When Christians think of the work of Christ, we typically think of His work on the cross—His atoning death on the cross for our sins and rising again in victory over death. This is a central truth of the Christian faith, one upon which it stands or falls.
But it’s only part of Jesus’ work.
“If Jesus had only paid for our sins, He would have succeeded only in taking us back to square one,” writes R.C. Sproul in The Work of Christ: What the Events of Jesus’ Life Mean for You. “It is important that we not minimize the work of Christ throughout His life by focusing too narrowly on the work of Christ in His death.”
That may seem like a shocking statement, but it’s an important one. The totality of the events of Jesus’ life comprise His complete work—from His incarnation to His promised return. Yet we too quickly forget this, particularly as we work out our various evangelistic methods and formulas, and even in the day-to-day practical living of the Christian life.
This must not be. If Christ is our righteousness, then we need to understand the impact of the other aspects of His life for us beyond His death.
This is why Sproul’s written The Work of Christ, where he briefly examines 12 essential events in the life of Jesus:
- His Incarnation
- His Birth (via the infancy hymns)
- His visits to the Temple
- His Baptism
- His Temptation
- His Transfiguration
- His Triumphal Entry
- His Last Supper
- His Crucifixion
- His Resurrection
- His Ascension
- His Return
Sproul’s singular style is on full display in this book. He excels at making the most difficult subjects accessible to the average reader and this book is no exception.
In His examination of the incarnation, for example, he dives into the Kenotic Hymn of Phil. 2:5-11 where we see the great humiliation and exultation of the Lord. Jesus takes upon Himself a human nature for the purpose of redemption—and yet He is still divine.
This is among the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith, one that has caused great friction and debate for centuries. How can Jesus be both God and man? How can the Creator also have the form of His creation? Sproul writes:
Even in the incarnation, the divine nature did not lose its divine attributes. Jesus did not communicate His divine attributes to His human side. He did not deify His human nature. The union between the divine and the human natures of Jesus is mysterious, but His human nature is truly human. That means it is not omniscient. It is not omnipotent. It is none of those things. At the same time, His divine nature remains fully and completely divine.
Notice that Sproul doesn’t try to explain away the tension. He doesn’t engage in convoluted logical gymnastics. He simply embraces the mystery and says, “Yes.”This is incredibly important (even if not terribly profound by some standards).
It’s tempting to make these kinds of subjects more difficult than is necessary. Sproul’s answer should serve as a reminder that sometimes the most simple answer—one that requires us to embrace the tension rather than explain it away—is the most helpful one.
Among the most helpful chapters in the book is that on Jesus’ baptism. Why did Jesus need to be baptized at all? Maybe it’s just me, but it’s a question I’ve not give nearly enough thought, nor enough study.
Sproul reminds us that the reason Jesus had to be baptized was in order to fulfill all righteousness. If Jesus was to complete the Law, He needed to obey every part:
Jesus had to adhere to the whole law of God because the redemption He brought was not accomplished solely by His death on the cross. God did not send Jesus to earth on Good Friday so He could go straight to the cross. Jesus not only had to die for our sins, but also had to live for our righteousness. If Jesus had only died for our sins, His sacrifice would have removed all of our guilt, but that would have left us merely sinless in the sight of God, not righteous. We would not have done anything to obey the law of God, which is righteousness. . . . Jesus’ life of perfect obedience was just as necessary for our salvation as His perfect atonement on the cross.
Rather than trying to be the final word, The Work of Christ serves as a starting point for greater study. Sproul doesn’t expect readers to just take his word for the importance of each of these events, nor does he provide extensive overviews of each subject—he expects readers to study for themselves.
The accompanying study guides for each chapter (some of which are longer than the actual chapters themselves) are a wonderful resource to assist the reader in delving deeper into each topic. Arguably, they make the book worth its cover price. It’s not that Sproul’s work isn’t excellent (it is), but you’re not going to get its full value unless you engage the book in the way it requires.
From beginning to end, from incarnation to return, the work of Christ is necessary for our salvation and our growth in Christ. This is a subject we must study thoughtfully and apply well. The Work of Christ offers readers—whether individuals or small groups—a wonderful starting point. I trust that you’ll be blessed as you see just how important all the events of Jesus’ life are for you.
Title: The Work of Christ: What the Events of Jesus’ Life Mean for You
Author: R.C. Sproul
Publisher: David C. Cook (2012)