Even More on Substitution
Yep, we haven’t even scraped the surface.
Firstly, let’s get the whole “Is God a God of wrath?” thing out of the way. Roman 9:22 is a great starting point to show that God is wrathful towards sin – he has to be if he is holy and loving. See how God’s wrath is described in Romans 2:5, Romans 3:5 (interestingly – the argument Paul uses in this verse is that it is entirely incorrect to accuse God of being unloving when he is wrathful against sinful humans), Romans 4:15 and Romans 13:4-5 (interesting theology that I should try and unpack at sometime) just to start with one book of the Bible. God’s wrath against sin which leads to his judgement of it is the one thing that is totally obvious when reading Scripture.
Anyway. The thing about substitutionary atonement is that it explains how Christ dies not just for our sin but also what he does about the effect of sin on our lives. Read Isaiah 53:1-6 and especially verse 4. The key here in this description of the suffering servant is that He not only bears our iniquity and transgressions (our sin) but also our sorrows and infirmities (the effect of a sinful world upon us).
This is the basis for the healing ministry – that Christ’s substitution is not just for our enacted sin but also the sin enacted upon us. For those who recognise what he has done he redeems them from the full effect of sin across our lives. Yes, many Christians never really get into this and therefore carry that sin with them, but in truth Christ died to save us from the fallen world.
In my Oxford Dissertation I gave a pastoral example of a Christian man who was in our healing programme small group. His issue was serial promiscuity and we prayerfully discerned that this stemmed from a lack of being which came from him having been conceived without desire – namely that his parents hadn’t planned for him and didn’t really want him. He had grown up with this lack of sense of being and he had sought it as an adult through sexual encounters, a cannibalistic seeking after a soul.
This man’s issue was sin, but not his own. It was the sin of another in his life that had shaped and formed him. But the Scriptural truth is that Christ died to remove the effect of sin from those he has saved, if only they’ll look to him for it.
We prayed for this man, asking God to bring healing into the moment of his conception, to take upon himself the sin that had been committed against this man. The effect was profound. He left the group that evening weeping as the pain of dealing with the wounds of his childhood was still very much present, despite our prayer. But next week he walked in a different man. There had been a remarkable spiritual change which had led to an emotional change. He walked in with his head held up high. He worshipped like I’d never seen him worship before. He had experienced Isaiah 53:4, he had lived Matthew 11:28. He knew what it was for Christ to exchange sin in his life for his healing and righteousness. He left our group and went on to work at a Christian Retreat Centre, a completely changed man, changed by the reality of Christ’s substitution of sin in his life for his righteousness.
That’s the reality of Substitutionary Atonement guys. It’s not just a neat theology (though it is), it’s pastorally powerful and profound. It’s the truth about what Christ has done for us and when we realise it and push into it we discover the riches of God’s grace. It’s the whole basis of the healing ministry that many of us are involved in, that Christ substitutes himself for us, for our sin and the sin committed against us. And do you know what? It works – it SO works.
Jeffrey John’s talk will be available online this evening here. Once the broadcast has happened, let’s have a good read of what he said and see whether he does or doesn’t support the Biblical model of Atonement. I know there’s been a real furore in the past few days based on the headlines in the Telegraph and other papers. Tonight’s the time to see whether they have any substance. Did he really call Substitutionary Atonement “repulsive” and “insane”? Let’s see.