With yesterday being Good Friday, I found myself unusually preoccupied with discussions on the atonement. It began with an introduction to term that has been around for centuries, but which I was not familiar with– Penal Substitution.
While the debate has gone on for centuries, it appears to take on new forms all the time. There are those who contend that there is no need for a substitution. There are those who believe that that God could never poor out his wrath upon his Son for our sake as it would negate his forgiveness of us. And there are other takes as well.
The bottom line is that this doctrine is critical to the Christian faith. Without a proper understanding of it, it’s difficult to know the unregenerate sinner’s plight. Let me explain.
There is this mechanism called imputation. If you look it up, it’s basically ascribing something to one’s account that he may have had nothing to do with. We see several cases of imputation being employed in the scriptures:
- Adam’s sin in the garden is imputed to Adam’s posterity so that all men are born sinners, not just with a sinful nature. There are those who believe we’re just born with a sin nature. But this is not all of it. We’re actually born as sinners and condemned to God’s wrath. In the scriptures, there is never a mention of an age of accountabilty. I can go into more details on this if anyone desires.
- At Christ’s crucifiction, our sins were imputed to Christ’s account so that he that knew no sin could become sin for us. For this, God poored out his wrath upon his only begotten Son as he allowed the Son of God to be scourged, mocked, tortured, crucified and pearced by his creature. On top of this, God the Father forsook Christ just before Jesus took his last breath. Now, picture this: the second person of the ontological trinity was separated from the Father and the Spirit for the first time in eternity. This agony was far greater than anything we could ever suffer since we have been alienated from God since birth.
- Also at the cross, Christ’s righteousness is imputed unto all those who believe in him. This is not a perpetual thing and has already occurred. Again, we can go into more detail upon request. The point is that we do not merely stand before God and he pardons us with the end being we’re simply pardoned sinners. When God looks at us, he sees righteousness– the righteousness of his Son. This doesn’t mean that when he looks at us, he looks back at his Son and what Christ did for us. He sees us as righteous as if we lived obedient to him. This is what it means to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us.
So, that’s a brief explanation of imputation in the scriptures. Hopefully, you’re seeing the significance of it in the work of atonement. And, hopefully you can see why it’s penal in nature. In order to atone for our sin, someone had to experience the wrath of God. And, this someone had to be without blemish of his own– spotless. All of this was met in Christ.
Was all of this necessary? Absolutely! For God to bypass any of this would cause him to be inconsistent with his own demands upon his creature. He has to be morally consistent with his word and with his character if we are to have any hope of redemption and to avoid having a subjective experience.
Now, is this worth defending during this time of year or during any time of year, for that matter? I believe so. Otherwise, what is our hope? And do we still carry the guilt of our sin? It is my desire that those who name the name of Christ will get back to the seriousness of this doctrine and examine the scriptures to see what they say.