The Vicarious Death Of Jesus (VI)

Filthy Rags Righteousness

If “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), then our own personal “righteousness” will never be more than “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). But in connection with God’s grace, the basis of which is the atoning death of Jesus of Nazareth, God’s only begotten Son, He has offered to clothe us with the specially prepared “garment of salvation,” which is none other than “the robe of righteousness” (Isa. 61:10).

Robe of Righteousness
Robe of Righteousness

What a beautiful picture this is, and it no doubt led Paul to say that he wanted to “be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Php. 3:9).

This “righteousness which is from God by faith” is not the divine attribute of righteousness or justice, particularly if it is understood as God’s own holy character and perfect legal justice that demand sin be punished. Rather, it is a gift given to sinners by God, like a robe woven (i.e., lovingly prepared) by Him and graciously given to sinners who in turn wear it as if it were their own. As such, it is a righteousness that stands outside of God, but yet “comes from God” (Php. 3:9) as it is applied to us. It is in this way, according to Romans 4:5, and this way only, that we, “the ungodly,” have been justified (Acts 13:39; Rom. 3:24; Gal. 2:16; Tit. 3:4-7). Thus, if God has so justified us, who is it who can bring a charge against God’s elect and make it stick (Rom. 8:33)?

Now, there must be no mistake about the source of the “righteousness of God” that is ours through faith in His Son, in that such righteousness is undoubtedly the imputed righteousness of the Son of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. (Please, do not jump to any conclusions here. Remember, I am in the process of explaining the difference between Jesus’ active righteousness versus His passive righteousness.)

There is practically universal agreement among Protestants that the righteousness of God that is imputed to believers is Jesus’ own perfect doing (i.e., His satisfaction of, or obedience to, the law He was under, which was the law of Moses). With His perfect doing put to our account, they claim, God then looks at us and declares us “not guilty,” treating us just as if we had never sinned.

This, however, is not what the Bible teaches. Yes, Jesus did obey the law perfectly, and it was certainly His responsibility, as one born under the law, to do so (viz., it was His own obligation and personal duty to keep the law of Moses). When He did so, there was none of His personal (or active) righteousness (or merit) left over to put to (or impute to) anyone else. This does not mean His active obedience had no bearing on our salvation. In fact, it was a prerequisite to His perfect [spotless] sacrifice. What, then, is imputed to our account on Jesus’ behalf? As we’ve seen, it could not have been His active righteousness (i.e., His perfect doing). Instead, it was His passive righteousness (His dying). In dying, Jesus of Nazareth, the divine Logos made flesh, not only “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Php. 2:8), but He took upon Himself our sins on that cross, paying the penalty we rightly deserved. This is what Romans 5:18—that difficult, but very important, passage we looked at earlier—is talking about: “[E]ven so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.” Accordingly, the “righteousness of God” revealed in the Scriptures and imputed to (or reckoned to) our account is Jesus Christ’s satisfaction of the penalty of God’s law on our behalf.

Therefore, it is a mistake, and Calvinists aren’t the only ones who make it, to say that when we are justified, or declared to be righteous, we are treated just as if we’d never sinned, or “not guilty!,” if you will. Truth is, we are, and will remain, sinners (1 Jn. 1:8,9). The good news in connection with Christ is that we are treated just as if we’d already paid the penalty for sin, and are, therefore, “forgiven!”

Is Christ the propitiation (hilastērion) whom God set forth through faith in His blood (Rom. 3:25)? Yes.

Is He the basis upon which our sins are forgiven or expiated? Yes.

Is there any reason for a Christian to deny either one? No.

What’s more, in a misinformed, misguided attempt to squash the ungodly influence of Calvinism, is there any reason for brethren to engage in various forms of semantical gymnastics in an attempt to nullify the clear and plain teaching of Scripture that says Jesus, by His sacrifice on the cross, averted God’s judicial wrath and became the basis for the remission or expiation of our sins? No, none whatsoever!

With this said, we’ll spend some time in the posts that follow looking at some of the objections that are made in opposition to Jesus’ vicarious death.

The Vicarious Death Of Jesus (V)

Propitiation

As noted already, some reject the idea of propitiation because they do not believe any true wrath exists in an “all-loving” God. Thus, they reject the idea that the atonement could have anything to do with propitiating (averting) God’s wrath. Such folks know very little of the God who has revealed Himself in Scripture. Others, and this includes some brethren, reject propitiation not because they fail to appreciate God’s wrath against sin and sinners, but because they believe Jesus’ sacrificial death, apart from any propitiatory effect, was sufficient to expiate (remit or take away), our sins. One reason for this is that they reject the idea that our sins were imputed to Jesus (viz., put to His account) as He suffered and died on our behalf. Truth is, and I pray for the day when many of my brethren come to grips with this, the NT unequivocally teaches the imputation (reckoning) of our sins to Christ on the cross (cf. Isa. 53:6b,8,11-12; 1 Pet. 2:24; Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21), as well as the imputation (accounting or reckoning) of God’s righteousness to us by faith (cf. Rom. 4:3, 5-6, 9, 11, 22-23; Gal. 3:6). In fact, there’s not the first thing wrong with the concept of imputation (a reckoning or putting to one’s account) unless some Calvinist has been messing with it.

