The Hill We All Must Die On – Four Questions to Ask About Atonement

Stephen Wellum: The doctrine of penal substitution is under attack today — and that’s an understatement. From voices outside of evangelical theology to those within, the historic Reformation view of the cross is claimed to be a “modern” invention from the cultural West. Others criticize the doctrine as sanctioning violence, privileging divine retributive justice over God’s love, condoning a form of divine child abuse, reducing Scripture’s polychrome presentation of the cross to a lifeless monochrome, being too “legal” in orientation, and so on. All of these charges are not new. All of them have been argued since the end of the 16th century, and all of them are false. Yet such charges reflect the corrosive effects of false ideas on theology and a failure to account for how the Bible, on its own terms, interprets the cross. Given the limitations of this article, I cannot fully respond to these charges. Instead, I will briefly state four truths that unpack the

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What makes ‘Good Friday’ good?

Sam Storms: If you plan on being in Oklahoma City on Friday, April 18, I want to invite you to join us for our traditional “Good Friday” service at 6:30 p.m. in our auditorium. I would also encourage you to invite friends and family members who may not know Jesus and his saving love. This will be a wonderful time for them to hear a short and pointed presentation of the gospel. So, why do we speak of the Friday when Jesus was brutalized and crucified as good? It would almost seem as if there could hardly be a day that is worse! In one sense, you are correct. Jesus was unjustly tried, lied about, scourged, and sadistically crucified. But in a far more ultimate sense this was immeasurably good. It was good for two reasons. First, the crucifixion of Jesus, as horrible and unjust as it was, fulfilled God’s plan. Peter declared this in Acts 4:27-28 by reminding us that, in crucifying

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Salvation by Propitiation

Kevin DeYoung: There are many biblical ways to describe Christian salvation. Salvation can be understood ritually as a sacrifice, as the expiation of guilt through the death of Christ on the cross. Salvation can be understood commercially as redemption, as a payment made through the blood of Christ for the debt we owe because of sin. Salvation can be understood relationally as reconciliation, as the coming together of estranged parties by means of Christ’s at-one-ment. Salvation can be understood legally as justification, as the declaration that sins have been forgiven and that the sinner stands blameless before God because of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. There is, of course, more that can be said about salvation. But each description above captures something important about the nature of Christ’s saving work. And each description holds together because the death of Christ is—not over and above these images, but inherent and essential to these images—a propitiation. Propitiation is used in the New Testament to describe the pacifying, placating, or appeasing of God’s wrath. The easiest

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Christ Our Ransom

Jared Wilson: Like many others, I have been moved over the last several years to repeatedly reassert the biblical emphasis on Christ’s propitiating work on the cross in what is typically called the “penal substitution” view of the atonement—for instance, devoting an entire chapter to it as the “sharp edge of the atonement” in my book Gospel Deeps and another whole chapter defending it from recent critiques in a forthcoming book (2020) with Thomas Nelson. But penal substitution is of course not the whole of the atonement. The gospel is more multifaceted than that, and one of the least considered facets is Christ as our ransom. Psalm 49 establishes a dilemma of direst condition: Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice . . .  (49:7-8) The condition of man since the fall is one of bondage to sin and corruption from death. Having

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How do Jesus’ wounds heal our diseases?

Tim Chester: Did Jesus heal our diseases at the cross? When you read Isaiah’s great song about the servant of the LORD the answer seems pretty straight-forward: Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering … the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5) Did Jesus heal our diseases at the cross? Yes. Our pain, our suffering, our wounds are all healed through the cross. The problem But there’s an obvious problem with this: our diseases are not all healed. Colin is claiming this promise for his cancer. ‘By his wounds we are healed,’ he says, ‘and therefore God will heal my cancer – I just need to believe.’ I admire his confidence. Or is it desperation? I’m not sure. I do know I’ve been a pastor too long to share his confidence. I’ve seen too many people who were convinced God had promised to heal them only for

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What is the theology of the cross?

