Saturday, July 12, 2008

A HILL TO DIE ON; A TRUTH TO DEFEND
...the vicarious, penal, substitutionary, atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ

In the providence of God, I received an email from a yokefellow in the Lord, informing me of an important doctrinal issue that is brewing overseas. It deals with the essential issue of: the vicarious penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. This is a theological, doctrinal and biblical nonnegotiable, beloved, when it comes to the gospel and Christ's saving work on the cross.

Phil Johnson has also written extensively on this subject and has produced some of the most helpful teaching on the atonement I have read. I highly commend him on this issue to you--it is excellent.

Doctrine matters; Truth matters; the Gospel matters.
This is an issue worth defending, discussing and a hill to die on. Satan always attacks at the crucial - never the trivial. One of his primary targets throughout all of redemptive history has been to attack the nature, person, work and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. In specific, there is an onslaught of his darts aimed at undermining the once for all sacrifice for our sins; and that being vicarious penal substitution.

Defining the terms:
1. Vicarious: willingly done on behalf of another
2. Penal: punishment deserved under the Law
3. Substitutionary: Christ died in our place as our Federal Head
4. Atonement: the once for all act by which God reconciled sinners to Himself through Jesus Christ
The Unmistakable Authority of God's Word on Penal Substitution
Is. 53:4 ¶ Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. Is. 53:5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. Is. 53:6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. Is. 53:10 ¶ But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. Is. 53:11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.

2 Cor. 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Gal. 3:10 ¶ For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” Gal. 3:11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” Gal. 3:12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” Gal. 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”—

Heb. 2:9 But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. Heb. 2:10 ¶ For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. Heb. 2:14 ¶ Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, Heb. 2:15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. Heb. 2:16 For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Heb. 2:17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Heb. 2:18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.

1 Pet. 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

1 Pet. 3:18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;
The Issue: Cosmic Child Abuse or Divine Atonement?
One of the key words the N.T. writers use to speak of vicarious penal substitutionary atonement is propitiation (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2, 4:10, Heb. 2:17). This word carries two ideas: 1. to satisfy; 2. to quench, to assuage. Taken in context, Jesus Christ on the cross took not only the guilt and penalty of our sin, but the full wrath of God for His elect. That is what the Apostles Creed means when it says, "…He descended into hell." Jesus didn't go literally to hell after He died (the false teachings of the Word/Faith movement), but He endured God’s wrath for us as our Federal Head on the cross. “He descended…” by taking fully God’s wrath in our place. Hell is not the absence of God; hell is His wrathful presence being poured out upon all the ungodly, Satan and his demons forever. Hell would be “Club Med” if it were not for the presence of God’s wrath.

The wrath of God that you and I deserve to be poured out upon us in hell forever and ever in unmitigated gall without relenting was fully poured out upon Jesus on the cross. That was the punishment that Christ took on our behalf; that is penal substitution. This is not “cosmic child abuse” as one (who shall remain unnamed) author refers to it. This is a profound truth and mystery. Whatever eternal wrath comprises, the miracle was that it was compressed into time and poured it out on Jesus for us as the Father faced the Son (Greek: pros ton theon - face to face - cp, Heb. 2:17) and the fullness of His anger was consumed, quenched, and satisfied by the Lord Jesus Christ. Our sin and sinfulness demands punishment; God is holy, we are by nature children of wrath--sinful to the core. Christ as our subsitute was chastised on our behalf for our sins; God was propitiated, satisfied, and through Jesus we are redeemed.

Listen, the sins of the elect (every sin, that would ever be committed, by everyone, that would ever believe) was placed on Jesus. In addition, the guilt and penalty of those sins were thrust on Him as well. But also, the wrath of God that burns against our sin and us the sinners was poured out upon Jesus Christ. THAT was the cup that only Jesus could drink; that was the cup that He wrestled with in the garden. It was not the cup of dying. Wicked men had gone the way of the cross before and were rightly punished for their crimes. Many went laughing, mocking, scornful of their insurrections and offenses. But only God incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ, could drink the cup of God's wrath; and He drained it! He drank it to the very dregs and redeemed us at Calvary.

God Saved Us From Himself
Christ was punished in our place so that we may have peace with God forever (Rom. 5:1-2). He became, what Paul says in Galatians 3, “a curse for us.”

