All sound theology flows from a proper and biblical understanding of the atonement of Christ. Juxtaposed to this, every heresy or agenda in some way will distort or redefine the cross. Knowing the biblical reason(s) for why Christ died is critical, essential, and foundational to immunizing ourselves from the heretical diseases that seem to abound in our day. And there is one particular aspect of the atonement that is so fundamental, so integral, and so intrinsic to our understanding, that to reject or deny this central component is to spell spiritual disaster upon our souls. And it is this one thing we need to get right and reemphasize in order to reconcile with one another and neutralize racial and Socialistic agendas within our churches. It is called penal substitutionary atonement.
A Quick Primer
Penal Substitutionary Atonement can be broken down into three parts based upon its own wording. Let’s quickly go over it so that its implications are fresh in our minds.
- First up, atonement. It was first coined in English by William Tyndale. It joined two words which meant to be “at one” with God. In Hebrew, kaphar means “to cover” with the idea of providing satisfaction, forgiveness, and reconciliation for sin (Lev. 17:11). Jesus Christ died to cover our sins, appease the wrath of God, and reconcile us to, and make us at one with, God.
- Next up, substitution. This word, like atonement, is pregnant with meaning and application. But the basic idea is that Christ took our punishment (a) in our place, (b) instead of us, and on (c) behalf of us, for our sins. Each of these phrases are very significant. And they are brought to light here to emphasize a single and glorious conclusion that Jesus judicially stepped into the place of the guilty. What this means for us is that he wasn’t just tortured by men, although true. He wasn’t just showing off his love either. But he was standing in our place in God’s courtroom as a guilty and condemned sinner, although innocent (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18).
- Lastly, what gives substitution its force is the fact that Christ’s sacrifice was penal. What this means is that he bore an actual punishment that was due to us. In other words, a penalty. And this is where most press hard on their theological brakes. The idea that Christ suffered and bore the penalty for sin, in our place, seemingly implies a God who is vindictive and vengeful. Even more than this, to insinuate that the Father would unleash His wrath upon the Son as a part of this penalty is not only outrageous but scandalously unbelievable! But it is scriptural (Isa 53; Rom. 8:32; Gal. 3:13). And Christ died as a penal substitute to atone for our sins and reconcile us to God, making peace.
Now, I realize that there is more fruit we can pluck from the tree than just these simple terms. And the application(s) of the atonement in our regeneration, sanctification, adoption, imputation, etc. is just as plentiful. But I merely placed this short primer above to place a biblical lens over our eyes in order to see through some of the racial agendas of our day.
Penal Substitution Atonement vs. Racial Agendas
With this in mind, how would you respond to some modern ideas of why Christ came to die? What would you say if you heard someone say that Christ died to make us rich? That he died merely just to demonstrate his love? Or that he didn’t die to bear a penalty, but to merely demonstrate his power over spiritual forces? Could you point out what is true, almost true, or flat out heresy? And here is where I want to emphasize the main point.
What if someone tells you that Christ died to give an oppressed people-group an equal/higher economic status? That he died only to free a particular ethnic group from its economic oppressors? Or in order to abolish taxes, redistribute wealth, eradicate government power? Moreover, how about if someone told you that instead of looking to Christ’s sacrifice by faith to be reconciled to God, they said that you cannot be forgiven unless you give up your position of power/wealth, or repair what was done by your ethnic group? Or if you, by chance, weren’t directly responsible for the sins of your ethnicity (whatever sins they may be), you must not only ask for forgiveness for their past sins, but you must find a way to repair the damages?
Does any of the above rightly portray the reason(s) why Christ came to die? Are there any verses in Scripture, rightly understood, that would enlighten a new believer, mature believer, or even unbeliever to say that these are legitimate applications of the atonement? If Christ came to satisfy the demands of justice written against us, and He bore our sins in His own body as a penal substitute, covering and atoning for every sin that placed us at odds with God, where do we find room at the cross for these kinds of demands? What do we sacrifice to believe such things? Well, the foundational reason he came to die! We would essentially have to root up the very thing Christ came to accomplish so that these heretical doctrines can flourish in its place.
Be Reconciled to One Another
Let’s make a few things clear. Scripture commands that we preach the gospel and demonstrate our faith by good works. We forgive because we have been forgiven! This includes those who oppress us, mistreat us, unlawfully pursue us, and even who treat us as their enemy because of our ethnicity. We feed the poor, take care of widows, protect the unborn, speak on behalf of those who are unjustly treated, and give from our wealth because we are moved by compassion and a sense of love to obey our LORD. Not by unbiblical, Socialistic standards. And certainly not by guilt or the sins of our forefathers.
However, as Christians, one of our primary reasons for being on this earth is to make disciples of all nations. We proclaim the glorious gospel to sinners, and we wait upon the Holy Spirit to regenerate them. And when they are born again, we baptize them and teach them all that Christ commanded us. From this, how could anyone possibly deduce a Social Gospel or some “woke” theology? How could there be any room at the cross and Scripture for heresies like Black Liberation Theology which require some of the very contemptible demands mentioned above?
If Christ is indeed our penal substitute, we know perfect justice is satisfied for us at the cross. Both the oppressed and the oppressor can be forgiven. Both have a glaring reason to forgive one another because of the atonement. And neither have the authority to require unbiblical demands from one another. Furthermore, Christ came to purchase for the Father a particular people with his own blood out of every tribe, nation, and tongue. White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, or a combination thereof, can live in forgiveness and peace because Christ made peace between us and God.
Knowing this, we no longer need to be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine that attempts to alter, destroy, or deny the central component to the atonement of Christ to suit their Socialist and heretical agendas. We can lay aside the heavy burdens of racism, bitterness, hate, vengeance, and false theology, and pursue reconciliation because Christ bore God’s holy and just wrath in our place. It is the application of penal substitution to the soul of a sinner which can overcome these racist and Socialist agendas in our churches, and in our nation. And if we understand it biblically, along with all other doctrines that submit to it, it should be the very thing that we need to secure our attention back to the power and centrality of the gospel in the midst of the shifting sands of our generation.
– Until we go home