Archive for the 'Salvation not Substitution' Category

Salvation not Substitution

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007


The Law states that there must be death for sin.  In some cases that meant literal death, that is stoning to death the offender, but otherwise it necessitated a sacrificial offering for sin – the death of an animal, by the shedding of blood, as an offering on behalf of the penitent.  It can be seen then, under Law, that while there is no mercy for some sin, there is mercy for other sin, but only through the shedding of blood in an intermediary offering.  While this gives us insight, in relation to Christ and His offering for sin, it also poses problems in the hearts of some legal-minded men.


The problem with all of our attempts at understanding what all this signifies, and how we are freed from guilt, and the judgement that is reserved for sin, is that we can only understand what we are capable of knowing.  In other words it is only to the extent that Christ’s sacrifice for sin has been efficacious in our lives that we are capable of formulating a sound understanding of doctrine.


The most brilliant legal mind speaks with the wisdom of man in his attempt to unravel the mystery of the death of Jesus for sin.  With all the diligence of the forensic expert he analyses scripture not for the sake of his personal perfection, but for the sake of his profession, as a man of wisdom in relation to scripture.  As we know the wisdom of man is foolishness to God we would do well if our approach to this subject was based on what we know rather than what we think we know.


It is only to the degree that we have lain our sins upon the Lord, and been set free from their power and are tasting the good fruits of His life, that we are capable of writing what we know, rather than what we deduce and presume to know.  The fact that these scriptures were written with an assurance that we as a body have failed to emulate gives us reason to pursue the purpose of their instruction, which is that we walk in the image of Christ. 


In what way does a technical argument on the substitutionary theory of Christ’s sacrifice for sin build me up into His likeness?  In what way does it enable me to be set free from the sin that clings so closely?  The entire argument of substitutionary sacrifice does nothing for the spiritual state of man; rather it is an attempt to salve a troubled conscience, superficially, that all is well.  By this I mean because a man believes he has peace with God through the all sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice he builds ramparts to the walls of his belief to fortify and strengthen his position.  If any man challenges his belief he bristles, not from concern for the other man, but from fear lest his own position is undermined.  Hence we have seen through history the persecution and even the burning of both saints and heretics.  A man who has real peace cannot lose that peace; he does not fear argument, or even the executioner, for the very ground of his being is peace.


Now in what practical, real way is Jesus death a substitute for my death?  As far as I am aware I will die!  If you claim that what is meant is merely a forgoing of punishment for sin, in other words that Jesus was punished vicariously for my sins and therefore come the day of Judgement I will claim the “Jesus died for me” defence and I will go free – this is unproven and unknown.  In other words it is a claim based not on what you know but rather on what you think you know to be true.  It is a faith built upon the logic of man rather than the knowledge of God.  It is a faith that can bring no experiential assurance for it has yet to be tested.


The faith I need, and which I seek, is the faith in a God who can free me from the burden and power of sin today.  I do not require a substitutionary death for my sins against some future judgement, but rather beholding the crucified Lord, I want to enter into, to share with Him, His death to sin.  I seek to be crucified with Him, to join with Him in His death, that I might enter into His life.  When one surveys every other alternative how is it possible to be anything other than ashamed to select a path other than the path to life?  In other words I seek salvation from my sins rather than a substitution for my punishment.


It is mildly amusing to read men’s accounts of how a just and loving God must mete out punishment to accomplish a perfect satisfaction to His righteous demands for Justice.  For to a God who says, “If I was hungry would I tell you?” I would add, “If I was satisfied would you understand?”  Surely God does not delight in sacrifice but rather in obedience.  Surely the sacrifice that finds favour in God’s sight is the one that pleases His heart.  In other words God is not requiring an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but love from a joyful satisfied heart.  When a lamb was offered up for sacrifice it wasn’t the death of the lamb that satisfied the Lord but the obedience of the man who had come to his senses.  If the sacrifice was offered aright it was a fragrant aroma to God, if it wasn’t, He said, “I have no regard for your sacrifices.”  There was nothing legalistic in the transaction.  Those who seek it do not understand the Law.


Likewise to say that Jesus was punished to appease God’s anger against us to satisfy the demands of the Law of a righteous God is puerile.  It presents God as a tragic, pathetic figure in need of our pity rather than our reverence.  It is an understanding borne not from a fount of love following spiritual renewal, but from a mind of legalism, a way of thought which Christ died to set us free.  We do not need to be set free from God’s wrath so much as from the power of sin.  For it is the power of sin that is the object of His wrath.


Jesus entered the world, the domain of sin, to affect a rescue.  He gave as a sign the sign of Jonah – Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of the whale until the depths released him.  “If you wish to plunder the strong man’s goods you must first bind the strong man.”  Jesus died to sin, to render it powerless, so that through Him we might be set free from its clutches.  It is not sufficient to say “Jesus died for sin therefore I am free” for we must join with Him in His death.  What else does it mean when Jesus says, “Unless you pick up your cross and follow you cannot be my disciple.”  When we are baptised into Christ we are baptised into His death.  When the chosen people were baptised into Moses in the Red Sea they still had to actually get to the other side, otherwise Pharaoh’s army would have taken them all back as slaves.  If we are still slaves of sin then Christ still stands before us as the way of life, there is still a sea to cross before we are free from our enemy.


God’s wrath is reserved for those in whom there is no longer hope of correction.  The sacrifice of Christ was to bring us to our senses, to have us face the horror of the spirit in which we have lived our lives.  He became a curse because we placed our curse upon Him.  We cursed God in Him and delivered Him up to death.  In forbearance, in mercy, He did not respond.  He did not die as a substitute for our sins but as the result of our sins. –“Against You only have we sinned!”  His death was the forbearance of God to pass over the sins previously committed.  Because God chose not to pour out His wrath against those who acted against His Son in hope that they face their sin does not mean that they have escaped His wrath.  It means that if they came to their senses in real repentance, horrified and hating their lives, He was willing to forgive, but if not, then their sins and hence their punishment remained.  If Christ was showing the forbearance and mercy of God how was God’s wrath resting on Him?