Awhile back I stumbled onto a discussion between Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro on Dave Rubin’s show on Youtube, and when I started watching it I noticed a claim that Dr. Peterson made that caught me rather by surprise. His claim was that the purpose of Christ and the cross was to provide an example for each of us to model in our own lives, which brings about a kind of salvation through good deeds or being a good person.
Now I’ve watched Dr. Peterson for a few years. He seems to be inching closer and closer to the edge of faith in Christ, but I think his intellect and his learning in psychology is getting in his way. But, let’s tackle this concept in detail, discussing what is the actual purpose of the Cross of Christ, what it is to do for us, and how we should approach this messianic figure….
Reduction of the Cross to Mythology
So Dr. Peterson states that the crucifixion was a model for the rest of us. That Jesus was a Christ-like figure (not necessarily the Christ) who took on the sufferings of the rest of the world as a means of painting a picture, not of what he was doing for us, but of what we should be doing for ourselves as people who evolve through life through actions and deeds.
It seems Dr. Peterson is here insinuating that Jesus completed what each of us should likewise complete for ourselves. We should each take up our own cross and act out our own redemption through good works or through our own suffering as we journey through life. He claims that when we seek truth, accept suffering, and confront malevolence in our lives, we model Christ who did the same when he was tempted by Satan, and when he willingly died. He states that by doing so we “unlock a psycho-spiritual transformation within ourselves that matures us into the representation of the father on earth.”
Now, anyone who has read their Bible will find this objectionable. Not because we shouldn’t pick up our cross daily and follow Christ. Not because it might be true that by seeking after truth, by accepting suffering is a part of life, and by confronting or battling with the flesh will produce in us a spiritual maturity.
It does all these things.
But, the problem with Dr. Peterson’s statement is that he is relegating salvation to a philosophical proposition, he is making it an intellectual exercise rather than making it the actual (and only) requisite for salvation.
The Core of the Christian Salvific Ethic
Dr. Peterson goes on to state that the core of most religions has the state as its central mechanism of salvation, while Christianity has at its core the individual, and it’s the choice of that individual that directs the universal salvation, holding no ties to the state or culture in which that individual is a part.
This actually is incorrect, since Dr. Peterson operates from a very shallow position of the Scriptures. In actuality, he is approaching Scripture from a worldly position, and as Paul states, “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Co 2:14). The reality is much more significant than Dr. Peterson asserts concerning the relationship between the individual Christian and the so called State. First, when someone hears the message of the gospel, when the Holy Spirit begins his work in the heart of a lost individual, if he be called by the Father to the Son, then that Word he hears is planted in the heart, and it, God willing, spouts a kernel of faith. As we know from Matthew 13:23-33 that this seed of the Word falls on many different types of soil (the heart). Some accept it eagerly and faith grows quickly. Some likewise receive and are eager, but the cares of the world quickly extinguish that tiny flame. So there is within the host of human possibility, only a subset for which God’s Word is actually received and that Word produces fruit, as Jesus stated, “He who received seed on good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
Yet, this process that occurs here is lost on Dr. Peterson. He sees the message of the Bible as a prescriptive model for others to emulate. But, as Ben Shapiro almost immediately points out to Dr. Peterson, this is not the gospel message of the Protestant or biblical Christian. We would argue, instead, that there is no way to emulate or duplicate what Jesus did for us on the cross. It was not an example of something for which we needed to do for ourselves. Jesus did not die for his own sin. There is, in fact, no reason for us to die since Jesus, in dying for us, paid the penalty for the sin of everyone who ever lived and even everyone who ever will live (in fact, Jesus died for me 1975 years before I existed and he likewise died and paid the price for all the sins I would commit in this life, even those I have not yet committed.
But, in doing so, Jesus purchased us who are have been saved, are saved, and who are being saved. We no longer are citizens of this world, we are no longer to conform to this world (Ro 12:2). The Bible says we are sojourners and aliens in a strange land (1 Pe 2:11). Rather, we are considered to be “no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19) and “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20).
Biblical Christians (I differentiate between those who actively pursue life through the ever present lens of the Bible and those who claim to be Christian but live their lives no different than the rest of the world) are new creations when they are saved. They are no longer part of the culture, no longer part of the society in which they were saved in. They no longer have political affiliations with world governments, no longer seek worldly aspirations or follow after whatever cultural imperatives they find themselves in. Rather, they are now members of a deep and peculiar mystery of God. They are part of a Kingdom that is not of this earth. A kingdom that will come and all who are saved will be redeemed from the earth (if they have died) and those who are still alive will be caught up into the air with them, and they will be with the Lord, our Christ, for all eternity.
But, this kingdom is not accessed via good intentions or mimicry or personal psycho-spiritual evolution and maturity. It is rather accessed by way of the sacrificial blood of the God-man. It is, as Jesus stated clearly, “All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved” (John 10:8-9). Likewise Peter states, “there is no salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The distinction between Christianity and other religions is not the relation between individual and the state, but the relation between the individual and his creator. As Jesus stated, all the other religions are considered to be thieves and robbers. We know from Paul that all other religion is really just demonic deception (Ro 1; 1 Co 10:20).
