Everything flowing from the cross

john-piper“Christ is the glory of God. His blood-soaked cross is the blazing center of that glory. By it He bought for us every blessing–temporal and eternal. And we don’t deserve any. He bought them all. Because of Christ’s cross, God’s elect are destined to be sons of God. Because of His cross all guilt is removed, and sins are forgiven, and perfect righteousness is imputed to us, and the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Spirit, and we are being conformed to the image of Christ.

Therefore, every enjoyment in this life and the next that is not idolatry is a tribute to the infinite value of the cross of Christ–the burning center of the glory of God. And thus a cross-centered, cross-exalting, cross-saturated life is a God-glorifying life–the only God-glorifying life. All others are wasted.”

– John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 59.

(HT: Of First Importance)

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

12 thoughts on “Everything flowing from the cross

  1. What bothers me is that people like Piper understand the cross as a sort of electric chair which we deserved but Jesus stepped into. We sinners deserve damnation for our sin, yet that would mean Jesus was damned in our place. Piper recognizes this and has clearly admitted that Jesus was effectively damned in our place. But surely something so abominable cannot be true.

    • Nick,
      It is profoundly true and precisely why the gospel is good news, since it is the only ground of salvation. “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [God the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [our union with Jesus through faith] we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Cor.5:21) Hence Paul’s appeal in the previous verse to be reconciled to God on that basis. Yes, it is appalling that the infinitely holy Son of God should be punished instead of me, paying the wages for sin, but it’s the only way that God could be just, AND the justifier of those who trust Christ. (Rom.3:26) Don’t you think that’s what makes Jesus so precious and praiseworthy, and my sin so grievous to God?
      Thanks for your comment.
      Pete

      • Pete, I see nothing in “made sin” mean what you are saying. What about “made sin” automatically means punishment? It looks like reading into the text. That doesn’t sound like solid enough ground to me to build up a doctrine saying Jesus was damned in your place.

      • Hi Nick,
        The whole sacrificial system under the old covenant showed that the death of a substitute was the only sufficient means of atonement. God said from the outset that disobedience/sin would result in the death of the sinner. Jesus is the ante-type or fulfillment of the old covenant system. He alone is able to bear away sin through his death since he was sinless. So Jesus bears our curse by suffering in our place thus becoming a curse for us. God’s justice is satisfied and his mercy and grace made available to those trusting Christ. All because God is willing to transfer my guilt to Jesus (hence him being punished in my place), and Jesus’ righteousness credited to me by faith. Some one must take the punishment for sin, either sinful men and women (that means eternal damnation), or God’s ‘ spotless lamb’ (Jesus). He alone is worthy to die in our place since he had no sin of his own. The resurrection, ascension, and the out poured Spirit are all evidences of Christ’s accomplishing and God the Father accepting his offering.
        Pete

  2. Hi Pete,

    You said something I think deserves careful attention: “The whole sacrificial system under the old covenant showed that the death of a substitute was the only sufficient means of atonement.”

    I’ve actually looked into this issue as carefully as I could, and I don’t believe that is the framework by which OT sacrifices operated. For example the “fellowship offerings” of Lev 3 involved killing animals, but these offerings were not concerning sin. The “sin offering” of Lev 5 allowed for a sack of flour to be offered for atonement, so it could not have been a “life for life” framework. Elsewhere where we see heros make atonement in the OT there is no transfer of punishment required, the most famous prefigure of Christ in this regard is Phinehas in Num 25:1-13.

    If we are going to look to the OT as a large arrow pointing us in the proper direction for how to understand Christ’s sacrifice, I believe “penal substitution” is not to be found.

