The Core of Scripture

Going Beyond John 3:16: What would you say if someone asked you to define the core of Scripture – the essence of biblical teaching? Surely John 3:16 would be a great start, but behind that great verse is an overarching Bible concept – the substitutionary atonement. Plainly stated, when Jesus Christ give his life for us on the Cross, He did that in our place for our sins. If we understand this, we understand the central message of the Bible from beginning to end.

Isaiah 53:4-6 clearly explains the substitutionary/vicarious atonement: "Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Please read the entire chapter. Please note how many times “we,” “our” and “us” are used in the text.) He took the punishment we all deserve for our sins.

The Apostle Peter, 1 Peter 2:24-25, picks up this central theme of Scripture harking back to Isaiah 53: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; but his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have been returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

• So, first of all, what does this mean – Jesus died in our place for our sins? Think of it this way. We have committed a crime worthy of death. (Something we all have done in the eyes of God. “For the wages of sin is death….” Romans 6:33a.) Someone steps up and offers to die in our place – the death you and I deserve. That Someone is Jesus. Unless we place our confidence in what He did for us on the cross, we have no way out – and the result is eternal death – separation from God – everlasting punishment.

The entire Old Testament looks forward to this substitutionary atonement – Jesus death in our place for our sins. How? According to the Jewish sacrificial system animals were killed to symbolically show that the people should have died for their sins – not the animals. John the Baptist summed it up perfectly when he saw Jesus: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29b. This was the Sacrifice to which all Old Testament sacrifices pointed!

The entire New Testament teaches the same thing: “God (the Father) made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.

• But this is not the end of it. Since He died in our place for our sins, we have an obligation! As the Word of God teaches: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24. Think of it this way: when Jesus died on the cross, it was as though we were nailed there with Him. It was for our sins He died there – not for his own – for He had none. So we are told: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness.” Romans 6:11-13. This makes all the difference in how we live. Every time we think of the cross we need to realize it should have been us nailed there. So we need identify with his sacrifice for us – because in a real sense we died with Him. He identified with us, and we now identify with Him.

Stated in another way: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20. Because Jesus died in our place for our sins, we don’t belong to ourselves any more: we belong to Him. “And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” 2 Corinthians 5:15. It is the “exchanged life.” Because He gave Himself for us, we in turn give ourselves for Him – to live for Him in every way.

• So next time we face a choice between right and wrong, we need to remember: if I really believe Jesus died in my place for my sins, then I cannot do what I want. I must do what Jesus wants because I no longer belong to myself – but to Him. This is not an option: it is an obligation.