Essential Truths about Our Savior
By Bob Wilkin
In order to understand the Bible, recognizing important distinctions is critically important. This is especially true in the area of soteriology, the doctrine of salvation.
There is a difference Biblically between what we must believe to be born again and what the Savior had to be and do in order for us to be born again. The Bible distinguishes between these two.
However, some who profess to believe in Free Grace deny this, saying that any essential truth about who Jesus is and what He did must be believed to be born again. These people limit the essentials about the Person and work of Christ—arbitrarily—to three points: Jesus’ deity, His death on the cross for our sins, and His bodily resurrection from the dead.1
The essentials discussed below are emphasized in Scripture. There can be no question that the Savior had to be or to do these things. However, these are just the tip of the iceberg.2 There are probably literally hundreds of essential truths about our Savior.3
The Savior Had to Be Fully God
Obviously only God can give anyone eternal life (see 1 John 5:20). The Savior had to be fully God to give eternal life. However, what this means is not so obvious. In fact, it means that every one of God’s attributes must be true of Jesus.
The Savior had to be 1) eternal, 2) true, 3) good, 4) loving, 5) merciful, 6) immutable, 7) omnipresent, 8) omnipotent, 9) omniscient, 10) just, 11) righteous, and 12) holy. There would be no eternal life if any of God’s attributes were not eternally present in the Savior.
The exact number of Divine attributes is not certain, but we might also mention that the Savior had to be 13) self-existent (aseity), 14) personal, 15) immanent, and 16) transcendent.
The Savior Had to Be Preceded by a Forerunner
Who Came in the Spirit and Power of Elijah
Before the Messiah could be introduced to Israel, His forerunner had to be on the scene (Mal 3:1; Matt 11:10). That forerunner was to be someone who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah (Mal 4:5-6; Matt 11:14). That was John the Baptist (Matt 11:11-14; 17:10-13).
If Jesus’ forerunner had not been born, then there would have been no Savior and no salvation.
The Savior Had to Be Born in Bethlehem
The Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). If Jesus had been born in Nazareth, for example, He couldn’t give anyone eternal life.
Many years ago Sir Robert Anderson said:
That the true Messiah must be born in Bethlehem was asserted by the Jew and conceded by the Christian: that the Nazarene was born in Bethlehem the Jew persistently denied. If even today he could disprove that fact, he would justify his unbelief; for if the Christ we worship was not by right of birth the heir to David’s throne, He is not the Christ of prophecy. Christians soon forgot this when they had no longer to maintain their faith against the unbroken front of Judaism, but only to commend it to a heathen world. But it was not forgotten by the immediate successors of the apostles…Justin Martyr asserted…that Christ was born during the taxing of Cyrenius…in the royal city [Bethlehem], and not in the despised Galilean village.4
The Savior Had to Be Born of a Virgin
and He Had to Be Sinless
If the Lord Jesus had not been born of a virgin (Isa 7:14), then He would have inherited a sin nature from his human father and He would have sinned. A sinful human being could not be the Savior (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 7:26-27). No one could have eternal life if Jesus had committed even one sin.
The Savior Had to Be Betrayed
By One of Those Closest to Him
for 30 Pieces of Silver
The OT is also clear that Messiah would be betrayed by one of His inner circle of friends (Ps 41:9; John 13:18). And it lists the price the betrayer would be paid: 30 pieces of silver (Zech 11:12; Matt 26:15). If one of Jesus’ followers had not betrayed Him for 30 pieces of silver, then Jesus could not have been the true, prophesied Savior. The Biblical Savior must fulfill all the prophecies made about Him, even those that pertained to His betrayer.
The Savior Had to Die
by Shedding His Blood on the Cross
The OT said the Messiah would die by the shedding of His blood (Exod 12:5-7; 1 Pet 1:19) as he hung on a tree (Deut 21:23; Ps 22:16-17; Gal 3:13).
Let’s say Jesus died on the cross for our sins by poisoning. That would be a substitutionary death. But it would not be by the shedding of blood, and thus there would be no eternal life available to men (Heb 9:22; 10:29).
