In an article I read a while ago, it was pointed out – via the questions surrounding when Christian was saved in Pilgrim’s Progress – that we are not saved by the cross. Having outlined his position on when and where Christian was saved (at the wicket gate, if you are interested), the author states:
“Are you saying that someone can be saved without the cross?” a concerned student asks.
“No,” I answer, “No one can be saved apart from what Jesus accomplished on the cross, but the Bible proclaims that a person gets saved when he receives Christ, and the Bible does not say that a person gets saved through believing that Jesus died for him. Christ himself is the proper object of saving faith, not some part of his work.”
The author rightly goes on to say:
virtually everyone has been told that if he will believe that Jesus died for him, he will be saved, but I repeat: this is not found in the Bible. A person is saved not when he believes in right doctrine (substitutionary, penal atonement, in this case) but a person is saved when he believes in the right person, namely Christ. So the object of saving faith is not a doctrine but a person. Christ himself is the treasure chest of salvation. Receive him, and you receive all that is in him.
The article correctly notes that penal substitution is a vital, indispensable part of the gospel. However, it is not the whole gospel and it is not through proper understanding of this doctrine that one is saved. In short, “all who receive Christ the risen Lord as Lord and Savior are saved”.
It is also worth noting that none of the apostles seem to ground their hope in the cross either. Their hope seems to rest, not on the cross but, on the resurrection event. So, the cross is neither the object of salvation nor the basis of Christian hope.
Before we go throwing out Good Friday and ignoring Jesus’ death altogether, here is why the cross is vitally important and Good Friday is still good. Despite the cross neither being the object of our faith nor the basis of our future hope, the cross is where Jesus ultimately and finally secured our salvation. The cross is the place whereby Jesus paid the penalty for sin, once for all, and completed the mission for which he came. At the cross, the price for sin had been paid, the debt cleared and – unbeknownst to them at the time – the salvation of all believers finally secured.
Although our future hope is not based upon Jesus’ work of the cross (more of which on Sunday), without the cross our salvation would not, and could not, exist. The cross is of vital importance because it marks the point in salvation-history at which God punished, in himself, the sins of those for whom Christ died. The cross is neither the object of our salvation, nor the basis of our hope, but there would certainly be no salvation without it.
That is why Good Friday remains good.