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Law and Gospel

Having come face to face with my own sinfulness, my own lack of keeping the law of God, I have spent the last several months looking at the law and the gospel.  While this is not new to Christianity, it is fairly new to me.  I grew up in a church environment that was heavy on the law.  You keep the law and God was happy.  Break the law (which was often), God is now angry with you.  The gospel was not the end but only a step to helping me keep myself clean.  It was not Jesus period.  It was Jesus who now enables me to keep the law and when I fail, back to the beginning.

We all sin.  None of us are perfect.  We read passages such as Romans 3:23 and acknowledge the universal sinfulness of mankind.  But we miss the point that we are sinners ourselves.  I am not arguing that we wake up each day thinking “what can I do today to violate the law of God” but we do sin.  Whether we make sins into categories such as “sins of omission” and “sins of commission,” either way we do sin.  Apart from grace, none of us can stand before a holy God.  It is only through Christ that we can stand before a holy and totally pure God.  The reason Christ died for my sins is not simply to enable me to be holy on my own power but He died because I am a sinner in need of forgiveness because I do sin (1 John 2:1-2).

Consider the command of Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40:

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Stop and consider how you are doing with that one?  I’m not even good at it.  I would love to say that I love God perfectly as Jesus taught.  I would love to tell you that my love for God flows into loving my neighbor as myself.  But the reality is that I fall way short of these two commands and Jesus said that law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.  Do these and you’ll be perfect!  But I don’t!

And thus the gospel comes into play.  The law condemns me as a sinner (Romans 3:19) and the law teaches me that I need a Savior (Galatians 3:24).  The law condemns me.  The gospel saves me.  The law shows me that I am a sinner (Romans 7:7).  There is nothing wrong with the law of God (Romans 7:12) but the problem is me.  I can’t keep the law.  No matter how hard I try, I fail.

The gospel preaches peace to me.  The law tells me to love God perfectly and my neighbor perfectly (Matthew 5:48).  The gospel tells me Christ died for my sins and the sins of not loving God perfectly nor my neighbor as myself.  The law tells me to love my wife as Christ loves His Church (Ephesians 5:25).  The gospel tells me that Christ died for the sin of not loving my wife as Christ loves His Church (I am far from a perfect husband).  The law tells me to pray, to worship, to evangelize, to give my money to the poor and to helping the kingdom of God, to do good to my neighbor especially of those of the household of faith, etc. but the gospel tells me that Christ died for my sins even the sins of not keeping the law perfectly.

Martin Luther taught two (and I would add a third) uses of the law.  Lutherans debate the third use of the law.  The three uses of the law are:

  • For society, to curb man’s sinfulness.
  • To condemn us a sinners and show us our need for salvation.
  • To help the Christian in sanctification.

These three uses of the law are seen not just in the Bible but in life.  Antinomians accept the first two uses of the law but not the third.  I believe in preaching all three.  Christians need to hear the law so that the Holy Spirit can help us in the process of sanctification.  So for example a believer hears that we should pray (Luke 18:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Prayer itself doesn’t justify us before God.  We are justified only through Christ Jesus alone by grace alone though faith alone.  Yet none would say that prayer is bad.  Yet prayer can become a law.  It was that way for me.  I once held that a person should pray for 2 hours a day or God was not pleased.  Prayer became a law and gospel for me.  But prayer is not the gospel.  The gospel is the death of Jesus for our sins and His resurrection for our justification (Romans 4:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  Thus Jesus died for my sin of prayerlessness.  Does this mean that I should not pray since Jesus died for my sin of prayerlessness?  By no means! The key is to see prayer as flowing from my forgiveness and not from the law.  I pray because Christ shed His blood for me (Hebrews 4:14-16).

This holds true of any law.  The law if holy and good (1 Timothy 1:8-11).  The law shows me how far I am far from the perfection of God.  But the gospel shouts to me that I am accepted in the Beloved.  I am holy before God because of Christ (Hebrews 10:10, 14) and not by my works.  The law tells me to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15-16) and this is good.  The gospel tells me that I am accepted in Christ Jesus who bled and died for my sins (Romans 5:6).

This understanding of the law and the gospel has blessed me.  It has brought some joy to my soul where joy has been lacking.  For so long I have been full of pride, my own self-righteousness.  I thought God was honored by my prayer life, my evangelism, my passion for God.  Like Voddie Bauchman preaches, my works-righteousness muscle likes to flex.  I would have, in the past, gladly acknowledged Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and would have gladly told you that I was saved by His grace alone but in reality I was full of pride, thinking more highly of myself than I ought (Philippians 2:3).  I would have preached Christ but my focus was not on pleasing Christ per se but on men seeing how much I “loved” Jesus.  Oh how much pride was in my heart!  Oh wretched sinner that I was!

