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The Discipleship Spectrum

April 29, 2015 8 comments

There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of discipleship methods. On one end of the spectrum you’ve got the hyper-casual, and on the other the hyper-formal. Those who are hyper-casual tend to advocate for the organic, unplanned moments when God shows up in everyday life. People who are hyper-formal often emphasize the intentional, planned meetings that focus primarily on spiritual development.

I’ve been in ministry for almost ten years now. I’ve seen both of these methods used. Both have their proper place in every discipleship relationship. As with most things, though, people often drift toward one end of the spectrum or the other. This is fine, but we must learn to manage the tension between the two. If we don’t, our discipleship gets one sided and we can fall short of really teaching someone to believe in and follow Jesus.

simple spectrum

Considering the Options

Like most things, both types of discipleship have their benefits and drawbacks. The benefit of casual discipleship is that it’s usually pretty natural, it’s easy to be authentic and you get to help people believe in and experience Jesus in real time as the Holy Spirit is working. The drawbacks of this type of discipleship is that it can be easy to miss opportunities to speak into people’s lives and if you’re not intentional you won’t get anywhere.

The benefit of formal discipleship is that people know exactly what to expect, it can be incredibly focused and you can teach people a lot at one time. The drawbacks are that it can become cold and rigid, faith can become something you talk about rather than something you live and if you’re not careful discipleship becomes a task rather than a lifestyle.

The key is to operate out of your strength, while being intentional in your weakness. If casual discipleship is more natural for you, then do that most of the time. If formal discipleship is more natural to you, then do that most of the time. Be careful, however, not to neglect the area of discipleship that doesn’t come as easily. If you do, your discipleship will become one sided and the people you’re discipling will miss out on some valuable experience.

Find the Right Fit

In my experience, casual discipleship seems to be most effective among non-believers. Formal discipleship seems to be more effective among leaders. Non-believers usually aren’t going to be as eager to talk exclusively about spiritual topics for 90 minutes at a time. They benefit more from the intentional relationships through which your faith rubs off on them because you live differently and answer honestly.

Leaders, on the other hand, are often busy making disciples themselves. They don’t usually have as much time to casually hang out. When they need input they often want as much as they can get in as little time as necessary. Focused meetings allow them to ask a lot of questions, get a lot of answers and discuss a wide range of topics much more efficiently than just waiting for those topics to pop up in everyday life.

Strive for Balance

Personally, I advocate for formal discipleship in the context of casual discipleship. Discipleship is about teaching people to believe in and follow Jesus through intentional relationship over time. A formal meeting isn’t going to do much good if there isn’t any genuine relationship. You need some casual, relaxed time with a person to gain that. At the same time, you can speed up the process of discipleship by including a few focused and formal meetings (such as a weekly Bible study lunch to discuss a specific topic of interest) from time to time.

This spectrum gets even wider when we also consider the individual and group dynamics. On one end of the spectrum we have discipling an individual in or toward Jesus and on the other we have discipleship in groups. Here I advocate for individual discipleship in the context of a group.

The benefit of groups is that each person gets a broad experience and understanding of the person and work of Christ. You simply have more people contributing to each person’s spiritual growth. The drawback, on the other hand, is that it can be shallow and easy for people to hide.

The benefit of individual discipleship is that each person gets a depth that can sometimes be difficult to get in groups. Conversation can also be customized to the specific topics that will be most helpful for the person you’re discipling. The drawback is that the person can end up becoming more like you than Jesus if you’re not careful.

Jesus seemed to disciple people all over the spectrum. At times he was casual with a group of his disciples. At other times he was intentional with an individual. He was also intentional with groups and, at times, casual with individuals. We’d all be more effective leaders if we discipled people using a variety of approaches, rather than just one method.

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How to Share Your Faith Without Being Weird

March 18, 2015 2 comments

When I, by God’s grace, first became a Christian at age 17 my life had been so radically changed by Jesus that I wanted to tell everyone about him.  I had met the living God and wanted everyone else to meet him to.

The problem was that I didn’t know how to share my faith. I felt unqualified and uninformed.  Did I know enough? Could I explain my conversion clearly? Overwhelmed by the task and lacking someone to show me the ropes, I awkwardly tried to convince all my friends to believe the gospel but failed miserably.