What were we saved from? Our sins? Yes. Hell? Yes. The sting of death? Yes. But those pale in comparison with this profound reality: on the cross, God through Christ saved us from Himself. That’s right – God through Christ saved us from Himself. From His wrath, His holiness, His justice. And Because Jesus Christ fully satisfied God (propitiation) on the cross as our Divine Substitute, we need to never fear of eternal judgment, condemnation, wrath or punishment for our sins. The penalty of our sins have been fully quenched in the once for all vicarious penal substitutionary sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Isn’t that the Good News of the gospel beloved?

God treated Christ on the cross as if He lived our life, so that we by grace through faith in Him, can be treated as if we lived His life (2 Cor. 5:21). That is the great doctrine of imputation.

The fullness of the Lord being punished in our place (for the sins and the sinners) and the satisfaction of God being accomplished was when Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, why has thou forsaken Me?" Christ was forsaken in that He bore our sin, its guilt and penalty. But also that He bore the wrath of God against us. The Father faced the Son and the Son faced the Father on the cross and He “took it—all of it” for His elect. When Jesus cried, "IT IS FINISHED" what had happened? He had:
  • fulfilled the Law; 
  • went beyond the veil; 
  • satisfied God's wrath, holiness and justice; 
  • fulfilled all righteousness; 
  • exalted grace; 
  • took away the guilt and penalty of our sin; 
  • destroyed Satan's hold of death; 
  • abolished the sting of death; 
  • secured for us eternal life; 
  • bore the curse of the Law;
  • brought us into intimacy with God; 
  • instituted a new covenant; 
  • and made for us peace with God forever!
Now THAT is the glory of the cross.

The death of Christ was both a propitiation and an expiation of sin. Propitiation refers to the turning away of wrath by an offering. God's wrath was satisfied and His justice meted out by Jesus’ once for all sacrifice on the cross. Expiation refers to covering sins and in specific, the guilt of sin. By the vicarious penal substitutionary atonement of Christ Jesus on the cross, our sins and their penalty are removed from us. The atonement satisfies both the demands of the Father and the needs of Christ's people (1 Pet. 1:2).

I close with Spurgeon:
"When Jesus gave himself for us, he gave us all the rights and privileges which went with himself; so that now, although as eternal God, he has essential rights to which no creature may venture to pretend, yet as Jesus, the Mediator, the federal head of the covenant of grace, he has no heritage apart from us. All the glorious consequences of his obedience unto death are the joint riches of all who are in him, and on whose behalf he accomplished the divine will. See, he enters into glory, but not for himself alone, for it is written, "Whither the Forerunner is for us entered." Heb. 6:20. Does he stand in the presence of God?-"He appears in the presence of God for us." Heb. 9:24.

Consider this, believer. You have no right to heaven in yourself: your right lies in Christ. If you are pardoned, it is through His blood; if you are justified, it is through His righteousness; if you are sanctified, it is because He is made of God unto you sanctification; if you shall be kept from falling, it will be because you are preserved in Christ Jesus; and if you are perfected at the last, it will be because you are complete in Him. Thus Jesus is magnified-for all is in Him and by Him; thus the inheritance is made certain to us-for it is obtained in Him; thus each blessing is the sweeter, and even heaven itself the brighter, because it is Jesus our Beloved "in whom" we have obtained all."

21 comments:

donsands said...

"But only God incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ, could drink the cup of God's wrath; and He drained it! He drank it to the very dregs and redeemed us at Calvary."

"Therefore, there is NOW NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!"

Thanks for the biblically sound teaching. Very edifying.
The truth always is to those who were saved by the Truth, and who have the Spirit of truth abiding in them I would hope.

SJ Camp said...

Thank you Don. It is sometimes disheartening to take time biblically with posts like this and only get a few comments.

But I would rather stay in this vein then what some blogs have degenerated to in the meta.

I appreciate you brother.
Steve
Col. 1:9-14

cyd said...

Dear Steve:

Thank you for "taking time biblically" with your posts.
Keep going!! It is tremendously helpful to the body of Christ; we need you to continue this.

It is eternally better to offer something worth savoring in the hearts of believers rather than something that is contentious and causes grief.

A thousand thanks for exalting Christ and glorifying God through these writings.

"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" 2Cor 13:14

cyd

The Confessor said...

Question:

Is it a betrayal of good doctrine to believe in penal substition, affirm it, etc. but to also appreciate the historic doctrinal language of atonement found in ransom theory, etc.?

Sometimes I wonder if people assume a rejection of the penal view simply because other "theories of atonement" are talked about and explored?

I'm not saying you do this, but I am wondering if the penal view is the only view to the exclusion of others?

If so, what do you do with the other language mentioned above?

