Monday, September 22, 2008

Substitutionary Atonement

It might be said that the very heart of the Gospel is a promise; no, the promise of God from which all promises of God proceed. And that this promise is none other than the fullness of the promise of salvation.

The promise willed by the Father.
The promise worked by the Son.
The promise witnessed by the Spirit.

The promise foreordained by the Father.
The promise fulfilled by the Son.
The promise fixed by the Spirit.

The promise decreed by the Father.
The promise delivered by the Son.
The promise demonstrated by the Spirit.

The promise purposed by the Father.
The promise purchased by the Son.
The promise proven by the Spirit.

The simplicity of the Gospel is evident since it has been revealed to babes. Yet also its depth cannot be fathomed and the weight of God's glory revealed in it can never be measured and all the faculties of our heart and soul are wholly insufficient to rejoice enough in this wonder and majesty and render praises to God that would befit such glorious splendour as has been revealed in so great a salvation.

It is clear here that our understanding of the doctrine of salvation is essential for our correct understanding of the Gospel itself. For ourselves, this is probably the most important doctrine for us to consider. Not only the nature and result of this salvation, but the means by which it is accomplished. Christ says this regarding the importance of this doctrine of salvation:

"What profiteth it a man, if he gaineth the whole world, but loses his soul?"

I have said before, and we have often heard it said regarding the means of salvation, that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, and all this to the glory of God alone. This is what Scripture indeed reveals to us, as I have often commented on. These truths are the biblical truths recovered in the reformation. We may also phrase it that salvation is to the glory of God alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, and all this by grace alone. This is exactly what I have said above, but some may at this point have disagreed. And this concerns me.

At the heart of this biblical doctrine of salvation is without controversy, the work of Christ on the cross. That is what the biblical church has always confessed. The centre of the Gospel itself is the work of Christ on the cross, this is the centrepiece of God's glory, the blazing heart of His majesty, where righteousness and justice kisses mercy and love, where God's love and grace are demonstrated most vividly and where also His justice and holiness are just as clearly demonstrated.

"Salvation is of the Lord."

So, what is this work of Christ on the cross? As I have also said before, it is crucial to a right and saving knowledge of this work to understand the nature of who the Person of Christ is.

"Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh."

The Nicene and Athanasian creeds expound carefully and precisely the nature of this man who hung on the tree. Jesus is the Christ, whose name means "The LORD saves", and He is both fully God and fully man, in perfect holiness, eternal and co-existing with the Father and one with the Father; the fullness of the Godhead dwelling within Him. We may neither take away from any aspect of the fullness of His divinity, nor of the fullness of His humanity (though being without sin), nor may we ever take away from the truth that the Lord is one.

And having laid this crucial foundation of having a basic understanding of who this Person on the cross is, we now look at the nature of the work of Christ on the cross. To call this work, substitutionary atonement, sums up both the work and the Person who performed this work, because when we understand the nature of this work, it becomes evident that only this Person, Christ as revealed in the Scriptures could ever accomplish this work.

Again I say, this work has been called substitutionary atonement and this is an appropriate description. So, going back to my first paragraph it can be said that the very heart of the Gospel is this substitutionary atonement. This term tells us also the necessary nature of Christ when it is considered who this atonement is between. This atonement is between the holy and righteous God and the wicked and sinful human. This atonement is accomplished by substitution; it is substitutionary atonement.

The justice of the holy and righteous God demands the infinite punishment of the wicked and sinful human because their offenses are against the infinitely righteous God. This substitutionary atonement is a Person being substituted for these sinners. It is this Person taking the fullness of this infinite punishment that these sinners justly deserve from the holy God. It is absolutely clear that first of all, for this substitution to leave these sinners guiltless, that all of this infinite punishment must be taken, and secondly that the one being the substitution for these sinners must not be deserving of any punishment Himself, because then that punishment would fall on the sinners in His stead.

We conclude then that this Person must be both entirely guiltless and righteous, and entirely capable of taking all the fullness of this inifinite punishment and overcoming it so that His guiltlessness and righteousness may be substituted to the sinners' account, just as the sinners' wickedness was substituted to His account. Further, this Person must be of a nature that He can actually be a just substitution. If a goat took the place of a human, it could not be a just substitution. Anything less than fully human, could never be a just substitution for a human.

Again, we see that this substitutionary atonement could then only be accomplished by the only One entirely guiltless and righteous and also entirely capable of bearing and overcoming the infinite punishment of the infinitely holy God and also fully human so that He might be a substitution for humans.

Therefore the problem is that only One both fully God and fully human could ever satisfy this criteria. But this has been revealed in Jesus Christ:

"Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh."

The nature then of this substitutionary atonement is that God the Son became a substitutionary atonement for humans. He took the fullness of the punishment they deserved by suffering and dying on the cross under the holy and just wrath of God the Father and overcame this punishment by being raised to life again on the third day, and by this life, as the wickedness and sinfulness of humans was laid to His account, so by His life, His guiltlessness and righteousness was laid to the account of these humans.

"No-one takes my life from me, I have the authority to lay my life down, and to take it up again."

When we gaze and marvel at the wonder and glory of this substitutionary atonement, we ask ourselves, what do the Scriptures say of this? This is what the Scriptures are all about. This is indeed the heart of the Gospel and the doctrine of salvation. We can only marvel at the sufficiency and security and assurance of so great a redemption - paid with the highest price, the blood of the Son of God. When contemplating this feat wrought by the Saviour on the cross, how could we ever doubt that His work on the cross is surely more than enough to secure us all the benefits of salvation.

"For He made Him who had no sin, to be sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."

"But God commendeth His love to us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement."

