Good Friday and Propitiation

 

“God put forward Christ 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.” Romans 3:25

Liberals and Neo-orthodox have historically blanched at the idea of Christ’s sacrifice being a propitiation for the sin of the elect. … a means by which the turning away of God’s just wrath is accomplished.

Their objection is with the idea of an angry God who needs be appeased. The find in the idea of propitiation the idea of a volcano God who needs a fair virgin to be cast into the volcano before the volcano God can be satisfied. They are offended by this kind of God.

The Biblical Christian responds by noting that unlike the volcano God the God of the Bible is a God of justice who has promised that the soul that sinneth shall surely die. If God forsakes His opposition to sin … His anger against sin then God forsakes His attributes of Justice and Holiness. If God is not angry with and against both sin and sinner God is not God. Besides all this we have the explicit testimony of the Scripture that God is angry with the wicked every day and that God hates the wicked. Becuase of this God needs be propitiated and the Cross of Jesus Christ is where we find the propitiation of God that man could never provide.

The liberal and neo-orthodox still tend to see this as not only unbefitting of God but also as not fair. Some have even styled the Son providing propitiation as “Divine child abuse” by the Father. A few things are missed though.

1.) Jesus is not just some aimless wandering Jewish Rabbi that God seizes and throws on a cross. The Son came to do the will of the Father. The Father and the Son in eternity past covenanted to redeem a people. The Father agreed to send the son to do the work of Redemption and the Son agreed to do the work of Redemption so gaining the inheritance of a people by His own name.

2.) The Liberal and neo-orthodox are appalled at the anger of the Father but they miss that it is the love of the Father who sent the Son to be the appeasement (propitiation) for a people who without the work of the Son would never know the comfort of God’s love nor relief from the Father’s just anger.

3.) The liberal and neo-orthodox miss the fact that God’s anger is spilled out on God Himself as incarnated in the God-Man Jesus the Messiah. God loves us so much that He bears His own Just anger against us upon Himself there at and in the Cross. This is why we can say that we are saved by God, from God, for God to God, to God be the Glory.

4.) Of course, all this bears upon the reality that unless one closes with the Son, that is, unless one looks to the Son for safety and for mediation with and introduction unto the Father that person is eternally without hope and without God. God will not provide salvation for anyone who is not under the umbrella of the Son’s Cross Work because apart from Christ the Father’s wrath abides.

Unless Christ is a propitiation for our sins on that Good Friday Cross we are still in our sins. Expiation alone (the removal of sin) is not enough. God is a personal God who is personally angry with personal sinners. God must be propitiated or we of all men are to be pitied.

Those who reject propitiation, while doubtlessly well intended, are not Christian.

How Is It That We Are “Not Under Law?”

Romans 6:14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

When St. Paul writes about not being “under the law,” he is not at that point teaching us that being Christian means being antinomian. The not being under the law that Paul is referencing here has to do with the freedom from the condemnation of the law that is a reality for all those outside of Christ. Man, as being mortal is always governed by some law and so it is literally not possible to be free from law in the sense of having a lawless existence.

Freedom from the condemnation of the law is the good news the Gospel brings. Outside of Christ, we are forever burdened by the accusation of God’s law that we are guilty of not keeping God’s law. In Christ, we are free from that accusation (and the condemnation following) that we are guilty of because of our violating God’s law, and we are free from the condemnation of God’s law precisely because Christ is the one, in His crucifixion, who, as our substitute, already received in Himself the penalty and condemnation that was properly designed for us due to our breaking of God’s law.

Having been set free from the condemnation of God’s law we are now at liberty to walk in terms of God’s law without any fear because there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We are those who no longer walk consistent with our sinful former appetites but who now walk according to our law honoring desires as we are new creations.

That God’s law still functions in our life is the great presupposition of Scripture. After all, how could we ever successfully honor the call to lay aside sin

in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.  (Ephesians 4:22)

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us … (Hebrews 12:1)

unless there was a standard by which we could know whereby that sin is determined? If we are not under law in the sense that the law no longer exists for the Christian then there is no possibility for us to sin, since without law sin does not exist. If we are not under law in the sense that the law no longer exists for the Christian then right and wrong and good and bad really are only existential social constructs with the result that every Christian does what is right in their own eyes. 

