The “word of Christ” in our text under consideration (Romans 10:17), includes the doctrine that Jesus is Lord in the context of his resurrection (10:8, 9).
The Sole Focus of Faith
The resurrection climaxes and verifies the life-claims of Jesus concerning his rebuilding the temple after its destruction (John 2:19-22), his giving his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:34-45), his giving his life for his sheep by divine authority (John 10:11-18), his right to call people to lose their life for his sake (Matthew 16:21-27), and his worthiness to be the source of our forgiveness of sins and reception of his righteousness (Romans 4:23-5:2).
That is, the Evangelical teaches that the only hearing that produces faith is that hearing that includes, as its culminating idea, Christ and Him crucified.
This is what Paul set his mind on as the message that refuted all the vanity of human wisdom and schemes of power and personal advantage (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:2). It is to this end that the word of God is given, to this end the Son of God took on our flesh, and on this event faith finds its only focus.
“…the only hearing that produces faith is that hearing that includes…Christ and Him crucified.”
The Necessity and Centrality of the Cross
Around this issue evangelicalism defines itself as true biblical Christianity. No matter how much truth Christians may profess otherwise, an absence of focus on the inviolable necessity of this event makes all the rest useless.
For Christians and Christianity to exist a saving event must have taken place. Otherwise, all the world is yet in its sin, condemnation lurks around the edge of death for each and every individual, no amount of belief and confidence in oneself or hope for joy beyond the grave has any material reality.
“No matter how much truth Christians may profess otherwise, an absence of focus on the inviolable necessity of this event makes all the rest useless.”
No saving event, no salvation; all continue under the wrath of God and about none can it be said that they are rescued from the wrath to come. Nor is there a gift of the Holy Spirit to change hearts to give love for one another in this life, nor any attitude other than self-seeking, for, outside of Christ and the reality of his self-giving, all seek their own. There would not be any legends of hope for there would have been no initial promise of eventual redemption for straying cultures to encase in their mythology. All would be dark and gloom and terror here, and infinite unspeakable horror with a justified divine vengeance hereafter.
But the cross has happened, and, as a result, Christ is raised. And in his resurrection is the resurrection of those that are in him.
Voluntary and Substitutionary
The certainty of this hope depends on several parts of redemptive truth embedded in the cross.
Death, defined as liability to divine punishment for sin and the eventual conscious suffering of divine wrath that fully answers the just deserts of such rebellion against an infinitely worthy and glorious being, must be executed against law transgressors (Galatians 3:10; Hebrews 2:2, 3; 10:26-31).
“No man took his life from him; he gave it in light of an eternal purpose conceived within the triune God”
For Jesus to be a redeemer, he must owe no personal debt of punishment under this divine law (Hebrews 2:14-18;4:14-16; 7:26-28). His death was voluntary.
No man took his life from him; he gave it in light of an eternal purpose conceived within the triune God from eternity past (John 10:18; Ephesians 1:7-10; Galatians 4:4-6). His life and obedience were fit for the payment of such an infinite debt (Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:9-11; 9:11-14).
His death is substitutionary, taking the place of all who would be forgiven and granted the gifts won so worthily, so that everything he gained becomes their gift (Romans 5:1,2; Galatians 1:3-5; 3:13, 14; 4:7; Romans 8:32-39; 1 Peter 2:21-25).
“All of history expresses the eternal purpose of God to glorify himself in the redemption of sinners through the penal substitutionary death of his son…”
The fullness of divine wrath has found in Christ an object upon which a just and satisfactory vengeance may fall so that wrath does not come to those for whom he died (2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Romans 5:15-21; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 4:14-18; 5:23; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 1:7-2:2; 4:10, 17; Revelation 22:14, 15).
All of history expresses the eternal purpose of God to glorify himself in the redemption of sinners through the penal substitutionary death of his son, and to show how greatly his Son suffered by displaying his wrath in vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22, 23).
All of this culminates in Jesus’ work of reconciliation on the cross and reaches the mind and the heart through proclaiming that event and all that is connected with it. Thus, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”
There are many other issues that are important for the great variety of evangelical ministries, churches, and denominations that forestall visible organizational unity. One should never be encouraged to violate conscience by setting aside an idea that has come from careful interpretation of Scripture and devotion to its truth.
But one cannot hold a less word-centered, Christ-centered, and cross-centered theology, or hold doctrines that defy, deny, or render inconsequential those doctrines and still be, in the strongest biblical sense of the idea, Evangelical.
Tom J. Nettles
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary