Substitution and Punishment, for the elect alone
Many folks try to defend what they call “substitutionary atonement” without talking about election, and even if they do end up saying that Christ was the substitute only for believers, they still think of themselves as holding the same doctrine of substitution with folks who teach that Christ died for every sinner including sinners who will be destroyed one day by the wrath of God. The idea common to both the Arminian and the mainline Reformed is that God is holy and that propitiation is needed.God expiated our sins.The common false gospel is that God took care of everybody’s sins at the cross, and the common false solution is that a specific sinner’s faith allows what God did at the cross to work for that specific sinner. Even though it becomes clear in the false gospel that what Christ did for you won’t save you if you don’t believe, what is not so clear is exactly what Christ did.
Whatever it was that Christ did, the common false gospel assumes that Christ did it for every sinner, even for those sinners who perish.What Christ did becomes one of several conditions, because God does not forgive sin without first showing God’s anger at sin.But if God’s purpose is simply to make the forgiveness of sin possible, if God’s purpose is to make a general statement about the need for wrath and punishment, what has become of substitution?In a general atonement which plans for the possibility of all sinners being saved, Christ can be the most important person on the team, doing what is necessary to win, but this false Christ can never do anything without the rest of the team.He cannot be a substitute for people, so that they don’t have to do anything; the false Christ of the false gospel still depends on them to let Him save them.But this is not substitution.
One died for all, therefore all have died
Substitution is the death and resurrection of Christ for certain specific sinners, so that these elect sinners do not die for themselves.These elect sinners do not die for their sins. These elect sinners do not die.But doesn’t the New Testament use the word “with” and not only the word “for”?Yes, Christ died but didn’t everybody die with Christ?Didn’t the whole world die with Christ? Didn’t Christ died for all, so that all died?II Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves but who for themselves for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
We can think about a “for” which is not substitution.I can score a goal for my team, without any idea that I am the only one playing the game. I score the goal for the sake of others on my team, and not only for myself, but that does not mean they do nothing and I do everything.In II Corinthians 5:14-15, it is not the “for” which get us to the idea of substitution.(Of course I remember that the original is not English, but I am not a Greek student and cannot comment on the “instead” nuance of the original word.)What gets us to substitution is “therefore all died”.It is a mistake to reference the death of the all to some conversion experience that believers have.The death of all is not their repentance. Nor does “those who live” refer to faith or to conversion.The idea is not that Christ died one kind of death and as a result believers die another kind of death.The idea is not that Christ rose again from death and as a result believers now experience regeneration and the possibility of pleasing God.Rather, the idea is that the death Christ died, to propitiate God’s wrath because of imputed sins, is the death which is credited and counted to the elect.The elect do not die this kind of death. Their substitute died it for them.Christ alone, by Himself, without them, died this death.And it is that death, not some other kind of death, which the text teaches “all died.”
Already died for a person, or not
To teach substitutionary atonement from II Corinthians 5:14, 15, it is not enough to explain that the “all” is those who died and those who live.It is not enough, in other words, only to teach that Christ died only for the elect.It is impossible of course to teach substitution if we don’t talk about election, and if we don’t see that all for whom Christ died will live.But it’s not sufficient to only see the extent of the atonement. We must see the nature of the atonement.The common false gospel thinks it can teach the nature of the atonement without talking about extent, and so it makes its false Christ one of the team todo something about sin and holiness.But a gospel which only talks about the extent of the atonement ( only for those who live) has not yet explained substitutionif it has not taught that what Christ did is done by Christ alone, by Himself, without the help or consent of the team or the elect.Christ either died for a person, and that already, or Christ did not die for a person, and that already.
If Christ died for a person, that person becomes also dead legally, which means that the person becomes immune from the wrath of God.It is not that person’s repentance or anything else to follow in that person’s life which makes them free from God’s wrath.It’s Christ death alone which saves anybody from wrath.If Christ died for a person, one day that elect person will be joined to that death, and will become free from sin and death and wrath.It will not be their faith which frees them from wrath. It will not be the Holy Spirit joining them to the death which will free them from wrath. Romans 6 does not say that the Holy Spirit joins the elect to the death of Christ.Romans 6 does teach a transition from wrath to favor in the life of an elect sinner.Romans 6:20-22, “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to holiness and eternal life.”
