The Old View
Traditionally, we are told that in the beginning God created a perfect world which was inhabited by the perfect human beings Adam and Eve. Despite this, God put the pair on probation, and even though the commandment he gave them warned of death (Gen. 2:17), in due course Eve broke it with Adam’s connivance (Gen. 3:6).
This sin had catastrophic implications, for the whole material universe was brought under a permanent curse as a result of it (Gen. 3:1ff.; Rom. 8:19ff.). Since death was the wages of sin (Gen. 2:17; Rom.6:23) and Adam was regarded as the covenant head and representative of the race, all human beings were subsequently born sinful ‘in him’ and hence subject to death even from birth (Rom. 5:12ff.).
Fortunately, though he himself was truly human, a son of Adam (Luke 3:38) and born of woman (Job 15:14; Gal. 4:4), Jesus, God’s Son, mysteriously (it is usually said by means of the virgin birth) avoided the transmission or imputation of Adam’s sin and became the covenant head of all the elect who, by the miracle of the new birth, put their trust in him.
He thus became their Saviour.
Brief though this outline is, it suggests serious distortion of what the Bible itself actually teaches and promotes a thoroughly unbiblical worldview. What then is true Christianity and the gospel it promotes?
The True View
In the beginning the eternal God created the temporal heavens and earth with human salvation ultimately in view (John 17:3; 1 Cor. 2:7ff.; Eph. 1:4,11; 2 Tim. 1:1,9; Tit.1:2; 1 Pet. 1:20; Ps.8:5). Creation was termed ‘good’, that is, literally beautiful or fit for its intended purpose (cf. Isa. 45:18; Mt. 5:45; Acts 14:17). On the other hand, it was manifestly imperfect in that it was neither eternal (cf. Heb.1:10-12; 7:3,16,24f.,28 and Gen.8:22; Ps.102:25ff.; Isa. 51:6,8; 54:9f. 65:17; Mt.5:18; 24:35; 2 Cor. 4:18, etc.) nor an end in itself (Col.1:15-20; 1 Cor. 15:24-28; Phil. 2:9-11). In other words, all creation had been subjected to corruption in hope from the start (Rom. 8:19-25).
Since, as first created, all human beings are ignorant of law, they know neither good nor evil and hence remain morally innocent until the law in some form makes an impact on their developing minds (Gen.2:17; 3:5,22, cf. Dt. 1:39; 1 Kings 3:7; Isa. 7:15f., cf. 8:4 and note Rom. 4:15; 7:8). Like Jesus himself they need to be perfected, that is, brought to maturity or completion (cf. Luke 2:41ff.; Mt. 3:15; 5:48; 19:21; Heb. 2:10; 5:8f., Jas. 1:4, etc.). Since they are created in God’s image, their goal is to take on his likeness (Eph. 5:1, cf. Mt. 5:48; Col. 3:9f.). Thus they are all put on probation by means of commandment or law (Gen. 2:17; Dt. 8:2,16; 30:15-20). Though they themselves as flesh are physically part of a naturally autonomous, recalcitrant, futile and corruptible creation (note Gen. 2:5,15; Rom. 8:19ff.), they are called to exercise dominion over it (Gen.1:26,28). This forms the background of the war between flesh (earth, this age) and spirit (or Spirit, heaven, the age to come, cf. Gen. 4:7; Gal. 5:16f.; 1 Pet. 2:11; James 4:1, etc.). In the event, the flesh or human nature, being weak (Ps. 78:39; 103:14; Mt.26:41), succumbs to temptation (Gen.3:1ff.; Jas. 1:14f.) and runs riot (Gen. 6:5ff.). As Paul implies in Romans 7:14, whenever flesh and law collide, the flesh gives way to some extent and man is enslaved by his own sin (John 8:34; Rom.6:16; 7:7ff.; Jas. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:19f., etc.).
