Why did Christ go to the cross? Hopefully the Christian answers joyfully, “To die for my sin and accomplish my salvation.” But although this answer is completely true, and is certainly reason for rejoicing, upon closer examination, isn’t the answer somewhat incomplete? Because if this answer stands alone, doesn’t the story of the Bible and the message of the gospel become all about me?
Please don’t misunderstand, I am in no way advocating that as heralds of the gospel, we diminish the overwhelming joy of knowing that God loved me enough to send His Son to die for me. But when the sole focus of faith in Christ becomes me being saved, isn’t the temptation to exalt ourselves and make our subsequent life of following Christ all about me?
So, what is missing from the answer? It is that Christ ultimately went to the cross for the glory of God. On the night before He was to be crucified, Jesus prayed His high priestly prayer over His people. Yes, we were on the heart of Jesus as He prepared to go to the cross. But let’s not forget how Christ began His prayer to the Father: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” (John 17:1). Yes, Christ humbled Himself and came “to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), but the ultimate purpose for which our Savior humbled himself as a servant was so that “every tongue [should] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). Even in the Old Testament when our salvation is foretold in Ezekiel 36, the Lord begins telling of His coming salvation by saying, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name” (Ezekiel 36:22). Yes, Christ died so that you might be saved from sin, but He died that in your salvation He might receive glory.
This is certainly an undeniable biblical truth, but does it have any relevance for the Christian life? Absolutely! If Christ died for our salvation so that He might be glorified, then so-called “nominal” Christianity becomes incomprehensible. The nominal Christian might think, “If the ultimate purpose of redemption is that I would be saved from my sin, then what else is there? What need do I have for walking by the Spirit instead of gratifying the desires of the flesh? What need do I have for corporate worship, the preached Word and the body of Christ? This was all about my salvation, right?”
But when a true disciple understands not only the joy of their salvation but also the purpose of their salvation, then there is no other option than life-long, fully devoted following of Jesus Christ. Christ and His glory are what salvation is all about. Christ accomplished our salvation so that we might be free from sin and free to serve and worship Him. We cannot be content to let our freedom from sin remain in the back of our minds as an end-of-life security policy. We cannot be satisfied solely with the fact that we are no longer in darkness. Instead, we need to understand that the reason we were called from darkness into light is so that we might “proclaim the excellencies of him who called” us (1 Peter 2:9).
Considering the Church
Consider also the implications of this truth for the ministry of the church. If a church considers the end goal to be simply that lost people are saved, then it will be tempted to unwittingly recast the Great Commission as “Go, make converts, baptize them, and go on to the next person.” Because a person being saved is the end goal, the church will be satisfied that (at least in their minds) someone is not going to hell.
But, when the glory of Christ is the end goal, there is no room for thinking that the Great Commission mandate stops at conversion. Churches are no longer content to pat themselves on the back for their baptism numbers alone. They are now relentless not only in their evangelism but also in their discipleship. Because what matters is that the name of Jesus is praised. The church now says, “Praise the Lord that this lost soul knows the joy of salvation! Now let us teach him to give all glory to Christ.”
Churches are always looking for solutions to the problems of infrequent attendance, half-hearted membership, and, above all, unfruitful faith. By no means is there a quick catch-all answer. But perhaps part of the answer involves reminding ourselves, both individually and corporately, what salvation is ultimately about. That redemption was not simply meant to be a blessing that we become complacent in; it was meant to call us away from our self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness. Perhaps when the spotlight of redemption is pointed away from us and onto Christ, then the result will be a Christian life that is less self-serving and more Christ-honoring.
So let us both remember and teach that the purpose of our salvation is not so that we would be the center of attention. Its purpose is the praise of His glorious grace (Ephesians 1:6).