SUBSTITUTION VERSUS FORGIVENESS
It is a primary principle for believers to understand, that Jesus Christ laid down his life as a means of saving his brethren from their sins. Note the following passages:
“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).
“… Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins” (Mat. 1:21).
“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)
But the question that needs to be asked, is How does the sacrifice of Christ bring about the salvation of sinners? What is the basis upon which forgiveness can be extended to the ungodly who repent (Rom. 5:6)?
THE COMMON BELIEF
The common belief is that Christ died as a substitute for us. The comparison is made with a man who is about to be hung for an offence. However, another man comes up (i.e. Christ), and offers to be hung instead, as a substitute. So the innocent is punished, and the guilty is allowed to go free.
Again, another comparison is made: a man owes a debt that he cannot repay. However, another man (i.e. Christ) pays the debt for him, and so the debtor is allowed to go free.
This is a popular explanation, and although it is not Christadelphian teaching, it has been expressed on online Christadelphian discussion groups thus:
“Christ substituted for Abraham and Robert Roberts, just as much as you and me”
“On the first Good Friday, Christ was crucified between two thieves. It was his choice to die in this way and from his death and resurrection three days later, comes all our life and hope. He died in our place in this way so that we would not have to die.”
“I can recommend many books which speak volumes of the bible teaching about grace. The simple fact is that the verses ‘snatched’ from various books depict what truly I deserve; yet the Lord suffered for my transgressions. We are like Barabbas; awaiting execution; but Jesus has taken my place. And folk wonder why I call Jesus my friend, why I try and have a relationship to Him. “Greater love hath no man ….”
“I believe You are God and that your son Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for my sins. I know You are alive. I ask You to be my SAVIOR! Come into my heart right now and forgive me so I can have free everlasting life. Amen!”
There are, however, a number of major problems with this position. firstly, If Christ has taken our place and died instead of us, then we ought not die: the sentence of death is the punishment, and that sentence has been carried out on him. In fact, this logical outcome is so obvious in the position cited above, that the writer himself said “he died in our place so that we would not have to die”. The problem is that in fact, we do still die, something which is within the experience of us all. Another objection is that if the penalty had to be paid by someone, either us, or someone else, then that flatly contradicts the Bible doctrine of forgiveness. By definition, if the debt was paid by a third party, the debt was not actually forgiven, or cancelled out – it still had to be paid.
BIBLE TEACHING REGARDING FORGIVENESS
There are many passages of Scripture that illustrate the concept of forgiveness. Matthew chapter 18 deals with disputes between brethren, and concludes with the parable of the unmerciful servant. A certain king was owed a vast amount by one of his servants, who was unable to pay the debt. But then, “the servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt” (see Mat. 18:23-35).
Notice what happens here: the lord does not require the debt to be paid at all, whether by the servant, or another man instead. The debt is simply forgiven: It is cancelled. His compassion is shown by loosing him from the debt, not by insisting that somebody else must pay it in his place.
Again, in Luke chapter 7, we read of Messiah’s forgiveness of a particular woman in Simon the Pharisee’s house. Jesus spoke another parable:
“There was a certain creditor which had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged” (Lu. 7:41-43).
Here, we see the compassion of the creditor in forgiving, or as some versions render it, “cancelling”, the debt. He did not require someone else to pay it instead: it was simply cancelled: “he frankly forgave them both”.
There is another point that comes out from both of these parables: they are designed to be examples of how the believers ought to forgive trespasses against them. In his model prayer, Christ instructed his disciples to ask: “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Mat. 6:12). But how are we to forgive our debtors? By insisting that they find somebody else to pay the debt (i.e. “substitution”)? By no means, it is by cancelling, or forgiving the debts themselves. So Matthew 18 concludes by describing how the forgiven servant who would not blot out the debt of another man who owed him money, had his own debt reinstated, and he was cast into prison until he paid it all:
“So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Mat. 18:35).
