This is the second part in a blog series on why God came as man. You can go back to read part 1 or part 2.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
What Does the Bible Teach About the Incarnation?
Philippians 2:5-11 describes the ultimate example of humble service: Jesus left His throne and became like us in order to serve us. This passage is often referred to as the “hymn of Christ.” In these verses, depicts Christ’s example of service in a stirring poem that traces His preexistence, incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God. Paul wrote this magnificent theology to encourage the Philippians to consider other people’s interests first (v.4). Jesus is the paradigm of genuine spiritual progress: not a self-aggrandizing struggle for supremacy, but a deep love for God and neighbor shown in deeds of service. Verses 6-11 have some clear indications of poetic structure, leading some to believe that this is a pre-Pauline hymn adapted by Paul. It is just as likely, however, that Paul composed the hymn for this setting. In view of the myriad theological questions that arise in these verses, it is critical to keep two things in mind: 1) these verses were written not to spur Christians to theological debate but to encourage greater humility and love; and 2) the summary of Christ’s life and ministry found here is not unique. The same themes are evident throughout the New Testament.
Prior to the incarnation, Christ was in the form of God (Gk. Morphe theou). Despite the assertions of some scholars to the contrary, this most naturally refers to the “preexistence” of Christ—he, the eternal Son, was there with the Father (John 1:1; 17:5, 24) before he was born in Bethlehem. “Form” here means the true and exact nature of something, or possessing the characteristics and qualities of something. Therefore having the “form of God” is roughly equivalent to having equality with God (isa theo), and it is directly in contrast with having the “form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7).
The Son of God is and always has been God.
“Form” could also be a reference to Christ being the ultimate image of God, “the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3). It might also refer to the fact that he is the visible expression of God’s invisible glory (Col. 1:15). Remarkably, Christ did not imagine that having “equality with God” (which he already possessed”) should lead him to hold onto his privileges. It was not something to be grasped, to be kept and exploited for his own benefit or advantage. Instead, he had a mind-set of service. “Christ did not please himself” (Rom 15:3). In humility , He counted the interests of others as more significant than his own (Phil. 2:3-4).
“Made himself nothing”
“Made himself nothing” has occasioned much controversy. Greek keno can mean “empty, pour out” or also (metaphorically) “give up status and privilege.” Does this mean that Christ temporarily relinquished his divine attributes during his earthly ministry?
The theory of Christ’s kenosis or “self-emptying” is not in accord with the context of Philippians or with early Christian theology. Paul is not saying that Christ became less than God or “gave up” some divine attributes; he is not even commenting directly on the question of whether Jesus was fully omnipotent or omniscient during his time on earth. Nor is he saying that Christ ever gave up on being “in the form of God.” Rather, Paul is stressing that Christ, who had all the privileges that were rightly his as king of the universe, gave them up to become an ordinary Jewish baby bound for the cross. Christ “made himself nothing” by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. While he had every right to stay comfortably where he was (in a position of supreme power and authority) his love drove him to a chosen position of weakness for the sake of sinful man (2 Cor. 8:9, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich”).
In other words, the “emptying” consisted of his becoming human, not of his giving up any part of His true deity.
It is remarkable enough that God the Son would take on human form (Greek schema, “outward appearance, form shape,” a different term from morphe, used in vv.6-7 for “form of God” and “form of a servant”) and thus enter into all the mess of a fallen world. But Jesus went much farther than just condescension, he also became obedient even to the point of death, even death on a cross (Romans 5:19). Crucifixion was not simply a convenient way of executing prisoners. It was the ultimate indignity, a public statement by Rome which said that the crucified one was beyond contempt. The excruciating physical pain was magnified by the degradation and humiliation. No other form of death, no matter how prolonged or physically agonizing, could match crucifixion as an absolute destruction of the person (Matthew 27:35). The cross was the ultimate counterpoint to the divine majesty of the preexistent Christ, and thus was the ultimate expression of Christ’s obedience to the Father.
This is exactly what became the grounds for His exaltation. Jesus’ humiliation His humble service. By humbling Himself on the cross out of love, He demonstrates that He truly shared the divine nature of God, who is love (1 John 4:8). For this reason God raised Him to life and highly exalted Him, entrusting Him with the rule of the cosmos and giving Him the name that is above every name. In the Septuagint, God’s personal name is translated as Kyrios, “Lord,” and this is the name specified in Philippians 2:11. In any case, Paul means that the eternal Son of God received a status and authority (Matthew. 28:18; Acts 2:33) that had not been His before He became incarnate as both God and man. The fact that Jesus received this name is a sign that he exercises his messianic authority in the name of Yahweh.
