Two Problems With Substitutionary Atonement

Yesterday I did a post on the following quote:

A rejection of penal substitutionary atonement is a rejection of the gospel. Either you’re saved through the work of Christ on the Cross, or you’re not saved at all.

The gist of the quote is that if you don’t believe in Substitutionary Atonement (to be called SA from now on cuz it’s hard to type!) then you aren’t saved.

This is a rather silly position to take. SA is Calvinism. What the author of the quote is saying is that if you’re not Calvinist you don’t believe the Gospel and thus are not saved.

In his quote, only Calvinists are saved. These are the same people who fought against the Catholic Church for saying only Catholics are saved!

I believe it is entirely possible to not believe in SA and still believe the Gospel, because SA is not the Gospel. SA is an attempt to summarize and explain the Gospel.

It gets some things right and presses other things out of measure.

I know it is possible to not accept SA and yet still believe the Gospel, because I do.

Here are my two main reasons for rejecting SA:

1. SA says that Christ died as your substitute. He died in your place. You were supposed to die, but instead Christ did. Although this sounds good and there are a couple verses you can misinterpret to make it sound like that’s what the Bible says, this isn’t right.

If Christ specifically died in the exact place of every believer, then He did not die in the exact place of every non-believer. This leads to Limited Atonement, the L of the Calvinist TULIP. This is, by far, their weakest point. It is refuted by many Scriptures. Limited Atonement is wrong. Anyone can come to Christ for salvation. He died for the sins of the whole world.

Limited Atonement rejects that idea because Limited Atonement is not based on Scripture; it’s based on the Calvinist philosophy of SA.

2. SA says that Christ died instead of you. He was your exact substitute, doing something you don’t have to do now because He did it for you.

This obviously isn’t true because everyone dies! This is also not true from a Gospel standpoint because, according to Romans 6 and many other passages, Christ didn’t just die for you, He wasn’t just some man who did some thing a long time ago for you. By faith you were crucified with Him, buried with Him, and raised up with Him to newness of life. I am crucified with Christ. The old man is crucified with its affections and lusts.

SA is all about Christ dying, not me. The New Testament clearly shows that we die with Christ and are raised up with Christ to newness of life. By faith, anyone can identify themselves with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not instead of or in the place of; it’s with.

SA is wrong. It ignores lots of Scripture. SA is Calvinism. Heaven contains non-Calvinists. You do not have to believe in SA to be saved. Rejecting SA is not rejecting the Gospel.

Rejecting SA is rejecting a human attempt to explain the Gospel, an attempt that fails in several ways.

Hold fast to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word; hold loosely the ideas and philosophies of people. We’re saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by faith in John Calvin, Augustine, or anyone else. Please don’t forget that.

Doctrine and the Gospel

I saw this quote on the internet the other day:

A rejection of penal substitutionary atonement is a rejection of the gospel. Either you’re saved through the work of Christ on the Cross, or you’re not saved at all.

I fully agree that you are saved by the work of Christ on the cross or not at all (as long as the resurrection is included). No problem there.

But the idea that my belief in the Gospel equals my belief in a man-made attempt to explain what Christ did, crosses the line.

Substitutionary atonement is not the Gospel. It’s the Calvinist/Reformed understanding of the Gospel.

If this quote is true, then only Calvinist/Reformed people can be saved.

This is one example of many I have seen and heard over the years. This is not an issue with substitutionary atonement; it’s an issue with overstating your case.

The fact that you can read your doctrine into the Gospel does not mean that your doctrine IS the Gospel.

One of the main problems Jesus Christ had with the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day was the demand to adhere to their ideas rather than adhering, by faith, to God Himself.

Believing what people say is not believing the Gospel! Believing a person’s summation of the Gospel is not believing the Gospel!

You do not have to have 100% agreement in doctrine with some elite group in order to get into heaven.

Furthermore, substitutionary atonement was not codified until about 600 years ago. Are we to believe that no one was saved before the Reformers showed us what the Gospel was?

Your job is to know the Lord Jesus Christ. To grow in your love for Him and all He has done and will do for you.

All of this is based upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His death, burial, and resurrection. It is not based on adherence or conformity to a group’s doctrine.

The temptation to say “Only people who agree with me are saved because I’m the only one who knows what the Gospel is” ruins people, leads to self-righteousness, and divides the Church.

Stop doing that.

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

That’s a direct quote from the Bible and there are other verses like it. None of these verses say “believe what some guy theorized about what Jesus did and you will be saved.”

Know Christ yourself. Know His Gospel. Pray and talk with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. People can help you understand the Gospel (Ephesians 4 makes that clear), but nowhere is salvation promised to those who agree in totality with some random group.

Deal with God. He’s your Judge. Deal with the Word of God, for by His Word you will be judged.

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
–Matthew 15:8-9

How to Not Be Freaked Out

Everyone is freaked out. Each day there is a new fear, a new conspiracy, a new dreadful something something that is going to kill us all.

Yet, here we are, not dead.

There is nothing new under the sun. Every people in every time thought terrible things would do them in. Death was lurking just around the corner.

