What is the greatest threat facing mankind?



Sam Storms:

What is the greatest threat facing mankind? Many would say it is climate change, while others would point to the increasing presence of radical Islamic fundamentalism. Others would highlight the uncertainties of our global economy or perhaps the potential for new diseases that are resistant to all medical remedies.

As important as those issues may be, the greatest threat to the eternal welfare of the human soul is divine judgment! The greatest threat to mankind in general and to individual men and women in particular, and that includes you and me, is that our sins have “made a separation” between us and God (cf. Isa. 59:2). Our greatest need, therefore, is that “eternal salvation” which in Hebrews we are told comes only from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ (Heb. 5:9).

And thus our greatest need is for someone in some manner to heal this breach, to interpose himself, as it were, and bridge the gap between us and God. We need someone in some manner to bring us back to God. We need someone to deal with this issue of our sins and to reconcile us to God. We need someone to serve as a go-between in our relationship with God. And we find this in Jesus Christ and in him alone.

Whatever you come to church to find in Jesus Christ, come first and foremost to find in him the cause and source of eternal salvation from the guilt and condemnation of sin, eternal salvation from the wrath of God, eternal salvation from the penalty of God’s holy law. The salvation that is found in Christ alone lasts forever and ever. It never ends. It begins in this life when you throw yourself on the mercy of the cross and lay claim to no works, no good deeds, no promises kept, no sins avoided.

The author of Hebrews holds forth this promise of eternal salvation for all who “obey” Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 5:9).

The obedience he has in view is to respond to the call for faith in Christ. It means to trust him, to cast your all upon him, to believe him when he claims to be God in human flesh, dying and rising again for sinners like you and me. To “obey” him is to hope in him and to “hold fast” (3:6, 14; 4:14) your “confession” that he is Lord and that he alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, can save you!

Just and Justifier


George Smeaton:

The design or final cause which God had in view in the whole matter of the atonement is next subjoined: that He might be just, and the justifier (Rom. 3:26). The allusion is to the concurrence or harmony of these two perfections of God. The word JUST, applied to God, means that He asserts just claims and inflicts just punishment. It is a perversion of language to interpret the term as if it could mean anything else than justice in the ordinary acceptation of the word among men made in the image of God. The contrast in which it is placed to divine forbearance, and the allusion to the propitiatory, allow no doubt as to its import Justice seemed to slumber during that period of forbearance; now it is displayed.

But this determines the character of the atonement Such language would be unmeaning, if it were not admitted that the atonement is in the proper sense of the word a satisfaction of divine justice. This single clause, therefore, fully warrants the expression in common use, notwithstanding all the objections which have been adduced against it as unfitting or unwarrantable. And when the apostle adds, “that He might be just, AND THE JUSTIFIER,” he alludes to the fact that these two apparently conflicting perfections, justice and grace, meet in full harmony on the cross: justice suffers no violence, and grace has full outlet.

The Doctrine of the Atonement, as Taught by the Apostles (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1870), 142-143.

(HT: The Old Guys)

What about those who have never heard?


Todd Pruitt:

It is a vexing question for many: “What about those who have never heard?” How can God hold accountable for believing the gospel those who have never heard the gospel? Certainly God cannot send a man to Hell for not believing when he never even had the opportunity to reject the gospel in the first place. The very idea flies in the face of all our notions of justice.

But the question itself is fatally flawed. Are we condemned for rejecting the gospel? Or are we condemned because we are sinners?

The following is a helpful thought experiment from Francis Schaeffer:

If every little baby that was ever born anywhere in the world had a tape recorder hung about its neck, and if this tape recorder only recorded the moral judgments with which this child as he grew bound other men, the moral precepts might be much lower than the biblical law, but they would still be moral judgments.

Eventually each person comes to that great moment when he stands before God as judge. Suppose, then, that God simply touched the tape recorder button and each man heard played out in his own words all those statements by which he had bound other men in moral judgment. He could hear it going on for years–thousands and thousands of moral judgments made against other men, not aesthetic judgments, but moral judgments.

Then God would simply say to the man, though he had never head the Bible, now where do you stand in the light of your own moral judgments? The Bible points out . . . that every voice would be stilled. All men would have to acknowledge that they have deliberately done those things which they knew to be wrong. Nobody could deny it.

