What is penal substitutionary atonement and is it biblical?

Few things are as important to think about and understand and be prepared to defend as what Christ actually did on the cross. We can defend the truthfulness of the Christian worldview and that God exists and all of that, but if Christ didn’t actually die to save sinners and accomplish that on the cross then all that other stuff really doesn’t matter. What’s Paul’s declaration in I Corinthians 15? If Christ is not raised then we are still in our sins. Now, he kind of leaves out a step there because what he’s saying is when Christ died and rose from the dead he actually paid for sin for sinners.

If that didn’t happen, if Christ didn’t do that work on the cross, then we’re just wasting our time with all this other worldview stuff and with going to church and caring about how we live; we should just live for ourselves. We’re to be pitied, in fact, he says. All of that hinges on what Christ did on the cross, and of course if the cross and the resurrection are actual historical events. But they’re only important as historical events because of what happened on them and in them.

Let’s talk about something called penal substitutionary atonement. That’s a really big term. Often you’ll hear it called the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement. That word theory is not used like, “Oh well, it’s a guess.” It’s used in terms of saying it’s a systematic understanding of the atonement and multiple aspects of it from a biblical point of view. It doesn’t mean it’s just an educated guess, it definitely has biblical support. That’s what we’re going to look at today.

First let’s actually define what it is. Penal substitutionary atonement. We’ll take that from the end. Atonement means to pay for sin, to atone for it, to take away wrath, those types of ideas. Substitutionary means in place of another, a substitution. It’s kind of like on The Big Bang Theory when Sheldon and his friends go to the Chinese restaurant and the guy say, “No additions, no subtractions, no substitutions.” No substitutions, you can’t swap something for something else in that restaurant. That’s what a substitution is, one thing in place of another.

So far we’re talking about atoning for sin in the place of another and then we have penal. That word deals with punishment. For instance, Australia was a penal colony for Britain, that’s where they sent prisoners. Penal substitutionary atonement refers to someone being the substitution to take the punishment for sin and turn away God’s wrath. That is what we say Jesus did at the cross, he was our penal substitutionary atonement. That’s a really big term and I’m trying not to use it too much but it’s actually a really important thing to understand.

Now, some people say that God punishing an innocent person in the place of other people is actually immoral or it’s cosmic child abuse. We’ve talked about that a little in the past. What I want to focus on today is actually how we can make the case for supporting penal substitutionary atonement from the Old Testament. Now, yes this is something we’re talking about that happened in the New Testament. Jesus’ work on the cross was definitely a New Testament work. I want to show you how it’s actually supported, it’s not a new type of thing because it happened in the Old Testament too.

Basically, fundamentally what we’re looking at is two types of things. One is that God does judge sin. He has wrath towards sin; he has a punitive type of justice. Now, yes there are other facets to justice but some people today would even deny that there is a retributive aspect to God’s justice, that he punishes sin and sinners yet what do we see in the Old Testament? You can’t read the first three chapters and not see that God actually displays wrath and punishment towards sinners. What is the first divine judgment for sin? Death. That is what Adam and Eve are told. “If you eat from this tree you will surely die,” and they do.

It’s not an instant type of thing, in one way. In a very immediate sense, yes, they died spiritually when they ate from that tree and were severed from communing with God. They will ultimately go on to die too. Without God’s divine intervention or grace in saving them they would die a third death in hell which is an everlasting type of death of eternal punishment. My point there is, death is actually a divine judgment for sin, God does judge sin in that way. We see all throughout the Old Testament this type of paradigm. For instance, in Numbers 16 we see a judicial execution of Cora and fellow rebels as a result of God’s divine wrath. They sinned against God and he kills them.

In Deuteronomy 29 we see divine judgment fall on Sodom and Gomorrah because of God’s holy wrath. That’s a retributive type of justice, he punished them for their sin. According to Leviticus 17 the Old Testament requires blood for atonement. We see this when we read in verse 11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood and I have given it to you on the alter to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” To sum that up, it is blood from life that leads to atonement, to turning away God’s wrath. That’s extremely important, it required a blood sacrifice.

