Sunday, May 06, 2007

atonement delight

One of Bish's questions was 'how does it (penal substitutionary atonement) delight you?' As an unapologetic Piperan, whose dialogue is sprinkled with words like 'delight', 'joy' and 'treasure' i thought i'd think about what it is about PSA that makes me delighted. What is it that makes me want to defend this doctrine and makes me want other people to believe it as well?

You can't read very much of the Bible very well without seeing that God is a God who does not like sin. He hates sin. He hates it because of His jealousy for His own name, because it is legally and morally wrong. It's legally wrong because God Word is law and to rebel against His Word is to break that law. It's morally wrong because we were made to worship God, designed to worship God, and God is the highest moral reality there is. God is worthy of all the glory the world can offer Him...more in fact. So not to worship Him and not to give the glory in your life to Him is morally wrong. And God does not like that. And because God is perfectly just He can't simply 'forgive' sin. That would compromise His character in a way that would make Him no longer God. So God hates sin, His wrath against sin must be satisfied.

So does this make me delighted? Yes and no. Yes, because what good news it is. What God news that the King of the universe is good. And not just a bit good, not just that he has good days, but that He is morally perfect. Jesus is so pure and so perfect that when John saw Him in His glory he fell down as if dead. That's some serious holiness. How good to know, how reassuring to know that the King, the Judge is perfect, and has a perfect standard that no one will be just let off. With a flow of injustice in the world that is seemingly unstoppable, it is good news, great news, to know that the One in charge of it all is sovereign and good and just.

But there's a big problem here. And the bad news is the same as the good news. That God is perfect and just and holy. That Jesus sits on His throne judging with perfect righteousness. I've spent time reading Numbers and Isaiah recently, and it's impossible to read those books in particular without noticing the penalty for sin. The generation that The LORD rescued from Egypt with such power and glory will none of them, with a couple of notable exceptions, see the promised land. The vast majority of them suffer God's punishment of wandering in the wilderness with a (un)healthy dose of plague mixed in. God's judgement on their sin, their idolatry and murmuring was not pleasant. But it was deserved. The inhabitants of the political Israel will be judged by occupation and exile. We know for how long, but they didn't. Was this the end of God's promises to Israel? The end of His commitment to Himself and His people? Chapter forty answers those questions to a large extent, but they must have weighed heavy on the minds of the exiles as the judged away from their homes.

We're not like them though are we? We're safe from God's judgement. The Jesus of the 21st century is far more cuddly and inoffensive than the God of the old testament isn't He? Well no, that's incorrect. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. He still views sin with the same seriousness. I'm not directly mentioned in the Bible, obviously, but i am there by implication. I was by nature and object of wrath, fully deserving of eternal punishment for my eternally offensive sins, fully deserving of all that Israel suffered and more. And apart from the power and grace of God, fully deserving of it. Not much delight here so far is there. The good thing of God's holiness and justice leads to the bad thing of my eternal suffering away from the goodness and grace of the Lord, away from any relationship, away from any happiness. In Hell.

So where does Penal Substitutionary Atonement come into this? I believe that it upholds both God's holiness and justice, and His goodness and love, and yet means i can know Him and enjoy Him and be in relationship with Him. How? How can God possibly be true to both His holiness and justice, but at the same time love sinners and work everything together for their good? I believe the answers lies in penal subsitutionary atonement.

The doctrine that holds that on the cross Christ was made to be sin, and that God poured out hour after hour of holy, righteous, pure wrath, what we deserved onto Him. And that He eventually died under the weight of the Father's wrath. And that this was no error, that this was the plan from the beginning. That is was Christ who was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, and that this chastisement brings us peace (Is 53). What wonderful news. Christ became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. Isn't that good news? And what are you left with if you take away Penal substitutionary Atonement? If the cross just says 'God loves you' (and in part it certainly does) then we are left wondering where the punishment for sins has gone. The same as if the cross just tells us that Christ sympathises with us in our pain (and in part it certainly does) then we are left with the same questions. I don't believe there is any other doctrine that relates to atonement that secures both God's holiness and justice and hatred of sin, as well as His great love for us, in having His Son die under the weight of it. There is nothing else out there that so secures both those truths.

That's why i delight in tells me great, great, great things about the God i worship and about my security in Him. Why would you want anything else?

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