We sin two kinds of sin. We sin one kind as though we trip off the curb, and it overtakes us by surprise. We sin a second kind of sin when we deliberately set ourselves up to fall. And no one can say he does not sin in the latter sense. Paul’s comment is not just theoretical and abstract, but addressed to the individual–“O man”–any man without the Bible, as well as the man with the Bible.

. . . God is completely just. A man is judged and found wanting on the same basis on which he has tried to bind others.

–Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, 2d ed. (Crossway, 1985), pp. 49-50.

How God’s Wrath Equals and Reveals God’s Worth


Jonathan Leeman:

The “penal” in the doctrine of penal substitution, being tied to God’s wrath, has long been a source of controversy inside the church and out. It’s criticized as overly “legal” or “forensic.” People want to look to the cross and talk about Christ’s love, not his enduring the divine penalty.

But it’s worth stopping for a moment and meditating on what is behind a penalty. What is behind wrath? The answer is God’s worthiness or God’s worth. God’s wrath is equal to God’s worth, and that the “penal” in penal substitution therefore reveals this very worth.

Wrath and worth are perfectly matched together. The former takes the measure of the latter and expresses itself accordingly. One is as precious as the other.

So drop the “penal” from penal substitution and you diminish God dramatically. Despise his wrath and you despise his worth.

To see this, it’s worth meditating for a moment on what the purpose of law is. The Reformers talked about the law as restraining sin, condemning sin, and revealing God’s character. Political and legal philosophers will point to the law’s role in maintaining order, protecting the defenseless, or guaranteeing freedom. Each of these is helpful for its part.

But a theme that runs through all of these explanations is the idea of protecting something precious or worthy.

It’s against the law to murder because life is precious. It’s against the law to steal because property is precious. It’s against God’s law to lie because truth is precious. Every five year old who values his toys and every king who values his gold understands this much about law. That’s why both will declare, “Don’t touch these things, or else!” One might say that laws function like a castle wall or a security systems. People erect walls and install alarm systems when they want to guard something precious.

This is why breaking a law results in a penalty. Penalties are typically measured to match the significance of the violation, that is, the preciousness of the thing being protected by the law. The more precious the thing being protected, the severer the penalty. When no penalty follows a broken law, one assumes the matter must not be that important or precious.

Penalties teach. They declare the worth of something.

My siblings and I discovered at a young age that lying to our parents yielded a stronger penalty than squabbling over a toy. The lesson we learned from the difference? The truth is more precious than toys.

No one likes the idea of penalties, of course, but a penalty is the very thing that makes a law meaningful as a guardian of worth. If the law is the sentry guarding that which is precious, the penalty is the sentry’s pointy bayonet. It gives the law its prick, substance, meaning.

Looking at God’s law from this angle, we see that God’s law is the infinitely high wall that protects his infinite worthiness and glory. It’s the guardian and revealer of his glory. To contravene his law is to disregard his infinite worthiness. When you say “no” to God, you effetively say, “God, what you think doesn’t mean much to me, because you don’t mean much to me.”

Though Anselm’s satisfaction theory of the atonement didn’t say everything that should be said about what happened at the cross, what he said, I think, captures an element of Christ’s work that formulations of penal substitution sometimes forget to mention: God’s honor is impugned by sin. And that honor must be vindicated, or satisfied. And that satisfaction must be infinite. The doctrine of penal substitution fills out the details of Anselm’s theory by observing that the offense against his honor is made manifest, as it were, through the transgression of God’s law. The law requires a penalty. The penalty is God’s wrath. God’s wrath, after all, is the jealous guardian of God’s glory. God’s glory was then demonstrated at the cross—among other ways—by showing that God’s law really did require a penalty for transgressions against it (Rom. 3:25-26).

Why do we want to preserve a “legal” or “forensic” understanding of the atonement and a strong concept of wrath? Because, unless we want to be idolaters, we must concede that the most precious thing in the universe is God and his glory.  God’s infinite worthiness and preciousness will, intrinsically to itself, yield a counterpart—God’s law. God’s law is the fitting and perfectly matched protector of God’s infinite worthiness. To depreciate God’s law is to depreciate God’s worthiness, plain and simple.

The penal in penal substitution, likewise, is matched to the infinite preciousness and worthiness of God. His wrath is an indication of how infinitely glorious and precious he is.

