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Do you Really Need a Savior?

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Why is it that some people feel the need for a Savior while others don't? Is placing faith in Christ as Savior just another option people are free to accept or reject, with no consequence? In this message, Dr. Sproul considers this as he explains the core reason why so many feel no need for a Savior.

From the series: Objections Answered

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    Jesus: The Only Savior

  2. devotional

    Jesus, The Perfect Savior

  3. devotional

    Jesus the Savior

Jesus: The Only Savior

R.C. Sproul

I cannot imagine an affirmation that would meet with more resistance from contemporary Westerners than the one Paul makes in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”This declaration is narrow and downright un-American. We have been inundated with the viewpoint that there are many roads that lead to heaven, and that God is not so narrow that He requires a strict allegiance to one way of salvation. If anything strikes at the root of the tree of pluralism and relativism, it is a claim of exclusivity to any one religion. A statement such as Paul makes in his first letter to Timothy is seen as bigoted and hateful.

Paul, of course, is not expressing bigotry or hatefulness at all. He is simply expressing the truth of God, the same truth Jesus taught when He said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Paul is affirming the uniqueness of Christ, specifically in His role as Mediator. A mediator is a go-between, someone who stands between two parties that are estranged or involved in some kind of dispute. Paul declares that Christ is the only Mediator between two parties at odds with one another — God and men.

We encounter mediators throughout the Bible. Moses, for example, was the mediator of the old covenant. He represented the people of Israel in his discussions with God, and he was God’s spokesman to the people. The prophets in the Old Testament had a mediatorial function, serving as the spokesmen for God to the people. Also, the high priest of Israel functioned as a mediator; he spoke to God on behalf of the people. Even the king of Israel was a kind of mediator; he was seen as God’s representative to the people, so God held him accountable to rule in righteousness according to the law of the Old Testament.

Why, then, does Paul say there is only one mediator between God and man? I believe we have to understand the uniqueness of Christ’s mediation in terms of the uniqueness of His person. He is the God-man, that is, God incarnate. In order to bring about reconciliation between God and humanity, the second person of the Trinity united to Himself a human nature. Thus, Jesus has the qualifications to bring about reconciliation — He represents both sides perfectly.

People ask me, “Why is God so narrow that He provided only one Savior?” I do not think that is the question we ought to ask. Instead, we should ask, “Why did God give us any way at all to be saved?” In other words, why did He not just condemn us all? Why did God, in His grace, give to us a Mediator to stand in our place, to receive the judgment we deserve, and to give to us the righteousness we desperately need? The astonishing thing is not that He did not do it in multiple ways, but that He did it in even one way.

Notice that Paul, in declaring the uniqueness of Christ, also affirms the uniqueness of God: “There is one God.” This divine uniqueness was declared throughout the Old Testament; the very first commandment was a commandment of exclusivity: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3).

So Paul brings all these strands together. There is only one God, and God has only one Son, and the Son is the sole Mediator between God and mankind. As I said above, that is very difficult for people who have been immersed in pluralism to accept, but they have to quarrel with Christ and His Apostles on this point. The Bible offers no hope that sincere worshipers of other religions will be saved without personal faith in Jesus Christ. As Paul said in Athens, “The times of ignorance God has overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). There is a universal requirement for people to profess faith in Christ.

Perhaps you are concerned to hear me talk in such narrow terms of the exclusivity of Christ and of the Christian faith. If so, let me ask you to think through the ramifications of putting leaders of other religions on the same level as Christ. In one sense, there is no greater insult to Christ than to mention Him in the same breath as Muhammad, for example. If Christ is who He claims to be, no one else can be a way to God. Furthermore, if it is true that there are many ways to God, Christ is not one of them, because there is no reason one of many ways to God would declare to the world that He is the only way to God.

As we celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ this month, it is good for us to remember the uniqueness of Christ. May we never suggest that God has not done enough for us, considering what He has done for us in Christ Jesus.

