In Christ alone! – who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.
(From the song, “In Christ Alone”)
This past Sunday night, here at New Life Church, we watched the movie, “American Gospel: Christ Crucified.” Here is the trailer for the movie:
The week following the movie I received questions from a number of people asking me what the main point of the movie was. I could definitely sense that there was some confusion regarding the movie and this brief article is an attempt to clear things up.
THE MAIN ARGUMENT THAT THE MOVIE IS TRYING TO MAKE
The main argument that the movie is trying to make is that penal substitution is a biblical concept taught in the Word of God. Professor Jarvis J. Williams defines penal substitution like this:
“Jesus died a violent, substitutionary death to be a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of Jews and Gentiles. By this death, Jesus took upon himself God’s righteous judgment and wrath against the sins of those for whom he died. By dying as their penal substitute, Jesus paid the penalty for their sins, and he therefore both propitiated God’s wrath against their sins and expiated their sins so that the sins of Jews and Gentiles would be forgiven and so that they would be justified by faith, forgiven of their sins, reconciled to God, reconciled to each other, participate in the future resurrection, and saved from God’s wrath.”
WHAT ARE SOME PASSAGES THAT SUPPORT PENAL SUBSTITUTION?
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. -Isaiah 53:5-6
Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. -Romans 3:25-26
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. -2 Corinthians 5:21
IS PENAL SUBSTITUTION A RECENT DEVELOPMENT WITHIN THE CHURCH?
The short answer is no. In 150 AD we find this in the writings of Diognetus:
“For what else was able to cover our sins except the righteousness of that one? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly to be justified except in the Son of God alone? O the sweet exchange, O the inscrutable work (of God), O the unexpected benefits (of God), that the lawlessness of many might be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one might justify many lawless men.” (Diognetus. 9.3–5).
IS THERE SOME REASON WHY THIS MOVIE IS CONFUSING?
I believe that too many churches have spent a great deal of time talking about the love of God and have failed to talk about his holiness. (HERE is an article I wrote about the holy love of God.) Too often teachers and churches dodge topics about God’s judgment and wrath. The result is that we honestly don’t know what penal substitution even means or just how important it is.
YEAH, BUT WHY MAKE SUCH A BIG DEAL ABOUT IT? WHY GO TO THE TROUBLE OF MAKING OR WATCHING A MOVIE ABOUT PENAL SUBSTITUTION?
There are some people who are writing and teaching against penal substitution. Steve Chalke writes this, “…a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement: “God is love”.
One of my personal mottos is, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” But when it comes to the importance of the gospel we must be willing to take a bold stand because if we don’t get this right then we failed at the very point by which a person enters into a personal relationship with God the Father.