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Substitutionary Atonement

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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May 6, 2023 12:01 am

Substitutionary Atonement

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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May 6, 2023 12:01 am

Did Jesus die merely as an example of selfless love? Today, R.C. Sproul explains what Christ's death on the cross actually accomplished: atonement for all who believe.

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It is God who sends His Son into the world to pay the price of the moral guilt and to resolve the moral indebtedness that we have and says, I will accept your payment in behalf of these guilty people who are debtors that cannot pay their own debt. The Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians that he determined to know nothing except Christ crucified.

Could the same be said about us? Have we spent the time really reflecting on and meditating upon all that Christ accomplished for His people on the cross? Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham and thank you for joining us for this Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind.

Over the next three weeks, as R.C. Sproul continues his overview of theology from his series Foundations, he will help us see what he calls the great tapestry of the atonement of Christ. He will look at each thread, the different ways that the Bible speaks of the cross of Christ, and how he secured salvation for His people.

Here's Dr. Sproul. As we continue now with our study of that section of systematic theology that is Christology, we're now about to embark on one of the most important dimensions of Christology that we will be studying, and that involves the atonement. Now, we're going to devote three specific lectures to the whole concept of the atonement, and as far as I'm concerned, that doesn't begin to do justice to the importance of this doctrine. And as I've said on other occasions, we have supplementary material for those of you who want to go deeper.

We have a whole series called The Cross of Christ, which happens to be one of my favorite series that we've ever done here at Ligonier. So if this wets your appetite and you want to go deeper into the subject, I would commend that to your consideration. Back in the Middle Ages, in the early Middle Ages, St. Anselm of Canterbury wrote three little monographs for which he's become famous, two in the realm of apologetics called The Monologium and The Proslogium. But perhaps his most famous little work is the work Cur Deus Homo, in which Anselm addressed the question that is raised here in the title, which the words simply mean, why the God-man? And he was probing the mystery of the atonement, and in searching through the New Testament, he was asking the questions that are of this sort, why was the atonement necessary in the first place, and what actually took place in the drama of the atonement? And so the question of cause and the question of purpose and the question of the significance of the atonement were under his scrutiny. And the teaching that Anselm gave to the church has had an enormous influence in the church's understanding of the cross of Christ ever since. But before we get into his specific view on the matter, let me say that when we look at the atonement in the New Testament, at the cross of Christ, we think of how important it is.

Paul says that he was determined to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified. And when the New Testament speaks about the cross, when it speaks about the atonement of Christ, it uses several different metaphors and has more than one focal point of consideration. And so to grasp the full understanding of the atonement as it comes to us in biblical terms, we have to see that the atonement is like a tapestry with several different strands woven through it.

And we have to consider each of those strands if we're going to begin to plumb the depths of that activity of Christ. For example, in some contexts the New Testament speaks of the cross of Christ as an act of redemption. And in its most basic meaning, the idea of redeeming something has to do with some kind of purchase, some kind of commercial transaction, whereby something is bought back from someone else. And when we look at this idea in the New Testament, we see that Christ Himself makes reference to His redeeming His people, and He is purchasing us at a very high cost, namely the cost of His own blood. Now, closely connected to this idea of a commercial purchase, which incidentally you recall that when Christ is on the cross at the end of His time of suffering, He cries out, it is finished. And the word that is used there in the New Testament is a word that is also brought over from the commercial arena of the day. It is a commercial term, and it's the term that would be used after somebody had made several payments and finally completed their obligation by paying the last installment. And you see sometimes in our economy when you finish making installment payments, you'll finally see that wonderful stamp on your receipt that says, paid in full.

And so again, that commercial language that is involved there. But as I say, closely related to this are various types of so-called ransom theories. And the ransom theories that have emerged in church history, as I say, are more than one type. One of the most popular is that Christ paid a ransom to Satan in order to release release His people from their captivity as Satan's hostages. Just as somebody today may be inclined to pay ransom to a kidnapper, so Christ is said to have paid a ransom to the prince of this world who had taken control of His people.

I personally am not too keen on that theory because I think it gives more authority and more power to Satan than Satan deserves. Others talk about Christ paying a ransom to the Father by virtue of paying a debt owed not to Satan but to God in order to purchase His people, and we'll explore that a little bit more deeply later. Also closely connected to this commercial idea is the idea of the Old Testament bride price, where we find in the book of Exodus the rules and regulations that are set forth in the Mosaic law for indentured servants and for those who are entering into marriage, for a man to gain the approval of the father of the bride for the wedding, he must pay a dowry, he must pay a bride price, the major significance of which is to indicate and show to the father that he has the means and the wherewithal to take care of his daughter and of the offspring that would flow from that union. But there's a strange twist to that in Exodus with specific reference to indentured servants. If someone became a slave out of poverty, in order to work off his debt, he would come and sell himself to the one to whom he owed money, and if he brought a wife and children into that indentured slavery at the time of his release, he would be allowed, of course, to go out in freedom, along with his wife and with his children.

