(This is a continuation of The Spirit World book series. This post assumes the prerequisite reading of earlier posts in the series.)
Numerous are the terms used in scripture to reference the other-worldly spiritual abodes which remain unseen to the human eye. Some biblical students are content to quickly categorize these many terms into two simple categories: Heaven and Hell. However upon a thorough examination of scripture it becomes exceptionally clear that many of the abodes of spiritual existence in scripture are not synonymous with either Heaven or Hell. Hades, is often considered synonymous with Hell, for example, yet numerous Godly men, including Jesus himself, are noted in scripture to have entered Hades upon their deaths. While there are some who erroneously teach that Jesus went to “Hell” when he died (meaning “the eternal lake of fire”), scripture is unwavering in its clear assertion that in fact, Hell is not yet occupied. Continue reading
The Boundaries of The New Law
(The following is a continuation of “The Law and the Believer,” and assumes the reading of earlier prerequisite posts.)
From the day of Pentecost, believers have experienced the full fruition of God’s ancient promise to Israel: that he will “put (his) law in their minds and write it on their hearts (Jer 31:33).” What fellowship could man desire over the very indwelling presence of God; himself guiding, chastening, leading and inspiring his disciples to his own will and purposes. The apex of God’s plan for fellowship with man has found its fruition in the redemptive work of Christ and the indwelling presence of the Spirit. The life of faith is one of fellowship rather than rule of law and freedom rather than the bondage of restraint. Continue reading
As was noted in the last post, according to Galatians 3, the law served as a tutor to point God’s people to Christ. As youth, we were all required the continual tutelage of parents, teachers and godly adults to properly lead us toward a path of righteousness. Indeed many of us wonder where our lives would have led us without such counsel. Yet, maturity gradually developed and we all eventually found ourselves grown and removed from such supervision. As adults we have now moved beyond the former restrictions of parental oversight and have assumed responsibility for our life choices. In some cases, we deeply understand the sentiment of certain rules of our parents, yet we may choose different rules for our own households.
(This post is a continuation of the Pastoral Soteriology Series. It assumes pre-requisite reading of earlier posts, and will be followed by additional posts.)
While grace is the overriding precondition of the gospel, scripture unyieldingly asserts that faith is the necessary component by which salvation is applied to the sinner’s account. Ephesians 2:8 notes both elements quite clearly, asserting, “it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith.” Likewise, Hebrews 11:6 notes that “without faith it is impossible to please God,” demanding that God’s acceptance of man in some way hinges on the existence of essential faith. While faith in no way trumps grace – nor can it exist outside of grace – it is nonetheless a required component of the gospel which cannot be subverted. One simply cannot be saved without faith. Continue reading
(This post is a continuation of the Pastoral Soteriology Series)
Grace: The Overriding Condition of Salvation
Understanding the nature of the atonement expressed thus far – that Christ fulfilled the substitutionary blood atonement system of the Old Testament – leads one to next evaluate the elements of the gospel which bring one along the path into fellowship with Christ. The mere knowledge of such glorious principles alone does not transform one automatically into conversion (James 2:19). Rather, a transformational process which far supersedes intellect takes place to usher one into regeneration. The next several posts will examine the “elements” which come into play during one’s conversion process. These elements are each taught by scripture to be a part of the conversion experience. Continue reading
Understanding the substitutionary nature of Old Testament atonement is perhaps the single most important revelation concerning the work Christ accomplished on the cross on our behalf. While such knowledge of the Old Testament system is certainly not a prerequisite for one’s salvation, it is the very foundation by which one may truly comprehend the work of the cross. Jesus took great care to present the manner of his work as something which built upon that which God had already revealed. He continually quoted the Law and the Prophets. He made examples of the men of faith who had forged the work of the Kingdom in the Old Testament. Salvation by grace through faith is not something new, but rather something which utterly permeated the scriptures prior to the time of Christ. What became new was that the substance of such faith was finally revealed and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus explained, Continue reading
(This is a continuation of the series entitled, “A Pastoral Soteriology.” It assumes the reading of eariler posts.)
The culmination of the sacrificial system of atonement in the Old Testament Law was demonstrated and applied in the yearly observation of “Yom Kippur,” or, “The Day of Atonement.” While the sacrificial system tirelessly went about its business of providing blood offerings – literally twenty four hours a day – this special holy day provided the principle application of the sin offering for the entire nation. As such, Yom Kippur demonstrated more articulately the nature of Christ’s later work of redemption than perhaps any other requirement of the sacrificial system. Continue reading
Atonement in the Old Testament Law
As noted in the last post, the Penal Substitution Theory of the atonement is by far the best and most accurate understanding of the work Jesus provided on the cross according to the scriptures. While the nature of the atonement has been observed, a true understanding of penal substitution requires a comprehension of the underlying principles which had been put into effect by God prior to Jesus’ work on the cross. Continue reading
The Penal Substitution Theory
While all atonement theories examined thus far have failed at producing a biblically-based portrayal of the doctrine of salvation, Anselm had at least gotten close with his Necessary-Satisfaction Theory. Building upon some of those very principles, the Penal Substitution Theory, proposed by John Calvin (1509-1564), rightly aligned the missing theological puzzle pieces to present an accurate depiction of the work Christ completed on the cross.
Primarily, atonement theories are intended to illustrate how atonement was produced from Christ’s death on the cross. As such, a sound theory must not only make some valid assertions concerning the nature of Christ’s work, but must illustrate the entire historical revelation of the atonement as defined in scripture. Calvin’s Penal Substitution Theory does that with great skill.