Observations Surrounding the Cross …. Forgiveness

Luke 23:27 And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. 28 But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”…

33 When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. 34 But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.

Note the difference responses of our Lord relating to the different participants in the Crucifixion narrative. In the context of the weeping and wailing of the “Daughters of Jerusalem,” Jesus doesn’t ask the Father to “forgive the Jews for they know not what they do.” In point of fact we know from earlier encounters with the Jews Jesus said that the vengeance of God upon the Jews for the killing of the Son of the Vineyard owner came at the cost of their very lives,

What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.” When they heard it, they said, “May it never be!” 17 But Jesus looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the chief corner stone’?

18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”

For the Romans crucifying Jesus, Jesus pleads for the Father to forgive them. For the Jewish women lamenting the crucifixion of Jesus, Jesus, in a likely prophetic reference to AD 70, warns about the coming wrath of God.
This distinction between these two kinds of speech for two different kinds of people is also captured in the difference of Christ towards Judas and Peter. To Peter Jesus says,

31″Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

While to Judas, Jesus says,

“What you are about to do, do quickly.”

The difference between Judas and Peter is one was the son of perdition while the other was one of the elect. One wonders if that might not be the discriminating difference also in the way Jesus does not plead forgiveness for the Jews who crucified Him but does plead forgiveness for the Romans who served as those executioners who would do the bidding of the Jews in crucifying Jesus Christ?

Addendum

Some have insisted upon reviewing Christ’s request for forgiveness for the Romans soldiers that at that point the Roman soldiers would have been forgiven at that moment, in the sense of sins forgiven, since the Father and the Son are in agreement. This overlooks one meaning of the word forgiveness.

One meaning of the word “forgiveness” can be deferment or temporary suspension of the charges. Sanday advocates for this in his commentary on Romans when reviewing vs. 25 of chapter 3 he notes that forgiveness (remission — paresis) may be a “temporary suspension of punishment which may at some later date be inflicted.” So, when the Lord Christ prays, “Father forgive them (suspend the charges for the time being) for they know not what they do,”  the request is for a deferment or temporary suspension of the charges. As such, when Jesus prays this I don’t think it is proper to think that at that point the Roman soldiers’ sin is forgiven in the sense of the debt canceled.

We should end here by noting that usually when forgiveness is used in the Scriptures it has reference to a legal and not emotional / psychological resolve. Forgiveness occurs after there has been a debt incurred followed by the legal satisfying of that debt. For example, when we are forgiven by God it is not because God has a warm fuzzy towards us and is willing to let bygones be bygones. God forgives us because our indebtedness to Him as violators of His law as been satisfied for us by the work of Jesus Christ in our stead on the Cross. Our forgiveness is thus a juridical (legal) reality. God forgives us because our debt has been paid by our surety.

(Surety — a person who takes responsibility for another’s performance of an undertaking, for example, their appearing in court or the payment of a debt.)

Modern man would do well to re-examine his idea of forgiveness. We tend to think that forgiveness is an emotional or psychological disposition towards someone who has committed offense when in point of fact forgiveness is a legal term that requires, when necessary, restitution before forgiveness can be extended.

What we typically call “forgiveness” is perhaps better termed charity or mercy.

 

 

Progressive Reduction … Progressive Advance and the Postmillennial hope

The movement of Scripture seems to require a postmillennial eschatology.

