Every evangelical Christian knows the salvation formula, preached each year at Easter. All have sinned. Sin results in death. Jesus died to save us from our sin.
One plus one equals two. Can the definition really be so simple? Or is this just the result of simplistic thinking?
The problem with this formula may be its insistence that a transaction has occurred. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, after all. But if this is true, then whom did Jesus pay?
Did God pay God in order to capitalize on a loophole in the Law? This fits with our idea of a merciful God. It also claims, however, that God is inconsistent and unjust. And it suggests that God is shortsighted, having failed to foresee just such a situation that would force his hand. Besides, if God paid himself, is the payment valid? In such a case, God loses nothing.
If God didn’t pay himself, then did he pay Satan in order to set us free from the Devil’s power? It is blasphemous to suggest that God might somehow be indebted to his own creation. This question also points out God’s lack of power, suggesting as it does that God had no other way out, that he was trapped into choosing to sacrifice his son or do nothing at all.
But the real problem with this formula is its focus on the death of Jesus. His power is made manifest in life, not death. And it isn’t Jesus’ death that concerns us. It is our own.
What if Jesus’ death — as his life — is an example rather than a transaction? Jesus did not die to make us comfortable. Instead, his death and resurrection point to the path that we, too, must take. If we are willing to let go of what we have, obedient even to death, we will finally discover true life.
This is no simple addition problem: one plus one equals two. Jesus didn’t do that kind of math. He revealed a truth that the language of numbers is ill-equipped to express: that by letting go — by subtracting from what we have — we discover the only path to meaningful increase.
Jesus’ sacrifice makes a mockery of our systems and solutions. But we have succeeded in killing this miracle. We have hidden its shocking power inside the most meaningless of formulas.
Clearing the conscience has never been easier.
And it isn’t Jesus’ death that concerns us. It is our own.