[Soteriology] ‘The metaphor of Christ’s sacrificial death as an atonement for sin is of
secondary importance in Paul’s understanding of how believers are saved in Christ.’
Critically evaluate this statement with reference to a Pauline letter or letters you have studied.

Soteriology Theology

Introduction

Soteriology refers to the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of religious literature that is concerned with salvation. The Apostle Paul is one of the most prominent post-Messianic leaders that emphasized the aspect of salvation that had been acquired through the sacrifice of Christ, the Messiah. According to theologians,’ Paul was a tentmaker by occupation. Paul was one of the staunchest critics of Christianism, and this was evidenced by the countless crucifixions he committed on Christians. In fact, his torture and execution of Christians were so immense that it attracted Jesus’ attention. Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus to inquire why he was so intent on destroying his people. It was during the above encounter that Paul was converted to Christianity and became an ardent promoter of the New Testament and salvation in the name of Jesus. Paul was aware of the fact that his calling to build and help deliver humanity into the kingdom of God was going to be an uphill task and, as such, resorted to using letters in the place where he could not attend to maintain the message of salvation to the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul authored numerous letters addressed to a fraction of recipients from Galatians, Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, Romans, Timothy, and Titus, among others. These letters contained several variations, but they almost unanimously touched on the atonement of sin through the sacrificial death of Jesus. Before Jesus’s arrival, most teachers had misinterpreted the law leading to people streaming further away from God, which was not the real intention of creation. Consequently, this aspect resulted in the impetus to restructure the once good relationship that had existed between God and humanity, but that had been severed by sin. Resultingly, Jesus was sent by God to act as the lamb meant for sacrifice, necessary to help bring back human beings in-tandem relationship with God and bring about salvation. Thus far, the following essay shall elaborate upon the concept of penance for sins for believers in Christ through his letters.

Salvation from God’s Punishment/Wrath

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the metaphor of atonement of sins for which both believers and non-believers receive was meant to reflect the acquittal of humanity from the impending punishment from God. Atonement or redemption refers to the aspect of deliverance either from debt and or bondage through the payment of a wager, commonly related to as a ransom (Smith, 2019). Redemption is an image that is widely referenced in the New Testament to understand Jesus, sacrificial death. Before Jesus’ arrival, humanity was headed for divine punishment due to both physical and spiritual sin. During such a time, almost all human beings were slaves of sin and such were destined to receive God’s wrath.

However, it was then that God sent his only begotten son, Jesus to set them free from the impending punishment of sin by making them spiritually whole for those who chose to believe in his authority and divinity as Paul affirms in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (Version, K. J., 2017). This, according to Paul, was the primary basis of the Jesus’s coming. Based on Paul’s teachings and letters, he affirmed that Jesus did indeed die so that humanity might be spared from impending punishment that was meant to be meted out (Burger, 2014). It is essential to realize that according to scripture, the ultimate cost of sin is death. As such, by Jesus dying, he had inevitably suffered the wrath of God as an unblemished lam for humankind’s sin, leading to the atonement of everyone, Jew, Pharisees, and even Gentiles. In Paul’s disclosure, he decries the purported notion that salvation and subsequent atonement of sin could be acquired regardless of a pure sacrifice like an unblemished lamb. According to the Apostle, the atonement of sin could not have been possible without Jesus’s crucifixion not having occurred. Additionally, Paul also lends a hand of credence to religious leaders who are also disseminating the same message that the atonement from punishments was only possible via Jesus’ death.

Salvation for Access to God

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the metaphor of Jesus’ sacrificial death for the atonement of sins is used to imply that human beings had once again been allowed to regain favour from and with God and could now access his blessings. According to Paul, the early church (BC), were indulgent in matters of satisfying the flesh and not of spiritual or heavenly nourishment (Stenschke, 2014). It is safe to allude that the atonement did not exist in the Old Testament as it is only mentioned once in its entirety. In the old testament, atonement was associated with the sins committed by man. This aspect is made right by the fact that God commands the people of Israel to set aside a single day annually, which was to be the 10th day of the 7th month as a day of atonement (Baker, 2015). This day of atonement is meant to cleanse the people of Israel and allow God’s blessings to reign upon them, their life, and all their actions, which would not be the case if they were unclean.

The issue of the atonement is severe in that it is one of the only instances where God commands the making of a sacrifice. Such a sacrifice was to be done using a clean animal that had no blemishes and whose blood would be used to make for atonement since the life of an animal and even a human being is possessed in the blood (Longenecker, 2016). According to Paul, sin acted as an intermediate boundary which hindered their access to their blessings from God. Jesus, under God’s instruction, became incarnate, so that he would absolve sin and make humanity whole again, thus restoring the once good relationship that existed between humankind and God before their transgression.

