Forgiveness versus Payment (Part 2 of 2)

When a strong man, who is fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. Nevertheless, when a stronger individual attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor that the man trusted and divides up his plunder.—Luke 11.21,22

This week, I want to address some of the responses I received from the eSight a couple of weeks ago when I asked, “Did God punish our sins in Christ, or did He forgive our sins in Christ.”

First, I would like to address what a few people have shared regarding things in Isaiah 53 that they felt contradicted what I shared in the eSight. I would like to draw attention specifically to verses 3 and 4 of Isaiah 53 because they are the foundation upon which the rest of the chapter (even verse 10) is based and the lens through which we should interpret everything else that is said in the following verses.

“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.” —Isaiah 53.3,4 (emphasis added)

Whatever we believe about the “punishment” of Jesus on the cross and however we interpret that “punishment”, our understanding must be influenced by the fact that the “punishment” so to speak, came from US, not God. This truly changes everything in Isaiah 53.

“But He was pierced through [by us] for our transgressions, He was crushed [by us] for our iniquities; The chastening [which we inflicted upon him] for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging [which we inflicted upon him] we are healed.” (Verse 5)

Someone might question how this could be. Remember, we are the ones who rebelled against God based on an inaccurate understanding of His character that we believed. This is how God designed to win us back.

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. (Acts 4.27, 28)

“People of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2.22, 23)

Notice this emphasis on and interpretation of Christ’s suffering or “punishment” in these verses. First, it was what WE did to him. Christ suffered that which was inflicted upon Him by our hands. Second, this was God’s will, purpose or plan (a mystery hidden from ages and generations. See Colossians 1) But why was it God’s will for Jesus to suffer at our hands? Remember, Jesus purpose was to destroy the work of the devil. Jesus purpose was to reveal to us the truth of God’s character of radical, other centered, self sacrificial love. (See John 12:27,28 cf. 1 John 3.8) How was this to be done? It was all to be seen in how Jesus would respond to being crucified by us. How would God respond to man’s ultimate sin and rebellion? We would endeavor to murder God Himself in human flesh, and how would God respond?

He would turn the other cheek.

He would love His enemies.

He would reveal that God’s response to our over all rebellion was the same as His response to it at this very moment, “Forgive them, for they never have understood what they were really doing.” (Genesis 3:1-5; Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-38; Luke 23:34) Remember, this was all for the purpose of bringing us back to God from our transgression and rebellion. Isaiah 53:

“All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity [rebellion] of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted [by us], Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.” (Verses 6 and 7)

God visibly and universally responded to our rebellion and displayed the grand principle that we see in Proverbs 15.1:

“A gentle answer turns away wrath.”

This is exactly how Peter interpreted Isaiah 53:

But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO

COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.—1 Peter 2:21-25

I cannot locate any writer in the New Testament who interprets Isaiah 53 in the way that modern Christianity interprets it. It might be in the writings of the New Testament’s authors, but I simply cannot find it.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”—Colossians 1.21,22 (emphasis added)

“And in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” —Ephesians 2.16 (emphasis added)

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. [Not punishing us in Christ, but by dropping the charges against us in Christ] And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are, therefore, Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” —2 Corinthians 5.18-20 (emphasis added)

I would be much less reticent to embrace the idea that God vented HIS wrath against Jesus in our stead on the cross if I could find a New Testament author who placed the same emphasis and importance on it as I see being done today. The wrath of God is a clear concept in the New Testament that is taught, but nowhere do I find the cross explained by the apostles as primarily being an event wherein God vented His wrath against Jesus in my place, rather than against me. Do a quick search for the word “wrath”, and you will see immediately what I am saying. If being a recipient of God’s wrath in our stead is the primary way we are to view the historical event of the cross, I find it odd that the apostles never clearly say it.

Ok if you are still with me at this stage, I’m impressed! If you are barely hanging on, you can skip to the last paragraph of this eSight. If you are a die hard and you want some more history on why there are so many different views of what the Cross was all about, keep reading!

Here is a little bit of history on the subject:

Within Christianity, since the eleventh century, there has been a dispute over what the reconciliation of the cross means and how it was achieved. The early church emphasized how Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated Satan and, consequently, set humankind free from his oppressive rule. This view is commonly referred to as the Christus Victor (Latin for “Christ the Victor”) view of the atonement. Whereas no Christian ever denied that Christ’s death and resurrection defeated Satan, this understanding of the atonement became less prominent after the early Middle Ages. Today, I praise God for the fact that we are seeing a resurgence of and interest in this view once again as portraying the primary significance of the atonement in the New Testament. This was the understanding of the early church.