While Christ now bears the divine name Yahweh (“Lord”), He is still worshiped with His human name “Jesus.” The astounding union of Jesus’ divine and human natures is reinforced by the allusion to Isaiah 45:23 in the words “every knee should bow and every tongue confess,” which in Isaiah refers exclusively to Yahweh (Isa. 45:24). The fact that these words can now be applied to God’s messianic agent—Jesus Christ is Lord—shows that Jesus is fully divine. But the worship of Jesus as Lord is not the final word of the hymn. Jesus’ exaltation also results in the glory of God the Father. This identical pattern is found in 1 Corinthians 15:23-28 when God gives Jesus messianic dominion over all creation and declares that everyone will one day rightly give praise to him as their Lord. In this passage, we learn that when Jesus’ kingdom reaches its fullness, he does not keep the glory for Himself. Instead, “The Son himself will also be subjected to him who puts all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). Even in His exaltation, Jesus remains the model of loving service to God.
This blog series began with discussing the importance of the Incarnation and ended by looking at Philippians 2. Throughout this series, we have examined what the Bible says about the Incarnation and what influential theologians have said about it. The Incarnation is vital to a robust understanding of the Gospel as we have seen. In the Incarnation, God became a man and was born from a virgin in a manger.
Above, all the Incarnation proves to man that God is not disinterested in the affairs of sinners, but rather He came to deal with the problem of man’s sin. This flies right in the face of modern thought about God being “disinterested in man.” The doctrine of the Incarnation demonstrates that God doesn’t talk a big game but actually offers a solution to man’s problem of sin. God in His love sent Jesus into the world. Jesus lived a sinless life as a man through experiencing all the temptations man faces. Jesus lived a sinless life in the midst of people who constantly criticized Him but still wanted his miracles. The people during Christ’s ministry spit in His face and ridiculed Him, but all the while Jesus demonstrated that He cared for people by teaching, healing, setting the captives free, raising the dead and so much more. All of this disproves the modern notion that God is not interested in man. By becoming a man, God showed He was interested in mankind through His willingness to step into our time and space and die for our sins.
So when we consider the doctrine of Incarnation, let us worship the God of the Bible—the Creator of all and the Redeemer of sinners who alone is worthy of all praise, honor and glory.
This is the second part in a blog series on why God came as man. You can read part 1 here.
Is the doctrine of the atonement central to the Scriptures? Why must Jesus, the God-Man, be the one to provide salvation?In the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin argues that this is how God has chosen to do it and, therefore, it is impertinent of us to ask if there could not be some other way.
Salvation had to be achieved by God, for no one else could achieve it. Certainly men and women could not achieve it, for we are the ones who have gotten ourselves into trouble in the first place! We have done so by our rebellion against God’s righteous law and just decrees. We have suffered the effects of sin to such a degree that our will is bound, and therefore we cannot even choose to please God, let alone actually please Him. If we are to be saved, only God, who has power to save, must save us.
Take note of a these wonderful gospel truths:
First, it is God who initiates salvation for man. If this is forgotten, it is easy to think of God as somehow remote from the atonement and therefore merely requiring it as some abstract price paid to satisfy his justice. In that view God appears disinterested, legalistic and cruel. Actually, God’s nature is characterized by love, and it is out of love that He planned and carried out the atonement. In Christ God himself was satisfying His own justice. It’s easy to see why the Incarnation and the atonement must be considered together if each part is not to be distorted.
Secondly, there is no suggestion that human beings somehow placate the wrath of an angry God. Propitiation does refer to placating of wrath. It is not man who placates God. Rather it is God placating His own wrath so that His love might go out to embrace and fully save the sinner.
A proper recognition of the connection between the Incarnation and the atonement makes the Incarnation understandable. At the same time it eliminates the most common misunderstandings of, and objections to, Christ’s sacrifice of himself as the means of salvation.
The divine Son, one of the three persons of the one God, He through whom, from the beginning of the creation, the Father has revealed himself to man (John 1:18), took man’s nature upon Him, and so became our representative. He offered himself as a sacrifice in our stead, bearing our sin in his own body on the tree. He suffered, not only awful physical anguish, but also the unthinkable spiritual horror of becoming identified with the sin to which He was infinitely opposed. He thereby came under the curse of sin, so that for a time even His perfect fellowship with His Father was broken.
