Martin Luther famously described God’s way of salvation as central to the integrity of the church. “If this article stands, the church stands,” he wrote, “if it collapses, the church collapses.” Indeed, what good does it do to be right about everything else if the church misses the mark about salvation?
The church cannot be right about salvation if it is not right about Jesus Christ, and the church cannot be right about Jesus Christ if it is not right about his work as Priest. Christ acts as our Priest in two ways, first through his completed work of atonement, and second through his continuing work of intercession.
The sacrifices offered by priests in the Old Testament all served to point to the ultimate sacrifice given by Jesus. The important difference is that, while the Old Testament priests offered animals, Jesus offered himself. It is marvelous that Christ was at once the sacrifice and the Priest who offered the sacrifice. Additionally, animal sacrifices could not put away sin (Hebrews 10:14) and had to be repetitively offered (Hebrews 10:1,2). Jesus, however, completely put away our sin. No further atonement is needed (Hebrews 7:27).
When Jesus died on the cross, he did not stop being our Priest. Jesus “holds His priesthood permanently” (Hebrews 7:24). Christ continues his priestly work by interceding for us in heaven. “Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). “God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Romans 8:33,34).
Christ intercedes for us on the basis of his sacrifice for us. We read in 1 John 2:1,2: “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” Christ’s sacrifice provides everything related to our salvation, and his intercession delivers these blessings to us.
For the church to be united, we must continue to teach the one way of salvation that is in Jesus Christ. We must call people to repentance consisting of faith in Christ, confession of Christ, and baptism into Christ. There is no salvation outside of Jesus Christ.