This is an excerpt from the upcoming Applied Theology Project Series courses and books by Steve Childers and John Frame.
The Necessity of Christ’s Death For Us
The gospel is stunningly different than amnesty. The picture of the gospel is one in which God’s justice is served by God pouring out the full fury of his wrath for our sin onto Jesus Christ in our place, as our substitute. The bible teaches this is the only way that God can serve his holy justice and still show his holy mercy by forgiving and justifying his sinful people.
It is only because of the sacrificial, redemptive work of Jesus Christ, by the shedding of his blood for our sin, that the Apostle Paul can declare the good news that, God can now be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:26).”
Since humans can grant amnesty and pardon guilty people without demanding justice, why can’t God?
Anselm of Canterbury (1093-1109) wrote, “For what necessity and for what reason did God, since he is omnipotent, take upon himself the humiliation and weakness of human nature in order to its restoration?”
Why did God not show his love for humanity by simply declaring their forgiveness by the sheer power of his will? If we say that God could not do this, are we denying his power? And, if we say God has the ability to do this and he chooses not to do it, are we denying his love?
Why did the eternal Son of God have to take on humanity, live a sinless life and die a sinner’s death, taking the fullness of God’s wrath we deserve on himself for our sin? This is the historic question of the necessity of the atonement.
The bible answers this question by teaching us that there are certain things that God cannot do. God cannot lie (Heb 6:18). God cannot break a promise (Psalm 89:34). God’s attributes cannot change. “For I the Lord do not change…” (Mal 3:6a). This means God cannot NOT be all powerful, all knowing, all present, etc. This also means God cannot NOT be perfectly just.
God’s nature as God requires his perfect justice, or he would not be God. So God cannot save sinners without satisfying the demands of his holy justice by pouring out the fullness of his wrath against our sin onto the sinless Lord.
Where does the bible teach that God must satisfy the demands of his holy justice in order to save sinners? Let’s examine a few passages:
“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering… Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people (Heb 2:10, 17).”
Here, the writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “…had to be made like his brothers in every respect…to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Note here that, in order for God to forgive the sins of his people, the founder of their salvation “had to” become like them first. Now, take another new look at the well-known verses in John 3:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world,[i] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
The only alternative to Jesus being lifted up on the cursed cross is the perishing of God’s people for eternity. Again, why is Jesus sacrificial death necessary? Why can’t God just grant amnesty and declare that guilty people “should not perish but have everlasting life?” Because God’s justice must be served.
The Nature of Christ’s Death for Us
There are several biblical words used to help us deepen our understanding of God’s love for us through the substitutionary death of Christ on our behalf, including sacrifice, redemption, reconciliation, and propitiation. In all of these words and concepts, describing the substitutionary work of Christ for us, there is the underlying concept of his obedience for us. Christ’s obedience is described in great detail in Isaiah 53, where he is described as the obedient, Suffering Servant.
In the preceding chapter, this passage is introduced by God saying, “Behold, my Servant shall act wisely (Isa 52:13a).” It is in his role as obedient Servant, that the bible teaches Christ is able to vindicate God’s justice by being made an offering for the guilt of God’s people. The Suffering Servant must bear their iniquities so that God can justify his people and count them righteous.
“Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;[g]
when his soul makes[h] an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see[i] and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities (Isa 53:10-11).”
Referring to his obedience as the Suffering Servant who had come to do the Father’s will, Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me (John 6:38). And, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).”
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 Later in this series we’ll be studying each of these words in depth.