Why We Really Do Need a Savior

The Savior

From the beginning, confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior has been the defining mark of Christianity. The two titles and the works to which they refer complement each other. How could Jesus save us if he didn’t have the authority and power needed to do this great work? And what would his authority and power mean to us if he did not use them for our benefit? For the next few posts I will examine Jesus’ work of salvation. I will address such issues as “From what does Jesus save us?” “How does Jesus save us?” and “For what does he save us?” Today, I want to begin exploring the first of these questions. If Jesus is the Savior, what is the danger from which he saves us?

The Danger

Christianity proclaims a message of salvation. Ordinarily, when we speak of something as having been “saved” we mean that it was under threat of being damaged or lost but through the intervention of some power it was removed from danger and prevented from suffering damage. Usually, we don’t speak of things saving themselves. You can save money but money does not save itself. You can save data to a hard drive; data doesn’t save itself. If you are saved from drowning, it’s through the intervention of someone else. Something needs saving when it is powerless to protect itself from damage or loss.

What is the danger, damage, and loss from which Jesus Christ offers to save us? The first answer that comes to the believer’s mind is “sin”: “Here is a trustworthy saying: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). Indeed, that is a good summary of the Christian message of salvation. But simply quoting a saying is not the same as understanding it. What is sin? And why does it constitute danger of damage and loss? Why is that danger so great and why are we so helpless against it that being saved from it required the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God?

The Paradox and Mystery of Sin

Answering the question “What is sin?” is not as simple as quoting 1 John 3:4: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” Of course, every act of sin breaks the law of God. But more questions beg to be asked and answered. Why do we all sin? Is a particular act “wrong” only because it is forbidden by the law? Are its only destructive consequences the divine punishment imposed on the lawless act?

The biblical doctrine of sin presents many paradoxes and puzzles for our contemplation. Sin is a general condition and a specific action. It carries its own destructive consequences within it, but it is also met with divine punishment. Sin is universal, but it is not an aspect of our created nature. We cannot be coerced to sin against our wills, yet we cannot escape sin by the power of our own wills. Sin is slavery but also rebellion. It is a sickness and a choice.

The Essence of Sin

What is the essence of sin? (In a sense that I will need to define later, sin has no essence because it is not a real thing or a real act; it is a defect in a real thing or act. Nevertheless, we need to speak of sin as if it were a thing if we are to speak about it at all.) God created human beings with the potential to know him and to become like him in character and action. Human nature is designed for knowing and loving God. This is its proper activity. Only by doing this can we thrive and fulfill our potential as living images of God. If human beings refused to know and love God, they would be contradicting their nature, thwarting their fulfillment, and throwing away their happiness. Sin consists in this absurd choice and this miserable condition.

Sin is a condition of the human will in which we affirm our own private interests and trust our own private judgment about good and bad instead of trusting and affirming the perfect will of our Creator. Out of this condition of the heart arise sinful acts, acts that attempt to force God’s creation into conformity with our wills. In sin, we substitute ourselves for God. We attempt to become our own protectors, providers, and judges. We act as if we were wiser, stronger, and better than God. Rejecting our own created nature, we try to remake ourselves according to our fanciful image of what we wish we were. Then we begin working to remake the rest of the world into our distorted image, creating death and destruction everywhere.

Why do we make this absurd choice and embrace this miserable condition? There is no answer to this question. For there can be no reason to make an absurd choice. That’s what being absurd means. You may ask about Adam and Eve. They brought sin into the world and we “inherit” the broken world they made. But why did they make that absurd choice? And even if we do inherit a tendency to sin from them, we reaffirm that original sin in our own willing and acting. We inevitably do what they did. Why? God alone knows the answer to this question. For us, however, it is just a brute fact.

Next Time, we will consider the inherent and natural consequences of sin and the idea of punishment for sin. Does sin contain its own punishment as a natural out-working of its essence or does God add pain and destruction above and beyond sin’s natural consequences?

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12 thoughts on “Why We Really Do Need a Savior

  1. Christopher Chong

    I once heard this theory that humans have a spiritual amnesia. We forget God which is why we sin. We need a savior to help bring us back to remembrance of what God truly intended which was true peace and true happiness in the garden of Eden. However even Paul did not know why he sinned.

