SUBSTITUTION VERSUS FORGIVENESS (2)
In our previous issue, we demonstrated that a common position on the atoning work of Messiah is contradictory to the Bible’s teaching of forgiveness. Whilst the Bible speaks of the “cancelling” of debts being forgiven, the Substitution position is that the debt still had to be paid, and it was paid by Christ instead of us. And we saw how that this had a direct bearing on our behaviour: Messiah taught us to pray: … forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors: (Mat. 6:12). And again, the Apostle taught the same: “even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Col. 3:13). The forgiveness that we extend to others is not that we demand payment of a debt from another person instead: rather, we cancel the debt, and as we forgive our debtors, even so we ask our Father to forgive us.
But if Messiah’s mission to “save his people from their sins” (Mat. 1:21) does not involve a substitutionary offering, upon what basis are our sins forgiven? A well-known Bible passage is relevant to this query:
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jno. 3:16).
Salvation then, is dependant upon belief: only those who “believeth in him” will not perish, but have life everlasting. As we shall demonstrate later, our own forgiveness is based upon these two principles: our doing what Christ did, and the belief that we can be healed from our sins by association with him.
THE ORIGIN OF SIN AND DEATH
The Scriptures reveal that the source of the problem that Christ came to solve is right back in Eden, and the committing of the first sin. It is a divine principle that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), and back in Genesis we read of the first work of sin – and the punishment that was meted out to deal with it: “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:19). The Apostolic summary of this situation is: “… by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Death then, is the condemnation of sin.
Since the time of Adam, men have as part of their physical nature, a “law of sin”: an overwhelming inclination to fulfil their natural desires to transgress. The Apostle Paul describes this law thus:
“I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”
“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”
“the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 7:23; 25; 8:2)
What is described here is evidently not a “law” in the sense of a piece of legislation, but what we call a law of nature. It is a natural bias to do evil: the natural man has a desire to transgress, which he is “without strength” to overcome (Rom. 5:6). This situation pertains to all of the extended family of Adam: being part of his family through natural descent, all inherit and succumb to a natural desire to sin, rendering them worthy of death – which is the “wages” paid to those who work the work of sin. Men inherit death from a physical descent from Adam, and become worthy and deserving of that death by committing sin themselves.
THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
As the Son “made strong” for the purpose (Psa. 80:15), Jesus the Christ was able to overcome where all others have failed:
“when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).
Whereas all other sons of Adam succumb to the Law of Sin in their members, God through Christ overcame and condemned it:
“God, sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3).
That which was the cause of transgression in all other men, the diabolos, was “destroyed”:
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the diabolos” (Heb. 2:14).
Notice what is effected by the death of Christ: the condemnation of sin in the flesh, and the destruction of the diabolos. And just as importantly, there was as part of the process, a declaration of Yahweh’s Righteousness. Jesus is he “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be Just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25,26).
This last quote demonstrates a fundamental principle, that as part of the work of reconciling the world to God, He must be demonstrated to be Just. It was just and righteous that He should require the destruction of the diabolos through death, and that was demonstrated in the sacrifice of Christ. In his life, death and resurrection, Jesus accomplished what Adam failed to do – to show forth the glorious array of Divine attributes: to be the Image of his Father: To use the expression of Apostle, concerning Messiah’s relationship to his Father: he was “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person” (Heb. 1:3).
A SECOND ADAM
We have seen how that we are physically part of the family of Adam, and share a sinful, mortal, nature. But the way of salvation involves becoming part of the family of Christ: being partakers of his death, so that we shall also share his resurrection. So, Jesus is portrayed as being a second Adam: a new federal head.
“The first Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit … the first man is of the earth, earthy, the second man is the Lord from Heaven … and as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:45-49).
We all bear the image of the earthy, being made in the likeness of sinful flesh. Our hope however, is to become the image of Christ, who in turn is “the express image” of Yahweh. Jesus is the beginning of the new creation: “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18), and we hope to become members with him in that new creation – which implies we need to be made anew (or, “renewed in knowledge” (Col. 3:10).
As we have seen, death is the condemnation of sin, and in the death of Christ, we see the condemnation of sinful flesh. Just as we die through association with Adam, so the way of life involves association with the second Adam. The way of salvation, involves an identification with him, as Bro Robert Roberts wrote, we must “become part of him, in merging our individualities in him by taking part in his death, and putting on his name and sharing his life afterwards” (The Law of Moses, p 174).
Here is the importance of baptism: it is a means of publicly declaring that we are worthy to die, and begins an association with the death of Christ as the only death that saves:
“we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him …. (Rom. 6:4-6).