Here, Robert Kolb gives a brief description of the theology of the cross that Martin Luther developed through reading the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians. The theology of the cross directs us away from all attempts to speculate about God as he is hidden behind nature or the clouds of our imagination. The theology of the cross directs us to God in human flesh, God on the cross, God raised from the dead. To all the modern questions about what truth might be and what kind of claim truth might have on us, the God who is revealed in crib, cross, and crypt seizes us anew as we present him to those who have lost their way. We introduce our God on his cross. We witness to God revealed as Jesus, on the cross. For people who are dissatisfied with their old identity, the cross helps explain why they do not “feel good” about themselves. The theology of the

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The Vertical Dimensions of the Cross

Nicolas T. Batzig: The Scriptures give us a robust revelation about all that Jesus accomplished on the cross. As we go about seeking to categorize all of the various dimensions of the cross, we discover that there are both vertical and horizontal dimensions to Jesus’ work. The vertical dimensions are foundational; the horizontal are consequential. The vertical dimensions include Jesus’ defeat of Satan (Gen. 3:15; John 12:31; Col. 2:15), His propitiating the wrath of God (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:7; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), His atoning for our sin (Heb. 1:3; Rom. 4:7–8), His breaking the power of sin (Rom. 6:9–14), His securing the new heavens and new earth (Heb. 2:5–11), and His overcoming the world (John 12:31; 16:33). The horizontal dimensions include His becoming the example of self-sacrificial living (Rom. 15:2–3; 1 Peter 2:21) and His reconciling men to one another, thereby making peace for those who formerly lived in hostility with one another (Eph. 2:14). When men pervert or deny the biblical teaching concerning the vertical nature of the

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The Crux of Christianity

Mark Thompson: At the heart of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ and the great salvation he has won for us. Christians are not satisfied with a vague and nebulous notion of God or a utopian vision for the human race. We also reject the reduction of our faith to a set of rules or a pattern of moral behaviour. The Christian faith is much more particular than that. It is centred on God’s rescue mission, a mission that makes very clear what God is like and what are his plans for us. This means that at the heart of everything we believe is a particular person and a particular set of events: the person of Jesus Christ and the work he came to do. We know what God is like and we know what God intends for us because Jesus has come and made this clear. Jesus himself went to great lengths to make his disciples aware of why

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10 Things You Should Know about the Cross

Patrick Schreiner: 1. The cross is a Trinitarian event. The Christian faith is distinctively Trinitarian and cross-shaped. Therefore, the cross must reveal the Trinity. God the Father sent the Son to save the world, the Son submitted to the Father’s will, and the Spirit applies the work of redemption to Jesus followers. Redemption is predestined by the Father (Eph 1:3–6), accomplished by the Son (Eph 1:7–10), and applied by the Spirit (Eph. 1:13–14). God did not withhold the Son, and the Son surrendered to the Father. Yet the Father is not sacrificing the Son. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit all possess a single will. The sacrifice, while uniquely the Son’s work, is also the will of the three persons. 2. The cross is the center of the story of the Scripture. A Bible without a cross is a Bible without a climax, a Bible without an ending, a Bible without a solution. The spiral of sin that began

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What is “the gospel of the kingdom”?

9Marks: It’s very popular these days to talk about “the gospel of the kingdom.” Many people claim that when Jesus came “preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23) he was preaching a message about the overthrow of evil government powers, the transformation of society, and the lifting up of the poor. All kinds of revolutionaries can get behind these ideas. But is that what the Bible means when it speaks about the gospel of the kingdom? Not exactly. When Philip the evangelist preached “the good news about the kingdom of God,” men and women believed and were baptized (Acts 8:12). This “gospel of the kingdom” called them to turn from their sin, trust in Jesus Christ and begin a new life, symbolized by baptism. On the other hand, when Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God coming near (Mk. 1:15), he is referring to something truly revolutionary. He means that with his own coming to earth, God’s saving rule and