It is important to note that, the aspect of whether Jesus would still have undergone the process of being incarnate if humanity had not transgressed on God’s law is yet unknown. Thus far, the potential for humanity to access the blessings of God was hindered by the fact that humanity was held subject to earth; its pleasures and pains, which was and is still ruled by Satan, making them, in more cases than one, to fall short of God’s blessings. Paul mentions Satan in Ephesians 2:2 (Version, K. J., 2017). Consequently, children of disobedience are not allowed to partake in God’s glory nor blessings. Equally important the aspect of sin is emphasized by Paul on numerous occasions by his copious rhetoric’s to the impact that Satan has on their life and their relationship with God. To illustrate, 1 Thessalonians 2:7-18; “Satan is the greatest hindrance in the church, attacking the servant of the Lord” (Version, K. J., 2017). The Apostle Paul warns Christians about resisting the devil and his antics in 1 Timothy 3:6 (Version, K. J., 2017). The power of sin to rob Christians of their blessings which are due from God and even to cast their prayers away from Him (God )is also reiterated in Romans 1:18; “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Version, K. J., 2017). A similar message referenced in Ephesians 5:6: “because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience” (Version, K. J., 2017). Consequently, however, after Christ’s metaphoric crucifixion, believers now had access to God’s blessings not from works but faith.

Salvation from Death (Eternal Life)

The metaphor of Christ’s sacrificial death as an atonement for sin is of valuable importance to Paul and the entire church in that it represented how Christians and Gentiles are saved in Christ in that they all now had access to eternal life. According to Paul, the resurrection of Jesus was an affirmation that there was indeed life after death for those who chose to be part of his body (Ledger-Lomas, 2015). Similarly, conferring to Paul, resurrection meant that death had been defeated finally. The above is illustrated in 1 Corinthians 15:12-17 (Version, K. J., 2017).  Additionally, the verse also proves that Jesus’ sacrificial death was a metaphor for our salvation from God’s wrath, 1 Corinthians 1:2 “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (Version, K. J., 2017). It is important to note that since God is just, all sins must be punished hence Jesus’ sacrificial death.

Before Jesus’s resurrection, there had been no such event that had as much magnitude as the coming back to life of Jesus. The fact that a person had died was buried and mourned, yet after 3 days was resurrected was astonishing by all standards (Ledger-Lomas, 2015). It is important to note that most people did not believe that Jesus had been resurrected since they had not witnessed the event. Consequently, Paul reiterated the fact that not only did the disciples bear witness to the event, but that there were an extra 500 people who saw Jesus resurrected and ascended into heaven. Jesus also appeared to several people/witnesses such as his disciples in closed doors in Jerusalem, then Mary Magdalene, and finally his half-brother James before appearing to the Apostles in his final time where he ascended into heaven. According to Paul, it was necessary to emphasize the resurrection of Jesus since this was the penultimate revelation that Jesus had conquered death thus conquering and sin (Stenschke, 2014). Based on Paul’s letters, there could only be one reason for Jesus’ resurrection, and that was that he was indeed the son of God. This aspect is affirmed in Romans 1:4; “…. declared to be the Son of God with power . . . by the resurrection from the dead” (Version, K. J., 2017). Such a concept was necessary as it proved that Jesus had died for our sins and had thus made it possible for the whole of humanity also to inherit eternal life. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul asserts that the resurrection of Jesus symbolizes that he, too, will raise those who passed on in fellowship with Christ (Roth, 2014). To illustrate some verses that delineate the accurate metaphor for Jesus’s sacrificial death and resurrection as a form of salvation from the clutches of death are: 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (Version, K. J., 2017). The second scriptural verse is 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God” (Version, K. J., 2017). Equally important is: 1 Corinthians 6:11; “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (Version, K. J., 2017). The act of Jesus resurrecting, according to Paul, can be alluded to being one of the first fruits of atonement (Longenecker, 2016). Such an argument is factual because Jesus himself conquered death.

Equally important, the resurrection of Jesus proved that a living divinity indeed ruled God’s kingdom as opposed to other religions. This was crucial since Christ, who is accentuated as being the founder of Christianity, shows his ability to rise from the dead meaning that he was going to actively participate in the rule of his Kingdom and that he would also resurrect those who died for his faith. To prove, 1 Corinthians 15:20-23; “But the truth is, Christ has been raised from the death, as a guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised. For just as death came by means of a man, in the same way, the raising from death comes by means of a man” (Version, K. J., 2017). The resurrection of Jesus did not symbolize his resurrection, but that of the entire humanity into a new kingdom established by God.

Salvation from Legal Ramifications of the Law

Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of Christ’s sacrificial death to imply that Christians are saved from the laws that had bound them to their religious masters, and early religious practices such that they now could seek their salvation on an independent scale. Before Jesus came, the most popular law books were the books used by the Jews that had been passed down from generation to generation coming from Moses. According to Paul, the world before the coming of Christ was a place that had been riddled with numerous misinterpretations of the laws that were given by Moses and Aaron (Burger, 2014). These misinterpretations came from both the teachers of the law, such as the Pharisees and even the Sadducees. The rules that were misinterpreted, which had been drawn up by God to guide humanity into living by his will, tended to dictate the course of action for certain or specified sins, but they did not warrant a means nor mode for restitution.