In Numbers 35 we see that blood pollutes the land and no expiation, which would be something that removes wrath, can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it except by blood of him who shed it. This is awkward syntax but it’s basically saying that the murderer of someone in order to make atonement has to be killed himself so the punishment falls on the one who committed the crime. They’re actually punished for it in a retributive sort of way. It’s not just restorative, we don’t just get back to neutral, no. It costs them something above and beyond for the crime they committed.

We see all the way back in Genesis 9 God instituted the death penalty and basically said, “When an image bearer of me is murdered, blood must be spilled from the person who murdered that person to pay for it. That’s exactly what we see here in Numbers 35. No turning away of wrath can be made except by the one who committed the crime. Death of the murderer is made for atonement.

Then, Paul picks this type of thing up in Galatians 3:10. He cites Deuteronomy 27:16 and he talks of the curse falling upon those who trust their salvation tp their good works, which would be the works of the Law of Moses. The curse is plainly a punishment here. A curse is a punishment, that’s kind of a common sense type of idea. It’s a penalty for disobedience, in other words.

Galatians 3:13 further makes this clear where it says, “Christ purchased us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” In other words, Christ was our substitute on the cross. He bore the punishment, the penalty for the curse of mankind’s disobedience to the law, and that is penal substitutionary atonement. Christ bore a punishment for other people. You have a substitution, Christ instead of us. You have a penalty, what he paid on the cross which we deserved. You have an atonement, it turned away God’s wrath. Well, that’s penal substitutionary atonement. Paul was picking this up in Galatians from the Old Testament in Deuteronomy where this type of thing was already understood to take place.

We’re going to keep going through a little bit of the Old Testament here because I think there’s more to be made plain. Honestly, seeing how the bible fits together with these themes is incredibly important.

Let’s talk about the day of atonement, Yom Kippur, in the Old Testament. The high priest would offer a sacrifice for the sins of the nation. In Leviticus 16 we see a description of the laying on of hands on the head of a goat. This depicted outwardly a transference of sins from Israel to the living goat. The goat was their substitute, in other words. It was then condemned to die in the wilderness isolated from Israel.

This was a scapegoat, it carried, “All of the iniquities” we see, in verse 22, “Of the Israelites.” It was their substitute. The penalty for their sins was put upon the goat. We see in Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, penal substitutionary atonement. A penalty, which Israel deserved, was put on a substitute, the goat. By sending it away God’s wrath was averted for that time.

Now, there’s a big difference between Yom Kippur, the goat, and Jesus. Jesus perfects, we see in Hebrews 9, the people that his sacrifice is offered for; they don’t have to continually represent it. That’s very different from Old Testament sacrificial system where the sacrifices had to continually be presented. Christ’s work was once for all, Old Testament sacrifices were not, but nonetheless they were still penal substitutionary atonements, punishment by a substitute that turned away wrath.

Perhaps the most clear Old Testament example is Isaiah 53. You may read this or hear this at Christmastime, in fact. I think it’s an excellent passage for Easter and any other time of the year and so let’s read through that. Tis is a prophecy about Christ. It says

He was despised and rejected by people, one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness. People hid their faces from him, he was despised and we considered him insignificant. He was lifted up for our illnesses.

I do think that’s a foreshadowing of being lifted up on the cross. As an aside, when the New Testament speaks of lifting up Jesus it’s talking about crucifixion. When we say in church, “If Jesus is lifted up he’ll draw everyone to himself,” we’re talking about the crucifixion there whether we realize it or not. Anyways…

He was lifted up for our illnesses, he carried our pain even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God and afflicted for something he had done.

What’s being said here? No, he wasn’t attacked for what he had done; he was being attacked for what we had done. In verse five it continues,

He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, he was crushed because of our sins. He endured punishment that made us well. Because of his wounds we have been healed.”

Well, that is substitution pure and simple right there. All of those things that the author says were due to us were put upon Christ. The punishment for us was put upon him. His wounds lead to our healing, they turned away God’s wrath from us. Penal substitutionary atonement. Let’s keep reading.

All of us had wandered off like sheep, each of us had strayed off on his own path. The Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him.”

Some translations might say, “Be laid upon him.” It was our sin that was put upon him, not upon us, as a substitute. Verse seven:

He was treated harshly and afflicted but he didn’t even open his mouth. Like a lamb lead to the slaughtering block, like a lamb silent before it shears, he didn’t even open his mouth.”

I think this lamb imagery is extremely helpful because what did we just see in the Old Testament about the date of atonement? It was a lamb who bore the sins of its people.

