The Substitutionary Atonement

Today, I’m covering one of the fundamental doctrines of the faith, THE SUBSTITUTIONARY ATONEMENT of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

For some of you, this is review.

For others, it is going to strengthen & deepen your understanding of the Gospel and make you more effective at soul winning.

And for some, this can be a good study to share with friends especially unbelievers, who want to understand WHY Jesus had to die & what that has to do with our salvation.

Let’s begin w/ 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

This is the most concise & clear Bible verse which we have on Christ’s SUBSTITUTIONARY ATONEMENT.

Now, there are various aspects of the Gospel that we can cover, such as the blood atonement, or the issue of repentance, or everlasting life, but I specifically want to focus on the SUBSTITUTIONARY atonement.

And there are 3 reasons for that:

(1) FIRST, because the substitutionary atonement is the heart of the Gospel message; it answers how & why we are able to be saved.

(2) The second reason is because it’s very important for us as labourers of the harvest to adequately understand the substitutionary aspect of the atonement so that we can clearly explain to others, when preach the Gospel to the lost.

(3) & the third reason is because there are false doctrines which have arisen out of this doctrine, that are undermining the Biblical atonement.

& there’s numerous theories out there, but we’re going to focus on two of them, which have gained the most momentum historically.

(1) The first is what we believe, which basically states that Jesus died instead of us to satisfy the judicial demands placed upon us by God’s perfect & holy Law.

In other words, Christ’s sacrifice in our stead brought us reconciliation & made us pleasing to God, while we were still under the curse of the Law.

(2) But there’s also a false teaching, called the RANSOM THEORY of atonement, which asserts that Jesus didn’t die to assuage God’s wrath, but that Jesus shed His blood as a ransom to the devil, who allegedly holds a claim to man’s soul as a consequence of the Fall.

• Now, I’m going to refute the RANSOM TO THE DEVIL THEORY today.

Now, some people say, doesn’t that make God a cruel and bloodthirsty God, who required an innocent life to be killed on behalf of the guilty?

That’s one of the criticisms that we hear.

But that’s a strawman argument, because God GAVE HIS OWN LIFE, by becoming flesh and taking upon Himself the penalty of our sins.

It was a self-sacrificial act.

John 15:13 says: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

That’s what Jesus did for us. He laid down His life for ours and called us His friends.

Now, when we go out to preach the Gospel to the lost, if people are willing to listen and give us enough time, we explain all the major components of the Gospel, including first how that:

1. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) and that there is none righteous, no not one (Rom 3:10).

2. & How that because God is holy, perfect, & Just, & how that as a result of our fall, we are imperfect, unholy, and unrighteous because of our sin.

And as such, the wages of our sin is both the physical death (which is the first death) and the second death, which is the Lake of Fire and Hell (Rom 6:23, Rev. 21:8).

So I’m taking you through the basics of the Gospel …

3. But because of God’s great love for us (Romans 5:24), God Himself provided a way out for man as an act of His infinite mercy and perpetual grace to those who receive Him.

And that distinction is critical, because some think that the fact that Jesus died for everyone leads to universalism, the belief that all will be saved.

But there is only 1 condition to salvation: BELIEF!

In order to be saved, you have to willingly receive Christ’s free gift through faith alone.

4. We explain that salvation is a Free Gift, a gift of God, and that it is not to be attained by the works of the Law (Eph. 2:8-9).

Salvation is nothing we can earn, work for, accomplish, maintain, lose or keep by our own efforts.

It’s expressly the work of God in sanctification through the Holy Spirit, once received.

… And so once we have everlasting life, it will, by definition, last forever, as we are sealed by the Holy Ghost unto the day of redemption (John 5:24, Ephesians 4:30).

These are some of the key verses that we take people through.

5. And then we get to the heart of the matter: the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross, also sometimes called the vicarious punishment …

… as in acting in the place of another or standing in for someone, as Jesus did for us.

Once we get people to understand & acknowledge that they are sinners, that even telling a single lie will bar their way to heaven according Rev. 21:27 …

We explain that Jesus took their sins on Himself, along with the sins of the world (John 3:16), was crucified, died, was buried, and because death could not hold Him down, since He is God …

… and by nature of His Godhead, is eternal, He won the victory over death & Hell & rose again on the 3rd day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 55).

Acts 2:24 also says: “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.”

God, being by nature infinite, could pay the penalty for all mankind without being Himself killed or destroyed.

But the question is: how does Christ dying on the Cross and rising again from the dead save anyone from their sins?

What is the connection between the death of Christ and the eternal salvation of the soul?

& I’ll sometimes stop there, when I’m preaching, & ask people: “Do you know why Christ died for your sins?

… Do you know why 1 man dying on the cross, even if He is God, saves you from everlasting punishment in Hell?

How does 1 death assuage God’s wrath?

What does that single self-sacrificial ACT OF LOVE have to do w/ your eternal salvation?

How does that clear you of your guilt before an Almighty and Just God?

We were out preaching the Gospel this week, and met an inquisitive young man who wanted to know the answer to these very questions.

And the crux of the message we presented him with had to do with that Jesus took His place, if he would but believe & receive Him.

1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ also hath 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:”

This is a parallel of 2 Corinthians 5:21 which I began the sermon with: “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

We also see the same concept in the OT, Isaiah 53, a prophecy about Jesus, in v. 5-6, 12b:
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all …
12b … and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

So Christ bore our sins upon Himself and made intercession for us before God the Father, the Just Judge.

You see, God is JUST. He must punish sin in order to uphold His own standard of morality.

But Jesus took our penal, vicarious substitutition, and interceded in our behalf.

