Archive for Atonement

An Unfair Substitution


He Bore Our Just Judgment

But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.

Isa 53:5 NLT

Jesus Christ took the place of us, miserable guilty sinners, and paid the price for our salvation by absorbing the just judgment we deserved. Christ’s death was penal in that he bore our penalty for sin when he died. Christ’s death was a substitution in that he took our place when he suffered for our self-absorption, self-centeredness, and self-conceit.

Christ’s substitution was the one-sided trade of our sins, inadequacies, and numerous failings for God’s forgiveness, life-sufficiency, and overcoming victory.  Jesus Christ, the one who is fully man and fully God, truly innocent and without sin, took upon himself at Golgotha all our selfishness, rebellion, sin, and hatred. By contrast, when we look to faith in Christ, he gives us his righteousness, forgiveness, restoration, and love.

We think that life is unfair. This exchange was unfair. Christ’s substitution for us was a totally unfair exchange. Our junk for his righteousness, our selfishness for his love, our debt for his joy. Indeed, it was an unfair substitution. Thank God that he is not fair.

The concept of substitution may be said, then, to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.

John Stott, The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1989), 160.





Drink From the Fountain

The Fountain Filled With Blood

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Rom. 5:7-8 NLT

I’ve been visiting the county jail a good bit recently. Reaching out to those who find themselves at the end of themselves. When in prison one thing is exposed that for all of us is true, we all have broken the law. Whether man’s law or God’s law, we are all in need of forgiveness. The message of a fountain filled with blood that when drawn cleanses us from sin is a message welcomed in the darkest dankest prison. The message of the Cross still frees the prisoner whether the prisoner is literally behind bars or suffers internal bondage from sin’s chains. We are all called to drink of the fountain of forgiveness that is the Cross and there find forgiveness abundant and free (Isa.55:1-3; 55:6-9).

We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is of him. If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth.

For by his birth he was made like us in all respects, that he might learn to feel our pain. If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.16.19.

HT: Ray Ortlund


What in the World Is “Propitiation”?

God Satisfies His Own Wrath

And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

1 John 2:2 NKJV

The blood of Christ is clear confirmation that Christ died a sacrificial death to pay for our release from the captivity of sin and bondage to Satan’s schemes. In other words, we owe our salvation to the death of Christ. His blood removes our guilt before God (1 Pet.1:18-19), cleanses ours stricken consciences (Heb. 9:14), gives us bold access to the Father (Heb. 10:19), on-going cleansing from our sin (1 John 1:7) and conquers all of Satan’s accusations (Rev. 12:10-11). We sinned, the penalty of our sin is death, Christ took our place, and died so that we might live. Jesus’ blood condemns death and in that death, the penalty of our sin was paid in full. In short, the blood of Jesus is the virtue of his death for our sins.

Why is a propitiation necessary? The pagan answer is because the gods are bad-tempered, subject to moods and fits, and capricious. The Christian answer is because God’s holy wrath rests on evil. There is nothing unprincipled, unpredictable or uncontrolled about God’s anger; it is aroused by evil alone.

Secondly, the author. Who undertakes to do the propitiating? The pagan answer is that we do. We have offended the gods; so we must appease them. The Christian answer, by contrast, is that we cannot placate the righteous anger of God. We have no means whatever by which to do so. But God in his undeserved love has done for us what we could never do by ourselves. *God presented him* (sc. Christ) as a sacrifice of atonement. John wrote similarly: ‘God … loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice (*hilasmos*) for our sins’ (1 Jn. 4:10). The love, the idea, the purpose, the initiative, the action and the gift were all God’s.

Thirdly, the nature. How has the propitiation been accomplished? What is the propitiatory sacrifice? The pagan answer is that we have to bribe the gods with sweets, vegetable offerings, animals, and even human sacrifices. The Old Testament sacrificial system was entirely different, since it was recognized that God himself has ‘given’ the sacrifices to his people to make atonement (e.g. Lv. 17:11). And this is clear beyond doubt in the Christian propitiation, for God gave his own Son to die in our place, and in giving his Son he gave himself (Rom. 5:8; 8:32).

In sum, it would be hard to exaggerate the differences between the pagan and the Christian views of propitiation. In the pagan perspective, human beings try to placate their bad-tempered deities with their own paltry offerings. According to the Christian revelation, God’s own great love propitiated his own holy wrath through the gift of his own dear Son, who took our place, bore our sin and died our death. Thus God himself gave himself to save us from himself.

John Stott, The Message of Romans: The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester: InterVarsity, 1994), 114.


For Whom Did Christ Die?

He Died for All

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all . . . .

1 Tim. 2:3-5 (NKJV)

An Arminian-Wesleyan View

Christ died for the sins of the world, and to ransom that world. 1 Tim. 2.4-5 puts the matter succinctly. God our savior “wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” One could compare this to John 3.17, God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but to save the world, or the repeated refrain in Hebrews that Christ died once for all time, for all persons, and so on. (See the discussion of these matters in my forthcoming volumes on NT Theology and Ethics entitled The Indelible Image).

But this is not just a matter of finding sufficient proof texts (of which there are many more), it is a matter of one’s theology of the divine character. God is love, holy love, to be sure, but nonetheless love, and as 1 Tim. 2.4 says, the desire of God’s heart is that all persons be saved. It is not just the elect whom God loves, but as John 3.16 says, the world, for whom Christ was sent to die. It follows from this that Christ’s atoning death is sufficient for the salvation of all persons, but only efficient for those who respond in faith to God’s gracious provision of redemption.

Even more foundational is the understanding of the meaning of saying that God is love. Among other things, this means God is committed to relating to those created in his image in love. Now real love must be freely given, and freely received. It cannot be predetermined, manipulated, coerced or else it becomes contrary to what the Bible says love is (see 1 Cor. 13). In the debate between whether the primary trait of God is God’s sovereignty or God’s love, it seems clear that God exercises his power in love, and for loving ends. Even his acts of judgment, short of final judgment, are not meant to be punitive but rather corrective and restorative. God in short, is unlike vindictive human beings, very unlike them. Thus Hosea relates that God says “All my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger … For I am God and not a human being.” God, the divine parent, is not less loving than the best of human parents, God is more loving. If Christ is the perfect incarnation of the character of God, then the answer to the question, for whom did Christ die, becomes theologically self-evident— for the world which God created and still loves.

Ben Witherington (Professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary)

HT: Michael Bird at the Euangelion Blog