The bottom line that Dr. Peterson is missing is there is no solution for the state or the culture. The destiny of those who dwell on the earth, who make their home here, is that of fire. Judgment awaits them at the Great White Throne, where they will each be judged by everything they’ve ever said or done and there is only one verdict and only one penalty for all: the lake of fire. Salvation is secured by one way only. The rest is just prelude to condemnation.
Ultimate Source of Salvation
He then goes on to say, “I believe the individual is the fundamental locus of salvation and redemption.
This may be true for the lost. It may be the only hope the world has without Christ while on earth. Though, such efforts are ultimately in vain. If salvation and redemption is equated to building a better net life for oneself, then you do not understand the gospel or the Scriptures. If it means getting out of you parent’s basement and renting your own place, that’s fine. If it means getting out of debt, that’s great. If it means getting off of drugs or stop drinking, that is wonderful. If it means taking your relationship serious with the person you’ve been casually dating, by all means. These are all fine and good and everyone should strive to do these things to one degree or another and hurray for anyone who can clean up their life and become more responsible and more mature in how they treat themselves and those around them.
But, it is fundamentally and categorically incorrect if one is defining salvation and redemption as the Bible does or as Jesus or Paul did. Salvation is but the beginning of a long and arduous journey. But it is a journey that cannot be taken without the prerequisite. It is a journey that would seem preposterous and foolishness to anyone who did not have the Spirit of God residing within them as a new creature. All the fallen man has is a faulty, deformed, and impoverished spirit, a warped and atrophied soul that cannot see the stark reality in which it exists or the danger it is in without Christ.
The Gospel According to the Bible
The gospel is not a model for us to perpetuate in our own lives as our own saviors. Rather, it is salvation by grace through faith. It is the initial drawing of the Father and it is the planting and sprouting of a seed and it is the fertility of God’s purpose in how that seed and germination is received and it is God who ultimately makes the newfound faith grow in the heart of men. Salvation is the direct involvement and interaction of the Holy Spirit in the life and core of a lost individual. Their transformation can certainly be messy and it can take a very, very long time before fruit is even visible in that individual’s life. But, salvation is a certainty in the eyes of God, for he will finish the work he started.
As Paul stated, salvation is had by two simple but profound elements: confessing Jesus as Lord before men, and believing that God raised Jesus from the dead (Ro 10:9). There is no other prescription. There are no other requirements. Everything else in the life of a believer is brought about through the wrestling of sanctification and this is a safe and protected process overseen by the intimate involvement of the Holy Spirit.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10). “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Ti 2:19).
I actually am a fan of Dr. Peterson’s work, though I do see he is missing the most important ingredient to accurately understanding the purpose and mission of Jesus. He did not come to be an example. He’s not a good man or a good teacher. In fact, much of what he taught the Jews in the first century was rather harsh and burdening. “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20). How is this an example we can emulate on our own merit, by our own effort?
Rather, Jesus is the Christ, the suffering servant, the one who God “chose us in before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Eph 1:4). He did not give us a model but actually “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (He 9:26). The sacrifice on the cross IS the reason, it IS the purpose for which Jesus came and died, it is by this very effort, and only by this effort that we gain access to the Father. It is by Jesus’ work on the cross that we can “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace” (4:16).
No philosophy will do. No ideology will suffice. It is by the gospel – this gospel – that we each who profess Jesus as Lord over our lives, that we believe that God raised him from the dead, that we stand, it is this gospel that saves us, it is to this gospel alone that we hold fast. As Paul said, “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (1 Co 15:2) and “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Co 15:19).
Do not look to save yourself. Look instead to the only one in heaven or on earth or in any other place known or unknown to exist who has the power and authority to save you from your sin.
Until my next post……
Excerpt from The Light Aurora:
The door’s lock released and Dr. Lewis looked around at each of them.
“Stay close, and be ready for anything. I’m not sure if they’re all in the Command Center or if they are trying to secure Level 4. Hell, they could all be evacuating.”
He stared at Scott as he came up onto the landing.
“Let’s go,” Scott said.
Dr. Lewis pushed the door open and walked out into the hall, followed by the others – in ones and twos. Level 2 was similar to the other level, with a long corridor, doors on either side, all with security displays recessed into the wall next to them.
But, as they entered the corridor, Scott’s breath caught in his throat. As he stood there with the others, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. In front of them, probably no more than a few yards away, were three bodies lying on the floor. One was sitting up against the wall, the side of his face melted, exposing his right eyeball and a good portion of his right skull. Another one was laying face down, his entire back opened up at the spine, as if his spinal cord had been ripped out of him from behind. The last one was a few more feet away from the others, on his back, his eyes seared from his head, black, burnt flesh where his eyes used to be.
The intercom came back to crackling life.
“Professor?” Derrick said over the intercom.
“Don’t worry. You can answer,” he said. “I can hear you.”
Scott looked up, then fixed his gaze on the security camera at the end of the corridor.
“Yes?” Scott finally asked.
There was a pause, static.
“What are you doing, Derrick?” he asked. “Did you do this?”
“Indeed,” Derrick said, coming back on.
“They refused to help me.”
“What are you trying to do, Derrick?” Scott asked.
There was another pause.
“I want to go home, Professor,” the boy said.
“Yes,” Derrick said, his tone soaked with some other-worldly confidence that did not belong in an innocent, ten year old boy.
“I want to go home, Professor,” he said again. “Would you be interested in coming home with me?”
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