THE DOCTRINE OF
THE SUBSTITUTIONARY ATONEMENT
Faith in Christ is more than just believing that He lived, it is believing that He died for our sins, and that through His death we have forgiveness and eternal life. Because God will not simply ignore sin, if it were not for the forgiveness that Christ won for us every one of us would wind up in hell (Joshua 24:19). In other words, God did not just decide to overlook our sin or "let us off the hook," Christ paid for our sin. He took those sins upon Himself and died the death that we deserved to die. For that reason, His death is referred to in theology as the Vicarious (Substitutionary) Atonement.
Passages that either refer to, or allude to, Christ's death in our stead are scattered throughout the Bible. The blood sacrifices that were required of those under the law were designed help us to think of Christ as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Isaiah speaks of God laying "the iniquity of us all" on Christ (Isaiah 53:6). And Paul uses the word "atonement" – a term that is used throughout the Old Testament in reference to blood sacrifice – in reference to Christ's death (Romans 5:10-11). Therefore, let us look at what the Bible says.
In the fifth chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans, we read:
6 ¶ For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous man: although perhaps some might even dare to die for a good man.
8 But God demonstrates his love for us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
[Comment: When these verses tell us that Christ died "for us" or "for the ungodly," they are saying that Christ died in our place (verses 6&8). They then explain what that means by telling us that we are "justified by His blood… saved by wrath through Him… reconciled to God by the death of His Son" and "have now received the atonement" (verse 9). I might add, that to be "justified by His blood" is to be justified by what He did, and He did it for us "when we were enemies" and therefore totally unworthy.]
OTHER STATEMENTS BY PAUL
Hebrews 9:28, Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many.
Hebrews 10:10,14, We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all… For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are sanctified.
[Comment: These verses tell us that Christ’s death was a sacrifice (He was offered), that He bore our sins, and that through His death we are cleansed and made perfect in the sight of God.]
1Corinthians 15:3, For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.
Galatians 1:4, Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.
[Comment: The first verse tells us that Christ "died for our sins," while the other tells us that He freely "gave Himself" so that by His death He might" deliver us from this present evil world."]
Colossians 2:13-14, And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, has he made alive together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.
[Comment: These verses tell us that even though we were spiritually dead because of sin, He made us alive through forgiveness, blotting out all of the ordinances that condemned us, through His death on the cross.]
THE TESTIMONY OF PETER
1Peter 3:18 and 2:24, For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit // Who himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sin, should live unto righteousness.
[Comment: When these verses tell us that Christ "suffered for sins, the just for the unjust" or "bore our sins in His body on the tree" they are telling us that He died in our place as our substitute.]
THE TESTIMONY OF JOHN
1John 1:7, The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.
1John 2:2, He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
CHRIST’S OWN TESTIMONY
Matthew 20:28, The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. [See Mark 10:45]
Matthew 26:28, 1Corinthians 11:24, This is my body, which is broken for you // this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
John 3:16, For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 11:25-26, I am the resurrection, and the life: he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever lives and believes in me will never die.
[Comment: In these verses Christ tells us that His blood was shed so that our sins might be forgiven, and that we receive that forgiveness (and thus eternal life) through faith in Him.]
The Bible clearly tells us that God laid upon Christ “the iniquity of us all,” (Isaiah 53:6). Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that our sins were removed by God’s act of placing them on Christ. If that was all it took to remove our sins then no one on earth would be guilty because God placed the sins of everyone on Christ. However, when God laid our sins on Christ those sins were in two places – on us and on Him. Those sins condemned us, and they condemned Him as well. On the cross, He suffered the condemnation, punishment and death that we deserved. Then, something that was totally unexpected (from the world’s point of view) happened. Because Christ had no sin of His own, God forgave the sins that had been placed on Him, and pronounced Him innocent. For that reason, those sins no longer condemn Christ. They have been forgiven! And, because they were our sins, and have been forgiven, that forgiveness becomes ours when we place our faith in Christ. As it is written, “Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise might be given to those who believe, through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:22).
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17).
Gary Ray Branscome