by Mike Ratliff
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10 ESV)
In my research of Penal Substitution I found that this doctrine is actually a line of contention, or line of demarcation if you will, that divides Orthodox Christianity from those forms whose advocates have in some way come up with their own version of the Gospel. These forms are diverse and too numerous to go into here. As I read the “opinions” of those decrying the validity of Penal Substitution, I could not help but notice that the modus operandi or focus of these people was never from the perspective of God’s glory or His majesty or His righteousness or His justice. No, it was always from man’s perspective of either the writer’s religiosity or philosophy. There was never any attempt to use Biblical exegesis to make their points. In other words, those who decry Penal Substitution also seem to have a serious issue with Sola Scriptura. So, instead of focusing this post on these vain arguments and speculations, let us focus of the incredible mercy of the Atonement in which Christ reconciled His people to God the Father and what that purchased for them.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
This passage summarizes the Gospel for us. First, Christ is sinless, however, God the Father imputed the sin of those being reconciled to Him. He did this for their sake. He did this so that they might become the righteousness of God. What does that mean? Christ was the substitute for those being reconciled. He accepted the penalty for their sin. What does it mean that those being reconciled “might become the righteousness of God? Just as God the Father imputed the sins of all those who will ever believe and be saved to Christ at the Cross, He justifies them when they do believe and repent imputing to them the righteousness of Christ. The Geneva Bible has a note next to this verse, referring to this imputation, that says, “By imputation, when we shalbe clad with Christs justice. (I updated the spelling a bit). Those who are justified by faith at that moment of belief and repentance are clad with Christ’s righteousness or justice and, therefore, are seen in the eyes of God as wholly acceptable into the beloved. He then sanctifies them and adopts them into His family. While some may take this for granted, we must never lose sight of the incredible act of mercy this is for like sheep we have all gone astray into our own way of self-rule (Isaiah 53:4-6).
The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock. “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. (Leviticus 1:1-4 ESV)
Here we have the Old Testament “picture” or “form” of the atonement. The burnt offering must be an unblemished male. This refers to Christ’s sinlessness and purity. Before the sacrifice is made the one bringing the offering must lay his hand on its head. Only then shall it be accepted for him to make atonement for him. What significance does this have for us in understanding the atonement made by Christ for us? The following is from Spurgeon’s Evening by Evening devotional for April 13.
Our Lord’s being made “sin for us”1 is set forth here by the very significant transfer of sin to the bullock, which was made by the elders of the people. The laying of the hand was not a mere touch of contact, for in some other places of Scripture the original word has the meaning of leaning heavily, as in the expression, “Thy wrath lieth hard upon me” (Psalm 88:7). Surely this is the very essence and nature of faith, which doth not only bring us into contact with the great Substitute, but teaches us to lean upon Him with all the burden of our guilt. Jehovah made to meet upon the head of the Substitute all the offences of His covenant people, but each one of the chosen is brought personally to ratify this solemn covenant act, when by grace he is enabled by faith to lay his hand upon the head of the “Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.” Believer, do you remember that rapturous day when you first realized pardon through Jesus the sin-bearer? Can you not make glad confession, and join with the writer in saying, “My soul recalls her day of deliverance with delight. Laden with guilt and full of fears, I saw my Saviour as my Substitute, and I laid my hand upon Him; oh! how timidly at first, but courage grew and confidence was confirmed until I leaned my soul entirely upon Him; and now it is my unceasing joy to know that my sins are no longer imputed to me, but laid on Him, and like the debts of the wounded traveller, Jesus, like the good Samaritan, has said of all my future sinfulness, ‘Set that to My account.’” Blessed discovery! Eternal solace of a grateful heart!
“My numerous sins transferr’d to Him,
Shall never more be found,
Lost in His blood’s atoning stream,
Where every crime is drown’d!”
12 Corinthians 5:21
My brethren, all in Christ have had their sin transferred to Lamb of God. Those sins will never more be found because they are washed away in Christ’s blood, which is an atoning stream. All reconciled to God by Christ have had their sins completely atoned for. However, this does not mean that all in Christ can live according to the flesh because of their new standing before God. No, in fact, no regenerate believer can be at peace with the any of the three major obstacles to their spiritual growth. The first is the world and its ways. The second is the flesh. The third is Satan, the Devil. The world can only be overcome as we work to conform our minds to Christ (Romans 12:2). The flesh is simply the remnant of our sin nature that remains after regeneration. The regenerate believer will be totally involved in the struggle between their new nature, their new life in Christ, and their old nature, the flesh (Romans 7:7-25; 1 John 3:2-3). Satan is the great tempter as well as the accuser of the brethren. The Christian must follow our Lord’s example of rebuking Satan and, instead of crumpling under his accusations, confess our sins to God as we repent (Isaiah 54:17; 1 John 1:8-9).
The victories over these obstacles is made possible by the fact that we are regenerate and accepted in the beloved because of the atoning work of Christ on our behalf, for our sake. Because of our right standing before God and as we mature spiritually, we learn to pursue holiness by devoting our lives to being spirit-filled and living sacrifices as we abide in Christ.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21 ESV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1-5 ESV)
These miracles of spiritual maturity are only possible for those who are regenerate. These true Christians were bought with the price of Christ’s atoning sacrifice at the Cross. They are accepted in the beloved and are on the narrow path of sanctification that leads to the gates of the Celestial City. They will prove the verity of their salvation by completing this journey to be called home to be with their Saviour forever.
Soli Deo Gloria!