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Incarnation and Atonement

  

Presented by John Obelenus at the One God Conference, Seattle WA June 1st 2008, commentary by Sean Finnegan. Click here to listen.

John seeks to deal with two major issues related to Jesus’ death for our sins: (1) the notion that God identifies with us through the incarnation and atonement (2) a flawed understanding of penal substitution.

(1) God identifies with us through becoming a man and dying for our sins as a requirement. It is typically believed that God became a man and in such a way identifies with what it is to be human. But, this is totally unbiblical. The Scriptures speak of Jesus identifying with us because he was tempted and he suffered the human plight and even crucifixion (Heb. 2.18). Furthermore, God is not so limited that he needs to become a human in order to understand what it would be like to be a human. Jesus lived a life of identifying with his people with the role of Isaiah’s suffering servant as his template. He substitutes himself for others and in so doing performs restoration (whether physical, social, or related to forgiveness). Then in his last act of identifying with the human plight Jesus died on the cross. To this the Christian may identify through baptism and communion. In baptism the Christian dies to the old life and is crucified with Christ (Rom. 6). Through communion the Christian eats the body and drinks the blood of Jesus which amounts to memorializing his suffering on the cross and also renewing the covenant to follow him.

(2) Penal substitution has been grossly exaggerated in the past. Penal relates to the notion that Jesus took the penalty for sin. Substitution relates to the idea that Jesus died in our place as a substitute. But, orthodox Christian have said (at least since Anselm) that the death of Christ can only be effective if Jesus is a God-man. Only then would his death actually pay for all the sins of the world. But the God that the Scriptures present is not a mathematical principle or karmic principle. God does not require the payment be equal to the offense (just remember back to the animal sacrifices under the Mosaic covenant). In fact, what makes Christ’s death so valuable is that God accepts it on behalf of humanity. If God accepts the sacrifice then the sacrifice accomplishes its purpose.

John does not seek to cast aside the doctrine of penal substitution. God is personally offended and angry at our sin. But, that does not mean that he must require an equal payment to satisfy himself. It turns out that God did choose to architect his salvific restorative program through the death of Jesus on the cross. So someone who fully identifies with Jesus is by God declared right, forgiven, and ultimately given entrance into his coming kingdom so long as he or she perseveres.

30 Responses to “Incarnation and Atonement”

  1. on 02 Jun 2008 at 9:53 amFortigurn

    Sean, this is an excellent article. It’s very worthwhile to note how close the relationship is between penal substitution and the trinity, as the two are often used to reinforce each other.

    I’m commonly confronted by trinitarians with ‘Aha, but if Jesus isn’t God then you have no atonement, or the doctrine of penal substitution must be wrong!’, to which I reply ‘Yeah, it’s wrong, and?’.

    I think you put your finger right on it here:

    ‘God does not require the payment be equal to the offense (just remember back to the animal sacrifices under the Mosaic covenant).’

    I’d like to carry this idea further and suggest that a payment was not in fact given or received at all. The fundamental flaw I see with many traditional interpretations of the atonement (at least since Augustine), is that they see the atonement as a means of reconciling GOD to MAN, whereas the Bible tells us clearly the purpose of the atonement was to reconcile MAN to GOD.

    What’s the difference? Well the difference was who’s attitude had to change, ours or God’s. The Bible says our attitude was wrong, we had to change and agree with God. Standard interpretations of the atonement say God’s attitude had to change, and it took the death of Jesus (God), to get God thinking straight (Philip Yancey expresses this in incredibly bold terms without even a blush).

    I hold to the participatory model of the atonement myself. There’s a great article on it here:

    http://consequently.org/papers/pa.pdf

  2. on 02 Jun 2008 at 12:28 pmFortigurn

    Reading this over again, I think that this statement really deserves to be in all caps:

    ‘So someone who fully identifies with Jesus is by God declared right, forgiven, and ultimately given entrance into his coming kingdom so long as he or she perseveres.’

    The atonement is absolutely about identification, or ‘participation’ to put it another way. Christ participated in our sufferings, and we participate in his.

    1 Peter 2:
    21 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, LEAVING AN EXAMPLE for you to follow in his steps.

    22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth.
    23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly.

    24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, THAT WE MIGHT CEASE FROM SINNING AND LIVE FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS. By his wounds you were healed.

    25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

    1 Peter 4:
    1 So, since Christ suffered in the flesh, you also arm yourselves with the same attitude, because the one who has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin,
    2 in that he spends the rest of his time on earth concerned about the will of God and not human desires.

