What You Can’t Sing Without Penal Substitution

Written by Kevin DeYoung | Sunday, March 31, 2013

The notion that Christ died as our sin-bearing substitute who bore the curse for our sakes is considered, by some, too primitive, too violent, and too narrow. Penal substitution is only a theory of the atonement, just one idea among many, maybe not even a good theory, at the very least not the best or the most important once. I would argue that texts like Isaiah 53, Mark 10, Romans 3, 2 Corinthians 5, Galatians 3, and Philippians 3 demonstrate that Christ is not only our wrath-sustaining Savior, he is also the Lord our Righteousness. The Son’s propiatory sacrifice for sinners is the best news of the good news, the biblical truth that holds the gospel together.

But besides the testimony of Scripture in support for penal substitution, I would point to the history of our hymnody.

Man of Sorrows! What a Name
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood,
Sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah! what a Savior!

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
What thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinner’s gain:
Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! Tis I deserve thy place;
Look on me with they favor, vouchsafe to me thy grace.

Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended
Who was the guilty who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.

Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed
Was it for crimes that I had done he groaned upon the tree!
Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree!

Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted
Tell me, ye who hear him groaning, was there every grief like his?
Friends thro’ fear his cause disowning, foes insulting his distres;
Many hands were raised to wound him, none would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced him was the stroke that Justice gave.

Ye who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.

What Wondrous Love is This
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

A Debtor to Mercy Alone
A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with your righteousness on, my person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.

And Can it Be That I Should Gain
And can it be, that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me!
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me!

Without penal substitution there is no salvation. And there isn’t nearly as much to sing about.

Kevin DeYoung has been the Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan since 2004. Kevin blogs at the Gospel Coalition, and this article is reprinted with his permission.

A. W. Pink on the Atonement of Christ

"Few seem to realize the fearful implications which necessarily follow the principles they hold and advocate. To predicate an atonement which fails to atone, a redemption which does not redeem, a sacrifice which secures not the actual remission of sins is a horrible reflection upon all the attributes of God. To make the efficacy or success of the greatest of all God’s works dependent upon the choice of fallen and depraved creatures is to magnify man at the cost of dethroning his Maker."

~Arthur Pink, "The Satisfaction of Christ-Studies in the Atonement"

Question: "What are the various theories on the atonement?"

  – from GotQuestions.org

Answer: Throughout church history several different views or theories of the atonement, some true and some false, have been put forth at different times by different individuals or denominations. One of the reasons for this is that both the Old and New Testaments reveal many truths about Christ’s atonement, so it is hard, if not impossible, to find any single “theory” that fully encapsulates or explains the richness of this doctrine. Instead, what we discover as we study the Scriptures is a rich and multifaceted picture of the atonement as the Bible puts forth many interrelated truths concerning the redemption that Christ has accomplished. Another contributing factor to the many different theories of the atonement is that much of what we can learn about the atonement needs to be understood from the experience and perspective of God’s people under the Old Covenant sacrificial system. Since having a correct view of the atonement of Christ is a key to understanding much of the Bible, even a survey of the differing theories of atonement can be beneficial.

The atonement of Christ, its purpose and what it accomplished is so rich that volumes have been written about it, and this article will simply provide a brief overview of many of the theories that have been put forth at one time or another. In looking at the different views of the atonement, we must never lose sight of the fact that any view that does not recognize the sinfulness of man and substitutionary aspect of the atonement is deficient at best and heretical at worst.

Ransom to Satan: This view sees the atonement of Christ as a ransom that was paid to Satan to purchase man’s freedom from being enslaved to Satan. It is based on a belief that man’s spiritual condition is in bondage to Satan and that the meaning of Christ’s death was to secure God’s victory over Satan. This theory has little, if any, scriptural support and has had few supporters throughout church history. It is heretical in that it thinks of Satan, rather than God, as the one who required a payment be made for sin and thus completely ignores the demands of God’s justice as seen throughout Scripture. It also has a higher view of Satan than it should and views him as having more power than he really does. There is no scriptural support for the idea that sinners owe anything to Satan, but throughout Scripture we see that God is the One who requires a payment for sin.

Recapitulation Theory: This view sees the atonement of Christ as reversing the course of mankind from disobedience to obedience. It believes that Christ’s life recapitulated all the stages of human life and in doing so reversed the course of disobedience initiated by Adam. It cannot be supported scripturally.

Dramatic Theory: This view sees the atonement of Christ as securing the victory in a divine conflict between good and evil and winning man’s release from bondage to Satan. The meaning of Christ’s death was to ensure God’s victory over Satan and provides a way to redeem the world out of its bondage to evil.

Mystical Theory: This view sees the atonement of Christ as a triumph over His own sinful nature through the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who hold this view believe that knowledge of this will mystically influence man and awake his “god-consciousness”. They also believe that man’s spiritual condition is not the result of sin but simply a lack of “god-consciousness”. Clearly this is one of the most heretical of all these theories because to believe this, one must believe that Christ had a sin nature, while Scripture is clear that Jesus was the perfect god-man, sinless in every aspect of His nature (Hebrews 4:15).

Example Theory: This view sees the atonement of Christ as simply providing an example of faith and obedience to inspire man to be obedient to God. Those that hold this view believe that man is spiritually alive and that Christ’s life and atonement were simply an example of true faith and obedience and should serve as inspiration to men to live a similar life of faith and obedience. This and the moral influence theory are similar in that they both deny that God’s justice actually requires payment for sin and that Christ’s death on the cross was that payment. The main difference between the moral influence theory and the example theory is that the moral influence theory says that Christ’s death teaches us how much God loves us and the example theory says that Christ’s death teaches how to live. Of course it is certainly true that Christ is an example for us to follow, even in His death, but the example theory fails to recognize man’s true spiritual condition—dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1)—and that God’s justice requires payment for sin which man is in no way capable of doing.