Jesus is referred to as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of his people, further emphasizing this atonement motif, this penal substitutionary atonement motif. It further goes on to say,

He was lead away after an unjust trial but who even cared? Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living. Because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded.”

Once again, substitution.

”They intended to bury him with criminals but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb because he had committed no violent deeds nor had he spoken deceitfully.”

This punishment was not his; this is made clear. He was innocent. The punishment he got was because of us.

Though the Lord had desired to crush him and make him ill, once restitution is made he will see descendants and enjoy long life and the Lord’s purpose will be accomplished through him. Having suffered, he will reflect on his work and he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done. My servant will equip many for he carried their sins.

There are many things here I want to point out. One, he will reflect on his work. Jesus knew he was doing a work in going to the cross. He wasn’t conscripted, he wasn’t forced or coerced, it was a choice to go to the cross. He did a work, that is why he came. It was not unjust for the father to punish him because he also was punished willingly.

What did it say here? “He carried their sins,” their being our sins. It continues.

“I will assign him a portion with the multitude, he will divide the spoils of victory with the powerful because he willingly submitted to a death and was murdered with the rebels. When he lifted up the sin of many and intervened on behalf of the rebels.

That is a straightforward description of penal substitutionary atonement. So many times in there … Substitute, he took on things that were not deserved by him but were deserved by us. He did that and turned away God’s wrath. He took a punishment. All of that: penal substitutionary atonement.

That is how Paul can say in Galatians that Christ purchased us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. He was our substitute on that cross. That is why defending the resurrection is important, not because of history’s sake, not because it proves Christianity true in that way or theism to be accurate but because of what he accomplished on the cross. The historical event doesn’t do anything without Christ actually accomplishing what he did for sinners on the cross.

Just to quickly sum up, numerous times throughout the Old Testament we see that God actually punishes sinner, not just in a restorative type of way but in a retributive type of way. It is wrath poured out toward sin. In fact, death was the first divine punishment for sin. Then we see numerous times where God does this to people, justly, I would add. More than that, we also see that the sacrificial system was based on something being a substitute to turn away God’s wrath and pay the punishment for their sin. The day of atonement just pictures this beautifully and we see that the lamb bore the sins of Israel and took them away. Christ does the same thing at the cross, he’s our passover lamb in that way.

There are many parallels in the Old Testament and the New Testament we haven’t even explored. My point is that penal substitutionary atonement is a biblical doctrine that we should praise God for, that he actually did that for us. That he purposed to come to earth to pay for our sin for us, to take our punishment. It wasn’t a mistake, he didn’t just somehow get captured and stuck on a cross just to show us how violent or brutal we are as some people would say. No, it was part of his plan from the very beginning and that’s why we defend the truth of the resurrection and all of that. We ultimately want to get to talk about what Christ actually did in his work on the cross.

Well, I will talk with you next week on Unapologetic.

7 thoughts on “Episode 116 – A PSA on the Atonement

  1. It is always amazing to me that two believers in Christ, both disciples, both arguably having the same Holy Spirit, can read the same scripture and come up with significantly different interpretations. Of course, I have done the same thing in my own interpretations over the years as I have grown so not sure why it amazes me.

    The point is that we all see through a glass darkly with our fallen minds and bodies. Doctrine is certainly important, but we do not worship it, because it is always tainted by our experiences, perspectives, etc. Basically our fallen flesh taints it. I believe this is part of God’s plan because He wants love to rule all. He wants us to humbly accept our fallibility in all things including Biblical interpretation. This is not relativism; it is a recognition that we may not have all the Biblical answers; and the ones we think we have could be wrong. The same for our fellow siblings in Christ but we still love them anyway.

    The point is, we worship and trust God; not our interpretations or doctrine. Scripture points to Christ but is not Christ (John 5:39-40). We must always remember the distinction between the Word (Christ) and the written word. There will be folks in the kingdom who had one scrap of Scripture or just a conversation, yet they fully trusted God for life, and as 1 John emphasizes this was proven by their love; not by their perfect doctrine.