    1 John 2:
    6 The one who says he resides in God OUGHT HIMSELF TO WALK JUST AS JESUS WALKED.

    1 John 3:
    6 We have come to know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians.

  3. on 02 Jun 2008 at 2:27 pmJohnO

    Fortigurn,

    Would you deny any substitutionary aspect of atonement? I’m just curious.

  4. on 02 Jun 2008 at 5:08 pmFortigurn

    JohnO, actually yes I would. I find in Scripture that Christ died for us, not instead of us. The very fact that Christ’s death compels us to change demonstrates that he is not our substitute. If he did the work instead of us, then we don’t have to do it.

  5. on 02 Jun 2008 at 8:15 pmJohnO

    Then what would you do with these verses:

    Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. – John 6.53

    Partaking of the blood gives life. The implication of this verse is that Jesus did something for us which we cannot. And, as my first paper shows, Jesus substitutes for us that we can have what he has, while he takes away our sin onto himself.

    But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. – 1 John 1.7

    He cleanses our sin as he substitutionally takes it upon himself (Is 53 clearly states this). In his victory the sin which he has taken upon himself is utterly defeated.

    And from Jesus Christ, [who is] the faithful witness, [and] the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, – Rev 1.5

    Jesus is the one that does this, he washes us in his blood. We cannot wash ourselves.

  6. on 03 Jun 2008 at 5:54 amFortigurn

    JohnO, I certainly agree that Jesus did something for us which we cannot do for ourselves. But partaking of his blood is participation in his sacrifice. If his blood had to do with something he did instead of us, our involvement would be both unnecessary and inappropriate.

    Yes Christ cleanses our sin, and yes he has washed us in his own blood. These are metaphors for the forgiveness we obtain through Christ’s work, the forgiveness you rightly say we could not obtain for ourselves (‘We cannot wash ourselves’).

    But they do not tell us how that forgiveness was made available through Christ. For that we need to read other passages.

    It’s also useful to note that Isaiah 53 is expounded by Matthew which shows it has nothing to do with the substitutionary doctrine of the atonement (Matthew 8:17).

  7. on 03 Jun 2008 at 8:23 amJohnO

    Fortigurn,

    In my first paper Mt 8.17 is very central to its thoughts. Reading Is 53 on its own is clearly talking about some of atonement. What makes me think it is substitutionary is because the servant of 53 clearly steps into our place for us. I believe Matt 8.17 just shows us that all of Jesus’ ministry is substitutionary – not just the cross. The idea permeates his healings and miracles.

  8. on 04 Jun 2008 at 12:19 amFortigurn

    JohnO, I ready your paper and its discussion of Isaiah 53. But I’m not sure how healing someone constitutes substitution.

    When your local doctor prescribes medication or binds a wound, that’s not substitution. When you’re operated on in hospital that’s not substitution. When Christ healed people that wasn’t substitution, that was simple care.

    Substitution would require Christ to have taken on the wounds and sicknesses of those he healed, bearing the injury or affliction in their stead. That clearly didn’t happen.

  9. on 04 Jun 2008 at 9:59 amJohnO

    Substitution would require Christ to have taken on the wounds and sicknesses of those he healed, bearing the injury or affliction in their stead. That clearly didn’t happen.

    This is exactly what the quote of Is 53.4 in Matt 8.17 says! Is 53 says he will take on their infirmities. Hence I conclude substitutionary

  10. on 05 Jun 2008 at 6:13 pmFortigurn

    JohnO,

    ‘This is exactly what the quote of Is 53.4 in Matt 8.17 says! Is 53 says he will take on their infirmities. Hence I conclude substitutionary’

    But Matthew 8:17 interprets Isaiah 53 in a manner which is not substitutionary. Christ wasn’t afflicted by the sicknesses he healed. He didn’t take on the diseases from which he cured people. That’s the point here.

    The gospel records (and Matthew 8:17 in particular), demonstrate that a substitutionary reading of Isaiah 53 cannot be correct. Jesus never took on the diseases he cured. He was the means by which they were taken away, but he did not achieve this in a substitutionary manner.

  11. on 15 Mar 2012 at 9:50 pmSarah

    I was doing some research and ran across this comment in an article by John Piper called “What do I have to believe to be saved?” How would you respond to his take on Psalm 49?

    You’ve got to believe in the deity of Jesus. Psalm 49 says that no man can pay a ransom for another man. A few verses later, in verse 15, it says God will pay the ransom.

    He couldn’t have used John, or Peter or Paul to die for us. He had to have the God-man die for us. So the deity of Jesus is essential.

    Psa 49:7 No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him–
    Psa 49:8 the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough–
    Psa 49:9 that he should live on forever and not see decay.