Image via forbes.com

Image via forbes.com

Away With Evangelism Propaganda

When I got to college I joined a campus ministry and was instructed to use a series of gospel illustrations such as “The Bridge,” “Seven Spiritual Laws” and other pre-packaged propaganda.  I was then told that evangelism meant approaching total strangers and asking them if I could talk with them about eternity.

I tried this for about four months.  It was the worst experience I’ve ever had! In a relatively short period of time I became the “weird Christian guy.” This approach only pushed the people I was “witnessing” to further away from the Lord. It was awful and unhelpful.

All-Natural Evangelism

I quickly said good-bye to that ministry and its evangelism techniques after seeing that they made my faith feel plastic and negatively effected non-believers. During that season, I invested hours studying the Word and reading books about effective evangelism.

Everything I read convinced me that the Lord’s primary evangelism method was discipleship. He focused on teaching people to believe in and follow him through intentional relationships over time.  As I put this method to use I quickly realized that people aren’t opposed to the Christian faith, just to Christian propaganda. 

The Power of an Honest Answer

Colossians 4:5-6 is a great example of this. It reads, “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, making the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person.” Paul is essentially saying that the easiest way to introduce people to Jesus is to live differently and to answer honestly.

The contrast between the lifestyle of an authentic Christ-follower and someone who doesn’t know the Lord is generally drastic enough that it catches the attention of the watching world. When people see that authentic Christ-followers are different they naturally want to know why. An honest answer, as Paul says, is like salt.  It causes people to thirst for God. 

Ongoing Dialogue or One-Time Decision?

Instead of searching for the next evangelism fad, stick to a simple Christ-like approach. Live with such gospel intentionality that the unbelievers in your life take notice of your character, speech, conduct, attitude and worldview. When people begin to comment or question your lifestyle, honestly tell them that the difference is Jesus.

Focus on an ongoing dialogue rather than a one-time decision. As this happens with increased frequency you’ll be begin to see the Lord do work in people’s lives.  They’ll see Jesus in your life, hear Jesus in your words and experience Jesus through your friendship. This is what it means to share your faith.

Church Building or Disciple Making

October 27, 2014 9 comments

In Matthew 16:18 the disciple Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ.  With this one phrase he proclaims that Jesus was God’s anointed messenger who had come to usher in the kingdom of heaven and to save God’s people from their sins. The Lord responds by declaring he will build his church on the truth of Peter’s confession.

Later, in Matthew 28:19 Jesus appears to his disciples to give them what is now known as the Great Commission. At this point he has been crucified for the sins of the world, buried and resurrected.  His earthly ministry is complete, but he reminds his followers that theirs has just begin.  Then, just before ascending into the heavens, the Lord commands his band of misfit believers to “go and make disciples.”

Image via chrisarmfield.com

Image via chrisarmfield.com

Do Your Job, Not His

Pair these two verses together and you have a powerful one, two combo.  Jesus will build his church, so we must make disciples. The order is crucial. He builds, we disciple.  Sadly, in an age consumed by prominence, fame, an over-emphasize on size and a grow-at-all costs approach to ministry, many Christian leaders are tempted to try and do the Lord’s job for him.

Leaders, myself included, want so badly to see God glorify his name by bringing dozens, hundreds and thousands of people to saving faith in Jesus Christ through our ministries. We know the joy of salvation and we are desperate to share this gift with anyone who will receive it.  This is a good thing, but we must always remember that it is not our job to build the church.  That responsibility belongs to Jesus and to Jesus alone.

The temptation to abandon discipleship in order to pursue the latest church growth strategies is high.  The allure of big events, fancy marketing and high class productions is strong. These aren’t bad things, but they must never replace discipleship. Pastors and ministry leaders must also remember that healthy things grow, but growing things are not always healthy. Cancer grows fast, but it will kill you.  On the other hand, it takes a child upwards of 16 years to reach adulthood.

Be Faithful

Many of todays ministry leaders, myself included, would do well to repent of our hyper-addiction to church growth and return with an unbending focus to the disciple-making mandate the Lord has given us as his followers. Discipleship isn’t sexy, it won’t make you famous and it might take more than a decade to see Jesus build his church larger than a handful, but it’s the only way to ensure that healthy, obedient Christ followers are being raised up.

