Christ’s work overcame the curse and restored “Paradise lost.” Christ’s work also leads to “Paradise regained.” We now stand in the very presence of God clothed in Christ’s righteousness. The “Man in white” took our filthy rags and gave us His white, pure, and righteous robe. Paul says it plainly in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.”
Theologians refer to Christ’s work in terms of His active obedience and His passive obedience. In His passive obedience, He paid the penalty for sin; He atoned for sin. In His active righteousness, He earned righteousness on our behalf. No other message and no other means can save us or deliver us. Paul spent decades and piled effort upon effort in attempts to white-knuckle his way to God. All to no avail. Then, on the road to Damascus, Saul came to an end as Christ, “the Man in white,” brought Paul to Himself.
Paul knew firsthand the power of the gospel. Not a day went by that he did not rejoice in what God had done for him in Christ.
The brothers John and Charles Wesley tried white-knuckling their way into heaven. They even went to a faraway land as missionaries in a futile attempt to achieve salvation. Then, independently but within a few days of each other, John and Charles were brought to Christ. John was convicted as he stood outside the Aldersgate Meetinghouse in London and heard Martin Luther’s preface to his commentary on Romans being read. Charles was convicted as he was reading Martin Luther’s preface to his commentary on Galatians. They decided they would no longer celebrate or mark their earthly birthdays. Instead, they would celebrate the occasion of their conversions.
To mark his first new birth birthday, Charles wrote a hymn, “And Can It Be,” a hymn to the mystery and wonder of salvation. In one of the stanzas, he declares:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
Jessica Buchanan was an aid worker in the lawless lands of Somalia. She worked with a Danish charity, teaching children how to avoid landmines. In October 2011, she was kidnapped by a band of Somali pirates armed with AK-47s. She was held for ninety-three days in the wide open, through the rainy season. Over that time, she became malnourished and began to suffer greatly from a kidney infection. Her captors kept her alive, but barely. Negotiations were stalled. She had lost all hope. In the middle of the night on January 25, 2012, she woke to a sudden and violent eruption of gunfire. She thought a rival gang had engaged her captors in a battle. She buried her head in her hands, thinking she would surely die. Then she felt a hand on her shoulder and heard someone call her name—“Jessica.”
And she heard it in an American accent.
Under the cover of night, a detachment from U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six parachuted in and attacked the camp. All of the pirates were killed. Jessica was unharmed. The sailors picked her up and carried her out of the camp and to the designated pickup zone. The SEALs then made a circle around her and waited until the helicopter arrived. They loaded her onto the helicopter and she was carried off to safety. As the helicopter lifted off, one of the SEALs handed her an American flag.
Jessica Buchanan contributed nothing to her release from her captors. The SEALs did it all. And when they rescued her, literally from the pit of death, they gave her back her identity. They gave her back her freedom.
Her story is a picture of this stanza from Charles Wesley’s hymn. It is a hymn commemorating a prison break. The prisoner could no nothing. This prison break was possible only through the work of Christ. So Charles Wesley’s hymn declares:
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
alive in Him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine.
The quickening ray is able to penetrate the darkest of dungeons. It penetrated the Praetorian Guard and even the household of Nero.