  12. on 15 Mar 2012 at 10:18 pmSarah

    I have some thoughts, but was curious what you guys would say since I haven’t heard the Ps 49 argument before.

  13. on 16 Mar 2012 at 12:40 amtimothy

    Sarah,

    I had a whole different view of how our salvation was accomplished when someone made a drawing of the tabernacles “doorways”.

    I cannot draw anything here….so…..scroll down till you come to Jesus being the way, the truth and the life and see the names of the “way” to GOD under the law.(by the way, Psalms are not the Law)

    I am only leading you to see the door layout and i would not get hung up reading all the rest of the link, at this time.

    http://www.biblepicturepathways.com/sanctuary-pictures.php

    John 3:
    16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

    GOD gave his only begotten son as a living sacrifice.

    John14:
    6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

    Before Jesus death and resurrection the only way to GOD was through the high priest, with blood sacrifice, once a year. This was for forgiveness of sins and not for eternal life.

    1 John 2:
    1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:

    2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

    Now, as a result of GOD’s sacrificing his only begotten son, Christians have eternal life. And a direct line, to GOD, through their advocate Jesus Christ to maintain fellowship by asking for forgiveness of their sins.

    1 Corinthians 2:
    14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

    15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.

    16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.

    There is much more too. Christians have their holy spirit/comforter who helps to understand the scriptures and even to operate the nine manifestations. (Corinthians 12-14)

    Timothy 8)

  14. on 16 Mar 2012 at 3:05 amWolfgang

    Sarah,

    I was doing some research and ran across this comment in an article by John Piper called “What do I have to believe to be saved?” How would you respond to his take on Psalm 49?

    You’ve got to believe in the deity of Jesus. Psalm 49 says that no man can pay a ransom for another man. A few verses later, in verse 15, it says God will pay the ransom.

    He couldn’t have used John, or Peter or Paul to die for us. He had to have the God-man die for us. So the deity of Jesus is essential.


    I would say that the famous Joh 3:16 clarifies the matter … GOD provided the ransom, which was His only begotten Son, the man Christ Jesus.
    The ransom had to be the life of an innocent and sinless man, seeing that man had committed the crime.
    There is no such being as a “God-man” (or “man-God”) mentioned in the Bible, as J. Piper would have his readers to believe.

  15. on 16 Mar 2012 at 5:14 amJoseph

    I would say that if you read carefully it is saying that no MAN can do these things toward man or God. But God can, and has toward man.

    A good example comes to mind is when a child was taken in place of David’s sin. It was God that made this happen.

  16. on 16 Mar 2012 at 5:54 amWolfgang

    Joseph,

    A good example comes to mind is when a child was taken in place of David’s sin. It was God that made this happen.

    what do you mean with “a child was taken in place of David’s sin” ??

  17. on 16 Mar 2012 at 6:57 amJoseph

    2 Samuel 12:14

    “But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.”

  18. on 16 Mar 2012 at 7:23 amWolfgang

    Joseph,

    and what does that have to do with the exchange in the recent posts above which was about bringing sacrifice and atonement?

    Does the scripture you mention even have anything to do with atonement? In my opinion, No!

  19. on 16 Mar 2012 at 7:34 amtimothy

    Joseph,

    2 Samuel 12: (kjv)
    13 And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.

    14 Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the *enemies of the LORD* to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.

    Who are the *enemies of the LORD*?

    Wolfgang,

    15 And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.

    19 But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead.

    Could this be an example of the “idiom of permission”?

    Timothy 8)

  20. on 16 Mar 2012 at 7:52 amtimothy

    Wolfgang,

    I agree that the scripture has nothing to do with the atonement, however, I still am interested in reading an answer from Joseph.

    I thought, because of your personal relationships in the past, that you may know things taught by Bishop K C Pillai about oriental customs and idioms and Hebraisms.

    Timothy 8)

  21. on 16 Mar 2012 at 10:58 amSarah

    Timothy, Joseph, and Wolfgang,

    Thanks guys. Good point about Jn 3:16 being a key verse, since it shows God as the true source of the ransom.

    I was also thinking of the fact that the Psalms are often messianic prophecies. They are often even the very words of the messiah in first person, given to David many years earlier. Psalm 16 and Psalm 22 are good examples. And I would argue that Psalm 49 is also messianic. In the immediate context it is David expressing his great faith in God to deliver him from his enemies. In the future context, it is the messiah expressing his own great faith in God’s ability to redeem his life from the grave without seeing decay.

