Chapter 6: ‘Our Personal Response’
(Implications and Applications)
You may, as I did some years ago, want to count the cost of admitting to error of belief. However, no matter how daunting it may be, we have to accept the truth and move on. To do otherwise would be to live in hypocrisy and denial. It may be that our standing in the Christian community might be in jeopardy. Our fellow Christians might look upon us as enemies of the Gospel. Our family and friends might want to reject us. Our employers might decide to let us go. This is the price we might have to pay. Nevertheless, it is far better to be accepted by God and to proclaim the truth, than to live in hypocrisy. Moreover, if we deny the truth of God, then He will surely deny us. When we have come to know the truth, we must accept it and confess it. We have been called to be His witnesses.
Let us think for a moment what it means to be His witnesses. The Lord was put on trial; false witnesses were called upon to testify that He was truly guilty of crimes against God. On the basis of these accusations, Jesus was put to death. The Father called Him ‘My Righteous Servant’ (Is. 53:11) and raised Him from the dead. As Jesus knew in perfect faith, death could not hold Him. He entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly (1 Pet. 2:23). Now, how can we, as Christ’s disciples, be in agreement with Christ’s false accusers and proclaim Him guilty? Nevertheless, one cannot rightly be charged for sins one did not commit. If an innocent person is convicted at a trial, we call that a travesty of justice. A person is only guilty if he is. One is not guilty just because a judge proclaims him so. It would be like calling good ‘evil’ and evil ‘good’. The resurrection of Jesus was God’s vindication of His Son—overturning the sentence of an ungodly court. It was God’s unequivocal declaration of Christ’s righteousness at the cross, in spite of what man had pronounced Him to be.
Martin Luther is often quoted as one of the first major figures to clearly articulate penal substitutionary belief. He wrote:
“Christ took all our sins upon him and for them died upon the cross. Therefore, it was right for him to be ‘numbered with the transgressors’…Christ bears all the sins of all people in his body. It was not that he himself committed these sins, but he received the sins that we had committed; they were laid on his own body, that he might make satisfaction for them with his own blood.”
Luther, Martin. Galatians (Crossway Classic Commentaries) (Crossway Classic Commentaries). 1st British ed.,Leicester,England: Crossway Books, 1998.
“Putting off His innocence and holiness and putting on your sinful person, He bore your sin, death, and curse; He became a sacrifice and a curse for you, in order thus to set you free from the curse of the Law.”
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, eds. Jaroslav Pelikan, Helmut Lehmann, et al. 55 vols.: 26:279,St. Louis, Concordia, andPhiladelphia: Fortress, 1955-1986.
However, for the doctrine of Penal Substitution to work, God would have had to sacrifice justice and to have become unjust—which is not only unthinkable, but also impossible—as wrong as declaring the Truth of God to be a lie. Moreover, if we are under a penal fine and someone else pays that fine for us, where is the forgiveness? One cannot be said to have forgiven a debt for which one has demanded and received payment—howbeit from someone else.
Such a doctrine as Luther believed not only misapplies the law to allow the innocent to suffer in the place of the guilty, but also discounts the value of repentance. The one who turns to Christ will not be turned away. - God, who looks upon the heart, certainly knows when repentance is godly. He desires mercy, not sacrifice. The Father is ready to forgive and accept anyone who has sincerely repented, as in the parable of the ‘prodigal son’. Repentance ushers in the blessings of God, not His punishment. Penal substitution demands a hard-hearted application of the penalty, deemed to be required to satisfy the law. - Like Inspector Javert, in the book “Les Miserables”, by Victor Hugo, we are expected to believe that the law must be upheld and applied, no matter how changed and repentant the guilty – such as the protagonist of the novel: ’Jean Valjean’. Nevertheless, when one suppresses the conscience, the consequences can be very dire. Luther’s own actions towards the Jews of his day should warn against following cold, misguided logic.
Towards the end of his life, Luther released a volley of verbal assaults against the Jews. He preached that their age-long sufferings proved God’s hatred of them; that they were insolent in their usurious prosperity; that the Jewish ‘Talmud’ sanctioned the deception, murder, robbery and killing of Christians; that they poisoned springs and wells; and that they murdered Christian children to use their blood in Jewish rituals. He advised the Germans to burn down the homes of Jews, to close their synagogues and schools, to confiscate their wealth, to conscript their men and women into forced labour; and wrote:
‘All Jews should be given the choice between either accepting Christ, or having their tongues torn out’ (Luther, Martin: ‘Concerning the Jews and their lies’, 1542 – as quoted by Will Durant in ‘The Story of Civilization’, p.727, Vol.6, The Reformation; MJF Books, New York, 1957).