It’s the Lord’s job to build his church and ours to make disciples.  Let’s let him do his job so we can get back to ours. Let’s refocus our attention on intentional relationships that help people meet Jesus and grow to maturity as his disciples. The Lord will be faithful to do the building.  We must be faithful to do the discipling.

What the Gospel Means for You.

There are at least two types of Bible passages related to the Christian life. One type are called “indicatives” and the other type “imperatives.” Indicative Bible passages are those that indicate a benefit Christians have received by virtue of their faith in Christ. This is what Ephesians 1:3 refers to when it mentions “every spiritual blessing” given to those who believe. In other words, the indicative passages communicate that which is true for believers in Christ.

Imperative Bible passages are those that command Christians to live in a particular way. These passages inform Christians on what it looks like to live for God. The idea is that if you want to live for Christ you must first believe that which is true for you in Christ.

Identity in Christ

When Jesus died on the cross he not only secured our salvation, he also secured our identity. The truth of the gospel is not simply a change in where you will go, it is fundamentally a change in who you are. (1 John 3:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17) This essentially means whatever is true of Christ is now true for those in Christ.

When you turn to the Lord none of your sins or wrong-doings are counted against you anymore, while all of Christ’s perfection, accomplishments and obedience are credited to your name. Jesus takes your sin and he gives you his righteousness. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Psalm 103) God not only sees you as though you have never sinned, he now sees you as though you have always obeyed.

This is the good news! Jesus has eternally secured our right standing and acceptance before God through what he has accomplished on the cross. God no longer sees you as an ill-deserving sinner, but as his dearly loved son or daughter. (Galatians 4:4-7)  He will never condemn you, never shame you, never guilt you and never forsake you. He will always love you, always accept you and always welcome you into his presence; not because of what you do for him, but because of what he has done for you in Christ. (1 Peter 3:18; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:23-25; Romans 8:1-4) These are the indicative truths of the gospel.

Image via thecenterforgospelculture.org

Image via thecenterforgospelculture.org

Living for Christ

The result of believing the gospel’s indicative truths is power to live Scripture’s imperative commands. When we believe what Jesus has done for us it empowers us to live in obedience to God. For example, the most basic command in all of Scripture is to love God and to love people (the imperative). (Mark 12:30-31) The power to love God and people comes from understanding and believing that you are loved by God in Christ (the indicative). (Romans 5:1-5; 1 John 4:9-10)

The New Testament is filled with indicative truths for us to believe and imperative commands for us to obey. It’s critical that we obey God, but it’s only possible when we believe Jesus.  Faith in Jesus empowers obedience to Jesus.

What is the Gospel?

It is only through Jesus Christ that sinners can know and live for God. This truth, called the gospel, is the “good news” about who Jesus is and what he has done.  It includes his deity, incarnation, life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension into heaven, present rule as King of kings and Lord of lords and his future return to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.

Image via katieyunholmes.blogspot.com

Image via katieyunholmes.blogspot.com

God: Supremely Worthy

The Bible teaches that God is the supreme being of the universe. (Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 48:11; Romans 11:36) Creation declares the magnitude of his worth, the heavens display the beauty of his excellence and he alone deserves the entirety of our lives. (Psalm 8:1-4; Psalm 19:1; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 10:31) In love, this God created us to live in unhindered relationship with him and with one another as we enjoy his glory together. (Genesis 1-2; Isaiah 43:7; Isaiah 43:21)

Man: Ill-Deserving

We, however, like our first parents Adam and Eve, have refused to give God the glory that he alone deserves. We have rejected him, disobeyed his commands and turned to worship created things rather than God our Creator. (Romans 1:18-25; Romans 3:9-10, 23) We have broken friendship with God by turning away from him in sin earning his just condemnation in the eternal, conscious torments of a very real hell. (Romans 6:23a; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10)

There is absolutely nothing that we can do to earn God’s forgiveness or acceptance. No good work will get us to heaven; no amount of personal effort will bring us back into loving friendship with God. (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:11) We are powerless to overcome sin and its effects on our own. (John 8:34; Romans 7:7-25)

Jesus: All Sufficient

God, in his loving-kindness, has, however, chosen to glorify his name by saving sinners through his Son, Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:3-14) He demonstrates his love for us by sending Jesus to the cross while we “were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9-10) God didn’t wait for us to get our life together, to earn his approval or to prove our worth through our good deeds. He sent Jesus to remove our sin and bring us back to him through his death and resurrection. When we were at our worst, God gave us his best.

