Right here we come to the most difficult part of the gospel to accept: that those who do not believe it are eternally lost—no matter what good works they do.
The reasons for that fact are grounded in both God’s love and His justice. God’s justice requires that the infinite penalty for sin must be paid. For us to pay would separate us from God forever, so He became a man through the virgin birth to pay the penalty for us. No one can complain against God. He has proved His love by doing all He could for our salvation. He has Himself paid the penalty and on that basis can be both “just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans:3:26).
Christ pleaded in the Garden, “If it be possible [that is, if there is any other way mankind can be saved], let this cup pass from me” (Matthew:26:39). We know that there is no other way, or God would not have required His beloved Son to bear the full brunt of His wrath against sin. That men nailed Christ to the cross is not the basis of our salvation. That heinous act, perpetrated by men, would only add to our condemnation.
Contrary to the message of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, there was no payment for sins’ penalty in the torture that men inflicted upon the Lord. The idea that the godless Roman soldiers were God’s servants meting out His punishment for sin upon Christ contradicts both the Scripture and common sense. Did they smite Christ just enough times and just hard enough to punish Him for the sins of all mankind, as the movie implies? They punished Christ for the sins of billions of people from the beginning to the end of time? Impossible! It was, in fact, the evil in their hearts that caused the soldiers to abuse Him as they did. And that, too, was sin for which Christ died.
Here, displayed before the universe for all time and eternity, was the greatest proof of the evil in each and every one of us—the creature taunting, torturing, and crucifying its Creator! But when man was doing his worst against Him, God did His best to man in the greatest possible demonstration of His love, grace, and mercy. In response to Christ’s incredible cry, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke:23:34), God punished Him for the sins of the world.
Our salvation was procured not by what His tormentors did but by Christ taking upon Himself “the sin of the world” (John:1:29) and suffering the eternal death (“that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man”—Hebrews:2:9) in the separation from God (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”—Matthew:27:46) that all mankind deserved. As the great Hebrew prophet foretold: “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all…. It please the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin….” (Isaiah:53:6, 10).