As the renowned historian Will Durant noted in relation to the above passage (The Story of Civilization, p.727, Vol.6, The Reformation; MJF Books, New York, 1957), such pronouncements set the tone in Germany for hundreds of years – having the height of their fruition during the holocaust.
Jesus tasted death for everyone, but death is not what Jesus paid on our behalf—we all die. What is important is what He gave—His life. Jesus paid the debt of righteousness—which is our due, that we who are at one with Him should be accepted along with Him. The Lord’s cry, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me’ was an utterance made for our sakes that declared both His innocence and the injustice of the cross. The abandonment was only physical. The Father accepted the fragrant offering and sacrifice that Jesus made of His life at the cross (Eph.5:1-2). As it is written, God did not turn away: ‘For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when He cried to Him, He heard’ (Psalm 22:24, NKJ). Jesus was the Righteous Servant offering His life to God for us in perfect obedience to the Father’s will. Now, in Christ, being at one in Him through the gift of the Holy Spirit, His offering is accounted for us as a covering of righteousness. By our faith in Christ, we are forgiven our past debts and declared righteous. Jesus is the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS—and it is by His ‘life’ we are saved (Rom.5:10).
It all seems too obvious, but so many scriptures have been used out of context by advocates of penal substitution, it really is no wonder that so many Christians have been misled—thinking that no other explanation can be possible. The Bible is rightly trusted, but wrongly applied to support a false doctrine. Also, there is a psychological pressure and reinforcement that comes from conformity to the majority view: ‘If everyone is saying this, surely it must be true—who am I to doubt and question what so many say is right?’ It is the mentality of the herd instinct, to follow without truly thinking. However, when you hear the Truth, if you are Christ’s, then you will know—even if at first, like Paul, you resist the pricks to the conscience and that inner voice of God telling you that you are wrong. You may oppose and feel the need to defend the doctrine that you have believed has served you and others well. You may look around and wonder how all of God’s blessings could have come by following a falsehood; but no doubt this was also the case with followers of renaissance Roman Catholicism and various sects. The Mormons reinforce their beliefs with the knowledge of fine singing, large attendances and glorious surroundings. They are sincere, but wrong. The Bible is a reasonable Book and the test of doctrine comes only by comparing and reading Scriptures in context with reason and prayer—not by pointing to the fine architecture, congregational size or income.
By all means, defend what you have believed to the utmost; but do so honestly. If the Bible contradicts what you have believed then fall in line. Don’t say, ‘It’s a mystery.’ The Bible may indeed contradict you, but it never contradicts itself.
What kind of judge would knowingly sentence an innocent person to death? It is only the law of the unmerciful that immutably applies punishment for every crime. If a person truly repents, he should be forgiven. This is the Law of God (Luke 17:4; Mat.6:14-15). To punish Jesus in our place would require the Father to acquit the guilty and condemn the Innocent—to do that which He hates (Prov.17:15). It would require God acting contrary to His stated desire to forgive and bestow life on the repentant (Ezek.18:30-32). What hardness of heart can be instilled into the mind by the teaching that God does not remove punishment when one repents, but merely transfers it? The doctrine of penal substitution asks us to believe that the Father declared His own Son guilty of sin and worthy of death in agreement with His Son’s false accusers. No. The law of God releases the repentant from punishment—not by transferring it to someone else, but through the godly act of forgiveness.
To knowingly pass sentence upon a holy and righteous person for crimes committed by others would be to act without justice. We know this is true. The punishment of Jesus cannot be justified under God’s Law. God’s justice had been removed. The accusations, the sentence, His punishment and His crucifixion were all acts of injustice according to a worldly court—overturned by God, as revealed through the resurrection of Christ to heavenly glory. The price He paid was that of His righteous life, sufficient to cover the debts of all who repent. We, if we are Christ’s, are covered by His righteousness!
‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do’
(Luke 23:34, NKJ)
We are to freely forgive those who speak and act against us in ignorance of the truth as Jesus forgave those who acted against Him. People thought that by treating this ‘teacher’ from Nazareth as the enemy, they were actually obeying God. Our response must be one of love, understanding and forgiveness. We are not to treat our Christian brothers and sisters as enemies of the Gospel—even if that is how they view us.