Thus God proclaimed His infinite abhorrence of sin by being willing Himself to suffer all that, in place of the guilty ones, in order that He might justly forgive. Thus the love of God found its perfect fulfillment because He did not hold back from even that uttermost sacrifice, in order that we might be saved from eternal death through what He endured. Thus it was possible for Him to be just and to justify the believer, because as Lawgiver and as Substitute for the rebel race of man, He Himself had suffered the penalty of the broken law.
The Centrality of the Cross
There are several explanations that follow from the foundation we have built on the doctrine of the Incarnation. First, according to the Scriptures Calvary is the center of Christianity. Many consider the Incarnation to be the most important thing. In other words, they consider God identifying himself with man important, and consider the atonement as something like an afterthought. According to the Bible, the reason for the God-man is that it required a God-man to die for our salvation. J.I. Packer said, “The crucial significance of the cradle at ..Bethlehem.. lies in its place in the sequence of steps down that led the Son of God to the cross of ..Calvary..,, and we do not understand it till we see it in this context.” To focus on the Incarnation apart from the cross leads to false sentimentality and neglect of the horror and magnitude of human sin.
Second, if the death of Christ on the cross is the true meaning of the Incarnation, then there is no gospel without the Cross. Christmas by itself is no gospel. The life of Christ is no gospel. Even the resurrection, important as it is in the total scheme of things, is no gospel by itself. Or the good news is not just that God became a man, nor that God has spoken to reveal a proper way of life to us. The good news is not even of our great triumph over that great enemy we call death. Rather, the good news is that sin has been dealt with (the resurrection is proof of this); that Jesus has suffered its penalty for us as our representative, so that we might never have to suffer it; and, therefore, all who believe in him can look forward to heaven. The other biblical themes must be seen in this context, as we have already seen of the Incarnation. Emulation of Christ’s life and teaching is only possible to those who enter into a new relationship with God through faith in Jesus as their substitute. The resurrection is not merely a victory over death, but a proof that the atonement was a satisfactory atonement in the sight of the Father (Romans 4:25); and that death, the result of sin, is abolished on that basis.
Any gospel that talks merely of the Christ-event, meaning the Incarnation without the atonement, is a false gospel. Any gospel that talks about the love of God without pointing out that His love led Him to pay the ultimate price for sin in the person of His Son on the cross is a false gospel. The only true gospel is o the “one mediator” (1 Timothy 2:5-6), who gave Himself for us.
Finally, just as there can be no gospel without the atonement as the reason for the Incarnation, so also there can be no Christian life without it. Without the atonement the Incarnation becomes a kind of deification of the human and leads to arrogance and self-advancement. With the atonement, the true message of the life of Christ, and therefore of the life of the Christian man or woman, is humility and self-sacrifice for the obvious needs of others. The Christian life is not indifference to those who are hungry or sick or suffering from some other lack. It is not contentment with our own abundance, neither the abundance of middle-class living with homes and cars and clothes and vacations, nor with the abundance of education nor even the spiritual abundance of good churches, Bibles, Bible teaching or Christian friends and acquaintances. Rather, it is the awareness that others lack these things and that we must therefore sacrifice many of our own interests in order to identify with them and thus bring them increasingly into the abundance we enjoy in Christ.
Paul writing on the Incarnation said in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Tomorrow we will conclude our study by applying the truth of the Incarnation to daily life.
The doctrine of the Incarnation is important to Christianity. It reminds us that Jesus is both God and man. And this is important because it’s impossible to talk meaningfully about who Jesus is without talking about who He was and what He did. Around the turn of the century, James Denney, a professor at the United Free Church College in Glasgow, Scotland, discussed this matter:
Christ is the only person who can do this work for us. This is the deepest and most decisive thing we can know about him, and in answering the questions which it prompts we are starting from a basis in experience. There is a sense in which Christ confronts us as the reconciler. He is doing the will of God on our behalf, and we can only look on. We see him in judgment and the mercy of God in relation to our sins. His presence and work on earth are a divine gift, a divine visitation. He is the gift of God to men, not the offering of men to God, and God gives himself to us in and with him. We owe to him all that we call divine life. On the other hand, this divine visitation si made, and this divine life is imparted, through a life and work which are truly human. The presence and work of Jesus in the world, even the work of bearing sin, does not prompt us to define human and divine by contrast with each other: there is no suggestion of incongruity between them. Nevertheless, they are both there, ad the fact that they are both there justifies us in raising the question as to Jesus’ relation to god on the one hand, and to men on the other. 1
The Reason for the Incarnation
What is the function of the Incarnation in Christianity? A classic statement on why Jesus became man and its answer is found in Anslem of Canterbury (died 1109). Anslem’s theological masterpiece, Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Man?”) deals with the question of the Incarnation. Anslem answered this question that God became man in Christ because only one who was both God and man could achieve our salvation. The Incarnation—coming in the midst of a history of human sin—indicates that God has not abandoned us but rather loves and values us even in our fallen state.