To say that Adam’s sin should not have resulted in death; to say that our sins do not result in God’s wrath; to shy away from mentioning God’s wrath in private or public; to say that penal substitution is overly obsessed with legal categories or overemphasizes the role of God’s law; to say that the significance of Christ’s death is diminished by bringing it into the realm of the law court; to say that the demands of God’s law do not have to be satisfied; to declare a forensic declaration of “righteous” merely a “legal fiction”; to caricature the Son’s propitiation of the Father’s wrath as “divine child abuse”—all this is to miss the role of God’s law in protecting and declaring the worthiness of God; and therefore it is to belittle his ineffable worthiness and glory, like trampling on a precious flower times infinity.

Let me ratchet it up one more notch: if the world, the flesh, and the devil desire, above all else, to diminish the godness of God, and to deceive us into thinking we can be “like God,” there can be no more dangerous lie in the universe than to deny God’s wrath and to redefine the gospel in a way that subtly massages the penal out of penal substitution—kind of like when someone said to Eve, “You will not surely die.”

But in a world of self-justifiers and wannabe gods, the idea of God’s wrath will always be the first domino the devil tries to topple. “You surely won’t die. Nah, you are worth far too much!”

Jonathan Leeman (@JonathanDLeeman) is the editoral director at 9Marks, an elder at the Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and the author of several books on the church.

God’s wrath and mercy belong together

“The cross is the perfect statement both of God’s wrath against sin and of the depth of his love and mercy in the recovery of the damaged creation and its damagers.  God’s mercy, patience, and love must be fully preached in the church.  But they are not credible unless they are presented in tension with God’s infinite power, complete and sovereign control of the universe, holiness, and righteousness.  And where God’s righteousness is clearly presented, compassionate warnings of his holy anger against sin must be given, and warnings also of the certainty of divine judgment in endless alienation from God which will be unimaginably worse than the literal descriptions of hell.  It is no wonder that the world and the church are not awakened when our leadership is either singing a lullaby concerning these matters or presenting them in a caricature which is so grotesque that it is unbelievable.

The tension between God’s holy righteousness and his compassionate mercy cannot be legitimately resolved by remolding his character into an image of pure benevolence as the church did in the nineteenth century.  There is only one way that this contradiction can be removed: through the cross of Christ which reveals the severity of God’s anger against sin and the depth of his compassion in paying its penalty through the vicarious sacrifice of his Son.  In systems which resolve this tension by softening the character of God, Christ and his work become an addendum, and spiritual darkness becomes complete because the true God has been abandoned for the worship of a magnified image of human tolerance.”

– Richard Lovelace, Dynamics for Spiritual Life, 84-85

(HT: Timmy Brister)

Justice & Mercy are Reconciled at the Cross

“How can God have mercy on sinners without destroying justice? What can it mean that God forgives iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clears the guilty (Ex. 34:7)? How can a righteous and holy God justify the ungodly (Rom. 4:5)?

The answer to all these questions is found at the cross of Calvary, in Jesus’ substitutionary death for his people. A righteous and holy God can justify the ungodly because in Jesus’ death, mercy and justice were perfectly reconciled. The curse was rightly executed, and we were mercifully saved.”

– Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel? (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 69.

(HT: Of First Importance)

Three Precious Words

This piece from Todd Pruitt sums up the thrust of my teaching here in Rwanda.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for fall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
- Romans 3:21-26

Martin Luther refered to Romans 3:21-26 as, ““the chief point, and the very central place of the epistle, and of the whole Bible.” There are three words in this text that ought to be a part of every Christian’s personal lexicon.

1. Redemption
We are “justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (v.24).
Redemption applies to our bondage to sin. It carries with it the notion of being purchased. In this case we have been bought back from slavery to sin. We are told in 1 Corinthians 6 that we have been “bought with a price.” The purchase price of our redemption was the death of God’s beloved Son. In 1 Corinthians 1 we’re told that Christ has “become our redemption.” In Titus 2:14 Paul tells us that Jesus, “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

2. Propitiation
“…Whom God put forward as a propitiation, by his blood, to be received by faith” (v.25).

Propitiation applies to God’s wrath toward us as sinners and rebels. To propitiate is to turn away wrath. John Murray writes, “To propitiate means to placate, pacify, appease, conciliate.” Propitiation, the satisfaction of God’s wrath, is an idea that is attacked quite often. But it is essential to our understanding of ourselves, our understanding of God, and our understanding of what God has done to save us.