The Imputation Of Our Sins To Christ

According to the dictionary, the verb “impute” means “to attribute or ascribe” something to another (usually discreditable). Therefore, “imputation” means “the act of imputing. This is what Isaiah 53:6b is talking about when it says, “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6b), or, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds” (1 Pet. 2:24, HCSB). All of which sounds a whole lot like Jesus “tasted death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). That is to say, Christ “is the propitiation for [peri] our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2). The preposition peri is most often translated as “concerning” or “about” in the KJV. It indicates the focal point from which an action proceeds—namely, that Jesus, as the propitiation (halismon), was the very basis for appeasing (averting) God’s judicial wrath “concerning,” “regarding,” or “in reference to” our sins. This was done, Paul says, “For our sake” in that “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Now, if this isn’t teaching the imputation or attribution of our sins to Jesus, then what on earth is it teaching?

A Judicial Death

Even so, brethren object to the imputation of our sins to Jesus by raising the old Calvinism bugaboo:

Substitution is essential to Calvinism. Predestination, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the impossibility of apostasy all depend on substitution as their solid foundation. And, substitution is bound together with the imputation of sin to Christ and imputation of His righteousness to the elect” (Maurice Barnett, Reconciliation, pp. 166-167).

Yes, brother Barnett is correct in his description of five-point Calvinism, but Calvinism is a man-made systematic theology and none—not one!—of it five points (T-U-L-I-P) is taught in the Scriptures. Nevertheless, the imputation of our sins to Jesus, as the previous paragraph indicates, is well attested to in Scripture. It is not high time, then, that brethren permitted the Bible to define its terms rather than the Calvinists?

The Imputation Of God’s Righteousness To Us

As already noted, there are NT passages that teach the imputation of God’s righteousness to obedient believers in certain pertinent passages in the KJV (Rom. 4:3, 5-6, 9, 11, 22-23; Gal. 3:6). Logizomai, which is the word used here, is variously translated as “counted,” “imputed,” “imputeth,” “reckoned,” and “accounted.” Thus, the idea it conveys is not difficult to understand. Essentially, all one needs to do to understand it is not to be working so hard to explain it away, fearing, as some do, that the use of the word “imputation” somehow relinquishes the field to the Calvinists. It doesn’t, and the sooner one realizes this, the sooner he can get on with finding out what the Bible really teaches on this subject.

Although no flesh has any cause to glory in His presence (1 Cor. 1:29), because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), as we become obedient to Christ, we do receive a “righteousness of God” that is not our own (Rom. 1:17; 3:21, 22; 10:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Php. 3:9). The New Testament refers to this as imputed righteousness (cf. Rom. 4:11, 23-25). Some—the Calvinists are notorious for this—have mistakenly thought that the righteousness imputed to the obedient believer entails Jesus’ perfect life. In other words, many wrongly think that God no longer sees the sins of His saints when He views them. According to this doctrine, when God looks at Christians, He only sees the “perfect doings” of Jesus while He was here on this earth—perfect doings which have now been imputed or accredited to us. This view is completely false!

The righteousness imputed to the obedient believer is not derived directly from the Lord’s perfect life. Instead, our imputed righteousness derives from the fact that Jesus’ sacrificial death propitiated God’s wrath against us as sinners and expiated (satisfied) the debt we owed for our sins: “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Rom. 5:18). This is a difficult, but important, passage for a variety of reasons. One of these is that it is used by Calvinists to prove their doctrine of the imputation of Jesus’ own perfect doing (or righteousness) to the believer. But what they, and others, fail to appreciate is that this passage is not referring to Jesus’ active/righteousness, but to His passive righteousness, which, when correctly understood, changes the whole tenor of things.

We plan to continue our thoughts on this in the next post in this series

The Vicarious Death Of Jesus (IV)

The Lamb of God That Propitiates

In a Facebook discussion I had with a Jesus-Did-Not-Die-Vicariously brother several years ago, I said:

In Galatians 3:13, Paul wrote, “Christ has 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’).” Then, in 1 Peter 2:24, we are told that Jesus “bore our sins in His own body on the tree [i.e., the cross].” Do not these passages, when coupled with Isaiah 53, convey the idea that Jesus suffered and died in our stead?

He replied: “Not when considered in the context of the rest of the Bible. They do however convey the idea that Jesus suffered and died on our behalf.” I probed further: “And what context in the rest of the Bible are you referring to?” He responded by saying: “The rest of the Bible that teaches Jesus died as a sacrifice NOT as a substitute (cf. John 1:29-37),” to which I replied:

Yes, by all means, Jesus was the perfect-Lamb-without-blemish sacrifice offered up for us on the cross of Calvary, as the Scriptures clearly teach. Consequently, while it is perfectly acceptable for one to preach and teach that Jesus paid the price for our sins because He was the perfectly sinless blood sacrifice for our sins, serving as the means to our redemption, it is, nevertheless, important to understand that this imagery does not fully exhaust God’s description of this sacrifice, and certainly does not exclude the substitutionary atonement.