Yes, the elect experience a change in fruit. Before they had nothing but dead fruit leading to death, dead works. It’s not a matter of more works and better works.It’s a question of no fruit or fruit.But the elect did not become servants of righteousness by becoming fruitful.The elect became fruitful by first being joined to the death of Christ.That death by Christ was always only for them alone, but it did not become their death until they were justified and placed into that death. Union with the death is not regeneration, because regeneration is a result of being joined to the death.The Lord Jesus Christ did not die along with the elect.Christ died instead of the elect.Christ died alone, by Himself. Describing the nature of the death of Christ means that “all died” is about a substitution, so that Christ’s having satisfied wrath and justice for the elect alone is counted as the elect themselves having satisfied wrath and justice.Yes, “you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.”(Romans 6:17) But beingcommittedby God to the gospel so that their mind obeys the gospel is not the condition of the elect becoming servants of righteousness but the result.Regeneration and calling are the immediate effects of being joined to Jesus Christ’s death in justification.
Not sufficient for the non-elect
An old formula from Lombard is used in the political compromise of the Synod of Dordt, “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect”.Or for those who don’t want to talk about the e word at all: sufficient for all, efficient for the believer.But the truth is that Christ’s death is not sufficient for the non-elect.What we really need to see is not simply the extent of the atonement but its nature.What do we mean by sufficient for the elect ?If we don’t understand how Christ’s death is enough for the elect, denying that Christ’s deathworks for the non-elect will not explain the gospel.Why did Christ need to die for the elect?Because the regeneration of the elect does not satisfy God’s justice.And it is not the Holy Spirit’s application of benefits from Christ’s death which appeases God’s wrath.God’s wrath has already been appeased or not, and justification is what happens when the elect are joined to that death.It’s not Christ’s death plus the future work of the Holy Spirit in the elect which satisfies God’s wrath.(Jonathan Edwards once suggested that it was this future work which justified God in justifying.)It’s Christ death for the elect alone which becomes their justification.Romans 6:5, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his like his…”I am not saying that we have to be united with Christ’s death before we can be united to Christ.But unlike the mainstream, I also am not saying that we have to be united with Christ Himself by regeneration before we can be united to Christ’s death.The elect are united with Christ in a death like his. Christ’s death was not His release from the power of sin instead of the guilt of sin.Christ’s death was His release from the guilt of sin, sins imputed.
Death to the guilt of sin
Christ was never under the power of sin in the sense of being unable not to sin.Christ was always unable to sin. The only way Christ was ever under the power of sin is by being under the guilt of sin. The guilt of the elect’s sin was transferred by God to Christ. So Christ’s death to sin was death to the guilt of sin, and since the elect are united with a death like his, the death of the elect is also a death to the guilt of sin.And this is what Romans 6:7 teaches: “For one who has died has been justified from sin.”Yet many commentators tell us that “set free from sin” must mean the elect’s sanctification by the Spirit so that the justified elect cannot habitually sin. They tell us that justification was in chapter five and that chapter six must be about something more if it’s to be a real answer to the question “why not sin?”.But Christ was never under the power of habitual sin or any sin, and Christ’s death was not to the power of sin, and the death of the elect is like His death.
Romans 6:10, “For the death He died He died to sin.”When the elect consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God, the nature of the death they consider is death to the guilt of sin. Death to the guilt of sin means legal life before God.A person who does not understand these things does not yet understand the nature of the atonement. Romans 6:14 does not say, For sin shall not be your master, because the Holy Spirit has changed you so that you cannot habitually sin, but only occasionally and always with repentance.Romans 6:14 says, “For sin shall not by your master, because you are not under law but under grace.”I have no desire to talk about redemptive history, or to debate about which law we were under and which we were not. Nor do I have any interest at this point in discussing what is now God’s rule of life for Christians (except to say of course that God does have commandments and laws for Christians.)But to understand the nature of the justifying death of Christ, we must see that being joined to that death means not being under law.
It’s not my habit to try to make things simple when they are not simple, but sin not having dominion over the elect simply means the guilt of sin being removed from the elect.Anybody who is not content with this explanation of Romans 6:14 does not understand the purpose of the death of Christ the same way I do.I agree that Christ also died to purchase every blessing, including the giving of the Spirit and our believing.But it is not believing which frees the elect from the guilt of sin. It’s being joined to the death which frees from guilt which then causes the elect to immediately believe the gospel.
