Tag Archives: 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

Christus Victor

christus-victor

Recapitulating the Enemy

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 4:15

Christus Victor, Christ is Victorious, was the favorite expression of the Ancient Church. Why? The world, the flesh, sin , death, and the devil were defeated by Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection. Christus Victor is the declaration that Christ undid Adam’s tragic choice of sin. Jesus has taken back this fallen world for the Father’s glory by defeating Satan’s grip on humankind. Christus Victor means that this fallen world is now retaken from Satan’s domain, redeemed, and brought under Christ’s Lordship. Therefore, God the Father is summing up of all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10, Col. 1:15-20).

Adam came forth from innocence and was tempted by Satan bringing sin and death into the world through disobedience at that awesome tree (Rom. 5:15). By contrast, Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, stood fast against Satan’s wiles, and was victorious over sin through obedience to God by hanging on that cursed tree. Christ passed through every phase of our lives-redeeming birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and even death-so that we might be set apart unto him as lights to the world. Every aspect of the life of Christ was lived in order to undo the work of Satan. The temptation in the wilderness is Christ passing the ultimate test of temptation when Adam and Israel had failed to obey God’s commands. Jesus’ finished work on Calvary’s Hill defeated death, sin and Satan and his resurrection was the ultimate declaration of that victory.

According to the theory of recapitulation (the Christus Victor view of the atonement), Christ’s shed blood on the cross was the ransom paid that brought about our release from Satan’s captivity. God the Father used the deception of Jesus being God incarnate in human flesh to trick Satan. Satan did not know that Jesus was God. In exchange for sin-trapped humankind, the devil took Jesus as ransom payment. Unwittingly, Satan was deceived for he did not know that Jesus would triumph by overthrowing sin and death.

Without equivocation, I affirm Jesus defeat of Satan’s power over believers’ lives, but the theory of recapitulation leaves much to be desired. The theory gives Satan more power than he has, makes Christ death on the Cross a transaction with the devil, and the Lord’s defeat of Satan is described in terms of deception and trickery [John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 112.]

However, the strength of the Christus Victor understanding is that the doctrine of the incarnation is stressed along with the death of Christ in the overall atoning work of Jesus in conquering sin and defeating the devil.

At the risk of oversimplification, the theme of Christ as bringer of victory can be compared with a child who has been kidnapped. In such a  case, the object of the parent’s anger will be directed not toward the child, but rather it is the kidnappers who must be dealt with . . . . As a result of the Fall, they became the captives of the kidnappers: sin, death, and the devil . . . . Christ came to do battle with humanity’s enemies and thus open the way for us to return to our rightful home.

Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, Vol. I, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 149.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that he might bring us to be even what he is himself.

Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon (2nd century AD – c. 202)

The missing link in Western theology is a deep appreciation for the incarnation and subsequent Christus Victor theme of how God incarnate won a victory over sin and death. . . . Christus Victor was the primary atonement view of the early church fathers (this view does not in any way deny the sacrifice of Christ).

Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 170.

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