In other words, God sent Jesus to live as our example, (Philippians 2:5; 1 Peter 2:21; Hebrews 12:1-3) to die on the cross as our substitute (Romans 4:25; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 3:18) and to rise from the dead as our Lord,¹ freeing those who believe from Satan, sin, hell and death and redirecting our worship back to God. (Luke 24:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; Romans 5:9; Romans 8:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8) The good news, then, is that ill-deserving sinners can receive forgiveness of sins and be brought back into loving relationship with God by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:11-21; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 4:9)

We are not saved by our good works, but by Jesus’ finished work. We can know, enjoy and live for God not because of what we do, but because of what Jesus has done for us. Our acceptance before God is eternally secured when we turn from sin and self-reliance to believe in and depend on Jesus alone for salvation. (Romans 3:23-25; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:1-7)

Lord of All

The gospel, then is the good news that Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and earth.  He used his authority entirely for the benefit of ill-deserving sinners by sacrificing himself in our place on the cross.  He then rose from the dead victorious over sin and death so that those who believe can freely worship in submission to and reverence for Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jesus Christ is Lord of all.  We live for him because he died for us.  (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) This news, as the Apostle Paul says, is of first importance. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) If you truly want to live for God you must come to terms with the gospel. It must determine who you are and how you live.

¹Paraphrased from “The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out” by Mark Driscoll.

Christ Our Life

This short clip is from a sermon called “Christ Our Life” preached by Bryan Mowrey, Jordan Dillon and David Qaoud at Jubilee Church in St. Louis, MO on May 11, 2014. This particular clip is of David, my good friend, preaching from Colossians 3:4.

I share this clip with you for two reasons:

1. David does an absolutely phenomenal job of communicating what this text means, why it matters and how it applies. He rightly emphasizes the importance of Jesus Christ being the sum total of our lives and not just a modest addition to our lives. This clip is well worth every second.

2. David and I have been friends for quite some time. He has sensed God’s call to preach the Bible for as long as I can remember. He has preached several short chapels to his college football team before games and a time or two at Living Hope before moving to St. Louis, but this is the first opportunity he’s had to preach at Jubilee.

Unlike many men who desire to preach, however, David’s all-consuming desire has simply been to know Jesus and make him known. He has submitted himself to church leadership, focused primarily on maturity as a disciple of Jesus and has refused to let a pre-occupation with preaching keep him from making disciples by serving the church where he is needed most, even in areas I know he wouldn’t be thrilled about for any other reason than to serve. He has been a good friend and a great example of what it looks like for Christ be be our life.

Therefore, this clip is worth watching not simply because David has preached a great message, but because I’ve seen him live this message every day for the past five years.  The best sermons are not only preached, they are lived by the preacher.  David does that and, for that reason, I commend his words to you today.

To watch the full-length sermon click here.

 

 

 

 

The Cross: God’s Love Magnified or His Wrath Satisfied?

April 18, 2014 7 comments

This post is in defense of the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement.  It is written as a response to specific misconceptions about what Jesus accomplished on the cross. This post is exceedingly long and it is intended to be for the sake of a thorough defense of an important doctrine. Be advised. 