The law was rigid and often paid more credence to physical purity as opposed to spiritual purity, which was grossly misleading since God was spiritual. As such, most of the people were leading unholy lives despite having laws given to them still being in existence. Moses’ law was deemed by most as being rigid and tending to favour the people of Israel in some respect. This was because the people of Israel were set to be the sole heir of the kingdom of God. However, when Jesus came, he came to fulfil the laws such as the coming of a saviour and to also bring about the unity of humanity by making it possible for Gentiles also to inherit the kingdom of God (Warfield, 2016). Additionally, the law was also misinterpreted by most teachers leading believes to be led astray. To illustrate Galatians 2:16, “A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Version, K. J., 2017). However, by Christ’s sacrificial death, Christians were metaphorically saved from the penalty, which was elaborated upon on the Old Testament books, which were death. To illustrate this concept Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Version, K. J., 2017). It is critical to recall that the old testament scriptures actually state that the wages of sin are death.

Salvation from Racial Hostilities

Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of Christ’s sacrificial death to imply that Christians are saved from the hostilities that existed between people of different racial backgrounds. During the times predating Christ, the people of Israel have adopted an attitude of open hostility and prejudice, suspicion, and demeaning for all people that did not belong to their race. Such an approach was because the earlier laws tended to portray them as the sole heirs of the kingdom of God (Roth, 2014). Consequently, this led to a situation and an air of open hatred and hostility among Jews and non-Jews who were called Gentiles. The above behaviour displeased the Lord since both the Jews and the Gentiles were his children, and he had created them equal. However, the approach of the people of Israel to laud their position and status with God over the gentiles drew God’s disapproval at eventually his determination to end the trend (Smith, 2019). Thus, with the coming of Jesus and the ushering in of Christianity, all people of the world regardless of race, creed, ethnicity or genetics became members of the body of Christ so long as they believed. The apostle Paul affirms this fact in Ephesians 2:14-16; “has broken down…the dividing wall of hostility…making peace…through the cross” (Version, K. J., 2017). Peace, it is critical to note, is one of the names that were given to Jesus before his coming in the old testament scriptures. Jesus’ name was ‘the Prince of Peace,’ and thus, by bringing about the end of racial hostility, he was achieving his real purpose of promoting peace (Sun, 2015). Therefore, it is not inaccurate to find that the coming of Christ resulted in the reining of harmony among different races through his word and his kingdom of Christianity.

Conclusion

In summary, the apostle Paul tends to dedicate a large portion of his epistles to the works and impact of Jesus’s Christ metaphorical death, which resulted in our salvation. The effect of the sacrificial death of Jesus cannot be underestimated nor overestimated.  His principal role in ushering a new age and raising from the dead only serves to highlight his divinity and the son of God. The salvation of humankind was necessary for humanity had long fallen short of the expectations of God following their transgression during the epitome of creation. Consequently, it became essential that a solution is provided as sin was tainting the relationship between God and man. Humanity had become contaminated with sin which meant that he had gone away from God, who symbolized purity, and purity could not amalgamate with sin. It became necessary that Jesus descends upon the earth to atone for the sins of humanity. In Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, he helped lead humanity into a new age of salvation. Jesus’ metaphorical death resulted in the atonement of 5 consequences of humanity’s sins. These amendments included salvation from death, deliverance from God’s wrath, salvation from being denied access to God, salvation from the legal ramifications of the law, and finally deliverance from racial hostilities.

References

Baker, G. (2015). Paul and political theology: Nihilism, empire and the messianic vocation. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 41(3), 293-315.

Burger, H. (2014). a Soteriological Perspective on our understanding. Correctly Handling the Word of Truth: Reformed Hermeneutics Today, 195-207.

Ledger-Lomas, M. (2015). Evangelical Protestants, Jews, and the Epistle to the Hebrews in mid-nineteenth-century Britain. Jewish Historical Studies, 47(1), 70-90.

Longenecker, R. N. (2016). The epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Roth, U. (2014). Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus. Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche, 105(1), 102-130.

Smith, M. H. (2019). Systematic Theology, Volume Two: Soteriology Ecclesiology Eschatology. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Stenschke, C. W. (2014). The presentation of Jesus in the missionary speeches of Acts and the mission of the church. Verbum et Ecclesia, 35(1), 1-18.

Sun, W. (2015). Biblical Theology and Cross-Cultural Theological Education: The Epistle to the Romans as a Model. Global Missiology English, 4(12).

Version, K. J. (2017). Holy Bible. Arcturus Publishing Limited.

Warfield, B. B. (2016). The Christ That Paul Preached. nd Accessed January, 26.

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