The glorious sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice is a golden theme woven by God throughout the New Testament. The list of passages rejoicing in this sufficiency—and warning us not to forget it—is a lengthy list. A small sampling of my favorite passages would include Gal. 1:6-9, 2:16, 21, 5:2-4, 6:14, 1 Cor. 2:1-2, Col. 2:5-19, 3:1-4, Heb. 7:11, 10:1-14, Rev. 5:1-14.
Rather than some optional, ornate fixture hung on Christianity, understanding of the sufficiency of Christ’s work is very central to saving faith. At the most fundamental level “there is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:12). Not Abraham, not angels, not the Mosaic Law, not the blood of bulls and goats, not the merits of Mary, nowhere but in Christ do we find hope of justification before our holy Father and freedom from the clutches of death.
On the flip side of this cross-sufficiency, the Scriptural warnings are also very clear. If we misunderstand the sufficiency of the cross we misunderstand the very heart of saving faith. Paul told the Galatians—a church lured by a ‘gospel’ of Christ + self-righteousness—that to believe Christ’s death was insufficient to secure eternal salvation was comparable to “deserting” God himself, to completely chucking the true gospel, a tragic “falling away from grace” (1:6, 5:4). Had Christ’s death been deemed insufficient—or if there was another means to salvation outside of Christ—then he died in vain (2:21). Given the high priority of Christ’s sufficiency, Paul persuades the Church to pronounce “condemnation” on teachers, angels, and apostles who teach anything to the contrary (1:8-9).
By accumulating the force of these biblical passages we begin to see that the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work on the cross is no fringe truth but pulls back the soil to reveal the root of saving faith. To believe—to really believe—requires a resignation of the soul to the complete, all-satisfying work of Christ.
As a 24-year old writing in the early months of 1727, Jonathan Edwards penned a few words in a notebook as he contemplated the links between the pleasure of the Father in the sacrifice of the Son, the sufficiency of Christ’s work, and the nature of genuine saving faith. That God would ordain that the redeemed would keep their eyes focused on the sufficient work of Christ is not only biblical (Rev. 5:1-14) but quite rational, too. Edwards explains why:
“If any person that was greatly obliged to me, that was dependent on me and that I loved, should exceedingly abuse me, and should go on in an obstinate course of it from one year to another, notwithstanding all I could say to him, and all new obligations continually repeated; though at length he should leave it off, I should not forgive him (except upon gospel considerations). But if any person that was a much dearer friend to me, and one that had always been true to me and constant to the utmost, and that was a very near friend of him that offended me, should intercede for him, and out of the entire love he had to him should put himself to very hard labors and difficulties, and undergo great pains and miseries to procure him satisfaction; and the person that had offended should with a changed mind fly to this mediator and should seek favor in his name, with a sense in his own mind how much his meditor had done and suffered for him, I should be satisfied, and feel myself inclined without any difficulty to receive him into my entire friendship again. But not without the last mentioned condition, that he should have a sense how much his mediator had done and suffered. For if he was ignorant of most of it, and thought he had done only some small matter, I should not be easy nor satisfied. So a sense of Christ’s sufficiency seems necessary in faith.”
-Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards: The “Miscellanies” a-500 (Yale, 1994), pp. 359-360.