Editor’s note: This post provides an overview of the theology studies of Soteriology and Christology with applications pointing to biblical counseling. In this series of posts, Terry Enns provides an overview of 10 different areas of systematic theology. This post was excerpted from a message at our Annual Conference. You can listen to the message here. Read also the other posts in this series:
- Introduction — A Theology of Biblical Counseling
- Epistemology and Bibliology — A Theology of Biblical Counseling
- Theology Proper — A Theology of Biblical Counseling
- Anthropology — A Theology of Biblical Counseling
- Hamartiology — A Theology of Biblical Counseling
The doctrine of salvation is known as soteriology. This doctrine explains how sinful men can escape the wrath of God and be reconciled to Him.
What is the gospel?
The gospel is that God sent Jesus Christ to reconcile sinners to Himself. One key passage is 2 Corinthians 5. Verse 19 says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” God through Christ reconciled sinners to Himself. We are reconciled to God; God is not reconciled to us. God doesn’t need reconciliation because He hasn’t sinned against us; we need reconciliation to Him because we have sinned against Him, and that is exactly what the gospel accomplishes.
Jesus’ perfect life of obedience and substitutionary death provides the basis for a believer’s restoration to God. If there is one word that explains the gospel it is the word “substitution.” That word explains the truth that on the cross Christ gets my sin and I get His righteousness. I don’t deserve His righteousness and He doesn’t deserve my sin, and, yet, that’s the great exchange that happens because of Jesus’ sacrifice (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus gets the sin; we get His righteousness. When that exchange happens there is a propitiation of God’s wrath, there is a satisfaction for God’s wrath, and there is atonement for God’s wrath. Our sin debt is paid by Christ and along with that there is an imputation of righteousness from Christ to us. And Christ’s substitutionary death provides for propitiation, imputation, redemption, and reconciliation.
The Significance of the Gospel
What’s the significance for this while we are counseling? The significance is that salvation frees us from the penalty of sin — we are no longer under God’s wrath — and it also frees us from the power of sin. So we can tell our counselees that Christ has given everything to purchase their freedom. There is hope in Christ and the ability to be free from the power of sin. That freedom allows us to enjoy God. And that’s the goal of salvation. We get to enjoy God. I love what John Piper says, “Therefore to believe the gospel is not only to accept the awesome truths that 1) God is holy, 2) We are hopeless sinners, 3) Christ died and rose again for sinners, and 4) This great salvation is enjoyed by faith in Christ — but believing the gospel is also to treasure Jesus Christ as your unsearchable riches. What makes the gospel [the] gospel is that it brings a person into the everlasting and ever-increasing joy of Jesus Christ.” In a phrase, the gospel means we get God. We get to be with Him, and we get to enjoy Him.
How is the Gospel Received?
The sinner is reconciled to God through repentance and faith (2 Cor. 7:10-11; Eph. 2:8-10). We get to be with Him through the process of turning away from our sin and trusting in Jesus Christ for our salvation (see also Romans 4, the most definitive chapter in the Bible on justification through faith, sola fide).
Clarity with the gospel is essential because however people come to trust in Christ, whatever they think the gospel is, that is the way they will grow in Christ. This is the reason why Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians (cf. 3:1ff). We need to be crystal-clear with what the gospel is and articulate it carefully and accurately so that people can grow in Christ appropriately.
There are many different ways you can communicate the gospel. One of the simple ways I like to use is a tract that Matthias Media has published called Two Roads. I’ve looked at a lot of tracts over the years, and most of them are not completely helpful. What makes this tract particularly helpful is that it emphasizes that faith in Christ is not a one-time event, but a way to live — our lives are oriented towards Christ and we live for Him in all that we do. That’s the true gospel — we are freed from sin (both its penalty and power) and empowered by the Spirit to live for Christ. And that leads to the next doctrine.
Christology is the doctrine of Christ.
Who is Jesus Christ?
Jesus Christ was fully man in every way, and he maintains that humanity, even now in Heaven. And though He was fully man in every way, He did not sin. And He did not have a sin nature (Heb. 4:15; 1 Jn. 3:5). At the same time, Christ was and is fully God (Jn. 1:1ff; Phil. 2:5-8). As the God-man, Jesus Christ is neither diminished as God nor as a man; He is fully God with no diminishment of His deity at any time, and He has been fully man since the incarnation. He is fully man at all times. If you minimize either one of those then you end up with a perversion of the gospel.
This is the very reason John wrote the letter of 1 John: because there were some that were saying Jesus Christ only became God at His baptism, but before then He was just a man (see 2:22-23; 4:2-3). There are some who think that Jesus became God at His baptism and then right before He died on the cross He gave up His deity and was just a man again. Usually, those with this view think they are protecting Jesus’ deity, but in protecting His deity they give up His humanity. And in giving up His humanity they give up the gospel. Christ must be fully man and fully God to die on our behalf. He has to be fully God to absorb an infinite wrath. If He’s just a man on the cross, He has no eternal character that can absorb an infinite wrath, and if He is not a man on the cross He can’t stand in our place and absorb the wrath on our behalf. If He is not both God and man, He can’t be our Savior. Jesus Christ died and rose again as a substitute for His people (Is. 53; 1 Pt. 2:24; 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus Christ is the means for our life and all that we need for life.
The Significance of Christ
Charles Spurgeon says, “If you take Christ out of Christianity, Christianity is dead. If you leave out Christ, you have left the sun out of the day, and the moon out of the night, you have left the waters out of the sea, and the floods out of the river, you have left the harvest out of the year, the soul out of the body, you have left joy out of Heaven, yes, you have robbed all of its all. There is no gospel worth thinking of, much less worth proclaiming in Jehovah’s name, if Jesus is forgotten. We must have Jesus, then, as Alpha and Omega in all our ministry among the sons of men.”
This leads us to the next topics: pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit), ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church), angelology (the study of angels), and eschatology (the doctrine of last things).
Terry Enns is the pastor of Grace Bible Church in Granbury Texas. He has over twenty years of pastoral counseling experience, and is a certified counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC). In addition to his preaching and pastoral duties at Grace, Terry maintains an active blog at Words of Grace.
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