Image via dvrbible.wordpress.com

Image via dvrbible.wordpress.com

The cross and resurrection are the culmination of Christ’s ministry.  It was here that Jesus would die for the sins of the world. (1 John 2:2; John 1:29)   It was here that sin and death would be defeated.  (1 Corinthians 15:56-57; 1 Corinthians 15:26) It was here that the Lord would have his victory over Satan and hell. (1 John 3:8; Hebrews 2:14-15; Revelations 12:11; Revelation 20:13-14; Revelation 20:6)   It was here that sins would be forgiven and those who believe would be made right with God. (Hebrews 8-10)

Because of our sins, for our Benefit

On this topic Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” To die for our sins means to die because of our sins.  Elsewhere Paul says, “for our sake [God] made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Here Paul indicates that Jesus not only died because of our sins, he also died for our benefit.  Peter echoes this in 1 Peter 3:18 when he says “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”

This exchange is known as penal substitutionary atonement; penal meaning penalty, substitutionary meaning in our place because of our sins and atonement meaning to make those who believe right with God. In other words Jesus died on the cross in our place to take the penalty we deserve for our sins so that those who believe in him can be made right with God.

The Wrath of God

The Bible clearly states in both the Old and New Testaments that God’s wrath is against those who do evil.  God’s wrath is his just anger against sinners. We see this in the passages below as well as many others:

1) Psalm 78:21-22:Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, because they did not believe in God and trust in his saving power.”

2) Ezekiel 25:17: The Lord said, “I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon them.”

3) Nahum 1:2:The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.”

4) Romans 12:18:Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

5) Ephesians 2:1-3:And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

6) Revelation 19:21:He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”

Basically, God is loving, gracious and kind. He is slow to anger, wanting all to turn from sin and be saved, but he will not withhold his wrath from those who continually refuse his loving kindness. (2 Peter 3:9; Exodus 34:6-7)

All Have Sinned

Scripture is also clear when it states that all people have sinned against God and face his wrath.

1) Romans 1:18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

2) 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9:when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from[a] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”

3) Romans 3:10-12, 23: “None is righteous, no, not one; no on understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless.  no one does good, not even one… For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

4) 2 Peter 2:9:Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment”

Jesus, therefore, substituted himself for sinners at the cross.  He would die so that we could live.  He would be condemned so that we could be forgiven.  He would absorb the wrath of God so that those who believe could instead receive the mercy of God.

A Necessary Substitute

This is called propitiation, which means to appease or deal with a persons anger by diverting it to someone or something other than the person who deserves it. In other words, the offense is actually dealt with by someone or something other than the person who committed the offense, it’s not just overlooked. The following passages illustrate this clearly:

1) 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10:For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven,whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

2) Romans 5:9:Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”

3) Romans 3:23-25:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift,through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 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.”

4) 1 John 2:2:He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Scripture is clear: all people are sinners who deserve the wrath of God.  God, in his kindness and love, sent Jesus to the cross as our substitute to absorb the wrath of God so that those who believe could instead receive his love.  God is holy.  It would be unjust for him to simply overlook our offenses.  The cross is where God can execute justice against sin, while simultaneously showing mercy to sinners.

Naysayers and False Teachers

At this point, many progressive Bible teachers speak out against the truth of God’s Word.  These are the men who would rather tell the gospel as they’d like for it to be than as it actually is. (2 Peter 3:14-18) Their arguments are as follows:

1) Modern Bible translations have misinterpreted the word propitiation used in places like 1 John 2:2, Romans 3:25 and 1 John 4:10.  They argue that the word translated as propitiation doesn’t actually mean to “pacify wrath,” but that it should be translated as expiation which means to “remove sin.”  The truth is that Jesus both pacifies wrath and removing sin.

Let’s assume however that you’re smarter than I because you know Greek and Hebrew (or can quote the first website that agrees with your opinion) and that the word for propitiation is incorrectly translated.  There are other Scriptures that do not use the word propitiation and still communicate that Jesus saves us from the wrath of God.

1 Thessalonians 1:10, for example, states that “Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come.” Likewise, Romans 5:9 clearly states that we are “saved from the wrath of God by [Jesus].” Finally, John 3:36 explicitly says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Scripture clearly and emphatically teaches that  Jesus saves from God’s wrath.

2) The second argument against Jesus’ substitutionary work is that Jesus never stated that he died to save sinners from God’s wrath.  This is simply not true. In John 3:16-17 Jesus himself says that “For God so loved the world,[i] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  Jesus is referring to a person perishing because they are condemned, but condemned to where?  The answer is hell, the place of God’s wrath as we’ve already seen in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9. At the cross Jesus was condemned so that those who believe wouldn’t have to be. 