In the first century of the Christian era, congregations had the benefit of being led and taught directly by Christ’s apostles themselves. The writings and letters served to complement the doctrines that they had personally taught orally. The apostles appointed elders to whom they had delivered the doctrines needed for salvation and for the equipping of the saints—both locally and globally. For as long as the apostles lived, anyone who opposed their teachings had to be considered an enemy of the Gospel (Acts20:29-31; 2 Pet.2:1-2; 2 John v9-10; 3 John v9-10, Jude v4).
The doctrine of penal substitution, as commonly expressed in evangelical Christianity, contradicts many statements made in the writings of the New and Old Testaments, as this study has shown, and presents a different Gospel to the one preached by the apostles. In fact, for many centuries, the Gospel of our salvation has been shining through many dark clouds of falsehood. However, at the heart of the Christian message are beliefs that unify all true believers:
1. Jesus, the Word of God, was with the Father in the beginning, became flesh, born of Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, suffered and was crucified for our sakes, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life, as He promised.
2. Jesus gave His life to save us from our sins when He died for us on the cross.
3. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rose from the dead and is now glorified in heaven with the Father, according to the Scriptures.
4. Jesus will come again, as He promised, with all power and authority as King of kings and Lord of lords to judge both the living and the dead.
5. The Old and New Testaments are to be accepted as Holy Scripture and God inspired.
6. In order to be saved, we must believe in Jesus Christ and repent of sins.
7. To abide in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Saviour, Lord and God, we must endeavour to obey His commands and be led of the Holy Spirit, by whom we are graciously born again.
8. The faithful servants of Jesus Christ make up the spiritual body of the Church of which He is the head.
9. Followers of Jesus, though they die, will be raised to live with God forever; whereas those who do evil will be everlastingly removed from God’s presence and destroyed as the Scriptures state.
These beliefs are central to Christianity. Believers have a sense of having been lost, because of sins — like a person drowning—but saved by Christ, who died in the very act of salvation. Christ’s atonement is universally accepted as an act of love on the part of God. It is believed His death was necessary in order to save us from the consequence of sin. He died that we might live. Such love is compelling—and true. This is what the Bible teaches. All who truly repent with such faith in Christ are saved. There should be no doubt about it.
The problem of error creeps in when attempts are made to explain the death of Jesus in terms contrary to Scripture. His death was not the result of God’s justice, but an act emanating out of God’s love. ‘God so loved the world …’ is what we read. ‘His justice was taken away’ (Acts 8:33, NKJ). Our faith is placed in the Person of the One who died and gave His life— ‘The Lord Our Righteousness’ (Jer.23:6). We receive of ‘the gift of righteousness’ (Rom.5:17) as a result of Christ’s obedience unto death. Indeed, as Paul said, we are ‘saved by His life’ (Rom.5:10, NKJ). The whole force of Paul’s argument in Romans 5 is that Jesus was righteous to the very end of His mortal life. Now, by God’s grace, whosoever has faith in the Son is judged righteous.
Notice: Jesus was the sacrifice of righteousness, of whom we are the beneficiaries as His followers. We are justly declared righteous—not because of ourselves, but because of the One who gave His life for us—to whom we look in faith. Now, just as the Father was pleased to accept the sweet gift that His Son made of His life, so He is pleased to welcome us who are with Him—for whom Jesus died. Jesus gave up His life on account of our sins—to save us from our sins—by offering up His life on the cross as a covering gift of righteousness for our salvation. His life envelops the children of God, cleansing all and purging sin.
God’s act of justice was to declare His Son righteous and unworthy of death by resurrecting Him from the dead. As written in the Psalms, God would not allow His ‘Holy One to see corruption’ (Acts 2:27; Ps.16:10). The crucifixion was an act of ‘murder’, Peter declared (Acts 5:30). The people had ‘denied the Holy One and the Just’ (Acts 3:14). Jesus ‘committed Himself to Him who judges righteously’ (Pet.2:23, NKJ).
Visibly, man’s sins against God’s Son were clearly evident and born in Christ’s body on the cross—yet no amount of suffering could cause Him to relinquish His love for mankind. No volume of sin and brutality lashed out into His flesh could mar His righteousness. Man could mar His body with sin, but not His soul. He remained righteous to the very finish, when He said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit’ (Luke 23:46).Yes, the Father was listening and had not turned away from His beloved Son.
‘Is Christ divided?’