Think about it. The Old Covenant moves from the Universal to the Particular after the fall. After the fall God’s salvation design is towards all men, but after the flood and after Babel that design is particularized to one people (Israel). From there the failure of Israel, like the failure of mankind prior to the flood, means an even more progressive reduction moving to “the remnant” and then finally culminating in this progressive reduction in the election of Jesus Christ to be God’s representative for the Redemption of His people. However, with the resurrection of Christ, we find the reversal of the previous progressive reduction to a progressive advance and broadening of redemption. What had been, prior to the arrival of Christ, a redemptive movement of the many to the one, with the resurrection the redemptive energy reverses and is now from the one to the many. We are still looking at election and representation, but the further salvific development unfolds so that from the center reached in the resurrection of Christ the way no longer leads from the many to the One but rather, as seen in the incorporating of the Nations, the movement of Redemption is progressively advancing from the one to the many. Consistently traced out this pattern and trajectory requires a belief in postmillennialism.

This hour-glass movement of Redemption (progressive reduction and narrowing to progressive advance and broadening) is most clearly articulated in Galatians 3:6 – 4:7. In that passage St. Paul begins with the promise to Abraham and his seed and reveals how ultimately the promise is to the Christ (3:16) who effectuates the ransom by His substitutionary death (4:5). This vicarious atonement results in the broadening of Redemption’s reach as all men and people may now become descendants of Abraham (3:26, 29) by faith alone in Christ alone.  All may become “sons and heirs” (4:4-7) through baptism.

Maybe Warfield’s “Universal Postmillennialism” was correct?

In an interesting aside one can also see this double helix hourglass movement in the Christian measuring of time by way of metaphor. Before Christ (BC) the years are numbered in a progressive reduction. However, with the arrival of Christ (AD) the numbering of the years continues to climb progressively year by year. This becomes an excellent illustration for the way that the first Christians measured redemptive time. The center and focal point is Christ and with Christ time is reoriented with the Christ event. 

 

What Is Left of Biblical Christianity When Penal Substitutionary Atonement is Eliminated?

The Penal Substitutionary teaching of the Atonement (sometimes referred to as the Forensic theory of the Atonement) following Scripture, insists that Jesus Christ, consistent with the Covenant of Redemption, by His own choice, became obedient unto the sacrificial death of the Cross. In the doing of so, the Lord Christ satisfied, as a substitute, the just penal demands of God’s law against elect sinners with the consequence that the punishment that should have fallen on elect sinners is understood to have been fallen upon Christ. The whole idea is encapsulated in Peter’s phraseology that, “Christ died for sins once for all;  the just for the unjust.”

The centrality of this doctrine is so important that any denial of the Forensic theory of the Atonement leaves us with a Christianity that is completely redefined. Indeed, this is so much true that those who profess Christianity yet deny the penal substitutionary doctrine of the atonement profess a different Christianity than those who profess Christ while affirming the penal substitutionary atonement.  A different Christianity ensues when the Forensic doctrine of the atonement is deleted.

This also means that all who affirm a hypothetical universal atonement whereby Christ dies for all in theory but where the intent of the hypothetical universal atonement is limited by sovereign man confess a thoroughly different Christianity than those who submit to the Scriptures teaching of Penal substitutionary atonement where the intent of the atonement is limited by our Sovereign God.

Now, felicitous inconsistency sometimes keeps these different expressions from coming into the collision that they rightfully should be involved in but at the end of the day Christianity with a penal substitutionary atonement and Christianity without a penal substitutionary atonement are both Christianity the same way that Marxism without a Hegelian dialectic is the same as Marxism with a Hegelian dialectic.

As Dabney noted on this score,

“This issue is cardinal. As the Churches of all ages has understood the Scriptures, the whole plan of gospel redemption rests upon this substitution of Christ as its corner-stone. He who overthrows the corner-stone overthrows the building. The system which he rears without this foundation may be named Christianity by him, but it will be another building, his own handiwork, not that of God — another gospel.”

The cash value of this observation is that non Reformed churches (Holiness Churches, Lutheran Churches, Roman Catholic Churches, Eastern Orthodox Churches, Pentecostal Churches, and assorted Free Will Baptist Churches) teach a different Christianity than Reformed Churches. People would be do well to be aware of this

In the next few paragraphs I hope to explain why this is the case. I want to zero in on the impact upon other historic Christian theological doctrines that a denial of penal substitutionary atonement necessitates.