We will never understand the cross apart from a proper appreciation for God’s wrath. Graham Cole writes, “Wrath seems unworthy of God only if our own sense of sin has become so atrophied that we think that it is God’s business to forgive it” (74). James Denney in his classicThe Death of Christ wrote:
“Christ’s death, we may paraphrase (Romans 3:25), is an act in which God does justice to himself…He would not do justice to himself if he displayed his compassion for sinners in a way which made light of sin, which ignored its tragic reality, or took it for less than it is. In this case he would again be doing himself an injustice.”

Christ’s atoning work on the cross fundamentally changed God’s attitude toward us. We moved from being “children of wrath” (Eph 2) to being children of mercy. This is why we sing, “In my place condemned he stood. Hallelujuah! What a Saviour!”

3. Justification
Justification applies to the reality of our guilt and the alienation that comes from that. Justification presupposes two realities: 1) God is our Judge and 2) our problem is that we are guilty. And just as people resist propitiation because it necessitates belief in God’s wrath, people resist justification because it necessitates belief that God is Judge.

Theologian Miraslav Volf, a Croation who experienced first hand the bloody war in the former Yugoslavia and was himself tortured helps us understand the importance of God as Judge:

To the person inclined to dismiss [divine judgment], I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone. Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers had their throats slit. The topic of the lecture: A Christian attitude toward violence. The thesis: We should not retaliate since God is perfect noncoercive love. Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent it will invariably die (Cole, 76).

We all need to be justified. We need to be made right. We need to be fit in such a way that we will not be obliterated the moment we appear before a God who is holy. To be justified means that we have received the pronouncement of “not guilty” from our Righteous Judge. And this extraordinary change from guilty sinner to justified saint all comes about by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Justification is both acquittal and acceptance. That is to say, it involves both the forgiveness of sins and the receiving of the righteousness of Christ. God not only declares us “Not guilty!”, he also declares us “Righteous!” Pardon alone would leave us spiritually naked with no righteousness. Pardon might save us from hell but it alone is not enough to bring us into the presence of God. For this we need the fullness of Justification.

Paul is amazed by God’s grace. He is not surprised that the God of the Scriptures is gracious. He is well acquainted with God’s grace throughout human history. What amazes Paul is that the God of grace shows His grace and bestows His grace in such a way that His justice is not compromised.

In Proverbs 17 God Himself had said, “Cursed is the judge who condemns the innocent and who acquits the guilty.” But we are being told here that God, the Judge, does indeed acquit the guilty. And this is the thrilling reality of the gospel. Because in the gospel, God’s justice and His righteousness and His grace and His mercy are all displayed side by side, never warring against or contradicting one another. The cross is where the holy justice and tender mercy of God meet in a beautiful expression of God’s perfections.

Our Representative & Our Substitute

“God displays his righteousness by judging sin as sin deserves, but the judgment is diverted from the guilty and put on to the shoulders of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God acting as wrath absorber. The atonement had to be costly because it was necessary in light of the nature of God, which must inflict retributive punishment on sin. A marvelous wisdom of God consists in his establishing the Lord Jesus as our representative and our substitute because only he could bear and absorb the judgment due to us. Being our representative makes him our substitute, and so he suffers and we go free . . ..”

– J. I. Packer, “The Necessity of the Atonement” in Atonement, ed. Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2010), 15-16.

(HT: Of First Importance)

What Does the Cross Demonstrate?

Thabiti Anyabwile has reprinted a helpful section from Sinclair Ferguson’s Growing in Grace. Ferguson asks,

“How do we find the grace of God in the cross? How has it become God’s instrument of salvation to those who have faith?”

His answer is that the cross of Christ demonstrates:

  1. the love of God
  2. the justice of God
  3. the wisdom of God

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Does God Hate Haiti?

Albert Mohler’s comments are worth quoting at length:

Does God hate Haiti? That is the conclusion reached by many, who point to the earthquake as a sign of God’s direct and observable judgment.

God does judge the nations — all of them — and God will judge the nations. His judgment is perfect and his justice is sure. He rules over all the nations and his sovereign will is demonstrated in the rising and falling of nations and empires and peoples. Every molecule of matter obeys his command, and the earthquakes reveal his reign — as do the tides of relief and assistance flowing into Haiti right now.

A faithful Christian cannot accept the claim that God is a bystander in world events. The Bible clearly claims the sovereign rule of God over all his creation, all of the time. We have no right to claim that God was surprised by the earthquake in Haiti, or to allow that God could not have prevented it from happening.

