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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Why does the fundamental belief voted during the 2005 General Conference session emphasize only Christ’s victory over evil powers, and not personal deliverance from sin?
A number of church members consider this fundamental belief unbalanced because it deals with salvation only as deliverance from evil powers. This concern overlooks the fact that the cross’s significance cannot be exhausted through one summary statement or one particular metaphor. We need to look at the meaning of Christ’s sacrificial death from different angles. In answering your question I will comment on two central aspects of the death of Christ. Both of them are addressed in the body of our Statement of Fundamental Beliefs.
1. The Cross as a Saving Event for Us: New Testament writers constantly underscored the fact that Christ’s death on the cross brought salvation to the fallen human race. Christ came to save the world (John 3:16), to reconcile us with God (2 Cor. 5:19), to die for the wicked (Rom. 5:8), who were by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). If we look at the cross from that perspective, its scope and goal were to restore the human race to fellowship with God. God did for us, through His Son, what we could not do by ourselves. Christ took upon Himself our sin and died as our substitute in order for us to receive forgiveness and gain permanent access to God (Isa. 53:4-12; 1 John 3:5; Gal. 3:13).
Christ’s objective work of salvation on the cross is accessible to every human being who, through the work of the Spirit, is pulled into the influence of that saving event. When sinners see in Christ’s death on the cross their own deserved death and by faith accept Christ as their only Savior, they are justified by faith in Him (Rom. 3:21-25). This understanding of the meaning of the cross is developed in several of our fundamental beliefs.
2. The Cross and Cosmic Reconciliation: The problem of sin is not limited to our planet; it has a cosmic scope. The fundamental belief to which you refer addresses this specific dimension of the meaning of the cross. There is a cosmic rebellion in the universe; a heavenly being and a number of angels broke away from the cosmic harmony of God’s kingdom (Isa. 14:12-14; Rev. 12:7). Scripture often describes God as a warrior, fighting His enemies and the enemies of His kingdom. They are the evil, demonic powers who had to be permanently defeated in order to end the cosmic controversy. Christ defeated them in heaven, but their final defeat took place on the cross (Col. 2:15; Luke 10:18). Christ went into the kingdom of darkness, and there He defeated them. He did not overcome them while in the tomb, but on the cross. He came out of the tomb to display His total victory over all evil powers.
The depth of Jesus’ conflict with evil powers on the cross escapes our full comprehension, but it certainly was the ultimate battle against them. It revealed to the universe the true nature of sin and evil and assured heavenly beings that the ultimate fate of those powers was fixed (cf. Heb. 2:14). They would be removed from the cosmos forever. Without this aspect of the meaning of the cross, the problem of sin in the universe would not have been solved.
3. Practical Implications of the Saving Power of the Cross: If we look at the cross as the only means through which our sin is paid for, it should lead to a life in which God’s act of forgiveness is seen in our newness of life. Consequently, we live to the glory of God. If we look at the cross as Christ’s victory over evil powers, it means that we need not submit to any other power except Christ. Evil powers can still harass us through temptations and perhaps in other ways. But freedom from their damaging influence and power is found only in submission to Christ and not through religious devotion to them. Christians demonstrate and strengthen that submission to Christ through their study of and reflection on the Scriptures, through Christian service and worship, and through gratitude to God for His providential guidance. The fundamental belief you mentioned stresses that aspect of the meaning of the cross.