    • Hi Nick,
      You said, “penal substitution is not to be found” in the OT. Check out Ex.12; Lev.16; Isa.52:13 – 53:12. In the end all the ‘types’ take there meaning from the ‘ante-type’. Not the other way round! That is, Christ makes clear and explicates any mystery in the ‘shadows’ of OT practice. Christ clearly suffered in our place (1Peter 2:21-24; 3:18) otherwise we are still in our sins. It seems you do not hold to ‘penal substitutionary atonement’. I can recommend ‘pierced for our transgressions’, as an excellent case for PSA, along with ‘in my place condemned he stood’, by Packer and Dever.
      Thanks for your comments,
      Pete

  3. Hi Pete,

    You asked me to check out Ex.12; Lev.16; Isa.53.

    In my studies of Scripture, I have looked into these passages. Ex 12 is regarding the Passover, yet nowhere does it say the Lamb was an object of wrath or even killed for sins, in fact Ex 11:4-7 makes it clear God’s wrath was never on the Israelites! As for Lev 16, I don’t see any evidence of a transfer of punishment. The scapegoat is the only animal said to have sins confessed over it, yet it was kept alive, and that doesn’t make sense with “penal substitution.” As for Is 53, I’ve carefully examined it and believe nothing is indicating a transfer of punishment either, for example, 53:4 is quoted in Mat 8:16-17 and has nothing to do with transfering punishment, 53:5 speaks of “chastisement” which is not the same as a judicial transfer of punishment, 53:11 calls this a “sin offering” but that is the Lev 5 type of offering I spoke of above, and 53:12 says this happened because Jesus “made intercession” which means stepping between two parties to reconcile them, not transfer the punishment.

    I DO believe Christ suffered for us, I just don’t believe penal substitution is the method it happened. I believe 1 Peter 2, starting at v18 explains the value of Christ’s suffering as a matter of suffering out of obedience is what pleases God, not the transfer of punishment. I do have a hard time accepting “penal substitution” precisely because I have studied the Bible in depth and cannot find sufficient evidence for it.

    I did recently get the book Pierced for Our Transgressions, so maybe after reading it my mind will change, but I cannot just change my mind before I examine the Biblical evidence it presents.

    • Hi Nick,
      I don’t see how you can arrive at the conclusion that punishment for sin is not in view either in the old covenant types or in Christ’s suffering and death. If it is not, sin is reduced to an idea/concept and not a literal moral offense against an infinitely holy God, worthy of punishment by death. After all, “the wrath of God is revealed… against all ungodliness…” Some one must bear his “wrath” – the sinner or the ‘propitiating’ substitute. I applaud your desire to wrestle with the text before engaging with other commentators, but the two are not mutually exclusive of course; an alternate view could be more accurate. You might find Tom Schreiner’s essay in ‘the nature of the atonement’ helpful in that regard.
      I appreciate your thoughts,
      Pete

  4. Hi,

    I’m not trying to be heavy, but I see no clear evidence there was a transfer of punishment, especially in case of a sin offering where a sack of flour would be the one “receiving the punishment.”

    I realize your concern about sin being reduced somehow, but we have to be careful not to allow human philosophy to interfere with how the Bible views the forgiveness of sin. If the Bible doesn’t describe it in terms of a transfer of punishment, then any philosophical arguments must be subordinate.

    You said: “Some one must bear his “wrath” – the sinner or the ‘propitiating’ substitute.”

    But again, the clear testimony of Scripture says otherwise. Moses and Phinehas, among others, are clearly said to turn away God’s wrath by making atonement, yet these heroes never became the recipients of that wrath (eg Num 25:1-13). The very definition of “propitiation” means to turn away wrath, never to become the recipient of it. If a father is mad enough to spank his children, his wife can propitiate his wrath by making his favorite food, after which point he is no longer mad. What you would be suggesting is the father beating his wife instead of the children, but that’s not “propitiation.”