God’s rule over creation involves both direct and indirect acts, but his rule is constant. The universe, even after the consequences of the Fall, still demonstrates the character of God in all its dimensions, objects, and occurrences. And yet, we have no right to claim that we know why a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti happened at just that place and at just that moment.

The arrogance of human presumption is a real and present danger. We can trace the effects of a drunk driver to a car accident, but we cannot trace the effects of voodoo to an earthquake — at least not so directly. Will God judge Haiti for its spiritual darkness? Of course. Is the judgment of God something we can claim to understand in this sense — in the present? No, we are not given that knowledge. Jesus himself warned his disciples against this kind of presumption. [see Luke 13:1-5]

Why did no earthquake shake Nazi Germany? Why did no tsunami swallow up the killing fields of Cambodia? Why did Hurricane Katrina destroy far more evangelical churches than casinos? Why do so many murderous dictators live to old age while many missionaries die young?

Does God hate Haiti? God hates sin, and will punish both individual sinners and nations. But that means that every individual and every nation will be found guilty when measured by the standard of God’s perfect righteousness. God does hate sin, but if God merely hated Haiti, there would be no missionaries there; there would be no aid streaming to the nation; there would be no rescue efforts — there would be no hope.

The earthquake in Haiti, like every other earthly disaster, reminds us that creation groans under the weight of sin and the judgment of God. This is true for every cell in our bodies, even as it is for the crust of the earth at every point on the globe. The entire cosmos awaits the revelation of the glory of the coming Lord. Creation cries out for the hope of the New Creation.

In other words, the earthquake reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only real message of hope. The cross of Christ declares that Jesus loves Haiti — and the Haitian people are the objects of his love. Christ would have us show the Haitian nation his love, and share his Gospel. In the midst of this unspeakable tragedy, Christ would have us rush to aid the suffering people of Haiti, and rush to tell the Haitian people of his love, his cross, and salvation in his name alone.

Everything about the tragedy in Haiti points to our need for redemption. This tragedy may lead to a new openness to the Gospel among the Haitian people. That will be to the glory of God. In the meantime, Christ’s people must do everything we can to alleviate the suffering, bind up the wounded, and comfort the grieving. If Christ’s people are called to do this, how can we say that God hates Haiti?

If you have any doubts about this, take your Bible and turn to John 3:16.For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. That is God’s message to Haiti.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

No more “. . . or else.”


From Ray Ortlund:

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”  Galatians 3:13

What is the curse of the law?  It is the or-else-ness of the law: “Do this, or else.”  Christ took the or-else-ness of the law onto himself at the cross, so that there is no more or-else for anyone in Christ, as God looks upon us now.  Or-else is gone forever from your relationship with God.

“We, being delivered from these everlasting terrors and anguish through Christ, shall enjoy an everlasting and inestimable peace and happiness.”

Martin Luther, commentary on Galatians 3:13.

Not Without Jesus

From Anthony Carter at the Gospel Coalition blog:

At a recent prayer meeting someone asked the question, “How do people make it in this world without Jesus?” The answer to that question is that they don’t.

There is a sentence of death over every one who has not professed faith in Jesus Christ. This sentence is executable at any moment. And the only reason that it is not executed and the sinner is not immediately experiencing the terrible judgment due for sin is because of the grace and mercy of God.

Yet, even more is the reality that instead of having the sentence immediately executed, millions of people experience the grace and mercy of sunshine and rain; seed time and harvest. The fact that there is any light or joy in the life of a sinner is owing to God’s desire to show mercy and to be longsuffering.

Nevertheless, those who have come into the knowledge of the truth and have experienced the forgiving grace of God in Jesus Christ are aware of the pending danger of judgment upon the unrepentant and thus we plead with them, even in the midst of God’s longsuffering and patience, to repent and believe. We plead with them because God will not strive with them forever and without repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ, judgment for their sin is coming. The sun they take for granted will be darkened, a perpetual night will grip their soul, and they will know the true nature of their sin and the necessary punishment for it. It is a terror just to contemplate. And so we say with all our energy, “Flee from the wrath that is sure to come! Flee to the mercy of Jesus Christ!”

Everlasting life is not possible without Jesus. Neither is life in this world. Those who acknowledge it in this world will have life in the next. Those who don’t, won’t.

