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Why the God-man? (2)

R. C. Sproul draws three circles illustrating the separation between God and man that made a substitutionary atonement by a God-man necessary. The first circle represented the character of man. Sproul continues:


Imagine a second circle, just like the one we had for man, to represent the character of God. How many blemishes would we see in this circle? Absolutely none. We are totally depraved, but God is absolutely holy. In fact, He is too holy to even look at iniquity. He is perfectly just.

Here, then, is the crux of the problem: how can an unjust person stand in the presence of God? Or, to put the question another way, how can an unjust person be made just, or justified? Can he start all over again? No. Once a person commits one sin, it is impossible for him ever to be perfect, because he’s lost his perfection with his initial sin. Can he pay the penalty for his sin? No—unless he wishes to spend an eternity in hell. Can God simply overlook the sin? No. If God did that, He would sacrifice His justice.

Therefore, if man is to be made just, God’s justice must be satisfied. Someone must be able to pay te penalty for man’s sin. It must be a member of the offending party, the human race, but it must be one who has never fallen into the inescapable imperfection of sin. Given these requirements, no man could qualify. However, God Himself could. For this reason, God the Son came into the world and took on humanity. As the author of Hebrews says, “He had to be made like His brethren . . .” (Heb. 2:17a, emphasis added).

—R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 90–91.

Posted 2008·09·26 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Atonement · Holiness (of God) · Justice (of God) · R C Sproul · Substitution · The Truth of the Cross · Total Depravity
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#1 || 08·09·26··10:31 || Daniel

It must be a member of the offending party, the human race, but it must be one who has never fallen into the inescapable imperfection of sin

I think that is the crux of the substitutionary model - that God has to punish someone, and the someone has to be representative. It is all very consistent, though it has a righteous God defending His righteousness by punishing an innocent "substitute" - which, even though the substitute is willing, is a problematic pill to swallow. I think the substitutionary model errs in emphasizing substitution over union, and it is perhaps the main reason why so few seem able to grasp the atonement.

Either that or I am way, way, wrong.

#2 || 08·09·27··06:07 || David

Daniel, there may be something to that. I'm trying to think of what I've read on the atonement that said much about union, and I can't remember anything.

#3 || 08·09·30··15:32 || Daniel

David, I think the architects of the substitutionary atonement model (SAM) rightly concluded that God cannot remain just and at the same time spare justice, that is, God cannot spare any sinner the just consequences of his or her sin if in fact [1] the punishment is just, and [2] God is just.

It stands to reason that if the punishment is unjust, or God is unjust, then punishment is arbitrary.

Likewise, if God is just, and the punishment just - then a just God is not only obliged to punish sin, but even defined by his punishing of sin.

Thus we have a dilemma - how can a just God excuse a guilty sinner?

While the SAM rightly identifies why God must punish sin, it presents the solution in terms of an impersonal debt and that gets problematic. Can the satisfaction of justice really be likened to the satisfying of a debt? If I stole $10,000 from you - I will have put you out by $10,000. If someone else comes and pays that $10,000, your loss will have been reimbursed - but will that satisfy justice?

Consider the same scenario, with murder. Someone murders your child. They can't find the murderer, so someone in your town - a really great guy - offers himself up as a substitute to be punished for the murder. Is justice being done? Or said another way - can we remove the offender from the penalty and call it justice? I believe the answer is no - even if the substitute is a willing participant.

Putting a gun to Christ's head, and looking at a guilty sinner while you pull the trigger is not justice, it is the murder of an innocent person, in order to allow a guilty person to escape justice.

If instead of emphasizing Christ as being in our place, we emphasize Christ as standing with us in our place - in union with us - then the picture changes:

Consider that the union with Christ is pictured by the marriage union - the two become one. Consider that it is no idle thing that love is as strong as death. Consider, I say, that the union with Christ is irrevocable, so that the moment that Christ enters into union with a sinner - he becomes a partaker of that sinners condemnation because God cannot allow that sinner, under any circumstances (even the circumstance of that sinner being united through a spiritual baptism to an innocent party) to escape his wrath.

Yet that leaves God with a dilemma. Once a sinner has been united to Christ - what is God to do? If God pours His wrath out on the sinner who is united to Christ - both he (who deserves God's wrath) dies, and that innocent Christ who by no means deserves God's wrath dies. Yet if God spares the guilty sinner for Christ's sake, He himself becomes unjust.

The only solution is the one the bible teaches - that Christ was given the authority to lay down his life, and to take it up again - and not only take it up again, but in doing so to receive honor and glory for sacrificing Himself thus.

Now we have Christ coming to earth to provide a means by which God's wrath can be righteously satisfied, and after it is spent, the means again by which guilty sinners can be raised from the dead - for after the death of that innocent Lamb of all glory - we are still united to Him. God cannot (will not?) break that union by which we are united to Christ, so that in order to raise up Christ, God must raise us up.

That is why scripture speaks of all things as "in Christ" and that is why the atonement is limited - only those who are united to Christ (in Christ) have passed through God's wrath, and only they have been raised already in Christ.

How does it go? For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

That's how us heretics see it.

#4 || 08·09·30··16:49 || David

Daniel, that's an attractive theory, and in fact, as I see it, irrefutable. I don't think it does away with substitution, though. Even though we are spiritually united with Christ, it is still Christ alone who actually satisfied the righteousness and justice of God'we did not.

I don't see what you're saying as being in opposition to substitution, but as another side of the picture. For (a kind of lame) example: suppose you take your wife out to dinner. At the end of the evening, her stomach is full because she was with you (union); but you--instead of she--paid the bill (substitution).

Does that make any sense?

#5 || 08·09·30··17:00 || Daniel

David, I think it is very close to the "SAM" - and maybe that is what people mean when they talk about the SAM, but as I understand SAM takes the penalty instead of us, rather than with us in Him. The former is vicarious, but the latter is actual. Yet from our perspective in Christ, it may as well be vicarious (since we do not experience first hand).

If that makes any sense by way of distinction?

#6 || 08·09·30··22:03 || David

I think so.

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