As an example, I cited 2 Corinthians 5:21, where Paul says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The critics of the idea that Jesus died vicariously (i.e., in our place) have called “nonsense” the idea that this passage, along with others, is teaching that Jesus actually took upon Himself our sins, thus paying in full the price for our pardon by being “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

Propitiation, Expiation, Or Both

As already noted, whether this death of Jesus was vicarious (viz., substitutionary) has now become a point of contention among brethren. This was precipitated, at least in part, by C. H. Dodd’s definition in 1935 of the Greek word ἱλαστήριος (hilastērion) as “expiation,” which up to that time had been translated in our English Bibles as “propitiation” (C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks, 1935, pp. 82-95). We see his influence reflected in the RSV’s 1952 translation of Romans 3:25a, which reads, “whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood” (emphasis mine). Although many can’t tell the difference between these two words, that difference is significant, as I hope to demonstrate.

It wasn’t very long before Dodd and Leon L. Morris locked horns over this in the 1950s-60s (cf. Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 3rd revised ed., 1965). As already stated, Dodd insisted hilastērion meant “expiation” rather than propitiation, as in the expiation (i.e., removal) of sins, while Morris was convinced the term meant “propitiation,” as in Jesus’ suffering and death resolved and pacified God’s judicial wrath against sinners. Morris was eventually backed up by the Anglian and noted Evangelical John Stott in his 1986 book The Cross of Christ (referenced in Matthew Black, Romans, New Century Bible, 1973), p. 68). Since then, it has become standard Evangelical theology to contend for a propitiatory atonement (cf. “Atonement—Propitiation, Expiation,” http://nextreformation.com/?p=8496). Most brethren, correctly rejecting the propitiatory view of the Calvinists, have nevertheless believed that Jesus’ death on the cross was, indeed, propitiatory.

But not all Evangelicals accepted the propitiatory view. One of these was the influential Anglian C. F. D. Moule. He argued that when the “halis-procedures,” as he called them, are referred to in the NT, God is never identified as the recipient of such actions, and for the word to mean the “propitiation” or “appeasement” of God, God would have to be the recipient. He went on to say that whenever the initiator or subject of the action is used in the NT, God is always the initiator, never the recipient. He mentioned Romans 3:25, as previously quoted, and 1 John 4:10, the latter of which reads, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” as examples (emphasis mine), which are passages we’ll take a closer look as this study progresses. He concluded by saying:

If, then, God is the subject or originator, not the object or recipient, of hilas-procedures, it is manifestly inappropriate to translate them as propitiatory; one is driven to use a word such as ‘expiatory,’ which has as its object not propitiating a wrathful God but removing a barrier (Patrick Moule (author), Robert Morgan (editor), Christ Alive and at Large: The Unpublished Writings of C. F. D. Moule, Canterbury Studies in Spiritual Theology, 2011, p. 114).

Finally, “Nowhere in the NT,” he claimed, “is it said that the wrath of God was satisfied by the death of Jesus” (Ibid.).

As there are those among us who have taken up Dodd’s and Moule’s “expiation, not propitiation” chant (viz., “No matter how the word [hilastērion] is translated the object is still our sins and not God’s wrath” (quote from a recent Facebook discussion by brethren on the Substitutionary Death of Jesus debate), it behooves us to investigate just how well such assertions hold up.

The idea that hilastērion should be translated as “expiation” (RSV, NEB) completely misses the point Paul is making in Romans 3:25. He had already made it clear that God’s wrath against sinners is a fact that must be dealt with for both Gentiles (Romans 1:18-32) and Jews (Romans 2:1-3:20). Yes, clearly the expiation or remission of sins is on the table when it comes to God’s grand scheme of redemption, but before sins can be expiated or removed there must first be a way to placate God’s wrath, and in the Greek language this was the work of hilastērion or propitiation. As Romans 3:25-26 makes clear, this was a role Jesus played in the redemption of fallen man. But as indicated, it was certainly not the only role He played. Without Him being the hilastērion there was absolutely no way sinful man could be reconciled/redeemed. So even though it has become popular in some sections to reject the idea of a wrathful God in favor of one who is all-loving, the faithful student of God’s word cannot, with integrity intact, deny the wrathful side of God’s character.

Indeed, the best way to view God’s wrath is to think of it “as not essentially different from his holiness, but as holiness itself in its confrontation with actual sin” (Jack Cottrell, What The Bible Says About God The Redeemer 1987, p. 275). In other words, God’s righteous anger is the manifestation of a righteous Judge who cannot tolerate sin of any sort. But if this is true (and it is), then how was it that Paul, who describes himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), could say, with any assurance, “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8)? The answer is, he could do so because of the gospel he believed and taught to others—the very basis of which he described in Romans 3:24b-26 as:

Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, (26) to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

In other words, and as frank as I know how to be, without propitiation (hilastērion) in connection with the blood of Christ, God cannot be just when justifying (forgiving) sinners. Please catch my drift here, as it is extremely important. God, because HE IS WHO HE IS (Exodus. 3:14), could not save man “just any old way!” In order to be just when justifying sinners, God, the righteous Judge, whose righteous law had to be vindicated, was Himself compelled to provide the propitiation that would be able to placate His righteous wrath. Thus, the divine Logos, who was with God and was God had to take upon Himself flesh, live a perfect life of obedience to God the Father, suffering and dying a cursed death on a cruel tree outside of the gates of Jerusalem some two thousand years ago. This is what Paul was talking about when he said, in Galatians 3:13, “Christ has 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’).”

So, contrary to Dodd and Moule, God was both the initiator and recipient of hilastērion, as well as the hilastērion Himself.