Moral Influence Theory: This view sees the atonement of Christ as demonstrating God’s love which causes man’s heart to soften and repent. Those that hold this view believe that man is spiritually sick and in need of help and that man is moved to accept God’s forgiveness by seeing God’s love for man. They believe that the purpose and meaning of Christ’s death was to demonstrate God’s love toward man. While it is true that Christ’s atonement is the ultimate example of the love of God, this view is also heretical because it denies the true spiritual condition of man and denies that God actually requires a payment for sin. This view of Christ’s atonement leaves mankind without a true sacrifice or payment for sin.
Commercial Theory: This view sees the atonement of Christ as bringing infinite honor to God. This resulted in God giving Christ a reward which He did not need, and Christ passed that reward on to man. Those that hold this view believe that man’s spiritual condition is that of dishonoring God and so Christ’s death which brought infinite honor to God can be applied to sinners for salvation. This theory, like many of the others, denies the true spiritual state of unregenerate sinners and their need of a completely new nature, available only in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Governmental Theory: This view sees the atonement of Christ as demonstrating God’s high regard for His law and His attitude towards sin. It is through Christ’s death that God has a reason to forgive the sins of those who repent and accept Christ’s substitutionary death. Those that hold this view believe that man’s spiritual condition is as one who has violated God’s moral law and that the meaning of Christ’s death was to be a substitute for the penalty of sin. Because Christ paid the penalty for sin it is possible for God to legally forgive those who accept Christ as their substitute. This view falls short in that it does not teach that Christ actually paid the penalty of the actual sins of any people, but instead His suffering simply showed mankind that God’s laws were broken and that some penalty was paid.

Penal Substitution Theory: This view sees the atonement of Christ as being a vicarious, substitutionary sacrifice that satisfied the demands of God’s justice upon sin. In doing so Christ paid the penalty of man’s sin bringing forgiveness, imputing righteousness and reconciling man to God. Those that hold this view believe that every aspect of man, his mind, will and emotions have been corrupted by sin and that man is totally depraved and spiritually dead. This view holds that Christ’s death paid the penalty of sin for those whom God elects to save and that through repentance man can accept Christ’s substitution as payment for sin. This view of the atonement aligns most accurately to Scripture in its view of sin, the nature of man, and the results of the death of Christ on the cross.

Recommended Resources: The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns and Logos Bible Software.

Two other good articles can be found here and here.

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The above is dedicated to “Bones’, who has an aversion to the idea of  a wrathful God, as well as the penal substitution theory of the atonement.

Penal Substitution

The following is an explanation of the doctrine of the penal substitution of Christ on the behalf of sinners. It comes from GotQuestions.org.

Question: “What is the doctrine of substitution?”

\Answer:

Substitution is one of the major themes of the Bible. God instituted the principle of substitution in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned. By killing an animal to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:21), God began to paint a picture of what it would take to bring mankind back into proper relationship with Him. He continued that theme with His chosen people Israel. By giving them the Law, God showed them His holiness and demonstrated their inability to achieve that holiness. God then granted them a substitute to pay the price for their sin, in the form of blood sacrifices (Exodus 29:41-42; 34:19; Numbers 29:2). By sacrificing an innocent animal according to God’s specifications, man could have his sins forgiven and enter the presence of God. The animal died in the sinner’s place, thereby allowing the sinner to go free, vindicated. Leviticus 16 tells of the scapegoat, upon which the elders of Israel would place their hands, symbolically transferring the sins of the people onto the goat. The goat was then set free into the wilderness, bearing the sins of the people far away.

The theme of substitution is found throughout the Old Testament as a precursor to the coming of Jesus Christ. The Passover feast conspicuously featured a substitute. In Exodus 12, God gives instruction to His people to prepare for the coming Angel of the Lord who would strike down the firstborn male of every family as a judgment upon Egypt. The only way to escape this plague was to take a perfect male lamb, kill it, and put the blood on the lintels and doorposts of their houses. God told them, “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). That Passover lamb was a substitute for every male firstborn who would accept it.

God carried that theme of substitution into the New Testament with the coming of Jesus. He had set the stage so that mankind would understand exactly what Jesus came to do. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” God’s perfect Lamb took the sins of the world upon Himself, laid down His life, and died in our place (John 1:19; 1 Peter 3:18). The only acceptable sacrifice for sin is a perfect offering. If we died for our own sins, it would not be sufficient payment. We are not perfect. Only Jesus, the perfect God-Man, fits the requirement, and He laid down His life for ours willingly (John 10:18). There was nothing we could do to save ourselves, so God did it for us. The Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53 makes the substitutionary death of Christ abundantly clear: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (verse 5).

Jesus’ substitution for us was perfect, unlike the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament. Hebrews 10:4 says, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Someone might say, “You mean, all those sacrifices the Jews made were for nothing?” The writer is clarifying that animal blood itself had no value. It was what that blood symbolized that made the difference. The value of the ancient sacrifices was that the animal was a substitute for a human being’s sin and that it pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 9:22).

Some people make the mistake of thinking that, since Jesus died for the sins of the world, everyone will go to heaven one day. This is incorrect. The substitutionary death of Christ must be personally applied to each heart, in much the same way that the blood of the Passover had to be personally applied to the door (John 1:12; 3:16-18; Acts 2:38). Before we can become “the righteousness of God in Him,” we must exchange our old sin nature for His holy one. God offers the Substitute, but we must receive that Substitute personally by accepting Christ in faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Recommended Resources: Making Sense of Salvation by Wayne Grudem
Read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/doctrine-substitution.html#ixzz34QCruPS8