    Am I suggesting that this blog is a waste of time or putting forward our interpretations is bad? Absolutely not, God forbid. But the point of it all is to draw near to Christ; the proof of which is the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, etc. And recognize that someone could be a fully Spirit filled sibling in Christ and disagree with us. And that is OK. Maybe they need to grow or maybe we do; in the end if they are truly submitted to and following Christ it will all work out. There will not be a single human who is not surprised in the final Kingdom of God. My point is God is more concerned with Who we believe in that the accuracy of those beliefs. If we trust in the one true God then the accuracy will improve, we can trust God for that!

    I said all that to say that I mostly agree with this post but there is a reason why there are multiple "theories" of the atonement. My personal belief is that all the theories are part of it and yet still may not be a sufficient explanation. Emphasizing one over the other can cause an imbalanced view; but just because someone is drawn to one over the other doesn’t make them a heretic.

    The substitution aspect is hardly arguable; it is clearly Biblical. My main problem is how people use the Bible to define God’s wrath and the "penal" part of this discussion. It is easy to attribute a pagan view of God from a shallow reading of Scripture and completely justify it. Even in your example using Adam and Eve; is God saying "You eat of the tree; I will kill you."? Or is He lovingly warning of the consequences of attempting to obtain life anywhere but Him? As I have read elsewhere, to those whose hearts are hardened to God, His divine love will be wrath for them.

    There is certainly an aspect of God’s wrath in the Biblical writing that involves His withdrawal and allowing the full wages of sin and the enemy’s destruction to occur. This usually is tied to our hard hearts or choices. Romans 1:26,28 are examples but there are many more. God gives us what we really want; He withdraws His gracious hand and gives us over to sin. We are the ones who wandered off; we choose to push His hand away.

    Any discussion of God’s wrath (to include atonement implications) must include this aspect, because it is clear that the Bible does. Perhaps you might suggest these are two sides of the same coin; but I suggest they are quite different pictures. One is of a self-sacrificial God who goes to all lengths to save us from ourselves and the mess Adam put us into; the other is an almost pagan view of an angry God who would fit right in with the Greek pantheon because we dare to disobey and displease him. That view in many ways misses the point.

    There is a reason that all pagan "god theories" or myths paint this angry, easily antagonized picture of their "gods". It is because as fallen human beings it is how we would be with all that power and without the grace of God to hold us back through love. Paul calls the cross foolishness to Jews and Greeks because it paints quite a different picture of God’s power. If Hebrews 1:3 is correct and Christ is the absolute essence of God’s nature, then perhaps we should take care in painting certain pictures of God that could mimic this pagan viewpoint when other interpretations are legitimate. Overzealous certainty can become a trap and be an avenue of hardening our hearts towards the truth.

    Without the grace and mercy of God I fully believe Satan hates us image bearers so much He would destroy us all immediately but God "is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus Christ was His great gift (of course: self given). "The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23). Sin is anytime we don’t obtain our life from God. Death is the absence of life. Now because of Christ the gift of life is available to all, we are not forced to reap the wages of sin, either in full or in part. Despite Adam’s choice to obtain life elsewhere, Christ has restored our choice. He came that we might have life and more abundantly. Praise God.

    In Col 1:13 God "…rescued us from the domain of darkness…". In Col 2:15 God "disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him." There is constant talk in the Bible, even in the OT, about God rescuing people. What or who is He rescuing them from–Himself? Does that concept even make sense?

    I recognize this is deep waters. Not easily understood. And of course, God is God, what He chooses to do doesn’t have to make sense to us at all. But perhaps many times it is not God or the Bible that doesn’t make sense, or creates apparent "tensions" or "contradictions"; perhaps it is our incorrect interpretations. Maybe even some that have been carried down by theologians for many years. We cannot fear questions or different ways of thinking, unless they are deliberately and openly pointing us away from trusting Christ. When it comes to other doctrinal details outside of the simple Gospel message we should always prepare to be wrong.

    In conclusion, I agree with your last paragraph. The cross certainly wasn’t a mistake, it was part of God’s plan, Christ did take our punishment. But the details of what punishment means is truly worth discussing and not just knee-jerking to the typical argument "God is sovereign and can do what He wants". While that is true, God communicated some of the way He works in the Bible with the culmination of this revelation being Jesus Christ. It is imperative that we examine the entirety of this revelation and in particular any apparent contradictions before coming to absolute conclusions. Often "contradictions" that are viewed through the lens of Christ’s revelation of God’s nature suddenly become reconciled; and this reconciliation doesn’t always have to fall outside the laws of human logic.