And, let’s not fool ourselves, there have been many terrible epochs in human history where death indeed was just around the corner for many people. My head aint in the sand.

But nor is it floating among the black-lined clouds of imminent peril.

Israel had their bouts with “Oh, no! We’re all gonna die!” Here is one passage that tells them to knock that off:

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.  But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
–Isaiah 8:12-13

If we could take all the fear we have from day to day, fear of people, fear of death around the corner, fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of everything we fear, and gave that up and put the same energy into fearing God, wow. Life would be different.

Israel is being told not to fear false fears of non-believers, people who are living in bondage to the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). Fear of temporal things doesn’t help anyone. Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

Non-believers fight for power, prestige, money, fame, and the preservation of temporal things. Therefore, they fear everything that threatens their temporal gain.

Believers have a new home, a new country, a new way of life, and a new mind. Believers are to set their affections on things above, putting our treasure in heaven where nothing can take it from us.

If all our hope, our life, our expectations, desires, and affections are in heaven, what can take that away?

If your life is truly hid with God in Christ Jesus and your treasure is in heaven, there is nothing down here to fear.

Faith puts fear in its right place. We fear God. Fear of God looks like listening to God regardless of what people think of what we do and regardless of temporal measures of success.

Listening to God is the right thing to do. We’ll stand before Him some day and He will reward what we’ve done for Him.

Put your treasure in heaven. Fear God. Listen to Him more than you listen to the fear mongering news and the freaked out unbelievers around you. They have only this life and they are freaking out trying to keep it.

We’ve been called to something higher. Come after that. Lay hold on eternal life. Fear God and let go of this life.

Who Fights For You?

I came across a cool verse in Exodus. God promised to bring Abraham’s family out of Egypt and all Israel had to do was believe, follow orders, wait and see the deliverance of God.

As they leave, they get nervous. Pharaoh and his army are hot on their tails. “What are we gonna do now? We’re all gonna die!” Israel freaks.

And then comes this beauty of a verse:

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
–Exodus 14:14

The New American Standard puts it

“The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”

Shush! Stand and watch. God will come through on His promises.

What a cool deal!

Unfortunately, most in the New Testament would take this verse and turn it into some kind of temporal success in your life thing.

If you just hush, God will give you a promotion. If you keep silent God will rescue your marriage.

But those promises aren’t in the New Covenant, no matter what Joel Osteen says.

Our job in the New Covenant is to show the love of Christ. God promises to reward us in the life to come, perhaps in this one but there’s no guarantee. He promises that loving as Christ loved will bring us spiritual fruit at least.

But we get nervous. Things don’t go well. Sometimes the fruit is slow in coming. Sometimes we get opposition and persecution. In this world you will have tribulation.

But be of good cheer, Christ has overcome the world!

He will fight for you. He will guarantee you will be changed into the same image from glory to glory. You will reap if you faint not.

Be still. Keep silent. Let God do the fighting. Let God do the avenging. Our job is to show the love of Christ; let God take care of the rest.

“The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”

Keep silent. Don’t go after human wisdom, programs, and philosophies. Human ingenuity will only produce human results. Let God be involved in who you are, what you do, and who you will become. Have a faith that can keep silent and wait patiently. Feed your enemy if he’s hungry, give em a drink if they are thirsty. Be at peace. Be silent. Stop arguing and defending yourself. Let God fight for you.

“The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”

Doctrine and Application

Much of modern Christianity, when it actually deals with the Bible, focuses on application.

Most popular Christian books are about managing your household budget, or saving your marriage, or raising your kids.

Most people assume a sermon is a short speech telling you how to make your life better.

  • 7 Ways to pay off your mortgage
  • 13 Ways to tame your rebellious teen
  • 27 Ways to keep your wife happy

We go home assuming we’ve heard God’s wisdom on the subject and half-heartedly apply some of the easier points and hope for the best.

If we don’t see immediate results (a payoff) we soon abandon those ideas and fall back into our flesh habits of the past and conclude that the Bible is irrelevant to modern life.

I admit this is a rather blunt caricature of the situation, but alas, I think it’s pretty close to the majority’s view of things.

Doctrine is a fancy word that means “teaching.” Doctrine is stuff that God wants you to know about Him, you, and what you and Him do in light of knowing Him and you!

The New Testament Epistles are largely doctrine rather than application. I would guess that most Epistles are about 2/3 doctrine and the last third goes into application. Some are closer to 3/4 doctrine and 1/4 application.

I believe our sermons and our Christian books should copy this same model. The Bible’s pattern shows us that right thinking is vital.

If your thinking is right; application will take care of itself.

The problem with doctrine is that it’s boring. By “boring” we mean “not relevant.” Since we can’t immediately figure out what to do with Paul’s teaching on justification and circumcision for instance, we’ll skip it as irrelevant and boring.

“That’s for Jews. What does that have to do with me?”

Then you’ll notice these same people who chalk up doctrine as irrelevant, will assume that infant baptism, adult baptism, or saying the prayer (all one-time acts) are what you do to get saved!

Since we don’t take the time to figure out Paul’s point about justification and circumcision, we fall into a similar error.

