Penpoint Vol. III:4 (July, 1992) Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938

The Comprehensive Scope of Salvation
By Dr. Greg Bahnsen


Even the unbelieving world is generally aware of the Biblical claim, central to Christianity, that Jesus Christ is our Savior. Paul speaks of Him as "God our Savior" (1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3; Titus 1:3; 3:4). Peter refers to Him as "our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1:11; 2:20).

This terminology has extensive New Testament background and warrant: "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). "This is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world" (John 4:42). The reason why God the Father sent His Son into the world is "that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17).

People may know that Christ is called "Savior," but they are more often than not confused about what this means. Indeed, even many professing believers who call upon Christ as their personal Savior have narrow and distorted conceptions of His saving work. Some think that Christ can be one's Savior and not simultaneously become one's Lord. Some conceive His saving work to be merely a "spiritual" (inward, immaterial) work with a view to eternity (and not the affairs of this world). If we made a list of such depressing and stunted interpretations of Christ as the "Savior," it would go on and on.

The Scope of Sin

To understand the saving work of Christ in a helpful and Biblical light, we must begin by asking, what is it from which Christ "saves" us? The Biblical answer is obvious: from sin and its consequences. "You shall call His name 'Jesus,' for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). "This is a faithful saying, worthy of all acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15). "You know that He was manifested to take away sins" (I John 3:5; cf. John 1:29). Accordingly, it is important that we understand the comprehensive scope of sin, so that we can appreciate the comprehensive dimensions of Christ's deliverance from it.

When man originally disobeyed God, he fell into a state of guilt and misery which manifests itself in many ways. "Sin entered the world through one man [Adam] and death through sin" (Rom. 5:12). The effects of sin and spiritual death -- the facets of man's fallen condition -- are extensive and manifold. There is, first of all, the sinner's guilt -- his dreadful record of rebellion and disobedience to the word of the Lord, alienating him from God and bringing divine judgment or wrath (Rom. 3:23; Jas. 2:10; 1 John 1:8; Ps. 5:5; Rom. 6:23).

Additionally, there is the awful corruption or pollution of the sinner's heart, affecting his thinking, emotions, attitudes, and choices (Isa. 64:7; Eph. 2:3-4; Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-23). A spiritually dead heart produces ignorance, foolishness and misunderstanding (Rom 1:18-25; Eph. 4:17-19). It renders us wayward, undisciplined, and slaves of sin (Isa. 53:6; Rom. 8:7-8; John 8:34).

For that reason our thinking, attitudes, words and conduct prove to be self-destructive -- pursuing the ways of death, whether it be psychologically, socially, or biologically. "He who sins wrongs himself; all they who hate Me love death" (Prov. 8:36). Indeed, "the wicked have their fill of trouble" (Prov. 12:12); there is no peace for them (Isa. 57:20-21). Sin finally eventuates in the conscious torment of eternal death (2 Thes. 1:8-9; Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10, 14-15).

Satan and his accomplices, both demonic and human, persecute and threaten mankind, but especially God's people, and they do so in a variety of ways. Man's existence, both in time and eternity, has become a living hell -- separation from God, the source of all life and blessedness. And the list could go on.

Corresponding Scope of Salvation

The point here is that the nature and extent of sin from which Christ came to save us is far-reaching. Christians need to realize that the saving work of Christ bears upon sin in all of these aspects or ways. "Salvation" relates to every part of man's life, both now and in the future; it touches all of creation and even the destructiveness of Satan.

This is what the Bible declares to us. "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). "His divine power has granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3).

Thus Paul could teach that because Christ is "Savior of all men," the godliness which He works in us His people will prove "profitable for all things, having promise for the life which now is and of that which is to come" (1 Tim. 4:8-10).

Accordingly, the word "redemption" is used in the Bible for both our present spiritual possession of forgiveness (Eph. 1:7) and the future physical renewal of all things (Eph. 1:14; 4:30; Rom. 8:23). That is why Paul could write that "He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.... For God was well pleased...through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether upon the earth or in the heavens" (Col. 1:13-14, 19-20).