(1 Cor.1:13, NKJ)
In the spiritual realm, this is impossible. If we are Christ’s, then we are united together in Him as members of His spiritual body, the Church (1 Cor.12:12-13). In the physical realm, however, divisions are all too apparent. At Corinth, in the Apostle Paul’s day, divisions began to occur when people started favouring one personality above another and began to form cliques according to spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 1:12; 12:13-25). Paul clearly saw the dangers that such growing discord could create and wrote to address these issues. To the Galatians, he wrote to counter false teaching that insisted upon Gentiles keeping the Law given to Moses. It was a heresy that advocated acceptance of and subjection to the Mosaic code of law instead of to the Law of the Spirit, and created a wedge between Jewish and Gentile believers. Moreover, towards the end of his ministry, the apostle wrote to Timothy: ‘This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me’ (2 Tim.1:15). After he had laboured so hard for so long, this ‘turning away’ must have been very hard to bare. Even the Apostle John encountered such opposition: ‘I wrote to the church, but Diotrophes, who loves to have the pre-eminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. …’ (3 John:9-10).
The fact that apostasy and heresy should emanate from within the congregations of the apostolic Church may seem shocking to us, but it did not surprise the apostles. They knew that this would occur and prophesied the same: ‘For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves’ (Acts 20:29-30). ‘Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons …’ (1 Tim.4:1-3).
Contending against Gnostic doctrines that denied the incarnation and death of the Christ (the ‘Anointed’ ), the apostle John wrote: ‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God’ (1 John 4:1-2). ‘…This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth’ (1 John 5:6). The Gnostics taught that the ‘Christ’ descended upon the human Jesus at His baptism and departed before the human Jesus suffered and was crucified. John, by this letter, made it clear that Jesus the ‘Anointed’ died upon the cross and that it is the spirit of the Antichrist who claims otherwise (1 John 4:3). ‘Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1 John 2:1-2) gave His life for us as the Anointed Son of God.
The anointing of Jesus as the Christ began His ministry: ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power’ (Acts 10:37-38). John the Baptist testified that he saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descending upon Him at His baptism (Mat.3:16). The Holy Spirit ‘remained on Him’ (John 1:32-33). The statement: ‘This is He who came by water’ (1 John 5:6) refers to the coming of the Christ. The phrase: ‘by water and blood’ (v6) refers to the duration of His ministry from baptism to death. Jesus was the Christ and continued so because the anointing of the Holy Spirit remained on Him. John said: ‘This was He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ’ (v6). The word ‘Christ’ means anointed. Jesus, therefore, remained anointed as the Christ to His death. The Holy Spirit did not depart from Him before He died. Without the Holy Spirit, Jesus could not have died as the Christ—He would no longer have been anointed.
The contention that the Holy Spirit departed from Him and that Jesus died in sin is a denial that Jesus died as the Messiah—the Anointed One of God. It is akin to the old Gnostic belief that the ‘Christ’ departed from the human Jesus before His death. Either Jesus died as the Christ, or He did not. If the anointing left Him, then He was no longer the Anointed. However, we know that Jesus the Christ was crucified and died: Jesus Christ the Righteous (1 John 2:1) provided the atonement as the Lord Our Righteousness upon the cross.
It is for us to help enlighten others with the light God brings into our lives. The aim behind the writing of this book is not to call people out from their present spiritual home in order to create another denomination, it is simply to enlighten. Christianity needs to return to its biblical roots. Only then can we begin to repair the damage of centuries and heal our divisions.
Anyone reading this and coming to a better understanding will be challenged. Spread the news.
‘Sanctify them by Your truth … that they all may be one’
(John 17:17-21, NKJ)
As Christ’s disciples, God’s truth unites us together in Christ and sets us apart from the world. As we let go of error and accept more of His truth, so the cords that bind us together in Him grow stronger.By turning away from a worldly view of the cross, therefore, we will inevitably draw closer to God and experience a greater unity of the Spirit in Christ. The truth indeed will set us free (John 8:32).
The doctrine of penal substitution fails in its basic premise. The punishment of the innocent and the acquittal of the guilty is a sin in itself, detestable to the Almighty (Prov.17:9; Ezek. 18). Therefore, guilt and the condemnation of God cannot be removed simply by punishing someone else for the crimes committed. This would rather compound guilt and add to sin. For one to be free of condemnation, one needs to be made righteous in Christ. Today, we are called upon to hear the voice of God declaring forgiveness, righteousness and salvation through Jesus Christ. If we will hear His voice …
We are obliged to act—not just hear, for with understanding comes responsibility. It has been said that ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ is called ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ because the apostles acted. They were motivated to communicate the truth that they had received to as many as would listen, undaunted by the hardships and opposition. It is our own individual calling to do likewise within our own sphere of influence—speaking the truth in love (Eph.4:15), beginning with those with whom we have been most closely associated. It is essential that we act with unfeigned love towards those around us and show this in our manner and speech. We can hate false doctrine, but we should never hate those who are held by it. I would encourage everyone who wants to refer this study to others to remember to do so with humility, openness and patience. We certainly cannot hide the truth. Jesus died as: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS upon the cross—this is the biblical revelation. This is the Gospel that must be preached in all the world before the end of the age.