Thanks for your response!

p.s. In the interest of full disclosure, I do affirm the penal view and see the language of ransom, etc. as useful as well.

SJ Camp said...

The Confessor
"Is it a betrayal of good doctrine to believe in penal substition, affirm it, etc. but to also appreciate the historic doctrinal language of atonement found in ransom theory, etc.?"

I don't view the language of the atonement as contained in The Ransom Theory as being orthodox or doctrinally sound.

The Ransom Theory in short is: The notion that it was the devil who made the cross necessary, by Christ being offered to him as a ransom for all of lost humanity. It was a payment made to the devil, by Christ, for the salvation of mankind. This is of course is untrue according to the Scriptures.

Berkhof writes when commenting on this specious teaching: “Christ offered Himself as a ransom to Satan, and Satan accepted the ransom without realizing that he would not be able to retain his hold on Christ because of the latter's divine power and holiness... Thus the souls of all men - even of those in Hades - were set free from the power of Satan.”

To make God incarnate subservient to Lucifer at the point of the atonement would be to do harm at two levels: 1. To raise Satan to a position of power and authority that the Scriptures do not afford him; and 2. To diminish the deity of Christ in incarnation as to render him beholding to the powers of the enemy as if Satan were owed anything by God for the salvation of the souls of the elect.

IOW, I don't believe it is possible to hold to vicarious penal substitutionary atonement and still affirm aspects of the Ransom Theory. The two are in conflict with one another. On the cross, Christ died for God--not as a payment to Satan.

Hope this helps in trying to answer your question.

Good to have you commenting here...

Steve
2 Cor. 4:5-7

Arthur Sido said...

Excellent post. I am glad to see that substitutionary atonement has experienced a renewal of attention from the church in recent days. I just got done with the Philadelphia Reformed Theological Conference in Grand Rapids, MI and the topic this year was The Word: Above all earthly powers, but next year is going to focus on the atonement. I can hardly wait! It shames me to see how few Christians have even heard of or seriously considered this essential doctrine.

By the way, looking forward to seeing you in Toledo this weekend! Safe travels to you, and brothers DOn, Steven and Tom.

The Confessor said...

Thank you for the welcome.

I would agree that certain aspects/implications of the classical language of ransom theory can lead to places we don't want to go.

Do you think that the language of ransom--as found in Hebrews and Matthew--could point to another window of understanding the nature the sin and atonement? (without denying penal substitution)

What I am getting at is holding a "participationist" view of sin in tension with a "judicial" view.

It seems that the biblical ransom language, when collided with the participationist language in Romans could yield some rich, Biblical insights.

It is my understanding that these two views of sin (and thus the atonement that reconciles us to God) are intertwined by Paul in Romans--not formally delineated from each other obviously. But it seems that they are held together by Paul.

Could not a modified language about ransom (and Christus Victor) give us a valuable way to talk about the atonement as it relates to this participationist view?

The language of penal substitution gives us valuable doctrine when we follow the judicial stream of thought about sin.

Or does the participationist language about sin and the answer to it get collapsed ultimately into the judicial language of penal substitution?

Sorry if I my questions are not clear. I apologize too for the amount of questions. I just know that controversy over theories of atonement have abounded for the last couple years and I'd like to genuinely talk about it without it devolving into something useless in the meta.

I really savor a good theological discussion that helps me learn--iron sharpening iron as your blog describes the comments.

Blessings on this Lord's Day.

Martin James said...

My experience is this: If you don't get this right, your passion for evangelism will be nil and your doctrine will lean liberal to the point of looking like a universalist.

Only Look said...

Amen. This is a truly wonderful thing that God has done for us. There is life in a look at Him.

Praise God!

Grace upon grace,

Brian

Deb_B said...

"Doctrine matters; Truth matters; the Gospel matters.
This is an issue worth defending, discussing and a hill to die on."


Amen. Thank you for sound doctrinal teaching.

"...there is an onslaught of his [Satan's] darts aimed at undermining the once for all sacrifice for our sins; and that being vicarious penal substitution."

"Defining the terms:
1. Vicarious: willingly done on behalf of another
2. Penal: punishment deserved under the Law
3. Substitutionary: Christ died in our place as our Federal Head
4. Atonement: the once for all act by which God reconciled sinners to Himself through Jesus Christ."


Needful clarity/definition, especially in these perilous times.

Thank you.

"I do not cease to give thanks for you, oremembering you in my prayers..."

Tartanarmy said...

Good post..There has been no other doctrine which has taken up as much careful time to affirm and defend than this one.