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The Binding of Satan

Douglas F. Kelly: Revelation 20 is the only place in the Bible that speaks of “the millennium”—the thousand-year reign of the triumphant Christ on earth. Nowhere else does Holy Scripture mention this word, so it is necessary to look at related teachings elsewhere in Scripture to understand what it means in Revelation. A sound principle of biblical interpretation (used from ancient times by Augustine, Tychonius, and other early Christian writers) is that one interprets the few mentions of a word or concept in light of the many, and the symbolic in light of the plain. It would be contrary to a clear understanding of the Scriptures to make the many fit into the one, or the plain into the symbolic. Therefore, we should understand what Revelation 20, a highly symbolic book, says about the millennium in light of the very large number of other biblical passages that tell us more plainly (and less symbolically) what occurs between Christ’s resurrection and

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The Aesthetic Beauty of the Gospel

Mark Mattes: To be human is to be captivated by someone or something, and this is no less true for Christians. We sing “Fairest Lord Jesus” because Jesus has captivated our hearts. We experience the gospel as beautiful—that God would reach out to rebels to forgive them, embrace them, and return them to his care. But seldom do we explore how this gospel is beautiful. Luther wouldn’t seem to be a go-to thinker for a theology of beauty. He’s known for his ferocious and desperate wrestling with God and conscience. Beauty, by contrast, conveys a sense of tranquility, delight, and pleasure. These words hardly seem compatible with the storms Luther faced. But there’s another side to Luther. He had a deep appreciation for music and the visual arts. He played the lute, sang tenor, composed hymns, and was good friends with the Wittenberg painter Lucas Cranach. (He also inspired Bach.) This appreciation was undergirded by his conviction that the gospel is intrinsically beautiful. Beautiful Cross Luther’s theology

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Binding the Strong Man

Jesus ‘Bound the Strong Man’ and What That Means for You by Brandon D. Crowe: All Christians acknowledge that the Gospels are vital for discipleship today. But interpreting and applying the Gospels can be difficult since they’re about things that happened a long time ago—“back then.” What difference do these ancient events make for our daily lives? The Gospels are relevant because they showcase the victory that Jesus Christ, through his lifelong obedience, won on our behalf. The victory he won back then has cosmic and personal consequences that affect us right now. To demonstrate such relevance, let’s turn to a difficult parable of Jesus: the binding of the strong man, as found in Mark 3:22–30. Although this passage can be a head-scratcher, it’s best understood as a parable explaining Jesus’s mission. In Mark 3 Jesus’s mission is under attack. After announcing the coming of God’s kingdom (Mark 1:14–15), he begins to heal the sick, cast out demons, teach with authority, call disciples, and even forgive

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Of First Importance: The Priority of the Cross and the Empty Tomb

Al Mohler: The Christian faith is not a mere collection of doctrines — a bag of truths. Christianity is a comprehensive truth claim that encompasses every aspect of revealed doctrine, but is centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, as the apostolic preaching makes clear, the gospel is the priority. The Apostle Paul affirms this priority when he writes to the Christians in Corinth. In the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul sets out his case: Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the

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What Do Expiation and Propitiation Mean?

R.C. Sproul: When we talk about the vicarious aspect of the atonement, two rather technical words come up again and again: expiation and propitiation. These words spark all kinds of arguments about which one should be used to translate a particular Greek word, and some versions of the Bible will use one of these words and some will use the other one. I’m often asked to explain the difference between propitiation and expiation. The difficulty is that even though these words are in the Bible, we don’t use them as part of our day-to-day vocabulary, so we aren’t sure exactly what they are communicating in Scripture. We lack reference points in relation to these words. Expiation and Propitiation Let’s think about what these words mean, then, beginning with the word expiation. The prefix ex means “out of” or “from,” so expiation has to do with removing something or taking something away. In biblical terms, it has to do with taking away guilt