Why Did God Put on Flesh?
The atonement is the reason God came as man. Consider these verses:
“For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book..”
“And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus spoke of his coming suffering.
“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.
“for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”
He linked the success of his mission to the crucifixion:
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
Also, at several places in John’s Gospel the crucifixion is spoken of as that vital “hour” for which Christ came (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1).
The death of Jesus is also a major theme throughout the Old Testament: first, in regard to the meaning of the sacrifices (the meaning at the heart of the law); then in regard to the prophecies, which focused increasingly on the promise of a Coming Redeemer.
Isaiah 53 and other Old Testament texts speak of the suffering of the deliverer to come. Isaiah 53 and other Old Testament passages speak of the suffering of the deliver to come. In Galatians the apostle Paul teaches that even Abraham, who lived before both the law and prophets was saved by faith in Jesus (Gal. 3:8, 16). Furthermore, Jesus told the downcast disciples on the Emmaus Road that the Old Testament foretold His death and resurrection. Luke 24:25-27, “And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” In light of these texts and many others we can say that the atonement of Christ is a primary reason for the Incarnation. It is the explanation of the twofold nature and the focal point of the world and biblical history.
(In the next post, we will look further into the Incarnation-Atonement connection. Stay tuned!)
1 Denney, James, The Death of Christ, ed. R.V.G. Tasker (Chicago: Intervarsity Press, 1964).
The whole work of salvation for sinners is a uniquely Trinitarian work. Consider the following passages:
The Father ordains the work of salvation
Salvation was His Plan.
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him… I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do…I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.”
He chose us and predestined us.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
This was according to His wisdom and purpose.
…according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will
so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord
The Son accomplished our salvation
He reconciled us.
More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
He redeemed us.
he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
We are adopted through Him.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
We are called into His fellowship.
God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
(1 Corinthians 1:9)
We are justified by His work.
and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
The Holy Spirit applies the work of salvation to the Church
He gives the new birth, renews, and regenerates us.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
(John 3:6-7)he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit
He is the Helper Jesus sent.
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
He dwells within us.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
(1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
He conforms us into the image and likeness of Christ.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
(2 Corinthians 3:18)
He empowers us for Christian living.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
He helps and intercedes.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
He keeps us to the very end.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Several biblical terms express (but do not exhaust) the ministry of Jesus as Substitute—and the meaning of the cross—including (but not limited to):
Jesus as our PROPITIATION.
“He is the propitiation for our sins…”
(1 John 2:2)
Related to the ancient Jewish world of temple sacrifices, the core meaning of propitiation (Greek=ἱλασμός “hilasmos”) speaks of Christ as our “wrath taker” (see also 1 John 4:10; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17).
Jesus as our SACRIFICE.
“But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
Also related to the ancient Jewish system, sacrifice (Greek=θυσίας “thusias”) speaks of Christ as the final and all-sufficient substitute, pouring out His blood for our life, rendering the old system of animal sacrifice obsolete.2
Jesus as our REDEMPTION.
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace”
Related to the first century world of slave trading, redemption (Greek=ἀπολύτρωσις “apolutrosis”) speaks of Christ paying the price to purchase freedom for slaves (like us) incapable of self-liberation (see also Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:12; 1 Corinthians 6:20; Galatians 3:13).
Jesus as our RECONCILIATION.
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
(2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
Related to first century family and social relationships, reconciliation(Greek=καταλλάξαντος “katallaxantos“) speaks of Christ mending the relational rift between God and men resulting in relational peace where there used to be war and a deep love connection where there used to be a vast disconnect (see also Romans 5:10).
Jesus as our JUSTIFICATION.
“who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
Related to the first century legal world, justification (Greek=δικαίωσιν “dikaiosin”) speaks of Christ as the one in whom we are declared legally righteous in the eyes of God, the divine Judge (see Romans 4:25, 5:16, 18). God the Father declared His own Son, who was actually righteous, sinful and punished Him as such, so He could declare us, who are actually sinful, righteous and reward us as such (see also John 11:50-52; Romans 5:8-9;Philippians 3:9; Titus 2:13-14; 1 Peter 2:21-25, 3:18).
Jesus as our ADVOCATE.
“…we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
(1 John 2:1)
Another term from the first century courtrooms, advocate (Greek=παράκλητον“parakleton”) speaks of Christ as our defense attorney arguing our “not guilty” verdict before the Father by appealing to His own completed death sentence as sufficient payment for our law-breaking.