Exclusive vs inclusive
Even though I think the nature of the joining is important, the joining will not matter if we miss out on what Christ’s death does.To see it more clearly, I want to contrast what I am saying with an alternative teaching, by liberal Miroslav Volf.In his book, Free of Charge (Zondervan, 2005, p147), Volf writes: “Since Christ is our substitute, after reading ‘one has died for all,’ we’d expect him to continue, ‘therefore none of them needs to die.’ Had he written that, he would have expressed the idea that theologians call EXCLUSIVE SUBSTITUTION. According to this view, Christ’s death makes ours unnecessary. As a third party, he is our substitute, and his death is his alone and no one else’s.But that’s not how the Apostle thought. Christ’s death doesn’t replace our death. It enacts it, he suggested. That’s what theologians call INCLUSIVE SUBSTITUTION.”
My goal is not for the reader to get exasperated with another liberal for doubletalk. Rather, the question is what we mean by substitution.The problem here cannot be fixed by simply noticing that Christ died only for the elect.Not all liberals are Arminians who condition the salvation of a sinner on the sinner. Many liberals are universalists who say that God will save everybody because Christ was the substitute for everybody.What we need to think about is the nature of the substitution.If Christ’s death replaces people’s death, why does the text say that all died? My answer is that “all died” is how the text tells us that the death of Christ replaces the death of all. Since the death of Christ comes to count as the death of the elect, once the elect have been joined to that death, this tells us that another death is not necessary.I’m not sure what “enact” is supposed to mean, and perhaps the word is chosen for its ambiguity, but nobody else but Christ can or will die as punishment for another person’s sins. And if Christ’s death gets counted as the death of the elect, the death of the elect is a death like Christ’s death because it IS Christ’s death.It is not some other death. It is one death, counted as the death of all the elect.
A general fund of punishment?
My concern here is not Volf, but that you see the death as punishment specifically for the elect. When Christ was punished for the elect, the elect were all punished.To be joined to the punishment is to have already been punished.The liberals, even those who say that everybody will be saved, tend to deny the need or the value of punishment.The Arminians, on the other hand, agree with the idea of punishment but they describe the death of Christ as a punishment in general, which will be assigned as needed to particular persons if and when they believe.Of course many Arminians have now become Socinians who deny the need for punishment in order to justification.And many who claim to believe in election, but who would never talk about election in the gospel, also tend to speak of the punishment o Christ as something “infinite” to be later assigned to persons on condition of faith.Many who believe in election confess to believing the same gospel as taught by Arminians.
In Taste and See (Multnomah,1999, p325), John Piper endorses the conditional false gospel. “Christ died for all sinners, so that IF you will repent and believe in Christ, then the death of Jesus will become effective in your case and will take away your sins. ‘Died for you,’ means if youbelieve, the death of Jesus will cover your sins. Now, as far as it goes, this is biblical teaching.”Piper then goes on to disagree with Arminians for not teaching that Christ died to purchase faith for the elect. But he does not disagree with the Arminians about propitiation and substitution and punishment.Piper’s false gospel does not teach that Christ was specifically punished for the elect alone .It still only has a punishment in general, to be assigned later to those who believe.But can we call Piper an Arminian, since he does insist that Christ also died for the elect to give them something extra that He will not be giving the non-elect?My answer is that it does not matter what we call Piper’s false gospel, if we see that it misses being gospel in two important and related ways.First, the false gospel fails to report that Christ was punished specifically for the elect, and when it does that, it will be heard every time as saying that there was enough punishment done to Christ to save even people who will nevertheless end up being punished. Thus, even though it has punishment, this false gospel is not about punishment that replaces punishment for all whom Christ intended to save.Another way to say this, I suppose , is that it has punishment without any intention of Christ to save anybody in particular at all.
Is Arminianism the gospel, or is the gospel needed?
