Jesus Life & Death
This past weekend at Soma One Day, Jeff Vanderstelt explained how the people of his church use the sacrament of communion to speak the gospel over one another in specific and personal ways. Here’s how it works, the two elements in communion are the bread and the wine. The bread represents Jesus’ body and life, and the wine represents His blood & death. Jesus gave us both things: His life and His death. He didn’t just pay the penalty for our sins by dying for us, He also gave us His perfect life, a perfect life that we could never achieve on our own. Both of these are gifts to us. The Apostle Paul explained it this way:
9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
Notice the two sides that Paul mentions:
- We have been justified (declared legally righteous) by Jesus’ blood
- We will be saved (in the future, at the final judgment) by Jesus’ life
John Piper explains it this way:
” . . . Christ has become our substitute in two senses: in his suffering and death he becomes our curse and condemnation (Galatians 3:13; Romans 8:3). And in his suffering and life he becomes our perfection (2 Corinthians 5:21)” (John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ, 41).
Will we be judged based on Jesus’ work or our work?
The Bible is replete with warnings that we will all be judged one day according to our works. For instance:
12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.
So what does this mean? Is the foundation of our justification Christ’s work or our work? The answer is that our justification is totally rooted in Christ’s work. It is totally rooted in His life and His death. He forgives our sins by His death, and gives us His life in exchange for our imperfect lives. When God looks at our lives and sees failings and falterings and struggles, He will not judge us based on how we have failed to be perfectly righteous. Instead, He will look at Christ’s life and see that Christ did for us what we failed to do perfectly. When I fail to stay patient and my temper gets unjustifiably out of control, then God will look at Jesus whose temper never got unjustifiably out of control. When I lust and look at a woman the way I should not, then God will look at Jesus who never lusted after a woman. When I feel especially self-justified because of how much theological knowledge I have, God reminds me that I don’t have to perform for Him. He’s happy that I understand many things, but He does not want me to become arrogant and prideful and begin thinking that I am loved because of what I know. I am loved because of the life Jesus lived in my place. The foundation of my justification is only Jesus.
So what does the Bible mean when it says that Christians will be judged by their works? It means that our works are outward evidence (or fruit), that points to the reality of what Jesus has accomplished for us. If we are a dead tree, then He makes our roots alive again, and eventually enlivened roots begin to produce real fruit. This is why “faith without works is dead.” If there is no fruit, then the faith is fake. Real faith in Jesus is always evidence that the Holy Spirit has made our roots alive, and if our roots are alive, then fruit will begin to show up in our lives. Therefore, God can look at our works and judge us according to our works because they point to a deeper reality. However, the foundation of God’s declaring us righteous or unrighteous is only based upon whether or not we are in Jesus.
What does this have to do with communion?
When we take the bread and wine, we can proclaim the reality of Jesus’ life and death to one another in specific ways. If John is feeling particularly beat down because he cannot seem to overcome an addiction to pornography, then Bill can proclaim Jesus’ death to him. It might sound like this, “John you know that you are guilty and God could justifiably condemn you, and yet Jesus has shed His blood for you. Because of His death, you are forgiven. Drink the wine and remember Christ’s death for you. God is not angry with you.” If Susan has been feeling especially self-righteous about how good of a parent she is, and then suddenly feels convicted because she realizes she’s been looking down her nose at other parents, then Ann can proclaim Jesus’ life to her. It might sound like this, “Susan, when you feel like God loves you more than everyone else because of how well you parent, remember that this is not true. God judges you based on Jesus’ righteousness, not any righteousness that you can achieve on your own. You don’t have to perform in order for Him to love you. Jesus lived the perfect life you will never live. Eat the bread and remember that Jesus has given you His life.”
Of course we always take both the bread and the wine when we celebrate communion, but week in and week out we may particularly identify more with the bread or more with the wine, or probably both. If we are open and honest with one another about our failings and struggles, then as a church we can practice serving communion to one another in this way and help drive the truths of the gospel deep into one another’s hearts and minds.
To read more on this concept, check out this article by Jeff Vanderstelt which explains it further.