IN CHRIST ALONE
In this manifold work of God, through Jesus, we find the incredible gospel truth of substitutionary atonement. This grace-saturated doctrine reminds us that, in submission to the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ stood as our substitute, in our place, to serve as our propitiation, our sacrifice, our redemption, our reconciliation, our justification, our advocate.
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
(2 Corinthians 5:21)
WHAT IS SUBSTITUTIONARY ATONEMENT?
The cross of Jesus is where the substitutionary atonement happened. On the cross, Jesus served as our substitute and atoned for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).
At the cross, our sin became Christ’s sin, our blameworthiness became Christ’s blameworthiness, the wrath we deserve from an infinitely just Being became the wrath He absorbed from an inﬁnitely just Being. It made salvation possible for spiritually dead sinners wrought with guilt. As if this weren’t good news enough, Christ’s blamelessness became our blamelessness, Christ’s reward became our reward, Christ’s perfection our perfection, and Christ’s conﬁdent standing before the holy and just Father became our confident standing before the holy and just Father.
We can no more improve on Christ’s imputed righteousness than we can count past inﬁnity.
“This is our acquittal: the guilt that held us liable for punishment has been transferred to the head of the Son of God…We must, above all, remember this substitution, lest we tremble and remain anxious throughout life—as if God’s righteous vengeance, which the Son of God has taken upon himself, still hung over us….[To] take away all cause for enmity and to reconcile us utterly to himself, he wipes out all evil in us by the expiation set forth in the death of Christ; that we, who were previously unclean and impure, may show ourselves righteous and holy in his sight.”
(John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 2, pp. 506, 510)
“When we think of such an act of grace on God’s part, we have the answer to our question: how can God justify the ungodly? The righteousness of Christ is the righteousness of his perfect obedience, a righteousness undefiled and undefileable, a righteousness which not only warrants the justification of the ungodly but one that necessarily elicits and constrains such justification. God cannot but accept into His favor those who are invested with the righteousness of His own Son.”
(John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 124)
“Religion says, ‘attain’; the gospel says, ‘obtain.’ Religion says, ‘attempt’; the gospel says, ‘accept.’ Religion says, ‘try’; the gospel says, ‘trust.’ Religion says, ‘do this’; the gospel says, ‘it is done.’”
(Ajith Fernando, The Supremacy of Christ, 144)
OTHER ATONEMENT THEORIES
The redemptive suffering of Jesus stands in stark contrast to the following sub—biblical theories:
Origen’s Ransom Theory: Alexandrian thinker Origen taught in the 3″’ century that Jesus’ death was a ransom paid to the devil. As Wayne Grudem points out, “it falsely thinks of Satan rather than God as the one who required that a payment be made for sin and this completely neglects the demands of God’s justice with respect to sin. It views Satan as having much more power than he actually does, namely, power to demand whatever he wants from God.”
(Systematic Theology, 581)
Abelard’s Moral Influence Theory: French thinker Peter Abelard taught in the 12″“ century that Jesus’ death was just God’s way of saying “l love you” to the human race, but there was no payment for sin involved. Although the cross is a powerful “I love you” from God to humans to influence us to a moral life, this view leaves us without a solution to our problem of our objective blameworthiness before a just God. This view has witnessed a resurgence in today’s church as God’s wrath and our guilt have been downplayed (to appease consumers) so that the cross becomes merely an expression of God’s love rather than of God’s love and justice. The cross-work of Christ is the ultimate display of God’s retributive justice and His redeeming love. If either God’s justice or love is compromised, so is the gospel.
Socinus’ Example Theory: Italian thinker Socinus taught in the 16th century, Jesus’ death does nothing more than give us with an example of the kind of obedience God desires from His creatures. While the cross does serve as a powerful example of costly obedience we ought to mirror, this view, along with the Ransom and Moral Influence theories, overlooks that God requires payment for the offense of sin against His holy nature.
Leo X’s Penance Theory: As Pope Leo X and John Tetzel taught in the 16th century, the crosswork of Jesus is not sufficient to save sinners. We must supplement the work of Christ by purchasing indulgences, gazing at relics, and committing acts of penance to work off whatever sins were not payed for on the cross. This view resorts to our own religious performance in a futile attempt to gain God’s favor. It reduces “good works” to insecure attempts to become saved rather than grateful acts because we are saved thanks to Christ’s work as our Great Substitute.
When the church loses sight of the good news of Christ’s substitutionary death we slide into performance-based spirituality, embracing the bad news (the anti-gospel) that man must save himself.