But if he enters as a single man into the indentured servitude and while he is enslaved marries another slave or the daughter of the owner or whatever, and he has children, when it comes time for his liberation, he is allowed to go free, but not his wife and children. And some people look at that and seem to think that's cruel and barbarian and so on, but again the point is he's not able to acquire the release of his wife and children until he can come back being duly employed and pay the bride price. Now the significance of that theologically is that Christ has a bride, and His bride is the church. And we have this same imagery that we find in the Old Testament now related to the atonement in the New Testament where Christ purchases His bride.

He pays the bride price. And the connotation there is that He's paying a price to redeem and to release slaves. Notice that the New Testament says, you are not your own, for you have been bought with a price. And so this whole concept of purchase is very important and central to the biblical notion of the atonement. Other views that have been stressed, particularly in the 20th century by Lutheran theologians, is the view known as Christus Victor, that what happened on the cross was a cosmic victory, wherein Christ set the captives free again by dealing a mortal blow to the forces of wickedness and the forces of evil, and that this was a titanic struggle between good and evil, in which Christ crushed the power of Satan in his atoning death.

And in that regard, it is the fulfillment of the ancient curse that God had pronounced to the serpent in Eden when He said that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, yet in the process would be bruised in His own heel. And so again, there was pain and injury to Christ in this victory, but nevertheless, His pain is nothing compared to the pain that is inflicted upon the prince of evil and the prince of darkness in His great victory. Now one of the problems we have is there are so many of these different strands, and that sometimes people will look at one of these and try to see that as the exclusive significance of the atonement.

And I think that's a mistake. I think we have to see that all of these are various aspects of a very complex work of redemption. Now there are other theories, of course, of the atonement that have been raised that are hardly orthodox. One of the most popular is the governmental theory of the atonement that suggests that what was going on in the cross was not an actual atonement as such, but that simply it was an illumination by which God was demonstrating to the world the seriousness of sin, and in order to vindicate the significance of His rule and authority and government over the world, He had Christ suffer on the cross.

But in addition to these, the one that has captured the most attention, I think, since St. Anselm is that view of the atonement that we call the satisfaction theory of the atonement. And this goes back not only to the New Testament but to Anselm's elaboration of the cause and need for an atonement. Just recently I spoke with a man who was very much opposed to the whole biblical theology. He said he believed in God, but he didn't believe in the Christian view of God, and he said because it was ridiculous to believe in a God who would require a blood sacrifice in order for him to be reconciled with human beings. And he was outraged by that saying, what kind of barbaric God is that who is so vengeful and so mean that he would require this sort of thing? And I answered in one word, I said, a just God.

Of course, that's what he couldn't swallow. He thought that a just God, a truly righteous God, a truly good God would simply unilaterally forgive people of their sins and not impose such bloodthirsty requirements as an atonement, for example. But again, the principle by which Anselm developed this satisfaction theory was based upon the justice of God. This is an attribute of God that is not the most popular attribute that we find with the nature of God. Many people would prefer to think strictly in terms of God's love or of God's grace or of His mercy, and like this fellow that I spoke to recently, have an allergy to the idea that God is a God of justice. And yet, if we look at the biblical understanding of justice, we see that justice is related closely to two other aspects or categories. First is the aspect of righteousness. Justice and righteousness are distinguished in the Bible, but never separated.

Justice is an element, a necessary element of true righteousness, and by extension, it is a true and necessary element of goodness. My discussion with this fellow I mentioned a moment ago really focused on whether God is a good God. He doesn't like the Christian faith because he thinks that Christianity teaches a bad God, and the reason he teaches a bad God is because he exacts punishment for sin. And I said, I think this on the contrary illustrates dramatically the goodness of God.

Why do I say that? Well, you remember the situation in the Old Testament when God announced that He was going to pour out His judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham interceded in behalf of the people and was worried that God in His vengeful wrath would bring punishment and injury to innocent people along with the wicked, which was a concern that Abraham should never have had for a second. But in that discussion that he had with God, he raised a question which was a rhetorical question, the answer of which could only be, yes. And the question was this, will not the judge of all the world do what is right?

Now, you see, what Abraham was thinking there was right on the mark. Abraham understood that the Lord God omnipotent, the supreme judge of all human affairs, doesn't know how to do anything. He doesn't know how to do anything. He doesn't know how to do anything except that which is right.