In 1 John 4:10, a different, but equivalent, word is used (hilasmos): “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Therefore, if we really what to get blown away by the magnificence of God’s love toward us, then we need to get our minds wrapped around the fact that He loved us so much that He was willing to do for us, from start to finish, what we, as sinners, were unable to do for ourselves. Indeed, when it comes to our reconciliation to God and the forgiveness of our sins, God did it all, praise be to Him!

Therefore, and contrary to Dodd and Moule, if God was both the initiator and recipient of hilastērion, as well as Himself the hilastērion or halismon, then we have every reason to reject their bold assertion that the wrath of God was not one of the things that needed to be factored into God’s justification of sinners. Truth is, this is the very thing Paul is writing about in Romans 3:21-26, which says:

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (22) even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, (26) to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Without the propitiation (appeasement or satisfying) of the righteous Judge’s judicial wrath, there can be no remission of sins—a feat that was simply not possible without the shedding of blood (or death) of Jesus of Nazareth, the Father’s only begotten Son (cf. Hebrews 9:22-28). As such, He “was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). That is, He was made a little lower than the angels in order to “suffer” (“taste”) death “for.” “on behalf of,” or “in place of” (huper, ‪#‎G5228‬ ) every man. It is in this sense that Jesus of Nazareth, who was perfectly sinless in all His doings, was made “sin for us.” Again, the word “for” here is huper and could just as well have been translated as “on behalf of” or “in place of.” Nevertheless, these last two translations, particularly the latter, are vigorously opposed by those who do not believe Jesus died in our stead or place.

It should be clear from these passages along with the correct interpretation of Hebrews 2:9, that the Father “treated as sin” His Son, “who knew no sin.” All sorts of “red herrings” have been thrown in our path by the Jesus-didn’t-die-vicariously brethren concerning this passage. One of these has to do with how Jesus, who was sinless, could “become” a sinner. This, of course, has nothing to do with the correct exegesis of this passage. Instead, such serves only to call into question a passage that stands in the way of those who want to deny that Jesus suffered any sort of judicial wrath from His Father when willingly sacrificing Himself on the cross for us; namely, the idea that says, “It is not God that is propitiated but our sins.” However, the one who so argues propitiation does not even believe the Bible says anything about such a concept. Instead, he advocates expiation, which although related, is an entirely different concept.

(Please make a note of the fact that I do not deny the concept of expiation. Without the expiation or removal of sin, we cannot be saved. The Bible teaches that BOTH propitiation AND expiation are absolutely necessary for us to be saved by grace through faith. Thus, when speaking of propitiation and expiation, it is not “either-or,” as some think, but “both-and,” as the Bible teaches. This is because there’s simply no way God can be just in justifying sinners (i.e., by forgiving or expiating sin) unless, and until, His judicial wrath has been appeased. Accordingly, propitiation is but one aspect of fallen man’s problem. Another facet is the actual expiation (or forgiveness) of our sins. Although these two aspects of saving grace may be spoken of separately, they are connected, when it comes to God’s grand scheme of redemption, via the precious blood of Jesus Christ.)

We’ll pick up here in the next post in this series.

The Vicarious Death Of Jesus (III)

The Price Of Redemption

By the time we get to the pages of the New Testament, we are absolutely overjoyed to discover that the great scheme of redemption that was fully hidden in the mind of God before the foundation of the world has now been revealed to us, actualized in the fullness of time in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who was the Messiah, that is, the Christ (consider what is said in Ephesians 3:5 coupled with the many other passages that tell us who Jesus was and what He came to accomplish). Oh, what magnificent grace and mercy! Oh, what wonderful, wonderful love!

The Calvinists are always arguing that if man is amenable to the gospel and is actually called upon to do anything in order to be saved, then salvation is by works instead of faith alone. However, as we’ve already learned, the Bible does not teach salvation by faith alone, at least not in the sense the Calvinists mean. It does teach that if man is going to be saved, it will have to be “by grace…through faith” (Ephesians 2:8); therefore, it is to this much-misunderstood concept that we now turn our attention.

Saved By Grace Through Faith

Man does not have to sin, but he does. In fact, all have, or will, sin (cf. Romans 3:23). The only way a man can be justified under a system of justification by law-keeping is by perfect law-keeping, which no mere man has ever done. Thus, if sinful man is going to be justified (saved), it will have to be because of God’s grace. This grace has been extended to us through God’s sending of His only begotten Son into this world to do what we had failed to do—namely, to perfectly keep, and thus fulfill, the law. Having done so, such a system (personified in the law of Moses) could be set aside so that a new covenant, with better promises, could be instituted for man’s justification/salvation (cf. Hebrews 8:6; 12:24).

So, although it is theoretically possible for one to keep the law perfectly and thus go to Heaven, the rules under such a system require that all the law be kept all one’s life (remember that the grace available under the law was made so only by the blood that would one day be shed on the cross of Calvary). Because all mankind miserably failed in this, except Jesus of Nazareth, all mankind was in need of redemption. God was not obligated to redeem His prodigal creation, but He wanted to anyway. Thus, He designed a plan (viz., the grand and glorious Scheme of Redemption) whereby His fallen creatures could be redeemed.

Contrary to popular belief, God could not have saved man just any ol’ way (cf. Romans 3:21-26). Redemption, if such was going to be implemented, would have to satisfy God’s justice, and God’s justice requires that any violation of law be punished. Jesus Christ, then, became the propitiation (or satisfaction) of such justice, which required that the only man who ever lived perfectly under law (thus qualifying as the spotless sacrifice, or propitiation, for the sins of all mankind) would pay the penalty for everyone else (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Thus, the only man who truly deserved glorification in Heaven, and this because He kept the law perfectly, suffered the penalty and, in so doing, became the propitiation for the sins of us all.