As those gifted to preach and evangelize come to a better understanding and have the boldness to declare the righteousness of Christ when He died, there will be converts. This Gospel is for the world. There must follow outreach. It has been an aim that this book will provide theological support for evangelism. However, alone we can do very little. This work requires joint participation. Jesus said, ‘The harvest is great but the labourers are few’ (Mat.9:37). We must set aside denominational divisions and reach out together in the Spirit of unity, truth, compassion and love. We need to further this work of evangelism in whatever way we can—giving of our time, resources and effort. The Lord requires that we act.
‘Take, eat: this is My body …’
Jesus instituted this meal to reveal not just His death, but also His body on Earth. As we eat of His bread and drink of His cup in a worthy manner, so we confirm our unity in Him as members of His body the Church, of which He is the head. Holy Communion should not be used as a wedge to divide members of Christ’s body. According to our understanding, therefore, so we should partake with all due reverence and solemnity, as it is written (1 Cor.11:17-34). When opportunity permits, if we should witness to our Lord’s own unleavenedness at the cross, we should be sensitive to those holding a different understanding—especially when in a position of leadership. For the sake of unity, therefore, we should not impose any private interpretation during the Lord’s Supper. Rather, we should seek to receive for Communion all whom we believe to have faith in Christ. When the Lord’s Supper is being presented, we should not emphasize one doctrine in opposition to another—for this may cause division. Let the Scriptures speak and be quoted and let individuals partake as they comprehend.
Holy Communion should not be used as a weapon to divide those whom God accepts. Nevertheless, the Scriptures should be followed as closely as possible. For example, it was unleavened bread that was offered during the Lord’s Supper and we should offer the same. Jesus distributed unleavened bread as representing His body. Communion offered with leavened bread is not a true Communion—not doing as Jesus did. He was spiritually pure and without sin when He died, which is what the unleavenedness signifies (see Chapter 4). Moreover, should statements be made during a Communion service to contradict the righteousness and purity of Jesus upon the cross, as He died for us, it may be felt necessary to forgo participation. It is a matter of conscience.
Furthermore, we should apply sensitivity at Communion prayers so as not to use this occasion as an opportunity for presenting interpretations that are not likely to be acceptable to all present. The Lord’s Supper is a time for showing Christian unity and acceptance of one another, in spite of our differences. As Jesus was willing to forgive those who misjudged Him at the cross, how much more should we be forgiving and patient towards others of the Christian faith whose views we don’t share? By exercising such love and concern for each other, we can make a powerful witness to the outside world of Christian unity and love in Christ. Now we see through a glass darkly, Paul wrote (1 Cor.13). Our understanding is limited and affected by many influences. So then, especially at the time of Holy Communion, we must show the agape love of God towards each other and seek the oneness for which Jesus prayed, lest we be found nothing in Him.
‘The mystery of godliness’
(1 Tim.3:16, NKJ)
‘Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory’ (1 Tim.3:16, NKJ). The ‘mystery of godliness’ refers to the whole revelation concerning Emmanuel —the Lord Jesus Christ. His incarnation and resurrection was unknown to the Gentiles and to those outside the faith, but is now revealed to those who are called and chosen. Notice, God’s incarnation through His Son is called the mystery of godliness. Jesus exhibited the very fullness of piety throughout His life on earth, from His coming to His ascension. He was justified by the Holy Spirit—shown to be just, righteous and innocent by the Holy Spirit. This is the Gospel that we are required to preach throughout the world. It declares the godliness of the Son of God. Why? It is because we are saved by His life. It was not the suffering of Jesus that paid our debt; it was His life. There is a difference. As Christians, we are righteous because we are covered by the life of the One we follow.
“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, …” (Isa.61:10, NIV).
Just as the Father accepted the sweet-smelling sacrifice of His Son, so the Father will receive all who have “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom.13:14), as His disciples.
We need to act upon our calling in proclaiming this great mystery to the world. – Our personal response matters.