    The concept of God’s wrath is extremely complicated and divisive. I believe that there will be many people in the final Kingdom that had many differing views on God’s wrath; some will be more shocked than others when the dark glass falls and they see the truth clearly. In the meantime, I humbly suggest that we should take all points of view into account, do a lot of praying and thinking and carefully draw some conclusions. Ultimately a belief can be judged by it’s fruit; if it results in drawing closer to Christ in love; and loving others, then that is a good indication that we have interpreted correctly. If there is other fruit like self-righteousness, pride, judging, or condemnation to name a few then come to your own conclusion. Thank you for your posts and patience with my comments. God bless!

      1. "For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." Rom. 2:13 NIV
        The person who has the faith to obey that law Paul references will be pardoned by God from the consequence of serving eternity in hell, but there are no exceptions.

      2. Brian,

        Well, my answer is still yes, there is a hell and it is a punishment for those not in Christ. Christ made this abundantly clear so I did not expect to change that opinion. What exactly it entails and what punishment means is still not abundantly clear to me. I reviewed all the scripture I could find and listened to both sides of this argument and I cannot come down definitively on one side or the other. There is simply too much metaphorical wiggle room. I am not sure I ever will finalize my belief on this and I have come to the conclusion that my previous statement is enough: 1). hell is real 2) it is bad 3) Christ warned us about it 4) whatever the details might be, we should take it seriously.

        This does not particularly bother me; I can accept that the Bible’s purpose is not to reveal everything perfectly clearly. God is God; I am not. I have found it is not within my calling to work out the details any further on this subject; I do not need to have perfect understanding of the doctrine of hell in order to desire to have everyone enjoy the blessed reconciliation with God that I enjoy. To have the abundant life Christ promised. If you have that, you do not need to fear hell no matter what the details of it.

        The body of Christ is diverse (maybe I am a foot which is why my perspective is more flawed! LOL). We each have our calling and walk and it has been my experience that being afraid of God or His punishment doesn’t help you grow in faith, or even keep the law better, it just makes you hide things better or re-define your own badness to make yourself feel better.

        In my experience, a reverential, worshipful fear of God stemming from loving Him because He deserves it based on His perfect character is the only way of faith. We love Him because He first loved us. If you understand that, then loving God is not a struggle, and the desire to keep His commandments is not either. It just simply becomes the only way to live that even makes sense.

        Of course, in practice, as Paul describes in Romans 7, it is still a struggle between our Spirit desires and our fallen mind and body. And I will not suggest even the faith to reach this point is easy either, it took me over 35+ years of being a "christian" to finally begin to understand a little of this concept of loving God. My main problem was trying to understand it in my own ability and not in a full dependence on Christ.

        I love Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in Eph. 3:14-21. Wow. If I was in a 3rd world country with only a single page of the Bible I would want that one. What a prayer. I pray that for you and all who read this. God bless you.

  2. Brian, I apologize for the delay. I began writing a response and realized that I have not fully studied out all of the scripture pertaining to this subject. Unfortunately this process takes some time as a layperson with a non-theology based job (though a flexible one, praise God). I wanted to comment though and let you know you have spurred me on to study and at least solidify my beliefs rather than leave them too generic. This is a hugely complex topic so I doubt anyone has all the precise answers for sure, but at least I should be able to justify my opinions from the scripture whether anyone agrees with my interpretation or not.

    One point of clarity, I believe you intended to ask "if they are NOT found to be in Christ." If you are "in Christ" there is certainly no fear as 1 John (and many others) make clear. I am basing my answer what I believe is your intended question, if that is incorrect let me know.

    I do believe hell is Biblical, though there is enough ambiguity in its description that I have some doubt over exactly what it is. In the last few years doubt has stopped bothering me as much as before; I am content with not having all the answers, though I will never stop searching. Certain dogmas, like the Gospel, are more important than others. Neither the annihilationist or the more traditional arguments seem conclusive to me. This is a huge bag of worms so I will just say that I generally attempt to avoid such divisive discussions in the real world by simply admitting that in scripture: 1). hell is real 2) it is bad 3) Christ warned us about it 4) whatever the details might be, we should take it seriously.