When we examine Theology proper we note that a denial of the Forensic doctrine of the atonement calls in to question God’s distributive justice. No substitutionary atonement means that God is not just and He is not just because the penalty that sin requires is never fully leveraged.  If Christ is not on the Cross bearing the just and exact penalty required due to the breaking of God’s law then God is not just in letting sin go unrequited as promised. God’s perfect holiness is also called into question. If sin is not visited with its just penalty then the character of God is seen as accommodating sin. Sin is not seen as sinful as it really is where sin is not visited with the full measure of penalty as taught in the penal substitutionary doctrine as it reflects Scripture.  All of this in turn calls in to question God’s immutability. If God was a perfect being in His justice, and holiness and then transmuted into a God who was not perfect in His justice and holiness as seen in not visiting sin with its full penal consequences then God’s un-changeableness is automatically called into question.

All of this then diminishes both our estimation of the majesty of God and the sinfulness of sin. The consequences of playing with the penal substitutionary doctrine of the atonement results in a diminished God and a lowered conception of sin as an infinite evil, which in turn results in exalted views of man and a correspondingly higher estimation of man’s goodness and his abilities.

As we look at the connection to soteriology we again see the hollowing out of Christianity by denying the penal substitutionary doctrine of the atonement.  When one denies that Christ paid the definite sin for a particular people, in the sense of Christ being the sin bearer, by way of imputation, for an atoned for people who were objectively justified by the finished work of Christ’s atonement one affirms a Messianic death that is uncertain and incomplete short of some necessary addition to complete that, at best, partial atonement. If it is denied that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to a particular people because of His penal satisfaction then original sin as imputed to sinners must also be denied. We know this because St. Paul teaches that one implies the other in Romans 5.

Also, as hinted at above, if the penal substitutionary doctrine of the atonement is denied than Justification must also likewise be denied. If Christ is not filling the laws demands for a particular people by His satisfactory death then Justification is a mirage and some other mechanism, besides Christ’s Forensic death, is the means by which we are redeemed.

Next, we would have to say that if Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement is not true then the idea of faith alone is transmuted. In historic Christianity faith operates in salvation as entirely receptive and so not contributory. If Christ’s death is not penalty bearing, satisfactory, and substitutionary then faith is required to do work that is other than receptive. Indeed, our faith itself, as a work, as opposed to Christ’s righteousness, likely becomes that which is imputed to us as the ground of our justification.

The theological doctrine of Adoption becomes perverted when the Forensic doctrine of the Atonement is denied. If it is not Christ’s satisfaction that is the ground for our Adoption then it needs be that it is our performance that becomes the ground for our Adoption into the family of God.

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is made raw by a denial of Christ substitutionary death. If Christ has not paid the full and complete penalty for our sins then there is no guarantee to bank upon that our continued status as “in Christ” means anything more than our continued merit worthy performance.

If Christ’s death is not penal, but only remedial, as some suggest then the whole doctrine of eternal damnation must be rejected. This kind of thinking insists that God’s love cannot allow for punishment and, by definition, can only be remedial. Thus Christianity becomes the handmaiden for Universalism as well as a faith system that disallows even eternal perdition for Satan and his fallen minions.

We therefore see that a Christianity that denies the Penal substitutionary doctine of the Atonement yields a Christianity where God is not Holy, Just, or Immutable. It yields a Christianity where sin is  not awful, and God is not big. The denial of the Forensic death of Christ — the just for the unjust — moves us from a theocentric soteriology to an anthropocentric soteriology.  Without the truth of the penal substitutionary atonement we lose gracious justification, gracious adoption, and gracious perseverance of the saints. Without the truth of the forensic doctrine of the atonement we embrace Universalism.

Now, as was said at the outset, there are many who do not embrace the penal substitutionary atonement who because of felicitous contradiction end up orthodox in areas where they should not be. Still the truth is that if people were consistent with their denial of the Forensic atonement they would be practicing a Christianity that would be filled with a content different than the Christianity of the Bible.