We must remember, then, that grace—and this is because it’s grace—isn’t fair. I know this sounds strange to those who’ve never thought about it this way, but if it’s fair you want, you must relate to God through a system of justification by perfect law-keeping. Keep the law and you do not fall into condemnation; break the law and you become guilty of all, deserving the penalty that is due every law-breaker. This is fair. But under such a system, all mankind, except for Jesus, sinned and, as a result, deserves the penalty. But because He loved us, God sent His only begotten Son into this world to bring about our salvation through the sacrifice of Himself coupled with our willingness to accept Him as our Lord and Savior. Thus, if God is for us, and He’s demonstrated He is by the sending of His Son on our behalf, who is it then that will be able to stand against us (Romans 8:31)? Paul continues:

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. (Romans 8:32-34).

It is clear, then, that God, in connection with His Son, has given us “all things.” This means there is nothing lacking in connection with our redemption and continued salvation—not one single, solitary thing! Because God was able to justify us in connection with the sacrifice of His only begotten Son on the cross, who vicariously paid the price of redemption for our sins, no one can now bring a charge against His elect and make it stick. Thus, nothing is “able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

Next, we’ll delve a bit more deeply into what the Scriptures say about propitiation.

The Vicarious Death Of Jesus (II)

Do-Nothing Religion

AT ISSUE IS WHAT THE BIBLE, NOT CALVINISM, TEACHES

The main difference between Calvinism, a man-made doctrine, and the Bible, a divinely inspired revelation, is the idea that Calvinists believe that all the works of God in connection with our salvation are unconditional. Such thinking is required by their concept of God’s sovereignty—a concept that is simply not taught in the Bible. But when this erroneous concept is then joined with the equally wrong idea that man, since the fall of Adam, is born totally depraved and is, therefore, not only unwilling to do God’s will in such a state, but is actually unable to do so, then the false idea that God can’t predestine a person to be saved based on His foreknowledge of whether or not that person will meet certain divinely imposed conditions is the inevitable result. This, in turn, provides all the main ingredients that form the basis of genuine five-point Calvinism (T-U-L-I-P).

In critiquing such an unscriptural idea, I have, at times, called it a “do-nothing religion” (in that God, in such a system, is the only actor), only to be met with screams and howls from Calvinists claiming this is a totally false caricature of their religion. However, if man does not have free will, and there are no genuine five-point Calvinists who have ever thought he truly does, and if, as has been amply pointed out, Calvinists believe that everything that has to do with man’s salvation must be done by God, then Calvinism, from man’s standpoint, may be properly classified as a do-nothing religion. Now, in saying this I am not describing those who call themselves three- or four-point Calvinists, which are not really Calvinists at all, but Arminians, even though they’d never admit it. This is because the Augustinians/Calvinists have already decided that Arminianism is heresy.

So, there must be no doubt that five-point Calvinism, from man’s standpoint, is a do-nothing religion, as God does it all, even to the point of selecting (viz., choosing/electing/predestining) certain ones to obey His Son by operating upon them with His so-called “irresistible grace.” This irresistible grace causes them to be born again, or renewed spiritually, so that they, in turn, are able to then do what it is that God requires of them. Consequently, there are absolutely no conditions to being saved, for if there were, Calvinists inform us, then man would be earning his salvation by works, not grace. Although this accurately depicts Calvinism, it does not describe, in any shape, form, or fashion, New Testament Christianity.

What The Bible Actually Says

The Bible teaches that God decided to create us with free moral agency. Because He has foreknowledge, God knew His free will creatures were going to fall into sin and be in need of a Savior. Making the decision to redeem them, which was certainly not something He was obligated to do (it’s grace we’re talking about here), God the Father determined to send the Logos (or the divine Word) into this world as a man (viz., Jesus of Nazareth) to live and die so that mankind, in spite of its sinfulness, could be saved by faith in the Father’s only begotten Son.

Consequently, it was foreordained by God, the Father, before the very foundation of the world (i.e., before He ever created man) that Jesus would shed His blood at a particular time in the space-time continuum (cf. 1 Peter 1:19-20). Referring to this, the apostle Paul called it, “when the fullness of the time had come” (Galatians 4:4).

The fact that God could foreknow, before He ever created them, that all His free will creatures would fall into sin and be in need of a Savior and that, in spite of this, He chose to go ahead and create them anyway, does not impugn the character of God, as some Christians seem to think. But why do they think so? I think it is because they have inculcated Calvinistic think-sos and arguments. Now, I’m not saying they’re Calvinists, mind you; only that they have been willing to let the Calvinists define the terms and set the parameters of the debate.

For example, the Calvinistic idea that there is some sort of friction between God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will is not taught in the Scriptures. But because some brethren have believed the Calvinists were right about this, they have felt the necessity to defend man’s free will by sacrificing God’s foreknowledge. Such was a major error for the Calvinists and it is an even bigger one for New Testament Christians.