    • Hi Nick,
      It’s not human philosophy that explains transfer of guilt to an innocent substitute in atonement – it’s exegesis! That you can’t accept this doesn’t make it untrue or unbiblical.
      The text you site from Judges actually includes judgment upon guilty parties, thus averting (through satisfying God’s judicial right) wrath from the people as a whole. Jesus propitiates God’s wrath by dying (“by his blood”) in our place (Rom.3:21-26). By being credited with our sin (He made sin for us) Jesus is punished in our place (receiving the wages of sin), thus averting the wrath/punishment due to us. I can’t see why you can’t see transfer here. If we are willing to accept the transfer of Christ’s righteousness to us by faith (the only thing that qualifies us before God), which I presume you do, then should we not also accept, and rejoice in, the Saviour’s being made sin for us. The Atonement only works if it is a two way transfer.
      The human analogy you refer to does not correspond to the reality of God’s justice and our guilt, and his provision of a fitting substitute.
      Blessings,
      Pete

  5. What passage are you exegeting that clearly teaches transfer of guilt? How do you explain a sack of flour for a sin offering having a punishment transferred to it?

    As for judgment on the guilty parties in Num 25, that is incorrect. Only 2 people of the many who engaged in idolatry received a punishment. Many who should have died did not, and it was due to Phinehas’ heroics, not any transfer of punishment. Phinehas was said to make atonement and turn away God’s wrath, yet “atonement” is illogical if the situations involves the guilty receiving their just punishment.

    You say “I can’t see why you can’t see transfer here,” but I would respond by saying you are reading “by being credited with our sin” into the text. I cannot find a single text CLEARLY saying sin is imputed/credited to Christ.

    As for receiving the “transfer of Christ’s righteousness,” I honestly cannot find that in Scripture either.

    My human analogy was for the purpose of explaining the concept of “propitiation,” not to make a direct correspondence with God.

    • Nick,
      I mentioned the Judges passage to emphasize God’s justice. Any propitiation under the old covenant is based upon Christ’s “superior” (because effective) sacrifice. The detail/interpretation is in His atoning death, not the ‘types’, although they correlate substantively, if not comprehensively. It makes me wonder upon what you base salvation? If not the penal substitution of Christ, and the imputation of his righteousness to those that would have Him as their ‘scapegoat,’ their ‘substitute lamb’, the alternative is ‘works’ righteousness. Phineas may have acted on behalf of the people, but actual atonement is in Christ (the ante-type) alone. The author of Hebrews says, “to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself,” being “once offered up to bear the sins of many” (9:26, 28) Upon what/whom do you rely for salvation? I’m sure you would say Christ and His atonement, and I recognize there are other aspects to the atonement, but all find their effectiveness and sufficiency through His penal substitutionary death. Even Christ’s ‘victory’ over the Devil only works if all just cause/grounds for accusation and condemnation is removed. He removed it by bearing our guilt. Every text I’ve quoted and alluded to supports this interpretation. The clearest in the OT is Isa.53.

      The redemptive work of Christ was clearly more than an act of representation or mediation, even though Scripture does look upon Jesus Christ as the federal representative of His people and as the only Mediator between God and men. In human transactions, a mediator or negotiator between adversarial parties may facilitate agreement, but he need not also — as a substitute for one of the parties (or both) — be the one who performs the service or pays the price involved in the eventual contract or resolution. An attorney can represent his client in a court of law, pleading before the bar, without also as a substitute for that client becoming the one who undergoes the punishment imposed by the judge. Christ our Savior did more than represent or mediate for us to God. Isaiah the prophet was granted by God a clear and poignant vision of this truth: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities…. Jehovah has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:5-6). How shall God’s Righteous Servant “justify many”? Isaiah wrote: “it pleased Jehovah to bruise him; He has put him to grief,” making his life (or soul) an “offering for sin…. He shall bear their iniquities” (vv. 10-11).

      Greg Bahnsen (http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pt156.htm)

      I suggest you get back to me when you’ve had chance to interact with Luther, Calvin, Owen, Spurgeon, Packer, Stott, Piper, Jeffry/Ovey/Sach, et al.
      Pete

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