    I have questions however over using hell as an evangelistic tool. There is no fear in love (1 John 4:18), so I hesitate to use fear as a tool to teach someone about God. The motives for turning to God are important (both before and after "salvation") so it seems clear to me that scripture indicates that fear is an improper motive in any case. (I am referring of course to the "afraid" kind of fear vs. the "reverential awe" type of fear Christ says we should have towards God.)

    Even John the Baptist, perhaps one of the most well known "damnation" preachers in the Bible, did not preach "Repent, you are going to hell!" He rather preached the positive message, "Repent, the Kingdom of God (heaven) is at hand!" There is a distinction in the difference. Yes the results of sin are bad, this caused Christ incarnate to have to submit and die, but hell is not the "good news", Jesus Christ’s work allowing us to enter the Kingdom of God is. You could certainly argue that knowing the "bad news" makes the good news better, but the Gospel should be enough in and of itself to bring people to repentance.

    At the same time, I attempt to (but do not always succeed at) never intellectually limiting my belief in what God can use to draw people to Himself. So if being afraid of hell is an initial catalyst that ultimately results in a relationship with Jesus Christ, great. Who am I to question? It has been my experience (even personally) that being afraid of hell results in massive attempts at behavior modification and little else. Whatever the final conclusion of my study I am certain that a picture of a coercive God with the loaded gun of hell pointed at our forehead shouting "Say you love Me!" is not Biblical.

    I recognize that people argue that Paul used fear in Romans 1 and 2 for evangelism. But there are certainly arguments against that, including the fact that one could suggest his audience was mostly already believers. So it was more of a description of the problem for those who already have the solution, not fear mongering to scare them into accepting Christ. Also, a couple places even within those chapters Paul contradicts that interpretation such as 2:4 where he indicates that it is God’s kindness that leads to repentance.

    It could also be argued that Christ himself used hell as an evangelical tool; but considering 1) He used it primarily when addressing the self-righteous, hypocritical, and religious; 2 ) He was operating under the Mosaic covenant; and 3) He had a supernatural knack for speaking exactly what the hearer needed, I am not sure that is enough to suggest we should use fear in our evangelizing attempts. Especially as the majority of the New Testament seems to emphasize the opposite. But this is certainly something to agree to disagree on; people need to know they have a problem, but to me the problem is they are dead; not they are going to hell. One leads to the other of course but let’s attack the root, not the fruit.

    OK, so after a couple rabbit trails (ahem), let’s get down to the essence of your question. It is actually a very nuanced question in many ways, thus the rabbit trails we have already pursued. There are really two other issues to address from your question. Is it God who is directly punishing people in hell (ultimately)? And is this punishment because of their sin?

    These are questions that I thought I had answers to; but I need more study to verify my answers from scripture. As you mention in your latest article about evolution so much is involved in the "definition of terms". For now, let me express my appreciation to you of such a simple yet complex question and how it has spurred me on to further Bible study on the subject. God willing I will make it back here with an additional response in the next few weeks. I apologize again for abusing your comment section, please cut me off at any time if this is no longer edifying. I enjoy a good discussion, but I personally believe we are on the same side, so my intention is to never be divisive, simply to exchange ideas and perspectives and to spur further study, prayers, thoughts, and knowledge of Christ. Thank you.

    1. CWright
      The ship with an inoperative rudder sails a straight course I suppose? Isn’t it succinctly stated "Do NOT! go beyond what is written."? 1 Cor. 4:6 and you allege "Well, that fellows interpretation is just as valid as my soteriological interpretation? We are both "Christians" aren’t we?" Whenever the blind lead the blind do not both fall into the ditch?
      Every individual who has faith in the doctrine of substitutionary atonement and the advocate who attempts to love his way into God’s kingdom ain’t gonna make it. For it is only those who have the faith to use the small narrow gate that are granted the grace to enter and there are very few that ever find out what that gate is.
      These two written statements are direct refutations of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement and loving one’s own way into God’s kingdom.
      "When he comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin" Jn. 16:8, AFTER! the murder of Jesus Christ by crucifixion and "For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." Rom. 2:13
      WHAT!!!!? screams the fellow who’s soteriological faith is substitutionay atonement "I ain’t gotta obey no kinda law of any sort to be declared righteous by God!!! "There ain’t no way in heaven or hell that can be true!!!" and the other fellow who asserts loving his own way into God’s kingdom says, "Well perhaps Paul might be right, but you know there are different interpretations of scripture with equal validity."
      "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Heb. 10:31 The only Way either of you can circumvent that from happening is by obeying that law Paul referenced in Rom. 2:13, but neither of you rudderless religious aristocrats know what it is.