So far, I am making a point that most of the five points of Calvinism books make.But I think Piper’s punishment- in- general gospel (with faith purchased extra for the elect) is no gospel in a second and important way. The mainline Reformed gospel makes the important atonement to be something other than the punishment of Christ. It makes the real reconciliation to be the Spirit Christ purchased giving people faith to believe, even if they happen to believe a message that says Christ died for every sinner.The alternative here is to either claim that people who have never heard the gospel are saved, or to claim that general punishment for nobody in particular is the gospel.In any case, it is not the good news about the real meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection.If we jump ahead to the things Christ has bought for believers, even including their believing, without telling it straight about the punishment of Christ specifically for the elect, then we will continue to love a gospel which has no election in it and no punishment to release the elect from guilt.If we jump ahead in that way, we jump over why God’s love for the elect is never described apart from the death of Christ.
If the death of Christ is not that which saves any specific sinner, then the death of Christ does not save sinners. If the atonement is Christ purchasing faith to give elect sinners a portion in a general punishment, then the punishment of Christ was for the most part for no purpose.The false gospel which nullifies election also nullifies justification by the punishment of Christ.And the false gospel which nullifies justification by the punishment of Christ nullifies justification by the righteousness of Christ.It tries to defend justification by the imputed righteousness, but without ever talking about God’s imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ.It won’t say whose sins were imputed to Christ. It refuses to say anybody’s sins were imputed to Christ, because it refuses to say it was the sins of the elect alone which were imputed to Christ.Such a false gospel nullifies the love of God for the elect.But God’s grace by which God gives Christ to be punished for the elect will not be nullified.
Transfer of moral liability
The false gospel of the Arminian and the liberal says that God judges and fixes this evil world apart from punishment. They can agree that there is punishment, and even that Christ was punishment. But they refuse any idea that the guilt of the elect was transferred to Christ.Let me quote the liberal Volf again (P134): “If God were an implacable judge, then God would deal with wrongdoing by punishment…If we are after justice, Stalin’s crime will have outstripped by far any punishment we could devise for him. How many deaths would he have to die to compensate for all the lives he took? How many lives would he need to have to suffer all the pain he inflicted? Punishment alone falters before the enormity of such crime.Imagine what would happen if each of us was punished for EVERY transgression we committed—for every sarcastic remark, for every unkind thought, for every intentionally misleading statement?”
I interrupt my thought here to say that the false gospel of the Reformed mainline is a deliberately misleading statement.I know that there are simply some things that lost people have not yet learned. Lost people, still in their sins, still under the wrath of God, do not understand that Christ was the substitute punished instead of the elect.They sincerely believe in an offer by which God will retroactively assign the punishment done to Christ to those who accept the offer.Nevertheless, it is intentionally misleading to tell people that God loves everybody and that Christ died for you, when you yourself believe that Christ died extra for some to give them faith. It is deliberately misleading to not even say what you do believe about election and Christ’s death.And I think there is a strong connection between that willful refusal to be straight about election (and about regeneration before faith) which has led the mainline Reformed to miss the gospel of Christ’s death as punishment for the specific elect.Whatever they put in their five point books, punishment only for the elect is not in their gospel.
But back to Volf, and his hope that God can judge and fix the worldby means of Christ’s death but without punishing each and every sin committed by those who will be saved.P145, “If God only spared sinners of a just penalty for sin, that wouldn’t change the truth of sinners’ guilt. Granted, it would spare sinners the consequences of sin….God doesn’t just spare sinners the penalty for sin. God SEPARATES their sin from them. ..Christ who died for our sins is also ONE WITH HUMANITY. It is because of Christ’s humanity that God can separate sinners from their sin.”Notice the ambiguity of the word separate, like that of the word enact.I am still one of those old fundamentalists they warned about in seminary.Even if everything is not black and white, it’s not black and white to me that everything is gray.If union is not justification by the death of Christ, meaning punishment for each and every sin of the elect, then what does union mean?I think union will come to mean what God does in us, instead of being joined to what Christ got done outside us.Separate from sin will mean what happens in our lives, and not what happened in Christ’s death.
The thing which is so fun about reading liberals is how illiberal they are in even thinking about the idea of a transfer of guilt to Christ.Punishment possibly yes.But, like the Baptist Andrew Fuller and the New England theology which followed Edwards, there is a categorical denial that guilt itself can be transferred.I am not the first of course to notice how dogmatic liberals can be, but I want you to see just how intransigent people are when it comes to saying not only that a conditional offer must be made to all sinners , but also in denying that we can talk about the imputation of the GUILT of the elect to Christ. Volf, p147, “ I cannot assume his moral liability, as I can assume a loan he might be unable to pay. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. It is uniquely his. Moral liability cannot be transferred. (See Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Reason, p88).”Now Andrew Fuller, Hopkins, and Edwards Jr do not quote Kant, but they think alike.One human sinner cannot take the guilt of another human sinner, and no human judge can in justice punish one human sinner in replacement for the punishment of another sinner.
