Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Importance of the Docrine of Penal Substitution

The doctrine of Penal Substitution states that Christ died on the cross for sinners. He took our place as a substitute and took the punishment that sinners deserve in our place. The Father punished the Son instead of sinners. Since the penalty for sin has been paid, this payment will be applied to those who have faith in Christ. To me personally, this is one of my most cherished and beloved doctrines of the faith (not that I don't love them all) because it articulates what the sufferings of our dear Lord and Savior went through accomplished for us and why He had to suffer them. Other formulations of the atonement seem to leave something out.

Ransom theory and Christus Victor:
The ransom theory states that when Adam and Eve sinned, they effectually sold themselves to Satan. To rescue them, God tricked Satan into crucifying Jesus and thereby bought humanity back from Satan.

Christus victor, which is an updated version of the ransom theory, makes the atonement a liberation from death and sin.

The problem with the ransom theory is that it gives power over God to Satan. It also seems to make God deceptive in tricking Satan. Christus victor on its own has not gone far enough in its explanation and still leaves personal sin unpaid for and the wrath of God unfulfilled, although I think it does become an aspect of penal substitution.

Governmental theory:
This theory contends that

"Jesus was not punished on behalf of the human race. Instead, God publicly demonstrated his displeasure with sin by punishing his own sinless and obedient Son as a propitiation. Because Christ's suffering and death served as a substitute for the punishment humans might have received, God is able to extend forgiveness while maintaining divine order, having demonstrated the seriousness of sin and thus appeasing his wrath."1

This seems to leave no actual direct payment for sin, and doesn't explain exactly what the cross accomplished.

Moral influence theory:
This theory contends that God actually requires no payment for sin, but crucified His son to make Him an example for us to follow. It is supposed to greatly inspire humanity to soften their hearts and be self-sacrificing. This as the sole reason for the crucifixion seems ridiculous to me. Could this influence not have been conveyed without bloodshed? Also, if this theory is the case, how is Christ the only way to the Father? This theory also gives the impression that our own merits somehow garner our salvation.

The strengths of and Biblical support for Penal Substitution:
Some people are offended by the penal substitution formulation of the atonement, contending that it is unjust for someone else to pay for the sins of others. I'm wondering what happened on the cross if Jesus Himself wasn't taking the punishment for our sins. It is not as if Jesus had no say in the matter, but as God, Jesus Himself, out of His love for His creation, was accepting the punishment that humanity required on the cross. He died for our sins. "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him" (Isaiah 53:5) and "it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief" (Isaiah 53:10).

Not only is there a lot of scriptural support for it, but the whole sacrificial system of the Old Testament is a type of what would come in the person of Jesus Christ. It also makes sense of Paul's statement that in the gospel the "righteousness of God is revealed" (Romans 1:17). God remains a righteous and just judge by not dismissing the evil of sin. This problem is clarified in our knowledge of our own judicial systems. We know that a judge that would let a criminal off the hook without payment would be a corrupt judge. But God does not simply dismiss our sins, the punishment is taken on by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. Oh what great love and mercy our God has for us, even when we don't deserve it!

One offended party I came across on the internet said it would be a crime for the Father to punish Jesus for something He didn't do. To say it's a crime for a willing party to accept the punishment of others out of love for them is poisoning the well. Christ willingly bore our sins and became sin for us so that we may be righteous before God (2 Corinthians 5:21). The curse of sin is removed from those that believe because Christ Himself became the curse of sin for us (Galatians 3:13).

The penal substitution theory also makes sense of the other theories. The ransom and Christus victor theories become applicable within penal substitution because a payment for sin was made, but the payment made was our penalty and it was made to the Father. The moral influence is applicable, but because we should truly be inspired by the price paid for our salvation from our sins and the punishment they required.

Only in the penal substitution formulation of the atonement is sense fully made of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. It truly shows the great love and mercy of our God, and also retains His righteous and just nature. Thank Jesus Christ!!!

1 Theopedia, Governmental theory of atonement,


Marcus McElhaney said...

This a great post! I totally agree. Jesus' death actually paid for the sins of all believers! Life for Life. It comes down to do we want to pay for own sins or accept Jesus' gift. My only question is could Jesus' death be propitiatory for us unless God already knew who the believers were, are, and will be?

Kevin Jackson said...

Nice review. Although I do hold to Penal Substitution, I don't think the Theopedia article accurately represents the Moral Government theory. Methinks it was written by Calvinists. :)

Roger Olson explains MG as follows: "The governmental theory includes an element of substitution! The only significant difference between it and the penal substitution theory…is that the governmental theory does not say that in their place Christ bore the actual punishment of sinners; it says that he bore suffering as an alternative punishment in their place. In other words, according to those Arminians who do hold to the governmental theory, God inflicted pain on Christ for the sins of the world in order to uphold his justice and holiness. Christ’s suffering was equivalent to any sinner’s deserved punishment so that God could forgive while at the same time being wholly just and holy. But Christ did not take the actual punishment deserved by every person(Arminian Theology p224)."

Mr. Guthrie said...

Hello, I have recently started following your blog and enjoy it. However, I am not sure I agree with your evaluation of Cristus Victor. In seminary I read Gustav Aulen's "Christus Victor" and came away with a different impression that it is a view of the atonement seperate from the ransom theory. Its emphasis is upon the transformation of believers made possible through the Cross and Resurrection. In fact, its emphasis upon transformation makes it compatible with the portrait of the sanctified Christian in "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection."

Mr. Guthrie said...

I forgot to mention that in Christus Victor sin is paid for, at least that is what I read in Aulen. As to giving the power of God over to Satan, I will have to reread the book on that point. In fact, I have planned to write about the compatibility between Christus Victor and the Wesleyan view of sanctification on my blog.

bossmanham said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. If I have misrepresented another view I will attempt to fix it. Mr Guthrie, I wasn't trying to say that Christus Victor and the Ransom theory were one in the same, but that they were similar and one kind of came from another. I think many aspects of Christus Victor are accurate, but alone I don't think they fully represent all the aspects of the atonement. Thank you very much for reading my blog.

Please note I haven't exhaustively studied any of these, but much of what I do know comes from internet sources and John Stott's the Cross of Christ.

Lvka said...

Your priceless little jewel has one flaw, though: how do you reconcile it with the Sermon on the Mount, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, or the parable of the man who owed 10,000 talants?

bossmanham said...

I figured one of you guys would meander on over to this post. I posted a response to this on Rho's blog. I'm also going to craft a nice little blog post on it.