      1. Theodore,
        I hesitate to respond since you have taken both of our comments out of context and chosen to call us names. I doubt anything I write will convince you otherwise. But for the sake of anyone else who might read this I will respond.

        I have an even better verse for you than Rom. 2:13. Matt. 5:48 says for us to "be perfect" as our heavenly Father is perfect. This is from the mouth of Jesus Christ. If you can accomplish this without the substitutionary atonement of the work of Jesus Christ then more power to you. Brian and I were discussing the details within the atonement, not the necessity of it’s existence.

        Hebrews 10:14 explains how we become perfect like our heavenly Father–by one sacrifice (Jesus Christ). Christ did what we could not and never can. Whatever the details that we discuss within the Biblical analysis as friends; the atonement is at the heart of the Gospel and cannot be denied. However due to our fallen minds it takes prayer, study, and much discussion with other believers to truly come to a full belief on the details; not the existence of, simply the details within. These details do not impact the simple truth of the Gospel.

        As to the the specific verses mentioned, context matters. Jn. 16:8 continues past sin to righteousness and judgment (which you left out). Plus you can’t leave out 9-13 where Christ explains what He just said. The world is convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit because they do NOT believe in Jesus Christ. I actually find the "convicting of righteousness" more interesting since He ties it to his ascension and no longer being with the disciples. I interpret this that he knew after He left they would be tempted to look at themselves and their imperfections in the flesh and forget they had the righteousness of Christ by faith in Him. Anytime our eyes are on ourselves we will fall; it is only by keeping them on Christ and our faith in His work that we have life. Our work is to believe in Him (John 6:29).

        Unfortunately for your interpretation of Rom. 2:13 the rest of Romans exists along with many other of the epistles. If Romans 1-3 existed alone, I would have to agree with you. But they don’t. Paul was setting the stage by presenting the hopeless case of humanity; including Rom. 2:13. James 2:10 emphasizes this: if you keep the law perfectly except for one little point you have broken them all. Gal. 2:16b (also written by Paul) clearly states "by the works of the law no one will be justified". And there are many others. Rom. 7:6 specifically says we have been "released from the law". Can’t get much clearer.

        Look, I am not against the law of God at all (and I will speak for Brian that he is not either). Paul also says the law is good in several places if it is used properly. We are not released from the law in order to sin (Rom. 6:1). The law points to our defectiveness and need of Christ (the atonement). But we are only righteous through Him not by how well we keep the law.

        I will be the first to admit, the more I grow in faith, grace, and the knowledge of Christ the better I keep the law. This is not a straight trajectory of course, but in general it is moving forward. But the law is not the narrow gate–Christ is the narrow gate. If entering the Kingdom of God depended on my keeping the law it would be hopeless. If it depends on any fallen human to keep the law then the Kingdom will be empty. Rom. 3:10: "…there is none righteous, no not one…" Romans 4:5 is pretty explicit that it is not works that save.

        I will further highly recommend that everyone keep the law. In a practical sense, it is just good for you. You will have a better life-you will reap good things. In one sense God does give us grace to "keep the law" because He loves us and wants the best in our lives as all fathers want for their children. Rom. 4:4 indicates that we do have wages for our works. But that is certainly not the basis for our becoming God’s adopted children in the first place. (Romans 11:6). There are many levels of wages to reap–both good and bad.

        Sadly it is extremely difficult for those putting their faith in their law-keeping performance to actually have true faith in Christ. I cannot say whether this prevents them from becoming a child of God in every case; but it could. I pray that you are not in this situation as you are correct in Heb. 10:31–it is a fearful thing unless you have an advocate in the Lord Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1).

        My faith and trust is in Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross. He is why we can now be reconciled to God, not our law keeping ability (2 Cor. 5:18-21). I pray that despite your focus on the law your true faith is in Christ. God bless you in your journey. May you grow in grace and knowledge of Christ as we all need to learn to put our faith in Him and not in ourselves.

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