Popular Arminian Versions of Penal Substitution Deny a “Perfect Balance”

from a review of Raised With Christ, by Adrian Warnock (Crossway, 2010)

The Arminian “evangelical middle-camp” (p205) assumptions of Warnock’s theology come into clear view in his chapter on Romans 4:24–raised because of our justification or raised in order to and for the purpose of our justification? Warnock asserts  that “Jesus’ resurrection was not a result of our justification” (p 121) because our sin was not a result of His death. But this misses the parallel. His death is a result of our (the elect’) sin, therefore His resurrection IS a result of the future justification of elect sinners.

On p 124, Warnock writes: “The answer is that God was displeased with the sin  that Christ was bearing but remained pleased with Jesus’ infinite goodness, which was greater than the sin.” This is NOT how the apostle Paul explains the requirements of justice. Sins do not demand some philosophical (and non-biblical) idea of some “infinity” or “equivalent balance”. The sins demand death. The wages of sin is death.

On p 126, Warnock writes: “The resurrection was necessary to allow the credit of Jesus’ righteousness to be shared with us, for it demonstrated that the credit was greater than the debt.” But to glory in the cross is to see that the death of Christ cancels the debt for all the elect when they are placed into that death. Romans 6:9-10 are great resurrection verses: “We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has any dominion over him. For the death he died , he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. “

The reason that the debt of the sins of elect cannot hold Christ is not some “greater credit”. The reason that the debt of the sins of the elect cannot hold Christ is Christ’s death. Christ died to sin. This does not mean that Christ was born again. And Romans 6 is not talking about our being born again either.

This means (1) that Christ is no longer imputed with those sins, because He has died once for them and will not die again. It means (2) that it is not sinners (nor their faith nor their apology nor their discipleship) who give their sins to Christ. God gave the sins ofthe elect to Christ already, and God already did not give the sins of the non-elect to Christ.

Think of a parallel text to Romans 6:9-10. Think of II Corinthians 5:15: “One has died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

II Corinthians 5:15 is about Christ’s death being the death of those who will be justified.  This is the thing that the popular view of penal atonemn does not say, and cannot say. The popular view of penal atonement is not penal atonement, because it denies any “perfect numerical commercial balance” and makes the ” on the plus side of the credit” depend on ‘accepting it” and “showing that they accept it” by the way they live. Thus Warnock writes on p 124,  “so that our guilt COULD now be taken away, and we COULD be counted righteous.”  This “might or might not be” continues in the chapter on “union with Christ”.  On p141, Warnock explains: “Jesus suffered the penalty due our sins so that we do not have to.”

But see Romans 8:3—“What the law could not do, God already DID by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin-he condemned sin in the flesh.”

The popular view of penal atonement says that what Jesus did (in death and resurrection) sets up a plan which makes it possible for you to give him your sins and then for Him to save you.  And this is still the view of people like Warnock  even though he thinksof  himself as  being on the cutting edge of the young, restless and reformed.

II Corinthians 5:15 does not teach that Christ died for our sins so that we don’t have to; it says that those for whom Christ died also died with him.  That is substitution, and you cannot teach substitution without confusion unless you either teach that Christ’s death saves all sinners or you teach that Christ was a substitute only for the elect. If Christ died for every sinner but some of these sinners will perish,  then that may be a substitution but it not a saving substitution.

I think most popular advocates of penal substitution would rather live as practical de facto universalists then  dare talk about election in connection with II Corinthians 5.   They fear as antinomian any good news which teaches that the elect have already died to judgment when Christ died for them. (See John Fesko’s wonderful book on Justification).

Another advantage for these popular evangelicals in not talking about election in II Cor 5 is that they can take the phrase “live for Him who died for them” and use it to lay duties on every sinner they meet.  Warnock tells us (p141) that “we are saved not only by believing the fact that Christ died for our sins, but by union with the crucified and risen Savour.”  But it is NOT a fact of the gospel tells any particular sinner that Christ died for their sins.  The gospel  does not tell sinners who the elect are; the gospel tells sinners about election.

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3 Comments on “Popular Arminian Versions of Penal Substitution Deny a “Perfect Balance””


    p 507, “Punishment God Cannot Twice Inflict”—Garry J Williams

    “My argument stands against an unspecified penal satisfaction narrowed only by its application. The sacrifice for sin in Scripture is itself specific…If the penal substitution of Christ has no relation to one person’s sin, then it is not in itself God’s actual answer to any sin, and therefore not penal at all…An unspecified “No” is not an answer to anything; it is without meaning….I cannot see how anyone who excludes the identification of Christ’s satisfaction itself with teh specific sins of specific individuals can avoid the logical outcome of denying its truly penal character.

    p 508 “The hypothetical universalists (Davenant) limit the death of Christ AS AN ACT OF PROCUREMENT to the elect only. Christ did not purchase the conditions of application for the lost, but only for those predestined to life.”

  2. markmcculley Says:

    God counts the justified elect not only dead but also alive Romans 6)
    but the difference between “the righteousness” and “counting the righteousness” (the transfer of the righteousness”) comes into the picture here

    The righteousness is not God counting the righteousness, the righteousness is what God counts

    The righteousness and the imputation of the righteousness are not the same thing

    Imputation therefore means two different things. One, the transfer, the legal sharing of what belongs to another. Two, the declaration. God is justified, declared to be just, without transfer. God is imputed to be just because God is just.


  3. markmcculley Says:

    p 78, Atonement as Taught by Christ Himself

    Thus the Lamb of God appeared without inherent sin or taint of any kind, but never without the sin of others. The sin of man was not first imputed to Him or borne by Him when He hung on the cross, but in and with the assumption of man’s nature, or, more precisely, in and with His mission. The very form of a servant, and His putting on the likeness of sinful flesh, was an argument that sin was already transferred to Him and borne by Him; and not a single moment of the Lord’s earthly life can be conceived of in which He did not feel the harden of the divine wrath which must otherwise have pressed on us for ever. Hence, “to hear sin” is the phrase of God’s word for freeing us from its punishment.
    Because He bore sin, and was never seen without it, it may be affirmed that the mortality which was comprehended in the words, “Thou shalt surely die”—that is, all that was summed up in the wrath and curse of God,—was never really separated from Him, though it had its hours of culmination and its abatements. Hence, without referring further at present to the character of the suffering, it evidently appears that, as the sin-bearer, He all through life discerned and felt the penal character of sin, the sense of guilt, not personal, but as the surety could realize it, and the obligation to divine punishment for sins not His own, but made His own by an official action; and they who evacuate of their true significance these deep words, “that beareth the sins of the world,” allowing Christ to have no connection with sin, and only dwelling on His purity and spotless innocence as our example—they who will not have Him as a sin-bearer, who took sin to Himself, and wrapped Himself in it—are the most sacrilegious of robbers and obscurers of His grace. This deep abasement is the glory of His incarnation.
    If, then, we put together the elements of this testimony to the Lord’s atonement, they are these: (1) It was of God’s gracious appointment—”the Lamb of God;” (2) it essentially lay in the vicarious element of the transaction,—it was the bearing of the sin of others, or of the world; (3) it was a bearing or a penal endurance; (4) it was sacrificial, being the truth of the shadows in the previous economy; (5) it was without distinction of nationality.
    It follows, that if Christ bore sin, His people do not need to bear it. It follows, also, that since God has appointed this way of deliverance, there is no other way.

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