Jesus, The Perfect Savior

As we noted a few weeks ago, the Apostles’ Creed is a summary of the gospel because it tells us about the work of God in salvation. Fundamentally, the biblical gospel tells us that only the Creator can rescue people from sin. We cannot make ourselves right by our good works, for our good works are always tainted by sin (Isa. 64:6; Gal. 2:15–16; 5:3). No other being can save us from our predicament, for other “gods” are but demons in disguise (Isa. 44:9–20; 1 Cor. 10:19–20). If human beings are to be saved, the triune God must do all the work. The Apostles’ Creed makes this very assertion in what it does not say: it does not give our works, other gods, past saints, or anything else a role in our redemption. Instead, the creed speaks only of the work of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in planning, securing, and applying salvation to God’s people.

God is the perfect Creator and the perfect Savior. To look for salvation anywhere else but Him is to confess by one’s deeds that Jesus, in whom the fullness of deity dwells (Col. 1:19–20), is not a perfect Savior and, therefore, that God is not a perfect Savior. That is why insistence on the work of God in Christ alone for salvation is essential to the Christian faith. Once we start looking for redemption outside of Jesus or add something to His work in our behalf, we detract from the glory that belongs to the Lord alone. No error could be more fatal, for God is jealous for His glory (Isa. 42:8; 48:11). He will not treat lightly those who ultimately “make” Him share His glory with other creatures by turning to creatures for salvation.

Question and answer 30 of the Heidelberg Catechism teach that “those who look for their salvation and security in saints, in themselves, or elsewhere” deny that Jesus is the only Savior. Through the incarnation, the Son of God has made God’s glory to dwell perfectly and fully in Christ Jesus (Col. 1:19–20). This glory has not been given also to our works, the saints, other gods, or anything else, and turning to anything but Christ alone for salvation makes God a liar when He says the fullness of His glory dwells only in Jesus. John Calvin writes, “All that detract from Christ, or that impair his excellence, or . . . take away a drop from his fullness, overturn, so far as is in their power, God’s eternal counsel.”

Jesus the Savior

Moving on in its exposition of the gospel via the Apostles’ Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism turns to the second major section of that ancient creed in question and answer 29: “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.” The question focuses on Christ’s role as Savior, looking to the name Jesus and its significance.

Today’s passage is one of the proof texts for seeing Jesus’ role as Savior revealed in the name given at His birth. We read in this familiar passage how an angel of the Lord came to Joseph, a descendant of King David, to assuage Joseph’s fears that Mary had been unfaithful and to reveal the true meaning of her pregnancy. The angel told Joseph to name the child Jesus, explaining that it was the proper name for the boy because “he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Iēsous, the Greek name for “Jesus,” is actually a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yehoshua, or “Joshua,” which means “Yahweh is salvation.” Being a faithful Jew and a “just man” (vv. 18–19), Joseph certainly would have known the meaning of this name, although at the time he may not have been fully aware of the significance of giving it to Mary’s son. In that child, the name “Yahweh is salvation” reached its fulfillment because it was given to the incarnation of Yahweh Himself.

When the angel said that Jesus would save His people from their sins, he was speaking of two aspects of salvation. First, Jesus saves His people from the penalty of their sins in their justification. Bearing the wrath of God against sinners on the cross, Jesus took the condemnation we deserved so that by faith alone His righteousness might be imputed to us, granting us eternal life (John 3:16; Rom. 3:21–26; 5:1). Second, Jesus saves His people from the power of sin in their sanctification. Having been exalted to the Father’s right hand, Christ pours out His Holy Spirit on His brethren that they might receive new hearts, empowering them to stare down sin and live in holiness (Acts 2:32–33; Rom. 8:1–11; Gal. 5:16; 6:8).

Finally, let us note that the phrase his people in today’s passage is one of the key texts on the intent and extent of the atonement. Jesus’ died for a particular people, not to atone for every person who will ever live. If He had atoned for every person, then all people would be forgiven and God could not justly send anyone to hell.

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