Even so, because of God’s foreknowledge of the fact that man would sin and that this would, in turn, require Him to send His Son to pay the price for those sins, and that this would be accomplished by man kissing (viz., worshiping) His Son (cf. Psalm 2:12 for this concept of kissing the Son and how the idea is tied to worshipful obedience), and that this would be achieved, on man’s part, by exercising faith in Jesus as Lord and, ultimately, as Savior (stay with me here), He was able, in eternity, to do something—namely, to predestine not just the plan whereby He would redeem fallen man, but exactly who those individuals were who, when given the opportunity, would be willing, of their own free wills, to obey (or “kiss”) His Son, and this by rendering obedience by faith to the gospel plan. (I know this is a very long sentence, but it is imperative to understanding this issue. So, if you didn’t quite understand it the first or second time around, then please make the effort to do so before proceeding any further.)

Now, if God had not been willing to do this, and this even before the foundation of the world, then mankind was going to be lost. Therefore, if man is saved at all, he is saved by grace. But as we shall see, this salvation was not to be by grace alone. Man would have to do something in order to be saved. Salvation is, and this is extremely important, by grace through faith—a faith that would gladly accept and render obedience to God’s conditions of grace. But for now, let’s continue with the logical inferences and ramifications of the working in tandem of God’s “determined counsel and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23).

Thus, those individuals who God “chose…in Him [Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world” were “predestined” by Him “to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ,…according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:4-5). That this was, even before creation, a done deal in the mind of God is once again confirmed and made quite clear by Romans 8:29-30, which says:

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

Furthermore, that the end result of this whole process is that these foreknown individuals (i.e., “the elect”) would one day be glorified in Heaven (viz., the “new heavens and a new earth” of 2 Peter 3:13) cannot, according to this passage, be scripturally denied, although I am sorry to say that I have known Christians who have done so, arguing that the glorification mentioned here is only that which takes place on earth when an individual obeys the gospel. Now, I do not deny that our calling and justification is the <1>beginning of this process, but glorification cannot be fully realized unless, and until, we obtain our glorified bodies. It is only then that we will fully and completely be conformed to the image of God’s Son—a Son who is now glorified in heaven and, as such, is “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18), and all this that He might be able to bring “many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10).

That New Testament Christians could ever think of denying an idea that is so clearly taught in God’s word demonstrates, once again, just how much Calvinistic thinking has influenced our thinking. Again, I am not arguing that such brethren are Calvinists, only that they are willing to deny (i.e., to explain away, if you will) the clear teaching of the Bible concerning the actual contents of God’s foreknowledge, thinking that if God actually knew before the foundation of the world who it was that was going to be saved in Heaven, then the future would somehow be fixed in a way that would nullify man’s free will.

However, the future is not “fixed” because God’s foreknowledge has caused it to be that way; instead, it is “fixed” only because this is the way free will creatures will respond to various circumstances and situations, and God, because HE IS WHO HE IS, simply foreknows what these contingent, free will choices will be. There is nothing inherently causative about such foreknowledge, and those who think there is have fallen prey to philosophy and other man-made think-sos.

But still suffering from that ol’ Calvinistic bugaboo, someone says that if what I have written above is true, then this means that Jesus must have died just for the sins of the elect (that is to say, a limited few) and not for the sins of the whole world. But this simply isn’t true. Although the elect were certainly foreknown by God even before He created the world, Jesus was not predestined to die only for the elect, as the Calvinists teach. No, no, no, a thousand times, no! Jesus, the Scriptures unequivocally teach, died for all mankind, not just a select few, and this, too, was a fact known by God before the foundation of the world (cf. 1 Peter 1:20).

This means that before He actually created this particular world, God knew that only a few, relatively speaking, would be saved, and that the rest would be lost, spending an eternity in a Devil’s hell. Consequently, it is argued by some that if this is, in fact, the case (and it has been demonstrated that this is exactly what the Bible teaches), then how could a loving, merciful God think that the few who would be saved were worth the many who would be lost? This is an important point. Therefore, it behooves us to understand what we can about this, at times, most perplexing subject.

Trying To Think It Through By Faith

As we try to think about such things, even though limited by puny, finite minds, we can theorize that there must have been a multitude of different worlds that God, with His infinite knowledge (which included foreknowledge), could have created, all with a multitude of different outcomes. Why He chose this particular world, along with its particular results, is something completely known at this time, and perhaps forever, only by God. Even so, and this is now a foregone conclusion, He did decide to create this particular world with its particular outcome. Thus, before creating this world and knowing that many souls would be lost for an eternity as the result of His doing so, God did, in fact, choose to create this world: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). And it is just here in this very first verse of the Bible that saving faith begins, for faith, we are told in Romans 10:17 (and this is the “saving faith” we’re talking about), “comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” In Hebrews 11:3, after being informed in verse one that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” we are told: “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” From this beginning verse—verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book—those of us who have been called by the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:14) have learned to trust in and rely upon our Creator, who is, no doubt, our Ruler, as well as our glorious Redeemer, and praise Him for it. And it is just here, at the very beginning of saving faith, that we begin to get some idea why God determined that the remnant of His creation that would be saved and spend an eternity with Him in heaven was worth His creating this particular world. This will become more evident as we continue this study in the next post.

The Vicarious Death Of Jesus

Vicarious Atonement

In their efforts to refute Calvinism, some are willing to deny that Jesus died vicariously, or in our stead, as the word indicates. In running away from Calvinism, it is not necessary to reject the substitutional death that the Bible, in Isaiah 53 (and other places), so clearly says Jesus suffered on our behalf. But this is what some Christians are doing.