Here is the principle: “even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Col. 3:13). To demand a substitute to pay the debt for us, is by definition contrary to the Bible doctrine regarding forgiveness.
There is an interesting account in Scripture of a substitutionary sacrifice being refused. Moses besought Yahweh to forgive the sin of Israel, and offered himself to bear their punishment himself:
“Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin – and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And Yahweh said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book” (Exo. 32:32-33).
There are a number of points which come out from this: firstly, Moses offered himself as a substitute for the people, yet this was rejected with the declaration “whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book”. Yahweh will not allow any man to bear the punishment of another instead of him: people are personally accountable for their sins, and no-one can be a substitute for them.
The second point is that the offer of a substitute is directly contrasted with forgiveness: “if thou wilt forgive their sin – and if not not, blot me, I pray thee out of thy book”. If sin could not be forgiven, then Moses offered himself to bear the punishment instead. Substitution then, is presented in this case, as something which is the opposite to forgiveness.
In our considerations, we have seen how that the popular explanation of the sacrifice of Christ is left wanting, when compared with the Holy Word. Substitution is not a Scriptural teaching, and in fact, it directly contradicts the Bible teaching of forgiveness. Here is the real power of the sacrifice of Christ: It is not the case that a vengeful Deity requires a legal sentence to be inflicted upon an innocent man. Rather, it is the love of Yahweh extended to those who would come to Christ in humility and hope, forgiving their sins, and blotting out their trespasses.
In the above, 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 has 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 and relationships with each other: 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. But belief in what? Belief in the work of Christ! Belief in fables cannot save, but faith in the efficacy of Messiah’s sacrifice as a means of reconciliation and forgiveness can. “Neither is their salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). As lovers of Truth, we must seek to understand what has been done for us, and believe in the atoning principles that are worked out in the sacrifice of Messiah—and we cannot believe something we do not know, or understand.
THE ORIGIN OF SIN AND DEATH
We saw in an earlier study, that the source of the problem that Christ came to solve is right back in Eden, and the committing of the first sin. Early in the Genesis account, we read of the first 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, in whom all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
Since the time of Adam, men have as part of their physical nature, a “law of sin and death”: which involves 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 is sometimes called a law of nature, which is mortality—and which gives rise to a natural tendency towards doing 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 the law of sin and death, something which is beyond our power to overcome.
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 this Law of Sin in their flesh, in Christ, God 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” by Messiah passing through death and being raised victorious.
“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 through the sacrifice of Christ: the condemnation of sin in the flesh, 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: 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, and that was what took place in the death and resurrection of Jesus. He 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 mortal, sinful 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 bear 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 desire to become members with him in that new creation, as it is written: “… if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are made new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
As we have seen, in the sacrifice of Christ, there is the condemnation of sin in the 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 it begins an association with the death of Christ.
“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 acknowledge and demonstrate that the “old man” of the flesh is deserving of death, and resolve to crucify him – and in so doing, we become represented in Christ. 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 sin in the flesh. And by rising again out of the watery grave to newness of life, we have 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 not imputed to us, for in the Son with whom we have become one, there is no sin. As God beholds only His righteousness in the One who stands before Him on our behalf, that 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)” (The 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: we are baptised into his death (Rom. 6:3) – we are active participants in the atoning work of Christ. As we read elsewhere:
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me …” (Gal. 2:20)
“… And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts …” (Gal. 5:24).
But we also read that “in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). So it is that all who are “crucified with Christ” shall also be partakers of his resurrection, and be made alive with him.
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 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 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 appreciation of the Atonement has a direct bearing on 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 physically inherit the law of Sin and Death from Adam
- Christ shared, and overcame that law in his death and resurrection, by which God “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.
- Just as being “in Adam” we inherit the consequences of Adam’s act of sin, even so those who are “in Christ” shall inherit the consequences of Jesus’s act of righteousness.
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.