Furthermore, in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7), Jesus states that it is better to enter life maimed than it is to be thrown into hell for one’s sin. (Matthew 5:27-30)  If a person is thrown into hell because of his sins, then for Jesus to save a person from his sins means that Jesus has saved him from God’s wrath in hell.

Lastly, John the Baptist stated that Jesus died to take away the wrath of God (John 3:36). Jesus had personal interaction with John and many of John’s disciples became Jesus’ disciples. (John 1:35-37) Surely the Lord would have heard of John’s teaching, yet no where in Scripture does Jesus refute the teaching that he is to die for our sins to take the wrath of God.  If it were not true, Jesus would have most certainly corrected the man he regarded so highly. (Matthew 11:11)

3) Those who disagree with the doctrine of propitiation also argue that this stance does not fit with the rest of the New Testament.  Hogwash.  Jesus said at least three times that he came to fulfill the Scriptures (Matthew 26:54, 56; Luke 24:27)   and Paul echoes Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3.  The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. If Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures, that means that he fulfilled the Old Covenant with it’s laws, rights, rituals, practices, traditions, customs and requirements.

Leviticus 16 illustrates penal substitution when it describes the responsibility of the high priest to slaughter animals as a substitute, or sacrifice, for the sins of the people.  The animal would die, so that the people could live.  The animal would be condemned, so that the people could be forgiven.  If Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures, then he fulfilled this requirement by becoming the substitute for us, which is also confirmed in Hebrews 5-10.

This would also mean that Jesus fulfilled the Passover in which the death angel, executing God’s judgment and wrath against Pharaoh’s rebellion, passed over the homes of those who had the blood of a Lamb painted over their doorposts.  (Exodus 12:12-13) In Matthew 26:26-29 Jesus indicates that his blood is the blood of the covenant, indicating that he is the Passover Lamb, through whom the wrath of God passes over those who believe.

4) One final argument that is commonly made is that penal substitutionary atonement (propitiation) is too judicial.  It pits God the Father against Jesus the Son.  Those who make this argument must have removed passages like Romans 2:1-52 Corinthians 5:10, Acts 17:31 and Revelation 20:12 from their Bibles.  These passages clearly teach that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God to be judged for our sins.  You can’t get much more judicial than that.

If we are to be judged for our sins, then Jesus had to have died to take that judgment.  If he didn’t, then we have no hope but to face the judgment ourselves.  God the Father positioned himself against Jesus the Son on the cross so that he would no longer have to position himself against ill-deserving sinners, which is why 1 John 1:9 calls Jesus our advocate.

An advocate is someone who defends another person in a court of law.  Again, very judicial. How does Jesus defend us in God’s court? By taking the judgment of God upon himself so that he can rightfully defend us at our own judgment. Christ’s judgment is our restoration and without Christ’s judgment there can be no restoration. God is not Judge or Father he is both Judge and Father.

A Glorious Conclusion

Indeed, at the cross God’s wrath is most certainly satisfied.  Jesus absorbed it so we wouldn’t have to.  What then of God’s love? Is he a cold, begrudging deity?  By no means. 1 John 4:10 tells us that “in this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Other translations say “atoning sacrifice” which is another way of saying “to make right with one through the substitutionary death of another.” In fact the dictionary definition for sacrifice is “the offering of an animal, plant or human life or of some material possession to a deity, as in propitiation or homage.”

The breath-taking reality is this: God would rather pour his wrath out on his own Son than to see ill-deserving sinners get the penalty they deserve. You cannot find a better personification of love than that.  Jesus willingly took the punishment you deserve for your wrongs against God so that you could be forgiven.  That’s love.  God the Father chose to punish his Son for your sins so that he could adopt you as his child.  That’s love.

If the question is whether or not the cross is God’s love magnified or his wrath satisfied, then the answer is that the cross is God’s love magnified through his wrath satisfied.  It is at the cross that love and justice meet.  A holy God is vindicated and ill-deserving sinners are loved far beyond what their sins deserve.

This post was adapted from a sermon I preached at the Living Hope Church-Maryville Campus called “Christ Our Substitute.”  This sermon was one of four sermons in a series called “The Cross of Christ,” one of our most popular series at Living Hope.  You can view the series here and the sermon here.

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