The quotes that immediately follow are taken from separate articles written by two different Christians. I’m not naming the source for either, for it is not the who but the what that I wish to concentrate on. The first quote says:

In the sense of the substitution theory [this is what he calls the vicarious death of Jesus—AT], if Jesus, when He died on the cross, removed God’s wrath against sin, satisfied divine justice, paid all our debt in our place, took our punishment for sin upon himself, became guilty with our guilt, was cursed in our stead, then Jesus has already done it all in our place. How can we be charged with anything if Jesus has already done it all? If Jesus has already taken my punishment upon himself, then I do not have to worry because my punishment was removed 2000 years ago! I cannot be held accountable for what I have done because my substitute has already taken that on himself and removed any responsibility from me!

The second quote reads exactly like the first, with the exception of the final sentence, which says, “The only conclusion that can be reached from the substitution position is universal salvation….or Calvinist limited atonement!” (Italics are in the original—AT.) This second brother went on to say the following in the very next paragraph:

Some will insist that they do not believe in either universal salvation or limited atonement but believe in substitution anyway. But, they don’t realize what they are saying. The Bible teaches that we must do something to have our sins removed, Mark 16:15, 16, Acts 2:38. We are righteous even as He is righteous if we do righteousness, 1 John 3:7, and are acceptable with God if we work righteousness, Acts 10:34, 35. We can escape the punishment of hell but must obey God to do so, Matthew 25:32-46. We must obey God in order to enter Heaven, Matthew 7:21-27. The very fact that we must do all these things in order to have our sins removed, be righteous and escape punishment for sin demonstrates that the substitution theory is human error and not truth. Some will say they believe in the necessity of human obedience and substitution as well. Again, they don’t know what they are saying. Human obedience and the substitution theory are contradictions. This is why Calvinism virtually removes any such human effort from the process. Limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the impossibility of apostasy of Calvinism are the direct results of the substitution theory. Baptist doctrine demonstrates the same things; God provides the faith and grace, once saved you can’t be lost and the number is limited to those to whom God gives the grace. And why not, if Jesus has already done everything in our place? What is there for us to do?

I wanted to include these quotes to let the reader know that I’m not constructing straw men here. It isn’t difficult to see that these two brothers reject the vicarious death of Jesus. That is, although they know He died in order to pay the price for our redemption, they nevertheless make it absolutely clear that they reject, as gross error, the idea that Jesus died in our stead. And they do so, once again, to refute that ol’ Calvinism bugaboo. Calvinism certainly needs to be rejected; but in doing so, one must not reject what the Bible teaches on this or any other subject.

Rejecting The Either-Or Argument

I reject the premise that if one believes in the vicarious death of Jesus, one must either accept universalism or Calvinism, for such an “either-or” assumption is simply not a valid scriptural point. The Bible teaches neither of these, and I reject them both. Furthermore, I will trust what the Bible actually says rather than what these brethren are trying to tell me it says. As I’ve already indicated, I will argue, from Isaiah 53 and other passages, that Jesus did, in fact, die in our stead. And although both these aforementioned brothers castigate those who hold “the substitution theory” for coming under the influence of human reasoning and denominational think-sos, I believe it is their own thinking that reflects such enslavement. For example, in Galatians 3:13, Paul wrote, “Christ has 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’).” Then, in 1 Peter 2:24, we are told that Jesus “bore our sins in His own body on the tree [i.e., the cross].” Do not these passages, when coupled with Isaiah 53, convey the idea that Jesus suffered and died in our stead? Why, then, must I, in order to be thought sound in the faith, believe that Jesus didn’t die in my place?

Truth is, I don’t, and the convoluted logic and attempted exegeses of these two brothers changes nothing. Man seems to always get into trouble with the human analogies he tries to appropriate to God. God is not a man. Therefore, the limitations of our human analogies cannot apply across the board to Him. When we try to make them do so, we are engaged in what the Bible calls idolatry.

I am not a universalist; nor am I a Calvinist. I am, instead, a Christian who believes what God has said in His word about who and what He is, whether I can fully understand it or not. This is true even when I can’t seem to find a human analogy that completely applies to Him. One must be very careful about such things, for God and His thoughts are infinite and, therefore, so far above us and how we think (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9) that it is just impossible for us to know everything about Him. Yes, there is plenty to know about God, but there is still plenty more that we simply do not, and cannot, know (cf. Romans 11:33 and compare it with Job 26:14).

Partly Right, But Still Very Wrong

What do I mean by the above subtitle? Simply this: Yes, Jesus was the perfect-Lamb-without-blemish sacrifice offered up for us on the cross of Calvary, as the Scriptures clearly teach. Consequently, while it is perfectly acceptable for one to preach and teach that Jesus paid the price for our sins because He was the perfectly sinless blood sacrifice for our sins, serving as the means to our redemption, it is, nevertheless, important to understand that this imagery does not fully exhaust God’s description of this sacrifice.

For instance, in 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul said, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Now, the critics of the idea that Jesus died vicariously or in our place have called “nonsense” the idea that this passage, along with others, is teaching that Jesus actually took upon Himself our sins, paying in full the price for our pardon by being “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Thus, I find it disturbing that some Christians have taken to calling “nonsense” anything taught in God’s word that they happen to disagree with, whether it is this issue or some other, like the controversy over the days of Creation, or the brouhaha that manifested itself a decade or so ago over the deity-humanity of Jesus.