Sadly, there are many reformed types today actually watering down certain aspects of this teaching, and I have been on the receiving end of their efforts.

Love the truth of this doctrine and passionately defend it and you will be called all kinds of names. The most popular these days seems to be "High Calvinist" or even a hyper Calvinist, especially when you hold to a definite particularity to the scope and nature of the atonement.

Blessings
Mark

KarensFaith said...

I, for one, am very grateful and thankful for the time you take with biblical posts. I am learning so much! I know I don't post a lot, but as I said, I am still learning. I Just wanted to let you know how your blog has helped me and blessed me since I started reading here. It's very much appreciated and I take what I learn and tell it it my kids. Thank you.

Blessings,
Karen

KM said...

Amen!

I do not consider myself a Calvinist nor an Arminian either. I don't know where I stand when it comes to those two points but I know this. If it wasn't for the vicarious penal substitutionary atonement of our Lord on the cross that day of Calvary, I'd still be a sinner dying in my sins, doomed to the hell I deserve.

Yet, despite that, He saved me. He saved us. And, He, on that cross, took every iota of punishment that we deserved and before He died, said, it is finished before voluntarily giving up His life. On the third day, He rose again.

It is amazing and I doubt in the eternity to come that I'll ever fully understand what the Lord did for me.

LivingDust said...

Question - I noticed in the "It is finished" list that it says He "abolished death". I thought that 1 Corinthians 15 teaches that the "last enemy destroyed shall be death" and Revelation 20:14 says that "death and hell were cast into the lake of fire". My contention is that the sting of death was removed at Calvary, but death was not abolished at Calvary. Any comments on this would be appreciated.

john said...

Steve,

Everywhere I turn, it seems, that the cardinal doctrines of our precious faith are under attack. Many times, they seem to be denied by people who think they are being good Christians. It is good and refreshing to see someone standing without apoology for the old old story, the faith "once and for all delivered." I never fail to be taught and edified when I read your material. Hold the course my brother!

John Sneed

SJ Camp said...

living dust
Question - I noticed in the "It is finished" list that it says He "abolished death"

I meant to say "abolished the sting of death." You are absolutely correct. My bad and please forgive me.

Thank you for being a faithful Berean here and holding me accountable.

Well done.
Grace,
Steve

Here are the Scriptures that I base this on:

1Cor. 15:54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 1Cor. 15:55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 1Cor. 15:56 ¶ The sting of death is sin, and zthe power of sin is the law.
1Cor. 15:57 But thanks be to God, awho gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

SJ Camp said...

John
Thank you John for your kind words of encouragement. May we all each day strive to honor the Lord and His Word. None of us have arrived in our theology on every point. We all have doctrinal blind spots... don't we?

So we need to stay teachable; but rightly defend essentials of the faith too.

Campi

SJ Camp said...

martin james
My experience is this: If you don't get this right, your passion for evangelism will be nil and your doctrine will lean liberal to the point of looking like a universalist.

Well said and that can happen. We love Him much because we have been forgiven much. And we shouldn't lose that emphasis when discussing key issues of the faith like this. That passion for lost souls should come from having been given grace instead of wrath; mercy instead of justice; and love instead of enmity.

Thank you for your thoughts...
Steve

SJ Camp said...

tartanarmy
Sadly, there are many reformed types today actually watering down certain aspects of this teaching, and I have been on the receiving end of their efforts.

That is very true. But we need to hold fast the faith on these essentials regardless. "Here I Stand" as Luther would rightly say.

Mind, heart and conscience bound by the Word of God and nothing else.

SDG,
Steve

SJ Camp said...

KM
but I know this. If it wasn't for the vicarious penal substitutionary atonement of our Lord on the cross that day of Calvary, I'd still be a sinner dying in my sins, doomed to the hell I deserve.

Amen!!
Campi

Theodore A. Jones said...

According to God it his set purpose that each man must give him an account regarding the fact of one man's life having been taken by bloodshed. In regard to this purpose he has ruled that there is no case of any man's life taken by bloodshed which does not carry the residual requirement to account to him. See Gen. 9:5 NIV. All proponents of PSA/substitutionary atonement ignore the fact that the residual requirement of God to give him an account is the residual of Jesus crucifixion. Since the core of PSA is the assumptive that there is no outstanding issue relative to Jesus' crucifixion the doctrine is an error. For taking Jesus' life by bloodshed is accountable and is the remaining issue post of his crucifixion. Any man not giving God the account he demands relative to the fact of Jesus loosing his life by bloodshed will serve the penalty of eternal death.
Theodore A. Jones