PILLAR 4 – THE WORK OF CHRIST
I must say from the outset that I am incapable of discussing this subject and doing it justice. It goes so far beyond my sinful flesh and tiny brain. I cling to the hope that God will be glorified in my human weakness.
To be right with God we need pardon for our sin. As impossible as that is we also need something else. We need righteousness to enter into eternal life and God’s presence. Take a look at Proverbs 17:15. Just stop and meditate on this for a moment.
He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD (Proverbs 17:15).
This verse reveals the heart of the problem. If God pardons a sinner He becomes an abomination. This is why the Gospel is not about us telling God we’re sorry and being forgiven. God is bound by His law to punish sin. Do you see this problem?
There was only one way and that is why He is the only way!
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12)
Now the only way that God can forgive sinful men is if God who made the law and God who demands satisfaction, if He Himself comes down, and pays the penalty. This is why God became a man, Jesus Christ, and fulfilled the whole law. So that He could be condemned as a just man, in order that the wicked could be justified. Here is where we find God’s love.
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
John Macarthur comments on this verse:
As Christ was not a sinner, but was treated as if He were, so believers who have not yet been made righteous are treated as if they were righteous.
Here we see what we call imputation. Jesus takes our punishment and credits us with His righteousness. The great exchange in order that we may inherit eternal life. This righteousness is a legal statement, not an injection of righteousness as the Catholics teach. Your righteousness is a credit to your account – something that you can never take credit for. You don’t become a better man. You become a bad man saved by a good God. Macarthur continues:
Christ bore their sins so that they could bear His righteousness. God treated Him as if He committed believers’ sins, and treats believers as if they did only the righteous deeds of the sinless Son of God.
This doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is under continual attack today. There are those who prefer to downplay penal substitutionary atonement to emphasize
1. Christ defeating the forces of darkness or;
2. Christ identifying with us and our suffering by going to the cross.
These ideas are the most popular in Denmark right now. How often do you hear Jesus referred to as an example to follow. While there is an element of truth to these ideas:
1. Hebrews tells us (Heb 2:17) that Jesus is a compassionate intercessor having tasted of the human experience.
2. Jesus did come to destroy the works of the devil (I John 3:8).
But these ideas fall so far short of what the good news really is. The major reason Jesus came, to bring salvation, was because He is not like anybody and nobody can really be like Him. No one could keep the law, and no one could suffer God’s wrath. There are some ways in which I try to follow Jesus’ example but I am a hundred times more greatful that He fulfilled the law that I had broken and suffered the punishment that I deserve. There is the real good news.
There are also those within the emergent movement who totally deny Penal Substitutionary Atonement altogether. Steve Chalke calls Penal Substitutionary Atonement a form of cosmic child abuse:
... a form of cosmic child abuse - a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. (The Lost Message Of Jesus p182)
And Brian McLaren had these shocking words to say . . .
The root of all these attacks on this doctrine lies in the earlier mentioned pillar 2 – the depravity of man. We live in a culture that is therapeutic and egotistical. A culture that inflates people’s self esteem, but never lays blame at anyone's feet. And if churches want to accommodate those people, they can try and do it by getting rid of Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Because to teach that you have to teach why Christ had to take punishment that we deserve which, in turn, means that you have to present man as a criminal and not a victim.
Did you ever wake up in the morning and wonder “where did all the stars go?” Did they all just disappear? No – but we only ever see them shining in their glory against the background of a dark night sky. And the cross of Jesus Christ shines in its glory against the dark background of our sin against Him – and it was only when God helped me to see the awful darkness of my sin against Him that I could start to see the depth of His love for me in sending Jesus Christ.
What was the one thing Jesus feared? It wasn’t the Jews – he fearlessly humiliated them in public. It wasn’t the Romans – our Lord looked Pilate square in the eye and told him that the only reason the Roman Governor had any power over God in flesh was because God had given him that power for that moment (John 19:11). Jesus did not fear Satan for he overcame and rebuked him in the wilderness. What was the only thing that Jesus feared - when he prayed in the garden. It was the cup, the cup of God’s wrath (Luke 22:42). How terrifying must God’s wrath be if our Lord asked for another way. How serious must God’s Holiness and man’s sinfulness be if this was the only way that payment could be made.
We must preach the cross as the place where the perfect righteous Lamb of God drank the cup of God’s wrath in our place. The key word in this is “propitiation”. Both John and Paul speak of it.
And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins (Romans 3:24-25).
The word propitiation means a “sacrifice that takes away sin and satisfies wrath” (James White, The God Who Justifies, p194). This is wonderful news and something that true Christians get excited about. God no longer has wrath aimed at those who he saves because Christ has taken it in their place.
And the resurrection is the proof of God’s satisfaction with Christ’s payment. Isn’t it great to hope in a resurrection body (Romans 4:24-25)?
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