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The Crucifixion and Old Testament Prophecy

R.C. Sproul: If we look at the intricacy of the drama of the events of Jesus’ crucifixion, we see that some amazing things took place so that Old Testament prophetic utterances were fulfilled to the minutest detail. In the first instance, the Old Testament said that the Messiah would be delivered to the Gentiles (“dogs” or “congregation of the wicked”) for judgment (Ps. 22:16). It just so happened in the course of history that Jesus was put on trial during a time of Roman occupation of Palestine. The Romans allowed a certain amount of home rule by their conquered vassals, but they did not permit the death penalty to be imposed by the local rulers, so the Jews did not have the authority to put Christ to death. The only thing they could do was to meet in council and take Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, asking him to carry out the execution. So Jesus was delivered from

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What’s so ‘good’ about Good Friday?

Bruce Ashford: On a dark Friday two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. Powerful members of the religious, political, and military communities colluded to strip him naked, mock him publicly, and crucify him. Yet two millennia later, Christians—who believe that Jesus is the Son of God—celebrate that dark day by calling it Good Friday. Why on earth would Christians refer to this day as “good” Friday? It’s called Good Friday because even while powerful men were conspiring to kill the Son of God, God himself was acting to save the world from itself, once and for all. Even while the world’s authorities were conspiring to perpetrate history’s greatest evil, God was working to bring about history’s greatest good. It didn’t have to be this way. After all, God created the world as his good kingdom in which humans could flourish, and in which they would never have to experience evil. Yet, the very first couple, Adam and Eve,

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N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began: A Few Reflections

By Dane Ortlund: This week I read Wright’s new book on the crucifixion, The Day the Revolution Began. I’m not a Wright-hater. I owe him a lot. Some of his writings have been instrumental for my own development in understanding the Bible. At least one article of mine spawned from ideas he gave me while listening to him lecture. There are several points of his–such as the notion of a continuing exile in the first-century Jewish mindset, or Jesus as true Israel, or the Israel typology underlying Romans 5-8, or his understanding of our final future (what he calls the after-after-life), or his approach to the relationship between history and theology–where I agree with him against his conservative North American critics. And on top of that I like him as a person. But this book is just awful. I pretty much agree with Mike Horton’s review though I thought he was too easy on the book. I’d like to add

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3 motivations to hate sin

Erik Raymond: In counseling, parenting, and my own personal pursuit of godliness I have found that hating sin is an easily overlooked but never overstated priority. Sin brings consequences. Often these consequences are painful. It is a real temptation for us to hate the consequences and never get around to hating the sin. Don’t get me wrong, we should hate how sin hurts ourselves and others. But we can’t leave it there. Until sin is actually hated for its odious and repulsive character we will not make true progress in godliness. We may make progress in morality but not holiness; for this requires a godly hatred of sin. So here are three reasons why you should hate sin. In thinking upon these, may they provoke a holy hatred of all that opposes the reign of God in our lives. 1. BECAUSE IT OPPOSES GOD’S WORD The Word of God is good. It reflects God’s character, teaching us what holiness is

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Done before Do

By Bryan Chapell, author of Unlimited Grace: The Heart Chemistry That Frees from Sin and Fuels the Christian Life. Getting the Order Right When you see the message of grace unfolding in the Bible a pattern emerges. God is gracious to us, and then expects us to respond. It is never the other way around—we respond in obedience and then somehow God decides to be gracious to us. There is always this order of the “who” and the “do”. We are loved; we are the children of God. Therefore we respond in what we do. God never says, “You obey me and then I’ll love you.” He is always saying, “Because I have loved you, because I have claimed you, you are mine. Now walk in my ways.” This is the pattern of the ten commandments themselves. There are certainly many things we’re told to do in the ten commandments. But before God tells us to do anything he says,

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