Substitutionary Atonement: A Response, Part 2

Before I post the long overdue part 2 on the Substitutionary Atonement of Jesus, I want to continue to address some comments that I’ve received, along with their responses.  I’m not doing so as a way to attack the comments, but instead as a teaching moment.  It often takes a lot of effort to counter every point of an objection in a biblical way and in a way that answers it thoroughly, so instead of it being in the comments, it seems more edifying to devote entire posts so as to make it more readily available.  In doing so, both you as a reader and I as the blogger, can work through the arguments and objections that are often presented when dealing with the substitutionary death of Christ.  Before reading, it may be helpful to review A Survey of the Cross: The Atonement, Part 1 and also Substitutionary Atonement: A Response to gain a background for the discussion below.  I’ve filtered through some of the personal shots to present only the relevant portions of the comment and again the commenter is anonymous.  Below are the comments directly related to the post Substitutionary Atonement: A Response.

You have just written a book. It would take a book to respond to that. Allow me to refer you to one–the Holy Bible. As far as quoting verses, don’t be tedious; my response was between me and you, and you know what I am referring to, and you know I am speaking from the Bible.

Really, it all comes down to the definition of the word “for.” You assume it means “in the place of.” If I say “she sang for me,” does that mean I was suppose to sing, but she took my place, or does it mean that I needed to hear a song and she sang it to meet that need? The Bible reveals which “for” is used. We still die spiritually and physically. No substitution there. What we do not have to do if we receive Christ is face the Great White throne judgment and be cast away into the lake of fire. Penal substitution would have had Christ face final judgment and be cast into the lake of fire. He was not; therefore, no substitution there.

The Bible’s “for” is the later “for” in the analogy. We are unrighteous and unworthy of resurrection. Jesus is the resurrection–the the righteousness and the justification. There is the substitution. There is no justification for our resurrection except that we who believe belong to Christ, and God righteously restored us to Jesus for His sake. We are the subjects of His kingdom. This is not the moral influence theory. This is no theory at all. It is simply the story in the Bible.

Thanks again for the comment. Let me see if I understand what you’re saying.  The heart of your argument is that Jesus did not suffer the punishment that sinners deserved and in that respect He was not a substitute, i.e. substitution, penal, or otherwise.  Instead, because of His sinless perfection He obeyed the law where we could not and solved the unrighteousness problem that sinners have.  When we trust in Jesus we are given His righteousness, which allows us to escape judgment and punishment.  Is that an accurate summary of what you’re saying?

A few points of clarification, first the reason that I made the comment in my last response about a lack of biblical references is because that is the sole basis from which one’s theology should flow.  And by doing so it allows Scripture to simply speak for itself in an applicable manner.  Without Scripture references, it becomes nothing more than an opinion or feeling.  Tedious?  No, it’s necessary.  As for posting the response, it was submitted in the comments section of the blog, not via personal communication.  If I were to allow the comment to be published it would’ve been in the public domain anyway, so as such I’ve chosen to devote more space and attention to it for the sake of learning and teaching.

To the reply, at issue is the use of “for” in your analogy, “she sang for me”.  It absolutely could mean that she sang as your substitute.  “She sang for me…because I was unable to sing.”  Do you see how the meaning of “for” changed given additional context?  This is why context in the Bible is so critically important and as we’ve seen in the passages I’ve cited it is precisely this substitutionary context that is provided.  More to come on the use of “for” in response to other comments. 

You said “We still die spiritually and physically.”

I don’t understand what you’re saying here.  Believers in Christ do not die spiritually.  Though prior to Christ they spiritually dead because of their sin (Ephesians 2, they are made alive through the regeneration or rebirth of the Holy Spirit (See Ezekiel 36, John 3, Titus 2). The Sinner’s Conversion: Regeneration for a more thorough discussion.

Having said that, let’s again review some verses from Scripture rather than make assumptions or come to conclusions on our own. 

Galatians 3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’”

What was this curse that Christ became?  If He was only a righteous substitute then surely there would be no need for Him to be cursed, right?  The Apostle Paul is stating clearly here that we, i.e. believers, were cursed because of our failure to meet the requirements of the law.  Elsewhere in Colossians 2:13-14 he states, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.”  Then he concludes back in Galatians 3:13 that Christ has redeemed us from the curse [of the law] that we were destined to by becoming a curse for us.  If I am sentenced to a punishment of death and someone takes that sentence for me, then they have become my substitute.  This is precisely what Jesus did on the cross!  He took the punishment deserving of sinners upon Himself, thus satisfying the justice of God and upholding His righteousness.  For God to leave sin unpunished is for Him to disregard His own justice and holiness, a blasphemous statement indeed!

Secondly, let’s look again at Romans 3:25 “Whom God put forward as a propitiation by blood, to be received by faith….”  This passage I used in context to relate to the Levitical Atonement.  Note that propitiation here is the Greek word hilasterion agreeing with its use in Hebrews 9:5 and likewise relating to the mercy seat as seen in Leviticus 16.

1 John 2:2 “He is the propitiation for our sin and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

1 John 4:10 “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

2 more verses each using the word propitiation, but what does this word mean?  I omitted some of the comments recommending I use a good dictionary, so as requested, from Easton’s Bible dictionary we learn the following:

“In 1 John 2:2 & 1 John 4:10 Christ is called the “propitiation for our sins.”  Here a different Greek word is used (hilasmos).  Christ is “the propitiation,” because by his becoming our substitute and assuming our obligations He expiated our guilt, covered it, by the vicarious punishment which He endured.”

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Word’s rightly takes it one step further by saying the believer’s sin and guilt was not merely covered, but removed. 

[Propitiation] is never used of any act whereby man brings God into a favorable attitude or gracious disposition.  It is God who is “propitiated” by the vindication of His holy and righteous character, whereby, through the provision He has made in the vicarious and expiatory sacrifice of Christ, He has so dealt with sin that He can show mercy to the believing sinner in the removal of his guilt and the remission of his sins.  Man has forfeited his life on account of sin and God has provided the one and only way whereby eternal life could be bestowed, namely, by the voluntary laying down of His life by His Son, under Divine retribution.  Of this the former sacrifices appointed by God were foreshadowings.

The Blue Letter Bible Lexicon notes that hilasmos (propitiation) is an appeasing.  What could there possibly be to appease other than the justice, or better stated, the wrath of God?  God’s wrath towards sinners who place their faith in His Son has been satisfied through the propitiatory death of Jesus, thus making Him both just AND the justifier of those who believe. (Romans 3:26)

But note what the dictionary is saying regarding the definition of propitiation.  We must understand that even by definition the word propitiation is two-fold, one removing the guilt from our sin, i.e. expiation, and two a substitutionary sacrifice by which He suffered the punishment due to sinners who believe in Him thus appeasing God’s wrath. 

If I ever make it to part 2 of this study, part 3 will be fully dedicated to understanding the propitiation of Christ, and then specifically how this all connects back to the introductory lesson from Leviticus.  In the next response post, we’ll look at the suffering servant passage from Isaiah 53.

To God be the glory.

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Christian saved by grace through faith.


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