    And I think of the time Moses lifted the snake on the pole to provide salvation from death for the rebellious Israelites in the desert. God did not BECOME the snake on the pole to save those Israelites. Nor did the snake on the pole actually do the saving. That was instead the means by which God had decided he would save those Israelites who were obedient to his command to look at the pole. And of course we know that Jesus compared his own crucifixion to this story…

  22. on 16 Mar 2012 at 11:00 amTim (aka Antioch)

    Sarah,

    My wife has used this one on me. Initially, my thinking was that Jesus built a bridge back to God. Nobody could be saved until he had done that. But, despite what Jesus did, there are still those that are not saved, because they do not cross his bridge. So, Jesus does not save anyone. It is up to the individual to cross that bridge. And, nobody else can cross the bridge for someone, each has to do it on their own.

    My wife says that is twisted logic and reading Joseph’s explanation, I admit that seems to fit better with the context. Redemption does not happen through wealth or by winning approval of mankind. It only comes from God (by grace).

    Curious to hear your thoughts.

  23. on 16 Mar 2012 at 11:17 amTim (aka Antioch)

    Sarah – didn’t see your last post til after I had posted. I found it interesting to compare versions…

    Looking at the KJV, it says:

    6They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;

    7None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:

    The NIV says:

    6 those who trust in their wealth
    and boast of their great riches?
    7 No one can redeem the life of another
    or give to God a ransom for them

    So in the KJV, verse 7 is referring back to ‘they’ from verse 6 – a specific group of people. But the NIV makes this out to be a global statement about all mankind. Even further…

    Common English Bible:

    7 Wealth? It can’t save a single person!
    It can’t pay a life’s ransom-price to God.

    Contemporary English Version:

    7You cannot buy back your life or pay off God!

    Thanks for bringing this up as I had not really studied it but just looking at the different translations, there seems to be considerable variety in how trinitarians have interpreted this passage, and I see that several of them cannot even be considered proof texts for deity at all. They seem to say simply that no amount of money can be used to attain salvation.

  24. on 16 Mar 2012 at 2:14 pmSarah

    Tim,

    Great point. I didn’t even think to compare versions. And you’re right, in context it’s talking about how material wealth cannot save you from death. The narrator of the Psalm is contrasting his own fate, as one who trusts in God, with the fate of those who trust in their wealth. Not surprisingly, Jesus constantly focused on that theme during his ministry:

    (25) “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
    (26) “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
    (Mat 16:25-26 NASB)

    (24) “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
    (Mat 6:24 NASB)

    (23) And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
    (Mat 19:23 NASB)

  25. on 16 Mar 2012 at 7:48 pmtimothy

    Fortigurn #8, #10
    JohnO #9

    1Corinthians 11:
    24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

    29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

    30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

    2Peter 2:
    24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

    Timothy 😉

  26. on 16 Mar 2012 at 8:30 pmtimothy

    Joseph,

    #15 “A good example comes to mind is when a child was taken in place of David’s sin. It was God that made this happen.”

    What does “consequence of sin” mean?

    #16 “”what do you mean with “a child was taken in place
    of David’s sin” ??”” ?

    #17, #19 “who are the enemies of the Lord”?

    #18 I agree with Wolfgang!

    Joseph you are implying that GOD killed the child because of Davids sin. This is a “Hebraism-the idiom of permission” which Wolfgang may explain best since he has the background for this subject.

    Timothy 8)

  27. on 16 Mar 2012 at 8:45 pmtimothy

    Sarah,

    youe post #24

    (24) “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
    (Mat 6:24 NASB)

    twice or thrice X 24 🙂

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwkOdv443_o

    Timothy 8)

  28. on 16 Mar 2012 at 9:04 pmtimothy

    Everyone,

    Figure of speech

    Hebrew idiom of permission

    ctrl (+)=larger font ctrl (-)=smaller font

    http://www.cffm.org/teachings/iop.shtml

    Timothy 8)

  29. on 17 Mar 2012 at 12:28 amRay

    Don’t all Christians believe that the nature of Christ can be described as “God”, while at the same time not saying that it was the Father who came to be born of Mary? (This to me seems to be the mark of many a Christian)

    And isn’t it so that Satan often does his own work to confuse the simplicity of the gospel through craft and trickery?

    Yet the followers of Christ overcome the work of the enemy of God, taking down his strongholds and destroying his work.

  30. on 17 Mar 2012 at 2:18 pmDoubting Thomas

    Hi Ray,
    Welcome back. I haven’t heard from you in quite a while. I agree with everything that you have said above. Christ’s nature perfectly reflected God’s nature. We are to also try to imitate the nature of Christ Y’shua in our lives. God’s holy spirit dwelt in Y’shua without measure. We also have the holy spirit in us as well. I hope everything has been fine with you and your family… 🙂

  

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