- Luke Hildebrand
The Centrality of Christ
“I believe there is a God” is a common sentiment these days. While not universal, many people profess to believe that God is real. In reality, most of them only believe in a god with false teachings like naturalism and spiritualism muddying the waters even further. The important difference in belief between these “spiritual people” and true Christians is Jesus Christ Himself. It has become more vital than ever for believers to remember why Jesus is central to the gospel message.
When God created the world, His plan for redeeming it was already in motion. The overarching story of the Bible is that very plan. However, that plan was not without personal cost to God Himself; in order for mankind to be freed from their sinful nature, passed down from Adam and Eve, atonement was necessary. Philippians 2:5-8 speaks of how Jesus, the Son of God, chose to humble Himself and leave continual communion with God to become a human. He did not come as a wealthy man either, but a commoner’s son “of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant,” as verse 7 says. The willingness of Jesus to follow the will of His Father led Him to His death on the cross—the reason He is central to the Gospel.
When a man sins, he commits an offense against the Law of God and rebels against God’s Will for his life. The consequence of sin is separation from God, and thus, death; we cannot enter into His eternal presence while stained by sin. The problem is that all men have inherited a sinful nature (Romans 3:23).
For many years, men paid that death price with the death of animals that lacked physical defect. The animal needed to be pure in form because God does not accept atonement for impure acts with an impure sacrifice (Leviticus 22:20). In the same way, it was necessary for Christ, who was perfectly sinless, to die for the sins of mankind.
Jesus, being both God and man, was born without the sinful nature all humans inherit. However, He still experienced temptation as any other man, but He alone did not give in to that rebellious call (Hebrews 4:15). Thus, being a man without sin, He could pay for the sin of another. There was a problem though: even if Jesus was a perfect man, He could still only pay for one sin committed by one person, and most people sin quite often.
However, Christ being also God, added an eternal element to His redeeming blood (Hebrews 9:12). Hebrews 9:14 says that Christ offered Himself up to God as a sacrifice through the power of the eternal Spirit in order to cleanse the conscience of mankind. Thus He purified deeper than the flesh (which the blood of animals could not) into the very soul of any who believe in Him.
Also, because the redemption Christ achieved is eternal, His atonement is effective for all of humanities’ sin, past, present, and future. The death of Christ is an important reason He is central to the gospel, but it is not the most important. The greatest reason Christ is central to the gospel is His resurrection.
Though the death of Christ is the great work of salvation that frees us from the shackles of sin and certainty of death and separation from God, His resurrection three days later is what Christians cling to the most. The Apostle Paul explains why in his letter to the church in Corinth.
“Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)
The Church in Corinth was requesting clarification in various areas of confusion and discord. In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, Paul lays out an amazing case for the validity of the resurrection of the dead and why the gospel hinges on it.
Paul explains that because Christ returned from the dead, those who believe in Him can trust in His teachings. His resurrection proved that He is the Son of God, for only God has power over the death of that which He breathed life into. The focus of Christianity is Jesus Christ, and without the reassurance that He escaped death, we can have no confidence in escaping it either. If the object of our belief were dead, there would be no one to mediate for us when we face God’s Judgment. Christ, however, is alive, witnessed by apostles and many others (1 Corinthians 15:6). He is at the right hand of God, interceding on our behalf to His Father (Romans 8:34).
This surety that we serve a living God is what sets Christianity apart from other beliefs, whose prophets and visionaries are long-since dust. The fact that Jesus was willing to humble Himself unto death for us, rebellious as we are, only widens that chasm. The death and resurrection of Christ are unique, central to the gospel, and the reason why it is called “The Gospel of Jesus Christ.”