But Christ died for me.  Christ bled and suffered for my sins.  Jesus gave His life for my sins and now I am forgiven not because I keep the law but because I can’t keep the law (Galatians 3:10).  Christ suffered in my place, for my sins (Galatians 3:13-14).  I am saved now not because I keep the law but because of faith in Jesus Christ who gave His life for my sins.  What a blessing!  What a Savior!

I have no problem with the law.  The law is good.  The law comes from our holy God.  Yet too many Christians try to live the law.  You will always be falling short.  Always.  You will never obtain holiness by the law.  Even if you think (as I did) that I had obtained a level of holiness by my striving, inside (like me) you’ll know that you stand condemned because you can’t keep the whole law (James 2:10).  I have no problem preaching the law and calling Christians to repent of not keeping the law.  But the balance of this is the gospel.  The answer to not keeping the law is not more law.  The answer is the gospel.  The law condemns us as sinners.  The gospel comforts us by pointing to Christ who died for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Perhaps I am wrong on this.  I don’t think so.  I believe it’s biblically based.  I know that this teaching has pushed me closer to Christ and not away.  I still hate sin.  I really do hate sin.  I acknowledge that I do sin but I hate my sins.  I am so grateful to God for giving me His Son for my sins (John 1:29).  I stand condemned but Christ preaches to me no condemnation (Romans 8:1).  Satan accuses me of sin and he is right to do so.  But I trust in Christ alone for my salvation (Hebrews 7:25).  Jesus has promised not only to save me from my sins (Matthew 1:21; Romans 6:1-4) but He has promised to keep me (Jude 24-25).  I trust in Christ alone and not my works-righteousness before a holy God.

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Arminianism and the Penal Substitutionary View of the Atonement

Here is a great article written by Dr. James Leonard on the subject of the atonement of Jesus Christ and the penal substitutionary view.  Some Calvinists contend that not only is the penal view the only view of the atonement that is truly biblically based but also one cannot hold to the penal view and not hold to definite atonement (or limited atonement).  I know this has confused some Arminians to the point that they now reject the penal view in favor of the moral governmental view.

Dr. Leonard’s piece is well written and draws upon Arminianism to show that an Arminian can safely hold to the penal view while rejecting limited atonement.

The Wrath of God and the Appropriation of the Atonement

I was reading a book written by a moral government brother and he stated that he did not believe that the atonement of Christ did away with the wrath of God since the New Testament states that God’s wrath remains even after the atonement of Christ. He cites the following passages:

Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. – Luke 21:23

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. – John 3:36

Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. – Acts 12:23

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. – Romans 1:18

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. – Romans 2:5

On account of these the wrath of God is coming. – Colossians 3:6

For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand? – Revelation 6:17

He also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. – Revelation 14:10

The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. – Revelation 16:19

He goes on to write:

We are not saved from the wrath of God at Calvary, but we are saved from the wrath of God, because of Calvary, at conversion.  Though our penalty can be withheld, God will only turn from His wrath when sinners turn from their sins.  Those who stay in their sins are those who stay under God’s wrath despite the atonement  that was made for them.  Those whom Jesus died are still under the wrath of God and are going to receive the penalty of hell, unless they repent of their sins and believe the gospel.

Obviously there is much truth to what he states in the above.  I do not deny that the wrath of God still abides on those who do not repent of their sins.  Some Calvinists hold that the wrath of God was appeased at the cross for the elect of God only and thus a penal substitutionary is seen as satisfying God’s wrath for His elect at the cross.  The problem I have with both views is that the wrath of God is appeased in Christ’s atonement only when it is received by faith.  This is the key (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Notice one of my favorite Bible passages in Romans 3:21-26:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

You will notice the passages I underlined.  The atonement, our propitiation (1 John 2:2; 4:10) through the shed blood of Jesus (v.24) are made only for those who appropriate the work of Christ.  John Wesley preached,

Whosoever thou art, O man, who hast the sentence of death in thyself, who feelest thyself a condemned sinner, and hast the wrath of God abiding on thee: Unto thee saith the Lord, not, “Do this,” — perfectly obey all my commands, — “and live;” but, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”The word of faith is nigh unto thee:” Now, at this instant, in the present moment, and in thy present state, sinner as thou art, just as thou art, believe the gospel; and “I will be merciful unto thy unrighteousness, and thy iniquities will I remember no more.”

A sinner must appropriate, by faith, the atonement of Christ in order to be saved and to remain saved.  Our salvation, from first to last, is entirely dependent upon the Lord Jesus and His sacrifice for our sins.  Our salvation is not our faith, our works, our righteousness but rather our salvation is complete faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who gave His life as a sacrifice for our sins (1 Peter 3:18).  Scripture clearly presents the atonement of Christ as a vicarious atonement in our place (Isaiah 53:4-6; Matthew 26:28; Galatians 1:4; etc.).

