What Didn’t Christ Accomplish?
Welcome back to the podcast on this fine Monday. We start the week with a question that reached us from 10,000 miles away — from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and from a listener named Kyle. “Hello, Pastor John! I have enjoyed listening to APJ for a few months now. My question is this: What did Jesus actually accomplish? Every time I ask this question to fellow believers, the answer is always an enthusiastic ‘Everything!’ While that answer is nice, it always felt like the equivalent of asking a chef, after having eaten an exquisite dish, what the ingredients are, and his emphatic response being ‘Everything!’ Is there a core group of Christ’s accomplishments that we should focus on more than others? On the flip side, is there anything that Christ didn’t accomplish, that we have somehow tricked ourselves into believing he did? I’m thinking of wealth, comfort, and the good life today. Can we go too far by promising things Christ did not accomplish for us today?”
As with many questions we are asked, the first task is to clarify terms. In fact, most questions answer themselves once you understand the terms. Until we do this, we can’t even know what is being asked, and this question in particular is fraught with ambiguities.
“Christ accomplished the full salvation for his elect, the people he chose before the foundation of the world.”
First, the ambiguity of definition — what does the word accomplish mean? And then the ambiguity of timing — accomplish by when? And then the ambiguity of beneficiaries — accomplish for whom? And then the ambiguity of act — which act of Jesus are you asking about? Accomplished by his miracles? Accomplished by his sinless obedience? Accomplished by his death? Accomplished by his resurrection? Accomplished by his intercession? So, we’ve got lots of work to do.
Let me suggest four clarifications, and I think in the very clarifying we’ll address every one of Kyle’s questions.
1. Death and Resurrection
I’m going to assume that the act of Jesus that Kyle has in mind when he asks this is his death and resurrection; that is, What did Jesus accomplish in dying for us and rising again? That’s my assumption as I answer this question.
2. Guaranteed Salvation
When I use the word accomplish in relation to Jesus’s saving work on the cross and in the resurrection, the meaning I give to the word is this: to accomplish something means to cause it to happen in that very hour, or to make certain that it will happen at some time in the future. That’s what I mean by accomplish. And I get that meaning from Isaiah 46:9–10. Here’s what God says there: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me . . . saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’”
Now, the point of the word accomplish in those verses is to emphasize that it cannot fail: “I am God, and this is what it means to be God: I speak, and I accomplish what I speak.” Accomplish means to do whatever it takes to make something certain, start to finish.
Certainty or Possibility?
That’s important to emphasize because there are a lot of people who emphatically disagree with this meaning of accomplish when it comes to what Jesus did on the cross and in the resurrection. For them, the death of Jesus did not accomplish in this way. It did not bring about certainties; it brought about possibilities.
In my definition, Jesus, they would say, didn’t accomplish any salvation; he didn’t make it certain for anybody in particular. They would say that what Jesus accomplished was to make salvation possible for all people to obtain. That’s it; that’s what he accomplished: a possibility. But he did not accomplish their salvation in the sense of making it certain, start to finish. But that’s what I think he did.
So, if you’re asking me, What did Jesus accomplish? I would say that, by his death and resurrection, Christ accomplished the full salvation for his elect, the people he chose before the foundation of the world. Jesus said that his blood was the blood of the new covenant (Luke 22:20). Which means that his blood secured, guaranteed, purchased, obtained the new covenant. And what the new covenant promised is that God would take out the heart of stone, put in the heart of flesh, and cause his people to walk in his ways (Ezekiel 36:26–27).
In other words, the new covenant was not just that God would make faith and forgiveness possible, but that he would make it certain for his people. In fact, that’s what makes the new covenant the new covenant. That’s what makes it new and different from the old covenant: it cannot fail because God accomplishes it, makes it certain, start to finish.
All for the Receiving
So, by his death and resurrection, Christ secured, he accomplished, he made certain that all God’s wrath would be turned away from all God’s elect, that they would all be redeemed, that they would all come to faith, that they would all be justified, forgiven, receive the Holy Spirit, be sanctified, be raised from the dead, be glorified in God’s presence with eternal joy forever. That is the accomplishment of the cross, and it is certain. He purchased it, he bought it, he guaranteed it by his blood and resurrection — a total, great salvation for all God’s elect, start to finish. This is what we offer to the world.
We don’t say to the world in our evangelism, in our world missions, that Christ did not accomplish anything but a possibility. We say Christ accomplished a great, certain, complete salvation, and anyone — absolutely anyone — who has Christ has all of it. Receive him. Oh, receive him.
I can picture my dad, Tony; he was a great evangelist. I remember watching him — as a little boy — plead with sinners at the front of the church after he preached his heart out for a week of evangelistic meetings: “Oh, come, come, believe in him,” with tears running down his face. Embrace him as your Savior, your Lord, your greatest treasure in the universe, and everything — everything, absolutely everything — he accomplished is yours. That’s my understanding of what he accomplished.
3. Inaugurated for Now
Clarification number three: timing. When we say that Christ accomplished something, we don’t necessarily mean it happened already, or that it will happen in our lifetime on earth. So, for example, Christ accomplished the satisfaction of God’s wrath against our sin. Well, that’s over, that’s past, done, once for all, never repeated — he accomplished our justification. That propitiation, the satisfaction of God’s wrath, happened in AD 33, and it’ll never be repeated. Once for all, when he died, he bore our judgment and God’s wrath. Justification happened at the instant that we believed, and he accomplished our perfection, but that will be experienced only in the future at the resurrection of the body.
“He made certain that all his people would have everything we need to glorify God by being eternally happy in him.”
This is important because some people say (and I think this is what was being asked) healing is in the atonement, and since Christ accomplished healing and prosperity and wealth for his people, Christians will be healed and prosperous — healed of all our diseases — now in this life, if we just have enough faith. Well, it’s true that Jesus applied Isaiah 53:4 to his healing ministry: “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases’” (Matthew 8:17). And Peter says, “By his wounds you have been healed,” referring to the forgiveness of sins (1 Peter 2:24).
But neither of those passages says that the fullness of healing will happen in this life. In fact, Paul makes it plain that we will be groaning in this fallen world until all things are made new (Romans 8:22).
So yes, Jesus accomplished perfect healing by his death and resurrection. Perfect health was made certain by the death of Jesus for all his people — but not all of it in this life.
4. Given All We Need
One last clarification: there is one amazing promise that connects the death of Jesus to the certainty of everything good that saved sinners ever experience, now and forever. And that’s Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all . . .” Now, you could ask as soon as he says that, What’s he going to say now? What did that accomplish? What did not sparing his own Son accomplish for us? He answers like this: “How will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
The logic is staggeringly strong, staggeringly vast: because God did not spare his Christ, his Son, it is absolutely certain that all of his elect will be given “all things,” which means, in the context where we can be killed (Romans 8:36), everything we need in order to do God’s will and to glorify his name and to be happy in him for all eternity. Everything we need will be given because he accomplished that.
So, if I were to say, going back to the question now, “Jesus accomplished everything” — like the chef: “I put everything in the meal” — well, here’s what I would mean by that. By his death and resurrection, he made certain that all his people would have absolutely everything we need to glorify God by being eternally happy in him.