All of us are familiar with the doctrinal significance of the crucifixion of Christ. Jesus died to demonstrate that “the flesh profits nothing” and to declare “the righteousness of God”, for the remission of sins (Gal 3:1; John 6:63; Rom 3:24–26). Nothing could be clearer—if the flesh was of no profit to him who was morally perfect, it is certainly of no profit to those who succumb to its evil prompting.

It was “for us” that he “died unto sin” once and for all, not to substitute for unworthy sinners, but “in his flesh” to represent them. “We thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead”, and it is equally true, that in order to die for us “… he also himself, must of necessity come under the dominion of death, “out of which” he needed redemption (1 Tim 1:15; Rom 6:10; 1 Peter 3:18; 2 Cor 5:14; Heb 5:7).

Saved by the Death and Resurrection of Christ

Even so it is the Apostle Paul who draws our attention to the fact that the death of Christ alone cannot save us, for he said, “if Christ be not raised… ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). Are we as familiar with the doctrinal import of the resurrection as we are with the doctrine of the cross?

“Death by sin” is the immutable law imposed by God as a result of sin; it cannot be put aside, but must be acknowledged as the right sentence. It follows then, that if the position of man is to be reversed, the only possible way is for the antithesis of sin to operate, namely the moral perfection demanded by the character of the Righteous Father.

Resurrection to the divine nature was made possible by his “obedience unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8–11). Our Lord being sinless, did not earn “the wages of death”. His crucifixion was not a personal punishment, but a representative sacrifice. God therefore “loosed [him from] the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2: 24). If then his death was a declaration of the righteousness of God in relating flesh to death, his resurrection was equally a demonstration that his life had been free from sin, and an exhibition that his Father was altogether righteous.

So “with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord” (Acts 4:33). Not only did the empty tomb illustrate its physical reality, but the bestowal of immortal, divine nature was the Father’s seal upon the Son’s perfect manifestation of Him (John 6:27).

His sacrificial death doctrinally declared that “the flesh profits nothing”. Conversely his resurrection doctrinally declared that “the Spirit gives life” (John 6:63). As sin had separated man from his God, so now the perfect obedience of our representative has healed that breach (Isa 59:1,2;42:6). Now we were all sinners. No man other than the Lord could be perfect. He came “in the flesh” to share the mortal weaknesses of our being, so that having conquered “in himself” that which has the power of death, we might with him share his righteousness and strength (Heb 2:14; 9:24).

Accepting then the doctrinal significance of the cross, we become “reconciled to God by his death”, and that death made clear that the flesh profits nothing! So by nature we are as “nothing” in God’s sight. We are reconciled to that point of view, but we must be “something” if we are to be saved, and we are “saved by his life” (Rom 5: 10). If we “put on Christ”, we can say with Paul, “Christ liveth in me”, “that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (Gal 3: 27; 2:20; 2 Cor 4:11). This life “is hid with Christ in God”; it is our life because of our identification with him, but it is really his life, imputed to us if we believe him (Col 3: 2,3).

The following words from Brother Roberts portray the wonder of righteousness, grace and forgiveness: “The object of this sacrificial declaration of the righteousness of God is also made clearly manifest in its practical applications. It was “for (or in order to) the remission of sins that are past”, that is, where men believe—“Remission”, not as a legal right accruing, but as the gift of grace, “through the forbearance of God”. There would be no “forbearance” if a legal claim had been discharged. God forgives for Christ’s sake (Eph 4:32). This is the literal issue of the whole matter. God’s supremacy having been vindicated, a foundation has been laid on which He can offer forgiveness without the compromise of wisdom and righteousness. He does not offer it or allow it apart from submission to the declaration of His righteousness in Christ crucified. There must be the most humble identification with that declaration. Baptism in our age is provided as the means of that identification. The believer is “baptized into his death” (Rom 6:3), and buried with him in baptism (Col 2:12) and receives the forgiveness of all his sins “through the forbearance (the kindness, the graciousness) of God, who is pleased with our conformity to the form of humiliation He has provided. The whole sacrificial institution and our endorsement of it in baptism is comparable to the form of apology presented to the Majesty of heaven as the condition of our receiving His mercy unto life eternal. The object secured is the triumphant assertion and recognition of God’s supremacy and man’s abasement as a dependent beneficiary. Thus law and mercy are reconciled” (More Seasons of Comfort, No 197 “God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus”, Robert Roberts).

An Unselfish Life

Seeing then that we cannot attain unto perfection of character, we are aware that we are unworthy of attaining unto perfection of nature. How highly then should we value his perfect life, for without it we would have nothing to share. Ponder this wonderful expression in his passionate prayer to his Father: “for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth… That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:19–21). So important was this oneness that Paul, in the same chapter that speaks of him sharing our mortal nature, repeats this wonderful motivation in the living of that perfect life: “for both he that sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb 2:11).

Here then was lived a totally selfless life. He knew it was the Father’s will that “of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing” (John 6:39), and he came to do that will. He was aware that his Father’s holiness must first and foremost be honoured, even to the death of the cross. His Father was right in subjecting man to death. But His will was to save them, for God is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Pet 3:9). In order to save them, God required the one who displayed a life compatible with Him, to sit at His right hand, that that life might be imputed to all those who in prayer penetrate through the veil, and come unto God through him.

Every day had to be faultless in his life, if we were to be saved; every thought Holy, if we were to be sanctified—the burden was enormous. Every faithful life depended on him, from those before, who “rejoiced to see his day”, to those who “continued with him in his temptations”, right up to us who would “believe on him through their word”, who though never having seen him, love him for what he was and is.

Life’s Motivation

This then becomes the moral impetus for our own lives, if the life of Jesus is to be seen in us. Our acceptance will be upon the same moral principle, though, unlike him, practised not unto perfection. The apostle John puts it plainly when he says “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). Paul puts it succinctly, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

Our understanding then of the significance of his death and his resurrection will produce both a God-honouring attitude, because we acknowledge his irreversible law of death, even as Christ did, and a gratitude beyond expression because God Himself proved faithful to another irreversible law of life, when His own Son presented himself faultless before the throne of His grace.

Believing What is Humanly Impossible Abraham believed what was “humanly impossible” when promised a son by Sarah who was “past age” (Heb 11:11). God then imputed “righteousness” to Abraham because he believed (Gen 15:6). Righteousness is our necessity if we are to be saved, yet it is humanly impossible to perfect it; but Paul says it shall be imputed unto us “if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead”(Rom 4:24), and none of us can raise the dead!!

We believe then that he was “delivered for our offences”, for it was “our sins” that he bore “in his own body”; yet we believe that “he was raised again for our justification”, for it will be this “vile body” that he will change to be “fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Rom 4:22–25; 1 Peter 2:24; Phil 3:21).