In Romans 7:9f. Paul elaborates on teaching in Genesis. The commandment (cf. Gen. 2:17) that is first apprehended by all human beings when as children they achieve rationality and moral consciousness, is a promise of life and a means of escape from the universal corruption and destruction to which the material creation is headed once it has served its purpose (Mt. 13:37-43; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; Rev. 14:14ff.; Rom. 8:19ff.). Failure to keep it means relapse into creation’s inherent corruption (Gen. 3:19; cf. Rom. 8:10; Gal. 6:8), and the only way of evading spiritual death is by acceptance of or submission to the grace of God (Rom.11:32; Gal. 3:22, cf. Ps. 68:20; 49:7,15).
The good news is that all who put their trust in and confess Christ will be saved. For he alone of all men, as the true Son of God, was able to keep the whole law and exercise dominion over the earth (Heb. 2:9) including his own flesh (cf. James 3:2). Thus in accordance with the divine promise he not only received the Spirit or eternal life for himself (Mt. 3:17, cf. Gal. 3:2,5) but also earned it for his fellows (Heb. 2:9ff.). His fulfilment of all righteousness (Mt. 3:15) culminated when he lay down his life (John 10:17f.; Phil. 2:8) as a sacrifice for the sins of his people (1 Pet. 3:18).
So, in a world universally subjected to corruption (Rom. 8:19ff, cf. Jos. 23:14; 1 K. 2:2), Jesus brought life and incorruption (Gk.) to light for the first time (2 Tim. 1:10). And this, says Paul, constitutes the basis of his gospel (v.11, cf. Rom. 1:16f.).
Since man cannot keep the law which promises life (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 7:10) in order to achieve the righteousness (Dt. 6:25; 1 John 3:7) required by a perfect Creator as the indispensable precondition of new birth or eternal life (Lev. 18:5, etc.), the gospel or good news that Christians proclaim is that Christ has done it for us (see espec. Gal. 3:10-14; Rom. 8:3). He has at once borne our sins and provided us with what Luther called an ‘alien righteousness’ by which to justify us before God (cf. Phil. 3:9).
This has always been the divine intention. Far from providing the means for any mere human being, who is flesh, to boast in his presence by law-keeping (1 Cor. 1:29; Rom. 3:19f.; Gal. 2:16), God has made it certain that he alone will be the Saviour of his people (Isa. 45:22) in Christ (Isa. 45:23; Phil. 2:5-11; 2 Cor. 5:17-19; Rom. 11:32).
It is worth noting that the so-called exclusivism of the Christian gospel message, far from being based on one or two isolated verses like John 14:6 or Acts 4:12, is the very essence of biblical teaching which applies to all mankind universally. For – Only Jesus, the man, the second Adam, the only Son of the Father, never sinned (Heb. 4:15) but kept the law (Mt. 3:17; John 6:38; 15:10) and thereby inherited the divine promise of eternal life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.).
Only Jesus, the last Adam and man’s representative, having conquered (John (16:33; Rev. 5:5) and fulfilled all righteousness (Mt. 3:15), was ever in a position to lay down his life for his fellows (cf. Ps. 49:7f.; Ezek. 14:14ff.), rise from the dead and be crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 2:9ff.; Rom.2:7).
Only Jesus, the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5), was able to enter the very presence of God to act as our eternal high priest (Heb. 6:19f.; 7:24ff.; 10:19-25, etc.) and bring us to him (1 Pet. 3:18; Heb. 9:24; Rev. 3:21).
Only Jesus has the power to send the Spirit and grant life to those who put their trust in him (Mt. 11:27; John 15:26; 17:2; 1 Cor. 15:45b; 1 John 5:11f.).
Only Jesus is able to return in the power and glory of God (Mt. 16:27,etc.) to rescue his own (1 Thes. 4:13ff.; Heb. 9:28) from the destruction that awaits the material universe (Mark 13:27; Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12; 2 Thes. 1:7-10; Rev. 20:11; 21:1,4, etc.) at the end of history (Mt.13:37-43).