"What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"

It is clear that when we correctly understand the glory of this atonement, this heart of the Gospel that all the rest of our theology fits into place. This is, as I said, what the entirety of Scripture points towards - Christ and His work on the cross. At one time, the Evangelicals knew this and held firmly to it, but the enemy infiltrates and sows seeds of discord and doubt and strife and contention.

But, next we must ask, if this is indeed the nature of the substitutionary atonement, then if Christ was the substitutionary atonement for every single person on the planet, then surely every single person on the planet would be saved? Yes. When we correctly understand this substitutionary atonement, it is clear that every single person for whom Christ was the substitutionary atonement, will be saved. As I said, all the rest of important correct Biblical theology falls into place. If Christ had died for every single person, then every single person would be saved. Seeing the truth of substitutionary atonement, the very heart of the Gospel, we can only conclude that Christ did not die for every single person, but only for some.

He laid down His life for the sheep, not the goats. He gave Himself up for the church, not the world. He prays for those who will believe on His name, and not for the world. As we contested before, we now say again, salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. I could also say it this way: the only reason any of us are saved is by grace alone, by the work of Christ on the cross alone.

The only reason any of us are saved is by the work of Christ on the cross, there He accomplished the fullness of salvation for His people, that they would be saved by grace alone and that salvation would be in Him and His work alone, and that it would be to the glory of God alone. So it is clear that when we also say that salvation is through faith alone (in Christ alone - Him and His work on the cross - the substitutionary atonement) that this faith could only be also wrought by the work of Christ on the cross, otherwise all of salvation could not be by grace alone and to the glory of God alone and in Christ alone!

It is not that this faith is a work that we are saved through it, but it is that this faith rests in the work of Christ alone, and thereby declares instantly of itself that it is a useless work and rests not in itself for salvation but only on the work of Christ on the cross alone. Because this saving faith is in Christ alone, it declares of itself that it is only accomplished by the work of Christ on the cross. It is the means by which we behold this substitutionary atonement, the means by which the work of Christ on the cross is applied to individual sinners - the work of the Holy Spirit regenerating them and thereby creating this resting in Christ alone in the heart of a sinner.

So, we see three levels to this great salvation - the unconditional election of these sinners by the Father, the substitutionary atonement for these sinners by the Son, and the regeneration of these sinners producing faith in Christ alone by the Holy Spirit. The Father plans this salvation from the beginning and determines to save His people and sends His Son, His Son gives Himself as a substitutionary atonement for His people to accomplish this salvation, and the Holy Spirit proceeds to apply this salvation to His people by regenerating them to produce faith in Christ alone in their hearts.

What of free will, someone cries! What of it? Our will is enslaved to our nature, and unless our nature is changed from darkness to light, we can never be saved. And if "free will" took any part in our salvation, then we could never say (except being doubletongued and liars) that salvation is by grace alone, and salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, and that salvation is in Christ alone, and that salvation is to the glory of God alone.

If left to our will, we would never trust in Christ alone for salvation, and further, I speak as a fool, for if we looked to Christ by our "free will", we could not be trusting that all of our salvation was in Him alone, but in our "free decision", and His work. And it further denies the work of Christ on the cross and tries to add our work to the work of salvation, and it denies substitutionary atonement and says that the work of Christ was insufficient and says that Christ did not actually pay for our sins, but only somehow made a bridge by which we could go to God if we chose to, and that He certainly did not pay for the sin of unbelief, and that His righteousness is not imputed to all those for whom He died, and that we could do something to please God before being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, it says that Christ did not actually save anyone but only enabled men to save themselves.

To say that Christ saves men with their help is exactly the same as saying that men save themselves with the help of Christ. This is the reality of what synergism means. But when we trust in the subtitutionary atonement of Christ alone, then we are immediately speaking of monergism. It is the "alone" factor that can only mean monergism, and that God helps the helpless without their help, and that His help is never reliant on their help, and they never need any more help or any other help or any of their own help than His help once He is their help. It is in fact this "alone" factor that is the offense of the cross which Paul spoke of; that our salvation is Christ's work alone.

There are few doctrines more unscriptural and anti-Christ and anti-Gospel and deceptive and blasphemous than this one of faith proceeding from "free-will" or synergism. It says that Christ is not the Saviour, but the Helper for men to be their own Saviours. There is no difference between this insistence on the freedom of the will and the Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation by works. What do we mean by works?! We mean anything not of grace, anything that is of the sinner. Those who trust in Christ alone as their salvation recognise that their own will wrought no part of salvation, but that their will to have faith in Christ alone is the result of Christ's work alone. Those who believe that their own will to have faith is not the result of Christ's work alone, do not really have that faith in Christ alone. I call them not to be offended by this, but to examine themselves to be sure that their trust is in the finished work of Christ alone, and not any work of themselves.

"And if by grace it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work."

So then those who trust in the substitutionary atonement of Christ alone for salvation, say "We only have faith because of the election of the Father." Those who trust also in "free will" say totally confusedly, "We are elect of the Father because we have faith." It's plain to see here that the very nature of election is then rendered meaningless, as are the insistent Biblical claims that election is before the foundation of the world. For all intents and purposes, the election here is purposeless and futile, and certainly not before the foundation of the world because it relies on something far more recent. I could continue, but perhaps another time.

For now, I commend the Gospel to you all - the substitutionary atonement accomplished by Christ on the cross by which we are made co-heirs with Him and partakers of all His benefits - that being that we become the recipients of eternal life, and eternal life is this: to know God and His Son whom He has sent.

And here is the result of this promise of salvation of the Gospel - that we know God. That we dwell in relationship with in Him, under no condemnation but beloved of Him as is His Son. That we behold Him in His glory, that we will see Him face to face, that we delight and rejoice in Him and enjoy Him forever. And now we have but a taste of this, and we long for the day when these present sufferings and our sanctification by the work of the Spirit shall be complete.

"For I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us."

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