Arminius wrote this about the satisfaction of God’s wrath at the atonement for the sinner:

[God] rendered satisfaction to his love for justice and to his hatred against sin, when he imposed on his Son the office of Mediator by the shedding of his blood and by the suffering of death; and he was unwilling to admit him as the Intercessor for sinners except when sprinkled with his own blood in which he might be made the propitiation for sins…In this respect also it may with propriety be said, that God rendered satisfaction to himself, and appeased himself in “the Son of his love.”

As Vic Reasoner writes,

The biblical doctrine of propitiation is based on the premise that we can do nothing to compensate for our sins or turn away God’s anger.  Therefore, God takes the initiative and Himself provides the propitiation in the person of His Son.

Reasoner then quotes Wesley,

The purpose of the propitiation was to appease an offended God.  But if, as some teach, God never was offended, there was no need of this propitiation.  And if so, Christ died in vain.

Christ faithfully died for God and He satisfied the wrath of God against sin.  He shed His blood to atone for our sins and He was condemned for our sins against the law of God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Galatians 3:13-14).  Christ died for God and with a view on pleasing the Father.  Jesus willingly laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:11) which would be all those whom would be saved through faith in His blood (1 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 2:1-2).  All can come and be saved in Christ (John 1:12-13; 3:16).

My point in all this is to simply show that Arminianism correctly teaches the penal substitutionary view of the atonement.  In my estimation, the penal view teaches that Christ died for God and not merely for our sins.  The focus of the cross was upon God and not humans.  The purpose of the atonement was the satisfy the just wrath of God against sin.  However, I believe that the atonement is only sufficient for those who appropriate His work.  The cross saves no one apart from faith (Romans 5:1).  Those who reject the cross by their unbelief remain under God’s wrath (John 3:36; Romans 1:18-32).  God’s wrath will be poured out upon those who reject Christ and they will be eternally condemned (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10).  The fact that Jesus died on the cross saves no one.  The work of Christ only saves those who place their faith in His saving work (Romans 10:14-17).

The Assemblies of God and the Atonement

I read recently a Calvinist speaker who stated that the Assemblies of God held to moral government view regarding the atonement of Christ.  In reality, this is not true.  Granted, the Assemblies of God can be diverse in their views since the Sixteen Fundamental Truths of the Assemblies of God simply states that Christ is our substitute.  It does not define what is meant by that.  Yet in the official Assemblies of God theology text, Systematic Theology edited by Dr. Stanley Horton, the text clearly lays out why the Assemblies of God holds to a penal substitutionary view regarding the atonement.

In fact, the text states that the moral government view has its problems and lists them (p. 341).  To be fair, the text also states three main objections to the penal view (pp. 342-343).

I do wish the text-book spent more time on the atonement (and other theological issues) but the statement it makes regarding the atonement, no Arminian nor even Calvinists would have an issue.

The text then gives three aspects of Christ’s saving work.  They are:

  • Sacrifice for our sins.  In this is included propitiation.
  • Reconciliation (Romans 5:11).
  • Redemption (Mark 10:45; Romans 3:24).

The text then looks at the extent of the atonement.  In this, the Assemblies of God are Arminian.  The text, after examining various passages of Scripture showing the atonement to be for all people, concludes: “We conclude that the atonement is unlimited in the sense that it is available for all; it is limited in that it is effective only for those who believe.  It is available for all, but efficient only for the elect” (p. 354).

No Arminian should disagree with the above.  Clearly the Assemblies of God, from their theology text at least, are not to be associated with moral government theology.  While it might be true that some Assemblies of God pastors have taught the atonement from a moral government view, the stance of the official systematic theology text would stand for the penal substitutionary view while still recognizing that not all Christians even agree with that view.

Four Aspects of Christ’s Atonement

Dr. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology text, offers four aspects of Christ’s atonement based on four needs we have as sinners before God:

1.  We deserve to die as the penalty for sin.
2.  We deserve to bear God’s wrath against sin.
3.  We are separated from God by our sins.
4.  We are in bondage to sin and to the kingdom of Satan.

Grudem then gives us the four aspects of Christ’s vicarious atonement that helped with the above needs in us sinners.

1.  Sacrifice (Hebrews 9:26).  Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins.  He is our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7).

2.  Propitiation (1 John 4:10).  Christ removes the wrath of God from us by being our propitiation for our sins before God.

3.  Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).  Christ has reconciled us to God by dying for our sins that had separated us from God.

4.  Redemption (Mark 10:45; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 2:15).  While I reject the idea that a price was paid by Christ to Satan or to our sins, it is biblical to say that Jesus redeemed us and brought us to God.  We are saved from Satan and sin!

Is it not exciting to know that Christ is our salvation and He takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29)?  He is our peace, our satisfaction, our righteousness, our Lord, our Master, and our King!  He is the One that is worthy to be praised for saving us from sin and its power.  Jesus alone is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2 NIV).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

01/26/2013 at 12:06 PM

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