Or, in the words of John: "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (I John 3:8) -- without exception. He has destroyed the devil's power of death (Heb. 2:14-15), released us from the devil's snare (cf. 2 Tim. 2:26), enabled us to resist his afflictions (1 Peter 5:8-9), bound him so that he cannot deceive the nations (Rev. 20:1-3), and is now despoiling his house (Matt. 12:28-29).

Three Offices of the Messiah

We can see the comprehensiveness of Christ's saving work in another fashion. According to the Bible, Jesus our Savior is "the Christ" -- the Messiah or "anointed one" of God. All of the Old Testament experience of God's people was an anticipation of, and preparation for, the coming of this promised Anointed One who would save them (cf. John 5:39; Luke 24:27; 2 Cor. 1:20).

Thus Christ was foreshadowed not only by the impersonal redemptive procedures and institutions of the Old Covenant (e.g., passover, temple -- 1 Cor. 5:7; John 2:21; Heb. 10:1), but also by the personal "anointed" offices which functioned among the people of God. These included priests (e.g. Ex. 29:7), kings (e.g., 1 Sam. 10:1), and prophets (e.g., 1 Kings 19:16). Old Covenant literature gives attention and emphasis to each of these anointed offices as a way of teaching about the coming Anointed One ("the Christ") -- whether priests (e.g., Exodus, Leviticus, Ezra), kings (e.g., 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles), or prophets (e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zephaniah).

It is insightful and Biblically sound, therefore, that Reformed theology has spoken of the comprehensiveness of Christ's saving work in terms of His "three offices" of prophet, priest, and king. Note the Westminster Larger Catechism, #42: "Our Mediator was called Christ, because he was anointed with the Holy Ghost above measure; and so set apart, and furnished with all authority and ability, to execute the offices of prophet, priest, and king of his church, in the estate both of his humiliation and exaltation." The Larger Catechism then goes on to explain how Christ executes each of these offices (#43-45), both as the humiliated Savior (from birth to death) and the exalted Savior (from resurrection to coming again) (#46-56).

As priest, Christ's saving work is that of atoning for our sinful guilt: obeying God's commands in our place and paying the penalty-price of our sin, cleansing us of guilt and covering our sin, turning away God's wrath, reconciling us to God, obtaining our redemption or liberation. Christ now intercedes to God on our behalf with all of our needs.

As prophet, Christ is the supreme revelation of God whose word has ultimate authority for all mankind, for all of life. He alone can declare the way of salvation, and reverence for Him is the starting point of all knowledge (cf. Prov. 1:7) -- in any field of knowledge whatsoever.

As king, Christ rescues us from our helpless and undisciplined spiritual condition, granting us new life by the Holy Spirit, breaking the power of sin and progressively making our hearts and conduct more pleasing to God. He preserves us through temptations and sufferings, calls out a people (a nation) to be His own, and rules over them corporately as Head of the church. Christ restrains our enemies, as well as overcoming them in history. On those who will not submit to His present rule in history Christ will return in judgmental wrath at the consummation.

Such teaching about the three-fold offices of Christ is a healthy and necessary corrective to the diminished conceptions of Christ's saving work which are popularized in our day among evangelicals and even many Reformed pastors and teachers. The tendency is to see "salvation" in terms of Christ's priestly work almost exclusively. The prophetic work of Christ is cut off from the world at large (forgetting that Christ is the depository and necessary presupposition of all wisdom and knowledge, Col. 2:3) and narrowed down to authoritative teaching in spiritual or soteriological matters. And to the degree that His kingly work is emphasized at all, it is nearly always conceived in future terms -- pertaining to an alleged millennial and military rule when He returns.

Scripture, by contrast, boldly proclaims the rich truth that Christ is at this very moment a comprehensive Savior who came to make His blessings flow far as sin's curse is found!