And then comes quickly the desired conclusion. I mean that “desired”. They don’t want a transfer. Then they deny that a transfer can happen. They say that the man Christ Jesus cannot bear another person’s liability, and that God does not make Christ to be a sinner by imputation.Possibly Christ can be made to bear the punishment of sins in general, or even maybe the punishment of some certain sins . But what will not be tolerated to be preached as gospel is any idea that the guilt, the moral liability, before God,of any sinner was already transferred (or not) to Christ.Thus the false gospel ends up either denying any such moral liability (before God!)or trying to separate sinners from liability, not by justification by the death of Christ but by God changing their lives.
Is trusting the cross only for now?
In such a false gospel, the general punishment for sins is only an interim measure, an intermediate means to tide us over until we get changed enough by God to the point where we no longer need forgiveness. In other words, we use the general fund of punishment until we die.But there is no good news about the punishment being the righteousness, or about the death of Christ being all the righteousness we need or ever will need. There is no good news about glorying only in the cross, or in the idea that even glory itself has been paid for and bought for the elect alone by the preciousblood of Christ.Such crass “commercial” language, it is suggested by Andrew Fuller, oversimplifies a complex story in which the death of Christ is only part of the picture.I end this chapter with one last quotation from Volf,p 151, “Both our transformation and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness depend on union with Christ…Because we are one, Christ’s qualities are our qualities…It has become clear that forgiveness is part of something much larger. What does God do with sinners and their sin? God doesn’t just forgive sin; he transforms sinners into Christ-like figures and clothes them with Christ’s righteousness. And even these benefits are the effects of something much more basic-the presence and activity of Christ in human beings. “
So much for liberals.But surely Arminians don’t think anything is more basic than the punishment of the cross, do they ? If the Lord Jesus died some general punishment for every sinner, is not the consent of such sinners more significant and decisive than whatever precise bookkeeping you think God was doing at the cross?Why glory in the cross alone, when it’s merely one thing among many things? And even if it happens to be the one little thing always left out, anything about the specific guilt of the elect having already been transferred,isn’t that because it’s scholastic speculation and not biblical? (see Grudem’s Systematic)As for me, the one thing they always leave out I desire as the one thing by which I see everything else. I glory in the second advent and the resurrection to come, but only because I know that the elect have already been joined to Christ’s death, and that the elect on that day will still be placing all their hope in the doing and dying of Christ for the elect alone.
Resurrection and justification because of the death
Romans 6:8-9, “Now, since we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again, death no longer has any dominion over him.”Death only had dominion over Christ because the moral liability and guilt of all the elect had been transferred by God to Christ.It was not the moral transformation of Christ that freed Christ from death. Even though Christ learned obedience and became perfect by the many things He suffered, Christ’s obedience even unto death is that one thing which delivered Christ from death. And it is that same death, that very death, which will save all the elect from death.Yes, there are other things, even though death for the elect is the one thing always left out.But the other things all depend on Christ’s death for the elect alone.Christ is in the elect, and will be in the elect, but only because of that justification by which the elect are in Christ.
Romans 8:10, “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”That righteousness is not what Christ by His Spirit does in the elect, because the death of Christ for the elect alone is the righteousness of Christ.The justified elect walkby the Spirit and not by the flesh, and this means that they know that the righteous requirements of law and punishment are fulfilled in them by what Christ did and not by their walking in the Spirit.The justified elect put to death all their deeds as the basis of any blessing and put all their hope in that righteousness by which grace reigns.(Romans 5:21) That righteousness is not what the Spirit does in the living. What the Spirit does in bringing life is because of the righteousness.The righteousness is that of the one man’s obedience.One act of obedience.Not by the obedience of Him and the team.One death. One died; all on the team died. Not by the daily dying of those on the team.In the beginning, the one death. In the end, the one death. Forever, the one death.
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