Even if Jesus died for our sins by having His throat cut and bleeding to death, we wouldn’t be able to have eternal life because His death had to include the piercing of His hands and feet and His hanging on a tree/cross.
The Savior Had to Rise Bodily from the Dead
Precisely on the Third Day
Both the OT and NT are clear that the Messiah must rise from the dead specifically on the third day (Jonah 1:17; Matt 12:40; John 2:19). If Jesus’ resurrection had occurred on any day other than the third day, then He wouldn’t and couldn’t be our Savior. The true Savior must fulfill prophecy precisely.
Doctrinal Legalists Confuse
What the Savior Had to Be and Do
With What We Must Believe
Doctrinal legalists who profess to believe the Free Grace message claim that to be born again one must not only believe in Jesus, but he must also believe certain additional truths about His Person and work. Their position has a superficial logic. Here is how they reason:
Major premise: We must believe in the right Jesus to be born again.
Minor premise: The right Jesus is the One who is God and who died on the cross for our sins and who rose bodily from the dead.
Conclusion: To be born again one must believe that Jesus is God, that He died on the cross for our sins, that He rose bodily from the dead, and that by faith in that Jesus and in those doctrines we have everlasting life.
But the Lord Jesus never said that in order to be born again one must believe in His deity, His death, or His resurrection. The Lord Jesus simply called for faith in Himself.
And take a look at that minor premise. Why stop with those three things? Isn’t the right Jesus also the One born in Bethlehem, born of a virgin, born of the tribe of Judah, preceded by a forerunner, called out of Egypt, called a Nazarene, betrayed by one of His disciples for 30 pieces of silver, buried in a rich man’s tomb, sinless, eternal, omnipotent, immutable, holy, true, loving, etc.? Why stop with just the three things doctrinal legalists arbitrarily select?5 There is no logical reason. Those three elements are a man-made creation, a synthetic gospel.
God is the only One with the authority to tell us what we must believe to be born again. He didn’t leave us in the dark on this. The Lord Jesus Himself made it clear that the only condition of eternal life is believing in Him for it (e.g., John 3:16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35, 47; 11:25- 27).
Never confuse what our Savior had to be and to do to provide salvation with what we must do to obtain it. The former is complex; the latter is simple. The Lord Jesus had it right when He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). It is human arrogance to try to improve on the message the Savior Himself gave us to share.
1. While they point to five essentials (e.g., Hixson, Getting the Gospel Wrong, pp. 100, 104), two of their five are not about what the Savior had to be or to do.
2. Other things the Savior had to be include: a male who had no stately form or majesty, a Nazarene, a prophet, buried in a rich man’s tomb, a priest in the order of Melchizedek, and the king of the final and eternal earthly kingdom. Other things the Savior had to do include: leave Bethlehem before all the male babies in the region were killed, live for a time in Egypt before returning to Israel, heal the lame, blind, and deaf, raise the dead, enter Jerusalem triumphantly on the colt of a donkey, and be silent before His accusers.
3. There are, for example, hundreds of OT prophecies about the First and Second Comings of the Messiah. All of those are core essentials.
4. The Coming Prince: The Marvelous Prophecy of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks Concerning the Antichrist, 14th edition (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1954), pp. 89-90.
5. These doctrinal legalists charge me and others with preaching a crossless gospel. One wonders why they aren’t guilty, using their same reasoning, of preaching a bloodless gospel, a groundless gospel, a sinful-Savior gospel, a naturally-born-Savior gospel, a non-eternal-Savior gospel, a non-Jewish- Savior gospel, a non-betrayed-Savior gospel, a mutable-Savior gospel, and on and on and on. The list of the doctrines one must believe in order to believe everything the Bible says about the Messiah is truly mind-boggling. I wonder if there is a single person on earth today who believes everything that the Bible teaches about the Savior. I’m certainly not convinced that I do. Are you? I’m glad my eternal destiny doesn’t depend on that!