In the eleventh century (1,000 years after the crucifixion), Anselm of Canterbury, a Benedictine monk and philosopher, offered the view that Jesus’ death resulted in “satisfaction” between God and humanity by paying the penalty for humanity’s sin. This view is usually referred to as the satisfaction view of the atonement. As the term was used in Anselm’s day, “satisfaction” did not refer to a subjective emotion. Rather, it referred to the reparation that was due to someone after he or she had been wronged. In Anselm’s view, humanity owed God infinite reparation because sin against God is an infinite crime. Therefore, either humanity would have to pay for its wrongs by suffering eternal hell, or God Himself would have to pay for the wrongs. God did the latter by becoming a man and dying on the cross. Only those who reject God’s sacrifice now need to suffer eternally. Although the influence of Anselm’s satisfaction theory is apparent among some today, few Christian scholars currently embrace it on its own as an adequate way to express the Bible’s view of Jesus’ death.

Then, in the twelfth century, Peter Abelard, a French philosopher, theologian, and preeminent logician, brought a new dimension to the atonement based on some of the writings of Augustine. He argued that the primary significance of Jesus’ life and death is that they serve as examples of how we should live. The perfect love Jesus expressed, especially in his willingness to die for others, is a model for us to emulate. This view of the atonement is sometimes called the subjective view of the atonement or moral influence theory. To be fair to Augustine, his beliefs were a hybrid of the previously emphasized Christus Victor and what later became moral influence theory. Whereas all concede that Jesus’ life and death are models for us and that they should evoke obedient love toward God, few Christians identify this as the primary significance of the atonement.

In the sixteenth century, John Calvin and Martin Luther advocated for a view of the atonement that was somewhat different from all of these. Their view was a reaction to Abelard’s teachings in favor of a view that looked more like the Benedictine monk Anselm’s view. Although their view differed in some areas from Anselm’s view, Calvin and Luther believed that Jesus bore the punishment that humanity deserved. Only in this way, they argued, could humanity be reconciled to an all-holy God. Although it was similar to Anselm’s view, this view stressed that Jesus actually bore the sin of humanity and took the punishment that humanity deserved. Once again, this view failed to capture the emphasis and interpretation that the early church gave to the Cross of Calvary. This view is called the penal substitution view of the atonement or the substitutionary view of the atonement. This is the view that is most frequently embraced by evangelical Christians in North America.

In the seventeenth century, a reformer named Hugo Grotius found the penal substitution view to be objectionable for a number of reasons. He argued that Jesus did not literally take on the sin of the world and suffer God’s punishment on behalf of humanity. Grotius taught that God does not have a quota of judgment that has to be poured out on someone, namely His Son, in order for Him to love and forgive sinners. That is, God does not consider people to be holy because of what Jesus did. He actually wants us to live holy lives. This is the central reason for the cross. According to Grotius, Jesus did suffer the wrath of God as a demonstration of God’s wrath against sin. This act was done to teach humanity about the consequences of sin and to inspire us to engage in holy living. Therefore, the cross preserves God’s moral government of the world. As a result, this view is called the moral government view of the atonement. It, too, has gained support among some scholars.

I detest labels because once someone label’s you they feel they can simply write you off now, as if you had nothing left to say. But if I were to allow myself to be labeled, I would have say that I feel most at home in the Christus Victor view. I see Paul saying that Christ defeated Satan in the cosmic, heavenly controversy over God’s character of radical, self- sacrificial, other-centered love through forgiving our sin in Christ, rather than through punishing our sin in Christ.

“He forgave us for all of our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And thereby disarming the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” —Colossians 2.13-15

“When a strong man, who is fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. Nevertheless, when a stronger individual attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor that the man trusted and divides up his plunder.”—Luke 11.21,22

I am not dogmatic about any of this though. I am open to discussion and more than willing to allow each of us to disagree. All of the views mentioned above are currently held by individuals who have expressed love for Jesus and are committed to following and serving Him. What I shared in the eSight two weeks ago was my view as opposed to Anselm’s view, to which most Christians today subscribe with regard to how they interpret the atonement. (Unintentionally I believe, through traditionally based means, and based on a what I consider to be misinformed definitions of terms). Anselm’s theology was a late development within Christianity; it was not the view held by the early Church. This is a historical fact agreed upon by all, rather than a personal opinion held only by me. Anselm’s views were also the product of a picture of God that was rooted and grounded in the Middle Ages era of Christianity, which I strongly oppose. I love each of you dearly, including the few of you who disagree with me. We must remember that the topic we are discussing is multifaceted. Arguments have raged within Christianity for centuries over these very issues. I am happy to speak with anyone about this matter. We might not settle it in the present; we might have to use extreme tolerance of each other’s views. However, when I consider that the atonement will be our study throughout eternity, I am quite content to say that all of us, including myself, know nothing as we yet will. I am happy to walk beside each of you for whatever distance time and circumstances permit in our “eternal” study of this topic in the here and now.

Keep living in God’s indiscriminate love for all (Matthew 5.44,45) and keep building the kingdom.

I love you guys, and I will see you next week.