For example, the idea that God actually created the Universe in something approaching 144 hours is considered by some among us to be silly or ridiculous, as it contradicts the “Science” of our day. Likewise, the idea that Jesus could have been 100% God and 100% man while here on this earth was clearly thought by some among us to be absolute “nonsense.” But these ideas aren’t silly or nonsensical at all. In fact, they represent accurately the six-day creation taught in the Scriptures and the fully God-fully man Jesus described in the New Testament. Consequently, I don’t like it one bit when I hear Christians calling nonsense, silly, or ridiculous things I can clearly read about in the Bible.

But if there were anything inherent in the vicarious death concept I believe to be taught in the Bible that demanded universalism or Calvinism, as some are wrongly claiming, then I would, no doubt, have some interest in the semantical gymnastics they engage in to “prove” that it can’t be true. But when one of these argues that a particular interpretation of a pertinent passage that appears to teach that Jesus died vicariously can’t be interpreted that way because it has already been demonstrated that the doctrine isn’t true, when he has, in fact, done no such thing, just makes me shake my head in disbelief that a brother in Christ would stoop to making such a statement—a statement that, ironically, is to be taken, ipse dixit, as an argument for precisely why the doctrine isn’t true.

Asking A Difficult Question

Those who take the position that Jesus did not die vicariously are known to ask this supposed hard question: “To whom do you think the ransom price for our sins was paid?” If you say to God, which they wrongly think is the incorrect answer, they make reference to Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, in the 11th century, was the first one to introduce the idea that the ransom or satisfaction was paid by Christ not to Satan, but to God. Then, we are quickly informed, the Reformers compounded Anselm’s error by adding to it the idea that Jesus actually took the place of sinners in the sight of God and, as their substitute, suffered the punishment that was due them, including the sufferings of Hell. Upon Him, it is claimed these Reformers taught, fell all the punishment of all the sins of all the men for whom He died. Consequently, it was further argued that these Reformers believed that, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, penal justice could have no further claim. As a result, the so-called Substitution Theory was cross connected with the five points of Calvin, standing on the two legs of the imputation of our sins to Christ and the imputation of His righteousness to us.

To this I simply say, “So what!” What Anselm thought, or what the Reformers believed, is not really all that important to me, and I don’t mean anything overtly disrespectful when I say this. What I believe about Jesus’ vicarious death is based on what I can read in the Bible, not the philosophies and think-sos of men, be they Augustine, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, Arminius, or even Thomas and Alexander Campbell. But what I can read in the Bible is very important to me, and I can read in the Bible much about Jesus’ vicarious death.

“But That’s Not Even In The Bible,” They Argue

Someone retorts: “But vicarious isn’t even in the Bible. Why then are you trying to defend it?” But the fact that the actual word isn’t used in the Scriptures doesn’t mean the concept or idea is not taught there. For instance, where is the term “triune nature” found in the Bible? It isn’t, but this does not mean that the idea isn’t taught within its pages, and most Bible students acknowledge this. But to charge me, or anyone else, with bowing down to the dictates of the First Council of Nicaea because I believe in the triune nature of God is simply uncalled for. Why, then, should brethren who accuse me of believing and teaching something that is false because the word I’m using to identify it isn’t found in the Bible expect my opinion of them to remain unquestioned when they resort to such tactics?

If I didn’t have any other teaching but Isaiah 53, I would still believe Jesus was the divinely ordained sin-bearer. I would still believe that the iniquity of us all was, in fact, laid upon Him by the Father. I would still believe that He was wounded for our transgressions because God loved us that much. And finally, I would still believe that Jesus bore the sins of us all because God ordained it. However, when one adds to this the many passages that teach this very same idea, then I think I have every reason to believe in the vicarious death of Jesus, namely, that He died in my stead, paying the price that was owed for my sins, and not mine only, but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

This brings us full circle to this idea of Jesus being the “propitiation for our sins,” and how it is in this truth that we are so confident of our salvation—not just now, but in the future, as well. Consequently, we’ll have more to say about this in the next post in this series.

Ransomed, Purchased, Reconciled, And Redeemed

Jesus Paid It All

Both Jew and Gentile “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23, KJV). Both are rconciled in one body through the cross (cf. Eph. 2:16a). This is the reconciliation that Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” The word of reconciliation is the gospel, which, when obeyed, permits the one rendering obedience to it to be reconciled to God first, and then, as Paul pointed out in the previous verses, to other men, and this regardless of their race, sex, or social status (cf. Gal. 3:28). This reconciliation is in the “one body” of Ephesians 1:22-23 and Colossians 1:18, which could not have existed without the work Jesus did for us on the cross, “thereby putting to death the enmity” (Eph 2:16b). How? “By His grace through the redemption that is in Christ, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:24-26). Through the cross of Christ sin has been properly dealt with, thus demonstrating that God, even in forgiving our sins, remains, Himself, just. Through the cross of Christ, the penalty for our sins was paid by Jesus on our behalf (cf. Gal. 3:13; 1 Tim 2:6). It is in this way, and this way only, that God remains just while acting as the justifier of all us sinners who exercise faith in His Son. Miss this and you’ll not understand the atonement as God intended for it to be understood.