For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:( I Peter 3:18)
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; (1 Timothy 4:1)
We are warned in more than one place, that the last days would be accompanied by a defection from the faith delivered “once and for all” to the church by the apostles. It is impossible to defect from that which you were never a part of, so this is a serious issue.
What they depart from is variously called, “the faith”, “the deposit” ,”the Truth” and “sound doctrine”, in the pastoral epistles of Paul. It is the body of truth, the revelation of the only spiritual reality; of who God is, what is the state of man, and the gospel of Jesus Christ and his gift of salvation.
There are various and increasing defections from true faith, concerning the nature of God, the person of Jesus Christ, and of saving faith over the years. Our topic today concerns a distortion of the doctrine of the atonement. I refer to the denial of penal substitution, which in my view is the very core and essence of our faith.
What do we mean by the phrase “penal substitution”? We believe that Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for our sins. He had to die in our place to save us, he bore our penalty before God. The death and rejection by God the Father that we sinners all deserve, Jesus took upon himself. Jesus presented himself to the wrath of God, in our stead.
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. ( 2 Corinthians 5:21)
For He– that would be God the Father, made him who knew no sin,that would be Jesus the Son of the Father, to be sin for us, meaning, Jesus, the Son, was made a sin offering for us… that we might be made the righteousness of God, We the sinners who have come to believe in our substitute sin offering, have been made to be “right with God”. in Him, that is in union with Jesus our risen saviour.
The death He died on the cross was the payment of a penalty, for the wages of sin is death. We sinners deserve to die. We have forfeited our right to live in God’s universe! But Jesus, who though from eternity existed as God, became a human being, so that he could bear that penalty and die in our place.
The death of Jesus was a propitiation, that is a satisfaction offering. Propitiation presupposes guilt and Divine wrath, which must be satisfied. The cross of Jesus has satisfied the claims of the Law of God against us, we know this because on the third day God raised him from among the dead.
But there are modern objections to this doctrine. I have come to know evangelicals who adamantly deny that Jesus could ever be our substitute, it doesn’t make moral sense to them, therefore they reject the doctrine.
One british bible teacher went so far as to blasphemously suggest that Substitutionary atonement would be “divine child abuse”, because God required His son to suffer and die in our place.. There are others who take the view that forgiveness would not be truly valid should there be the requirement of a propitiation.
The denial of penal substitution is very prevalent in the “Emergent church” because they are ashamed of the doctrine of the wrath of God which PS presupposes. They decry the “courtroom model” of evangelism, with its talk of Justification, condemnation, Judgment, and wrath, as ineffective in comparison to more “relational” ways of understanding the gospel.
Admittedly the doctrine of the atonement is multi-faceted, Substitution is not the whole of the meaning of the cross. There are also the doctrines of Adoption, New Birth, Reconciliation, Redemption, The New Creation, and a host of other aspects of the mystery of the meaning of the cross. I have no doubt that into eternity we shall be marveling at the marvel of what Calvary has done for us.
But make no mistake about it, substitution is central to our understanding of it, don’t let anyone tell you any different. Jesus took our place in the Divine judgment that was against us,“He bore our sins in His own body on the tree…”. Isaiah makes it quite plain,
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.(Isaiah 53:4-6)
Where would we be if Jesus didn’t love us this way?
The late Martyn Lloyd Jones would not even fellowship with those who denied the doctrine of substitution in his day. Here is what he said about the matter, in his commentary on Ephesians,
There are leaders in the big denominations who say that it is scandalous to talk about a substitutionary atonement. And I am asked to be one in fellowship with them. How can I be? It is impossible. I have no choice; this is fundamental. The blood of Christ! ‘He bore my sins in his own body on the tree.’ It is by that alone that I am delivered, and by the power of God in regeneration, and the gift of the Spirit. Union with Christ!
(David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation Studies in Ephesians, Chapter 2, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972, p. 347.)
I will be posting articles as able to explore some of the arguments the deniers of substitution are making, in the threefold hope of, 1) fortifying true christians in faith, 2) reaching those who have never heard that someone has paid the price for your sins, and 3) calling those who are straying from this doctrine back to true christian orthodoxy.