed from the consequences of the primal transgression.

The word "redemption," of course, comes from this juridical explanation. As Vladimir Lossky points out: "The very idea of redemption assumes a plainly legal aspect: it is the atonement of a slave, the debt paid for those who remained in prison because they could not discharge it. By His death Christ ransomed man out of servitude to sin, and redeemed man from the eternal consequences of sin which had been incurred at the Fall. Christ Himself spoke of this. He said of Himself: The Son of Man came … to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read: Christ is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15). And in the book of Apocalypse: Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy Blood (Apoc. 5:9).

Christ paid the debt of sin that man himself could never pay. The Apostle John writes in his first Epistle: He [Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2). And the Apostle Paul tells us: Ye are bought with a price (I Cor. 6:20, 7:23). St. Paul even says that Christ was made to be sin for us and made a curse for us (II Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:13). Being totally without sin, He bore the penalty of sin on our behalf, so that we would be forgiven and purified of sin and freed from its curse. St. Gregory Palamas says: "Since Christ gave His Blood, which was sinless and therefore guiltless, as a ransom for us who were liable to punishment because of our sins, He redeemed us from our guilt. He forgave our sins, tore up the record of them on the Cross and delivered us from the devil’s tyranny.”

Out of His infinite love for us, Christ died in place of us, so that we could be given life. St. Paul says: … That He [Christ] by the Grace of God should taste death for every man (Heb. 2:9); and elsewhere he says, God commendeth His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). St. Athanasius the Great explains this as follows: "Taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to corruption and death, He surrendered His body to death in place of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die and the law of death thereby be abolished.

Together with the juridical model of explaining how we are redeemed by Christ’s death, the Holy Scriptures and Holy Fathers use the model of sacrifice. As mentioned earlier, the Old Testament sacrifices were a prefiguration, a "type" of the one true Sacrifice that would be offered for the whole world: Christ, Who was sacrificed on the Cross. In the first Epistle of St. Peter we hear Christ described as a spotless sacrificial lamb: Ye were redeemed with the precious Blood of Christ, as a lamb without blemish and without spot, Who was foreordained before the foundation of the world (I Peter 1:19–20). And in the Epistle to the Hebrews we read: Now once at the end of the world Christ hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26).

Many of the Holy Fathers wrote on this theme of Christ as sacrifice. Origen (who is not a Holy Father) and, following him, St. Gregory of Nyssa, posited that the sacrifice was offered to the devil. But St. Gregory the Theologian and all the Fathers after him rejected this idea. They often spoke of the sacrifice as being offered to God the Father, and sometimes they spoke of it as being offered to the Holy Trinity, since the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are One God. St. Symeon the New Theologian writes: "God, Who is incomparably higher than the visible and invisible creation, accepted human nature, which is higher than the whole visible creation, and offered it as a sacrifice to His God and Father.… Honoring the sacrifice, the Father could not leave it in the hands of death. Therefore, He annihilated His sentence.
Why did the Son have to offer Himself in sacrifice to the Father? Why did God sacrifice Himself to God? Here we get at the crux of the mystery of Redemption. St. Gregory the Theologian urges us not to try to conform this mystery to human logic, not apply to it human conceptions that are unworthy of God. He says: "The Father accepts the sacrifice not because He demanded it or felt any need of it, but on account of economy," that is, to fulfill the Divine plan of our salvation in accordance with the Divine ordering of creation.

St. Gregory Palamas sheds more light on this question. He says that God could have found other ways of saving man from sin, mortality and servitude to the devil. But He saved man in the way He did—by coming to earth, dying and resurrecting—because this was according to justice and righteousness. As the Psalmist says: God is righteous and loveth righteousness … and there is no unrighteousness in Him (Ps. 11:7, 92:15). Death was the just penalty for sin, and Christ paid that penalty. But because He was sinless, His death was unjust. Therefore, He justly destroyed death. This was God’s economy, completely in accordance with His righteousness.
The devil thought He could destroy Christ by inciting people to put Him to death. But Christ’s death proved to be the devil’s undoing because, unlike every other person who had ever lived, Christ did not deserve death. St. John Chrysostom offers us a vivid image to highlight this teaching: "It is as if, at a session of a court of justice, the devil should be addressed as follows: ‘Granted that you destroyed all men because you found them guilty of sin; but why did you destroy Christ? Is it not very evident that you did so unjustly? Well then, through Him the whole world will be vindicated."

Christ saved us in the way He did not only to manifest His justice and righteousness, but also to manifest His love. St. Isaac the Syrian writes: "God the Lord surrendered His own Son to death on the Cross for the fervent love of creation. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to death for our sake (cf. John 3:16). This was not, however, because He could not have redeemed us in another way, but so that His surpassing love, manifested hereby, might be a teacher unto us. And by the death of His only begotten Son He made us near to Himself. Yea, if He had had anything more precious, He would have given it to us, so that by it our race might be His own."

Through the totality of Christ’s work of redemption, man is spiritually united with God and deified, and man’s body and the entire creation are to be renewed as a spiritual and divine dwelling place.

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