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  2. nokareon

    The final section is poignant because it finally puts an articulate answer to the question that non-Christians so often raise, namely: why was eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil sin? David Silverman of the American Atheists loves to turn this question into the central issue for his talks and arguments against Christianity. First, he tends to call it the Tree of Knowledge (simpliciter), as an illustration that religion seeks to suppress and frustrate the pursuit of knowledge. But when he does use the tree’s full name, he argues that Christianity seeks to keep people in the dark about moral decision-making, hiding behind the “God told me [not] to” mentality of Divine Command Theory (or, at least, a caricature of it).

    But your remarks illuminate why this is indeed sin. We are not the judges of right and wrong. To have taken of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was to place ourselves in the judge’s seat and to affirm our own moral judgements above His divine command. I appreciate how that provides a more robust account of the severity of the original sin than *simply* disobedience (as if disobedience were some simple thing!).

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  3. ifaqtheology Post author

    Excellent observation and application. In the book I am now writing, I hope to show the connection between the human condition which is the experience of us all and the salvation worked by God through Jesus Christ; and so to meet objections like those of Silverman. Thanks.

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  4. Matt Stinson

    “Sin is universal, but it is not an aspect of our created nature.”
    “Rejecting our own created nature, we try to remake ourselves according to our fanciful image of what we wish we were.”

    I am curious about the distinction between humanity’s created nature and the sinful condition of their will. Does the term “created nature” only apply to part of human nature, and is it independent of one’s will? Is it a designation of what people would will without sin, or perhaps what people are able to will as a result of regeneration?

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    1. ifaqtheology Post author

      Astute observation, Matt. I am making a distinction that has deep roots in the history of Christian theology. The condition and act of sin cannot be natural in the sense of being God’s creation. For in that case it would not be wrong. Just because something always accompanies humanity does not mean that it is an essential part of humanity. God’s creation can be misused, but in the case of the “condition” of sin, the misuse is so interwoven into our existential condition that it seems an inevitable result of being a finite, self-conscious creature. And this is the mystery and difficulty of sin. There is much more to say on this subject.

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      1. Matt Stinson

        Thank you for the response! I am very interested in exploring how sin should be considered in lieu of God’s sovereignty, and I really appreciate the framework you’ve provided in your reply.

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  5. McKayla Rosen

    I took much interest in the defining of sin, and statements like the following led me to see sin in a new way: “In sin, we substitute ourselves for God. We attempt to become our own protectors, providers, and judges. We act as if we were wiser, stronger, and better than God.”

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  6. mmccay1982

    “Sin is slavery but also rebellion. It is a sickness and a choice.” (Highfield)

    I have found that both understanding sin and explaining it in ministry is served well by an understanding of sin as rebellion. I appreciate Dr. Highfield’s description of sin as rebellion and as choice. I believe it is really only sickness if you’re rebelling against one who it makes no sense to rebel against. Given that Highfield is talking about rebelling against God, I agree that it is a sickness in that case.

    One day I have no doubt that my beautiful and sweet little daughter will seek to assert her will over mine and tell me what I must do (establish a law over me). I think this will probably begin soon after she learns to speak, if my memory of my three wonderful little sisters serves me well. When my daughter grows and becomes more articulate, she might seek to show me how I have violated some aspect of her will/desire/want by telling me how I have broken one of her rules. She would be able to rightly say that I have sinned (rebelled) against her will by breaking that law. My rejection of her law, as cute and funny as said law might be, is an act of rebellion against her authority to assert her will over my life.

    I believe I would be right in rebelling against her authority because I love her, and I know better than she does what she needs. Conversely rebelling against the authority of God (sinning against God) is always wrong because God loves us, and knows better than we do what we need. His rightful authority to codify his will over our lives into a law that must not transgressed is right because he is greater and his law is born of love for what we need, even if we don’t have the wisdom to see that it is what we need.

    “Why do we make this absurd choice and embrace this miserable condition?” (Highfield)

    I believe the absurd choice to sin against a perfect and loving God is necessarily born of pride and ignorance. We are proud in thinking that our will should ever qualify to rightly supplant the will of God with our own. In choosing sin we are always ignorant of the reality of our existence in some aspect that has caused our will to be different from the perfect will of God.

    Whenever we choose sin, it is born of pride and ignorance.

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