The one thing that brings comfort to us is to know that the supreme judge on heaven and earth is always and everywhere righteous. He is above bribery. He's above corruption, and He doesn't make mistakes. He's omniscient, and in His judgments, He's perfect in His evaluations. He brings all of the mitigating circumstances into play whenever He renders a decision.

He is the perfect judge. But in addition to His perfection of knowledge, we understand that this judge of heaven and earth is good, and a judge who never punishes evil is not a good judge because a judge who never punishes evil is not a just judge. This is the point that Anselm was laboring, that God is a just judge, and justice, His justice, not some abstract justice outside of Him, but His own internal being, His own righteousness, His own justice demands that evil be punished. Now, when Paul explores the mystery of the cross in the New Testament, the apostle says that in the work of Christ in effecting our justification, God is both just and the justifier.

God is both just and the justifier. That's the irony of the New Testament concept of the atonement. Now, to understand that, I frequently use an illustration borrowed from the history of theology that some people find very helpful, and that is to make a distinction between different kinds of indebtedness that we have. We've already looked at the doctrine of sin, and we've seen that when we sin against God, we incur a debt, a moral debt, because God's law imposes an obligation, and we are called to meet those obligations, and the obligation that we owe is that of perfection. And if we sin once, we suffer from moral hemophilia because we become debtors who can't possibly pay their debt. So, let's look again at the idea of pecuniary debt as distinguished from moral debt.

A pecuniary debt is a financial or monetary debt whereby a sum of money is owed in a transaction. And my illustration is of the little boy that comes into the ice cream store, and you're standing there watching as he orders a double scooped ice cream cone. And when the waitress gives him the cone, she says to him, that'll be two dollars. And you see his face sink.

He reaches in his pocket, and he pulls out a dollar bill, and he said, but my mommy only gave me one dollar. Well, what do you do in a case like that? You're standing there watching this transaction, and what do you do? You reach in your pocket, and you take a dollar, and you hand it to the lady, and you say, here, I'll pay for the other half of the cone. The boy looks up, and she says, gee, thanks, mister. And he goes about his business. Now, the question is, does the waitress have to accept your payment? The answer is yes, because the debt has been incurred financially. As long as I put the money on the table on behalf of this little boy, it's legal tender.

She has to accept that payment. But let's change the story a little bit. Now, the little boy, instead of coming in and ordering a double scoop ice cream cone, he walks in the store, waits till the waitress goes into the back of the shop. He runs around behind the counter, grabs a scoop, and takes two scoops of ice cream, puts them on the cone, and starts to leave the store, whereupon the store proprietor comes up and grabs them by the scruff of the neck and says, hold it right there, and calls the police. Now, the little boy has stolen the ice cream. And now I'm watching this as the policeman standing there, and I say, wait a minute, officer, forget about this.

We can all be nice here. I'll pay for the boy's cone. And I hand the proprietor the two dollars. The policeman looks at the proprietor, and the question he's going to ask is what?

Do you want to press charges? Because the policeman understands that the shop owner is not obligated to accept my payment for the ice cream cone, because it's not just a financial transaction here. A law has been broken. A moral debt has been acquired. And so the owner may or may not accept my payment. Now, what happens in the cross is that in this case, it's not a bystander's idea to have the price paid by a substitute.

It is the owner's idea. It is God who sends His Son into the world into the world to pay the price of the moral guilt and to resolve the moral indebtedness that we have, and says, I will accept your payment in behalf of these guilty people who are debtors that cannot pay their own debt. So in this transaction that God initiates, God does not negotiate His justice. He does not sacrifice His righteousness.

He does not discard His own integrity. He said, I am going to make sure that this punishment happens and that sin is punished. That is the justness of the cross. The mercy of the cross is seen in that God accepts the payment by a substitute, which we'll look at in the next session. But in the meantime, Paul's words become words become clear that in this, God is both just and the justifier of the ungodly. As you listen today, I hope you can see that even though the gospel is simple enough that even a child can understand it, that there is enough depth to the cross of Christ to provide for a lifetime of study and reflection. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind.

I'm Nathan W. Bingham. When R.C. Sproul recorded this series, Foundations, his overview of systematic theology, he wanted to help Christians think more deeply about what they believe. And that's one of the reasons why it's 60 messages. And we'll make this complete series available to you for your donation of any amount. When you give your gift at, we'll send you the DVD package of this complete series, but also give you digital access to all 60 messages, as well as the study guide.

So give your gift today by visiting As a teenager, first exploring Christianity, I can remember asking a Christian, why did Jesus have to die? And they couldn't answer that question. Could you? Well, R.C. Sproul will next Saturday, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-06 04:58:30 / 2023-05-06 05:06:47 / 8

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