Three Questions

John PiperDesiring God, p.60 | “When every human being stands before God on the Day of judgment, God would not have to use one sentence of Scripture to show us our guilt and the appropriateness of our condemnation. He would only need to ask three questions:

1. Was it not plain in nature that everything you had was a gift and that you were dependent on your Maker for life and breath and everything?

2. Did not the judicial sentiment in your own heart always hold other people guilty when they lacked gratitude they should have had in response to a kindness you performed?

3. Has your life been filled with gratitude and trust towards Me in proportion to My generosity and authority?

Case closed.”

(HT: Symphony of Scripture)

“God himself gave himself to save us from himself.”

“According to the Christian revelation, God’s own great love propitiated his own holy wrath through the gift of his own dear Son, who took our place, bore our sin and died our death. Thus God himself gave himself to save us from himself.”

—John Stott, The Message of Romans (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press,  1994), 115

(HT: Of First Importance)

Redeeming love and retributive justice

“God’s wrath is his righteousness reacting against unrighteousness; it shows itself in retributive justice. But Jesus Christ has shielded us from the nightmare of retributive justice by becoming our representative substitute, in obedience to His Father’s will, and receiving the wages of our sin in our place.”


“Redeeming love and retributive justice joined hands, so to speak, at Calvary, for there God showed Himself to be ‘just, and the justifer of him who hath faith in Jesus’.

Do you understand this? If you do, you are now seeing to the very heart of the Christian gospel. No version of that message goes deeper than that which declares man’s root problem before God to be his sin, which evokes wrath, and God’s basic provision for man to be propitiation, which out of wrath brings peace.”

– J.I. Packer, In My Place Condemned He Stood (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 40-41.

(HT: Of First Importance)

The Great Exchange

John Flavel:

Lord, the condemnation was yours,
that the justification might be mine.

The agony was yours,
that the victory might be mine.

The pain was yours,
and the ease mine.

The stripes were yours,
and the healing balm issuing from them mine.

The vinegar and gall were yours,
that the honey and sweet might be mine.

The curse was yours,
that the blessing might be mine.

The crown of thorns was yours,
that the crown of glory might be mine.

The death was yours,
the life purchased by it mine.

You paid the price
that I might enjoy the inheritance.

John Flavel (1671), from his sermon, “The Solemn Consecration of the Mediator,” in The Fountain of Life Opened Up: or, A Display of Christ in His Essential and Mediatorial Glory.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Substitution Is Not a “Theory of the Atonement”!

By Kevin DeYoung

kevindeyoungIn chapter 7 of The Cross of Christ, John Stott looks at the four principal New Testament images of salvation, taken from the shrine (propitiation), the market (redemption), the court of law (justification) and the home (reconciliation). This beautiful chapter on “The Salvation of Sinners” ends with a masterful summary of the four images (198-99).

“First, each highlights a different aspect of our human need. Propitiation underscores the wrath of God upon us, redemption our captivity to sin, justification our guilt, and reconciliation our enmity against God and alienation from him. These metaphors do not flatter us. They expose the magnitude of our need.”

“Second, all four images emphasize that the saving initiative was taken by God in his love. It is he who has propitiated his own wrath, redeemed us from our miserable bondage, declared us righteous in his sight and reconciled us to himself.” Texts like 1 John 4:10; Luke 1:68; Rom. 8:33; and 2 Cor. 5:18 remind us of this precious truth.

“Third, all four images plainly teach that God’s saving work was achieved through the bloodshedding, that is, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ.” Again, Stott reminds us of the most important texts that make this point: Rom. 3:25; Eph. 1:7; Rom. 5:9; Eph. 2:13; Col. 1:20.

The chapter concludes with a much needed paragraph for our day. Everyone who marginalizes penal substitution by calling it a “theory” (like one of the blurbs on the back of the book does), everyone who minimizes this doctrine by making it just one aspect of the atonement, everyone who shies away from this teaching in a misguided effort to rescue the love of God, everyone who undermines this essential truth by refusing to declare it confidently in plain, unambiguous terms, should pay careful attention to this concluding paragraph.

So substitution is not a “theory of the atonement.” Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others. It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself. None of the four images could stand without it. I am not of course saying that it is necessary to understand, let alone articulate, a substitutionary atonement before one can be saved. Yet the responsibility of Christian teachers, preachers and other witnesses is to seek grace to expound it with clarity and conviction. For the better people understand the glory of the divine substitution, the easier it will be for them to trust in the Substitute.