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The Work of the Cross

For the Son of God to become man means that it was actually the person of the Son (in his esse personale) who was truly the experiencing and acting subject within his human existence as man. The subjective identity of the man Jesus, who this man was, was God the Son. Moreover, the Son, as the sole subject, actually experienced the whole of human life and acted in a fully human manner from within the confines of his own human “I.” This assures the authenticity of his human experience and action. Last, I argue elsewhere that the Son did not assume some generic, antiseptic, or immunized humanity, which would quarantine him from our sinful human history and condition, but rather he assumed a humanity which bore the birthmark of sinful Adam, and so entered into our human history as one like ourselves.

All of the above must now be taken to the event of the cross so as to discern the soteriological significance of Jesus’s death. I now want to argue that on the cross the Son of God as man simultaneously performed three actions:

  1. He assumed our condemnation.
  2. He offered himself as an atoning sacrifice to the Father on our behalf.
  3. He put to death our sinful humanity.

Assuming Our Condemnation

Sin, it must be remembered, is contrary and hostile to all that is good, holy, and loving, and so is an affront to the perfectly good, holy, and loving God. As such the unredeemed (or unrepentant) sinner reaps sin’s intrinsic and inevitable consequence—separation from God. God and sin cannot abide with one another. Biblically, physical death gives expression to the deeper death of having been separated from the God of life.

However, while sin had made humankind God’s enemies, the Father’s response to sin was not that of allowing humankind to suffer its just fate. Rather, the Father’s salvific goal reconfirms his plan first inaugurated at the dawn of creation. He desires that we share fully in the eternal life of the Trinity (see: Eph 1:3-14). Being conformed into the likeness of his Son through the Holy Spirit, the Father becomes our Father. The Trinity then is the source and goal both of creation and redemption. Thus, in love, the Father sent his Son into the world so that we might not perish in our condemnation, but have eternal life with him (see: John 3:16; 1 John 4:9). This is the point of our soteriological departure.

First then, in this “sending” the Son assumed not only our sin-marred humanity, but also, in his death, the full weight of its condemnation. The Father sent “his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8:3). The cross actualized the Father’s condemnation of our sinful flesh, for sin itself, “when it is fully grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23; see Gen. 2:17). Even though Jesus never personally sinned (see Heb 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22, John 8:46, 1 John 3:5), yet the Father, for our sake, “made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21 ). This he did both in sending the Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and in having him mount the cross upon which sin was condemned. Thus the Incarnation leads directly to the cross, for the cross expresses the Son’s complete solidarity with our sinful condition and its condemnation. The Son of God was truly born under the law, and thus under its curse (see Gal. 4:4).

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