A proper understanding of the Penal Substitution Theory requires a holistic approach to God’s revelation of atonement throughout scripture. Jesus did not merely show up on the playing field and create something new. Rather, he realized and fulfilled what God had already established; a substitutionary system of atonement. As Jesus noted,
Matthew 5:17-18 (NIV)
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Clearly, Jesus himself understood his work to be complimentary to what had already been established. His work was to be that which would fulfill the law and the prophets rather something entirely new and unrelated. No system examined in this series thus far has expressed atonement in terms that related it as a fulfillment of the Law and the prophets. The Recapitulation Theory disregards the Law almost entirely. The Ransom Theory has God paying off Satan, which is dramatically opposed to the Old Testament Law in which God himself receives (or rejects) man’s sin offering(s). The Moral Example Theory completely disregards the punitive nature of the Law; attempting to implement a works oriented salvation which disregards the penalty of former sins. The Mystical Theory, in addition to being just plain weird, offers absolutely no hint of vicarious atonement as outlined in the Law. And, the Necessary-Satisfaction Theory, while working off of good principles, still misappropriates certain legal aspects of atonement as depicted in the Law.
A good atonement theory must adequately illustrate how God’s program of redemption in the Law was systematically fulfilled and completed by the work of Christ! Otherwise, Christ cannot be understood as having fulfilled the Law.
Calvin’s theory connected the proper dots.
Details of Christ’s fulfillment of the Law will be examined over the next several posts, yet at this point it should at least be noted that what Jesus “fulfilled” was a substitutionary system of atonement: the sacrificial system of the Old Testament Law.
Overall, the Penal Substitution Theory can be understood as a more comprehensive fleshing-out of Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory. Anselm had the basic idea, but missed key points which Calvin properly illuminated.
The Essence of the Penal Substitution Theory
The Satisfaction Theory rightly articulated that a debt was owed to God by mankind. This debt required that satisfaction be attained by God. Yet, it incorrectly defined man’s offense as the defilement of God’s honor. While surely God’s honor became diminished in man’s eyes because of sin, it is not God’s honor which is in need of satisfaction according to the scriptures. Rather, it is God’s wrath for sin which is in need of satisfaction, as has already been illustrated. Jesus noted,
John 3:36 (NIV)
36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
And Paul exclaimed,
Ephesians 2:3 (NIV)
3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
Understanding the problem of sin properly- that it invokes God’s wrath- is key to understanding the nature of the satisfaction Jesus secured in the atonement. It was God’s wrath over sin which was in need of satisfaction. The atonement is oriented toward the securing of justice rather than honor. God’s law had been broken, invoking his wrath. And, being a just God, he demanded that payment be rendered for the broken Law. Such payment is not a mystery in the biblical narrative. God prescribed his punitive decision prior to the offense, clearly noting in the Garden of Eden that,
Genesis 2:17 (NIV)
17 … you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
With justice as a defining attribute of His nature, God cannot simply overlook one’s sin. Sin is an offense to his Law; an illegal (penal) action requiring a just sentence, which God prescribed to be death to the offender. What Jesus did on the cross was to quite literally apply the payment to God for the crimes of humanity.
Romans 6:23 (NIV)
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God had always upheld the wages of sin. They have never – nor will they ever change. And, God’s sense of justice demands that wrongdoing be punished and that the offended party (himself) be compensated. Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished both. The sins of man were paid vicariously (more on that in coming posts) and God’s justice was upheld.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The atonement was penal in nature, because it provided the means of payment for the breaking of God’s Law which man had engaged. It was substitutionary in nature, because the payment was obtained vicariously by another: Christ.
Romans 3:22-26 (NIV)
22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
The substitutionary nature of Christ’s death will be examined in more detail in the following weeks. One cannot truly understand how Jesus fulfilled the Law without first understanding the nature of the Law itself. Suffice it to say at this point, however, that the Law provided a means of restitution for man’s sin through vicarious (substitutionary) means. God, in his graciousness, offered a system of atonement by which an acceptable animal could be sacrificed on man’s behalf, thus paying the required death sentence. Such is the nature of the Law; as it details the processes and requirements of such penal substitutions to be made. When Christ fulfilled the Law, he became the final perfect sacrifice for sin; rendering the Law utterly completed. Thus, “not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
The Penal Substitution Theory of atonement rightly identifies the critical components of redemption by faith in Christ Jesus. God’s wrath was invoked by man’s sin. His justice demanded restitution. In grace, he provided a substitutionary system of atonement, which Christ completed – once and for all.
Isaiah 53:5-6 (NIV)
5 … he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Continuing our examination of numerous atonement theories which have circulated the church throughout history, it must be observed that thus far in this series there has not been revealed a tremendous amount of success in the packaging of such systems into understandable, yet valid theological thought.
The Recapitulation Theory misses the vicarious nature of Jesus’ death altogether. The Ransom Theory essentially glorifies Satan as the one who was to be appeased for the wages of sin. The Moral Example Theory is little more than a warmed over “good ol’ boys get in” mentality and the Mystical Theory relegates God to one of the plethora of pagan gods of yore; being reached via essential practices rather than his own initiative which is accomplished by grace through faith. Furthermore, most of these theories place robust emphasis on man’s role in salvation; asserting that Christ’s work on the cross provided a means for man to complete the work of redemption rather than Christ completing the work himself. Continue reading