Over the centuries there have been different understandings of just how Christ’s death on the cross brings salvation and forgiveness to those who put their trust in Him.
A. CHRIST THE VICTOR (Early Church on)
When Adam and Eve sinned, Satan gained rights over human beings. Christ has paid the ransom which sets us free from being Satan’s slaves “Satan’s fish-hook” – trying to catch Christ’s humanity, Satan was caught on His Divinity
B. MORAL INFLUENCE (Abelard 12th century)
“The human problem” is that we reject God. Christ’s death is the supreme demonstration of God’s love for us. The Cross draws out of us a response of love and repentance in return – we are saved.
C. SACRIFICE FOR SIN (Reformation on)
God’s holiness and justice demand punishment for human sin. Christ died as a sacrifice to pay that penalty for sin which we could never pay. Christ died in our place – penal substitution.
OBJECTIONS to the different understandings
A. CHRIST THE VICTOR
Our sin problem is not just due to Satan – Christ defeating Satan doesn’t deal with our sin and the punishment we deserve to pay, or with the anger of the holy God.
B. MORAL INFLUENCE
Our repentance could only deal with future sins, doesn’t deal with past sin. And our repentance
C. SACRIFICE FOR SIN
This is too mechanical and impersonal. God is love- He could just choose to forgive sin.
BUT what does the Bible say? THE BIBLE TEACHES US that
Christ’s death is central to our salvation
Christ’s death is vicarious – for our benefit
Christ’s death is representative – He repents and obeys on our behalf
Christ’s death is sacrifical – voluntarily offering Himself for our benefit
Christ’s death is atonement – the sacrifice offered to take sin away
Christ’s death is “expiation” – dealing with the consequences of sin in our lives
Christ’s death is “propitiation” – dealing with God’s wrath against sinners
Christ’s death is substitutionary – in MY place
Mark 10: 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Hebrews 2: 14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
1 Peter 2: 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
1 Peter 1:18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
1 Peter 3 18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
Underlying Christ’s death is whole of the Old Testament system of sacrifices and also prophecies:
Isaiah 53: 5 But 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. ….8 …. For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. …
10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. …. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,and he will divide the spoils with the strong,because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
1 John 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
Hebrews 9: 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! 15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
Romans 3: 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.
2 Corinthians 5: God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
“penal substitution” = “substitutionary atonement”
Only this is sufficient to deal with the problem of sin and bring us salvation. It is NOT the angry Father punishing the loving son. It is NOT unjust, because GOD was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. ( 2 Cor 5:19)
“The burdened conscience does not find satisfaction in cheap pardon.” (J.Denney)