Theme: “It Is Finished”
In this week’s lessons we learn how the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ described in the first part of Psalm 22 turn into a statement of great victory.
Scripture: Psalm 22:22-31
The last verse of the psalm contains the words “he has done it” or, as Jesus seems to have understood the sentence in his quotation of these words from the cross, “it is finished” (John 19:30). In Psalm 22 the words are linked to the proclamation of “his [that is, God’s] righteousness to a people yet unborn,” so we know they concern the gospel. What is finished is the atonement by which the righteous demands of God for sin’s punishment have been fully satisfied and the righteousness of God is now freely offered to all who will believe on Jesus.
This is an aspect of the atonement that has always figured prominently in Protestant presentations of the meaning of the death of Christ, in distinction from Roman Catholic theology. The Roman church (and many unsound Protestant churches too) maintains that the death of Christ does not relieve the believer from making satisfaction for sins which he or she has committed. More precisely, it distinguishes between sins committed before and after baptism, and between temporal and eternal punishment for those sins.
So far as sins committed before baptism are concerned, both the temporal and eternal punishment are blotted out through the application of Christ’s death to the individual through baptism. So far as sins committed after baptism are concerned, eternal punishment is blotted out. But the temporal punishments require the making of satisfaction by the individual himself either in this life (through a faithful use of the sacraments and by living a meritorious life) or else in purgatory. While this system of salvation allows the greater part of the work to be God’s and even acknowledges that the faith and merit of the believer are attained by the prevenient grace of God, it nevertheless requires the believer to contribute to his own salvation in some measure. More must be added. The importance of the Mass, in which the sacrifice of Christ is constantly reenacted, is evidence of this outlook.
But this is not right. Consequently, Protestant thought has always contended rightly that “the satisfaction of Christ is the only satisfaction for sin and is so perfect and final that it leaves no penal liability for any sin of the believer.”3 It is true that Christians often experience chastisement for sins done in this life, though never in full measure for what they deserve. But this is not satisfaction. It is discipline only. It is given that we might grow by it. Even in times of severe chastisement it is still true that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Similarly, it is also true that the believer is to do good works. We have been ordained to do them (Eph. 2:10). But these are done because we are saved, not in order to be saved. Good works flow out of the salvation already accomplished for us by Jesus and as a response to it.
How could it be otherwise? We are not the God-man. Jesus alone is that. We are not saviors. Jesus alone is the Savior. He alone shed his blood on the cross in order that we might be saved from sin. And having done it, he has set his seal upon that perfect and completed work by the declaration: “It is finished.” No wonder we sing:
Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe;Sin had left a crimson stain;He washed it white as snow.
When Jesus declared on the cross that “it is finished” what did he mean?
How does Roman Catholic teaching differ from Protestant teaching on this issue?
How do good works fit into the believer’s life?
Key Point: Similarly, it is also true that the believer is to do good works. We have been ordained to do them (Eph. 2:10). But these are done because we are saved, not in order to be saved. Good works flow out of the salvation already accomplished for us by Jesus and as a response to it.
3John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), p. 51.