In Baptism, we recognise and demonstrate that the “old man” of the flesh is deserving of death, and resolve to crucify him with Christ – and in so doing, our death becomes represented in his. Our forgiveness involves our participation in the death of our Lord: by forsaking our sins and endorsing the fact that Yahweh is right to condemn us to the grave, and by rising again out of a watery grave to a newness of life. So having a new beginning, we become part of the New Creation with Christ at it’s head. Because we become willing participants in the death of Christ, we shall also participate in his resurrection.
We have no name of our own which can stand. We cannot plead our own righteousness, for “all have sinned”. Yet through baptism into the Name of Jesus Christ, we embrace, and take part of His declaration of God’s righteousness. Through faith (belief) in his name, sins are no longer imputed to us, for in the Son whom we have become at one with, there is no sin. As God beholds only righteousness in him who stands before Him on our behalf, his righteousness is imputed to us (Rom 3:23,24; 4:1-8, 6:3-11, Rev 19:8, 7:14, 2 Cor 5:21).
In “The Blood of Christ” Bro Robert Roberts wrote of this relationship:
“God says now: ‘If you will recognise your position, repent, and come under that man’s wing, I will receive you back to favour and forgive you. My righteousness has been declared in him; I have crowned him with everlasting days; because he loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and was obedient unto death, I have crowned him with life eternal. It is in him for you if you will submit and believe in him and put on his name, which is a confession that you have no name of your own which will stand. Obey his commandments, and I will receive you and forgive you for his sake, and ye shall be my sons and daughters’ … We are cleansed from sin by this beautiful means, that God forgives us because of what Christ has done, if we will accept him and be baptised. In baptism we are provided with a ceremony in which we are baptised into his death, and in which, in a figure, we are washed from our sins in his blood”
And again elsewhere he also wrote:
“The true believer is in Christ for the obtaining of the blessings promised, he is made to endorse and morally participate in the “condemnation of sin in the flesh,” which Jesus underwent in the “body prepared” for the purpose.—(Heb. 10:5)” (Christadelphian Magazine (1870)
As we have seen, in the Divine scheme of human salvation, Jesus did not die in our place, as a substitutional sacrifice. Rather than being a substitute, he was our representative. This is the apostolic testimony:
“… the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then all were dead” (2 Cor. 5:14)
This is the language of representation, not substitution: our death is represented in his, as we are baptised into his death (Rom. 6:3).
In the sacrifice of Christ, we behold the merging together of many principles, and in this brief study we have only considered a few of them, in demonstrating the popular position to be at at variance with the Bible doctrine of forgiveness. There is a final point to consider: in the Substitution position, there is no individual participation required: Christ pays the debt: there is nothing necessary for us to do. But in the Bible doctrine of forgiveness, there is a need for believers to embrace the principles of the sacrifice of Christ, and enact them in their own lives, to become represented by him before the Father. In this, we see how a correct apprehension of the Atonement has a direct bearing of our conduct in life. The following is a summary of the principles we have looked at, followed by relevant portions of the BASF, the summary of Bible principles that forms the basis of Christadelphian fellowship.
- Christ was not punished as a substitute for us
- We inherit both death, and a sinful nature from Adam
- Christ shared, and overcame that nature both in his life, and also his death, when he “condemned” and “destroyed” that which has the power of death.
- We must likewise crucify the “old man” of the flesh as we forsake the family of Adam to become joined to the family of Christ.
- We do this through baptism, partaking in the death of Christ, that we might also partake in his resurrection.
BASF Clause VI:
“That God, in His kindness, conceived a plan of restoration which, without setting aside His just and necessary law of sin and death, should ultimately rescue the race from destruction, and people the earth with sinless immortals. Rev 21:4; Jno 3:16; 2Tim 1:10; 1Jno 2:25; 2Tim 1:1; Tit 1:2; Rom 3:26; Jno 1:29″
BASF Clause XII
That for delivering this message, he was put to death by the Jews and Romans, who were, however, but instruments in the hands of God, for the doing of that which He had determined before to be done, viz., the condemnation of sin in the flesh, through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all, as a propitiation to declare the righteousness of God, as a basis for the remission of sins. All who approach God through this crucified, but risen, representative of Adam’s disobedient race, are forgiven. Therefore, by a figure, his blood cleanseth from sin. – Luke 19:47; 20:1-16; John 11:45-53; Acts 10:38,39; 13:26-29; 4:27,28; Rom 8:3; Heb 10:10; Acts 13:38; 1Jno 1:7; Jno 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1Pet 3:18; 2:24; Heb 9:14; 7:27; 9:26-28; Gal 1:4; Rom 3:25; 15:8; Gal 3:21,22; 2:21; 4:4,5; Heb 9:15; Luke 22:20; 24:26,46,47; Mat 26:28.