Since we don’t look at doctrine, we end up with horrible applications.

We’re filled to the brim on application in our day. So much application with so little foundation.

This leads to people who need Church Leaders to make every little decision for them, often leading people into the traps of legalism.

If the Church focused on doctrine (as the New Testament does) and getting people to think biblically, we’d be better off.

God wants you to think right. Doctrine is vital for right thinking. Don’t skip the doctrinal work and shortcut to application, unless you want to stay in a constant state of spiritual infancy.

Peter and the Suffering Messiah

Peter preaches about Jesus Christ in Acts 3. He tells the group of Jews around him that they turned Jesus over to the Gentile rulers and killed the Prince of Life.

Peter builds up this point and could have really begun hammering them, driving them into the ground, and making the guilt drip all over them until they became quivering masses of guilt-ridden goo.

But he doesn’t. He follows that up by saying:

And now, brethren, I know that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.
–Acts 3:17

Wow, well, that was gentle! Peter gives them a break. I know you didn’t do it on purpose, I know you weren’t rebelliously trying to kill the Messiah, you did this because you didn’t know any better.

I wonder where that softer tone is coming from?

Here’s a guess.

From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
–Matthew 16:21-22

Peter himself was confused on the issue. Peter himself was rejecting a suffering Messiah. Peter knows what it’s like to reject the Messiah! Peter knew his own heart, he knew he was just ignorant, so he gives them a break too.

The really interesting thing is how Jesus follows this up, we all know the first part of the follow up, “Get thee behind me Satan.” But little attention is given to the second part, which carries a massively huge point.

But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
–Matthew 16:23

Peter likes the things that men like, not the things that God likes.

Men don’t like suffering. Certainly not our own, but we also lose respect for others who suffer. We turn into Job’s friends: “Your suffering means there’s something wrong with you. Here, let me lecture you.”

No one wants to brag about a suffering Messiah. When Paul was in prison for his preaching, he told recipients of his letters, “Don’t be ashamed of me or my bonds.”

Paul knows human nature. When everything is going terribly we lose confidence. We doubt that we’re doing the right thing. Suffering and rejection are not cool.

Peter wanted to fit in with people because Peter is a person and that’s what people want to do. Peter doesn’t want to see his Messiah despised and rejected. That doesn’t look good at all.

A suffering Messiah doesn’t play well to our health and wealth obsessed world. But this is the Messiah we have. I suggest we take Him anyway and adjust ourselves accordingly!

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty
–1 Corinthians 1:25-27

The Messiah No One Really Wants

Jesus is the Messiah. The word “Christ” means the anointed one, it’s a messianic title. When you call Jesus “Christ,” you are acknowledging that He is your Messiah.

Anyone can say that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, but the true test is if we follow the Messiah.

Here’s the funny thing: humans aren’t too happy with the Messiah we got.

Many people followed Jesus while He was ministering on earth. But then He was turned over to the Romans, mocked, spit on, whipped, and eventually crucified. What’s up with that?

The two disciples on the Road to Emmaus talked with the resurrected Jesus unknowingly. Here’s what they were talking about:

the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel
–Luke 24:20-21

They thought He was the Messiah, but then crucifixion happened! They left the city. They took off. They gave up. Guess we were wrong.

Twice in Luke 24 Jesus shows them from Scripture that the Messiah had to suffer and be resurrected.

When the Apostles begin teaching in Acts, a repeated theme is pointing out from the Law and the Prophets that the Messiah had to suffer and be resurrected (Acts 3:14-19; 17:1-3; 26:19-23).

The biggest thing that made them doubt the Messiahness of Jesus was His suffering and death. Jesus and the Apostles say no, actually, His suffering and resurrection are the biggest proof that He is the Messiah!

Israel didn’t want a suffering Messiah. They wanted a triumphal Messiah. His awesomeness would make them awesome. He was supposed to overthrow the Romans and restore Israeli prominence. Instead He submits to the Roman authority and gets crucified by them on a cross.

You would think that now, after we have the completed Gospel lived out and the full Scripture revealed to us, we’d be cool with a suffering Messiah.

We are, as long as we’re talking about Jesus suffering for us. Jesus died and now I’m happy all the day!

We throw the suffering on Jesus and now Jesus makes the American Dream come true for me. I get health and wealth and my best life now! Yippee! Thank you, suffering Jesus!

We’re cool with a suffering Messiah as long as I just get the benefits. But the New Testament tells us to follow Christ, to have the mind of Christ, that only if we suffer with Him will we be glorified with Him, that we are living sacrifices, that we are to take up the cross, deny ourselves, and follow the Man of sorrows acquainted with grief.

Wait, wait, wait! I have to follow Christ in His sufferings? No thanks!

We don’t like the suffering Messiah anymore than the Jewish people of His day did.

No one likes suffering. No one likes to be around suffering people. No one wants to follow a suffering person into their very suffering so it becomes ours too.

We signed up for the good stuff and that’s it.

If you’re not suffering in following the suffering Messiah, there’s a real good chance you’re not following the suffering Messiah. You’re probably just following the Bestest, Funnest Messiah of Your Dreams.