1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;”

& We run across people when soul winning who don’t want to hear the Gospel …

… or who after hearing the Gospel still believe that they will be OK after they die, even without Christ ….

… maybe because they think they’re generally a good person, or maybe because they think God would never send anyone to Hell for all eternity.

Others believe that NOTHING happens after we die, that we simply cease to exist, that there is no immortal soul or spirit, or consciousness after death.

But their false & limited view of reality does not change God’s sense of Justice and decreed order in His universe.

And I tell people that Hebrews 9:27 states that there is a judgment after we die, and we must make that decision in this life.

You can’t choose Christ after you die. It has to be done now.

Hebrews 9:27: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:”

& this is where the SUBSTITUTIONARY ATONEMENT matters.

We get to the judgment of God … and if we have Christ standing in our place, as our SUBSTITUTE & SAVIOR …

… God will look at us and He will not see our works or our sins, but the work of JESUS CHRIST and His righteousness.


It’s a beautiful thing. God doesn’t see me, when I’m being judged …

… He sees His own Son standing where I ought to stand, interceding on my behalf.

But when the NON-BELIEVER gets to the judgment and faces a holy & Just God …

He has to face God alone.

Jesus is not standing in his place.
Jesus is not interceding on His behalf.
Jesus is NOT his Savior or his Substitute!

The natural man, apart from Christ, stands alone, under the curse of the Law.

And so God looks at the man, and judges him based on what he did.

And because the heart of man “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9) …

… and “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Is 64:6) …

… every man will fail the judgment & have the way barred from him to the Kingdom of Heaven.

James 2:10 says: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

It’s like if you’re standing before a secular judge, and you’re up for charges of embezzlement. And you say, look, well, I did all these other great things.

I fed the poor … I pay my taxes … I’m a good father … I give to charity … I’m generally not a bad person …

Well, you’re still going to be found guilty of the crime you committed. Your good works aren’t going to outweigh your bad.

And remember, God’s standards are UP HERE.
They’re much higher than that secular, wicked judged!
Even telling a single lie will bar you from heaven.

Revelation 20:11-15 describes the judgment of the unbeliever, who does not have Christ standing in his place:
11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Notice that everyone who was judged according to his works, ends up in the Lake of Fire.

… If you don’t have Jesus standing in your place on the day of judgment, you WILL BE judged according to your works & condemned to everlasting Hell …

• But various false teachings have risen around the SUBSTITUTIONARY ATONEMENT …

… Including the “RANSOM THEORY”, which originated among early so-called “believers”, like Origen of Alexandria in the 3rd century.

But we know that Origen was, hands down, a heretic of heretics!

If you know anything about Origen, he IS THE ORIGIN of numerous heresies in existence today.

Origen’s heresies include:
The subordination of the Son to the Father and the subordination of the Holy Spirit to the Son; he believed that each was less than the other …

… and did not believe that the three Persons of the Trinity are co-equal within the Godhead.

Origen believed in the pre-existence of the human soul (which Mormons today believe).

Origen was a Universalist (the belief that all will be saved).

And he even believed the devil would eventually be saved!

In other words, Origen wasn’t even saved. You can’t be saved and be this confused. He was a false teacher of great magnitude.

Origen is also, in many ways, responsible for promoting the corrupt manuscripts which led to the modern Bible versions, such as the Codex Sianiticus.

Origin didn’t even believe in the literal 24-hour 6-day Creation.

And Origen was actually the author, perhaps the first person to postulate the RANSOM TO THE DEVIL theory.

• The RANSOM THEORY was also held by popular theologian and writer, CS LEWIS, as well as Eastern Orthodoxy.

And so there’s this false view out there that the substitutionary atonement to which we hold today (sometimes called the penal substitution), was invented by the Protestant Rerformers of the 16th Century.

Now, I don’t like to use that term theologically, because it’s been associated with the Reformed Calvinist view which denies man’s free will …

But in the true sense of the word, “penal” means enacting punishment for breaking a law.
Penal and penalty have the same root word. It’s a legal term.

And so because Jesus paid the penalty of our sins, He became our penal substitution.

So in the fundamental sense of that word, we can say we believe in the penal, substitutionary atonement (minus the Calvinism) vs. believing in the RANSOM THEORY.

But some are attributing this doctrine to the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther (And I’ll explain in a minute why this historical view is limited).

Martin Luther said:
Therefore Christ was not only crucified and died, but by divine love sin was laid upon him.

He has and bears all the sins of all men in His body—not in the sense that He has committed them but in the sense that He took these sins, committed by us, upon His own body, in order to make satisfaction for them with His own blood …

… Putting off His innocence and holiness and putting on your sinful person, He bore your sin, death, and curse; He became a sacrifice and a curse for you, in order thus to set you free from the curse of the Law.

This is good doctrine. And we agree.

But while Luther and the Reformers rediscovered & understood this truth & explained it at the risk of death …

… against the spiritual forces at work in high places within the Roman Catholic system …

… that’s not to say they were the only ones to understand this at that time or that they are the authors of this doctrine;

There were other believers outside the dichotomy that existed between the Roman Catholic and Protestant debate …

& the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement comes from God Himself and is found in the pages of Scripture.

Now, the fact that Jesus was a RANSOM for us is not in dispute, because the Bible says in Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

What is in dispute is TO WHOM the RANSOM was being paid.

Those who believe the so-called “RANSOM THEORY OF ATONEMENT” believe that the DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST was a RANSOM paid to THE DEVIL.

Their claim is that man forfeited his soul to the devil at the Fall & so God handed Jesus over to Satan in exchange for the souls of mankind.

But this is absolute heresy.

Satan has no part whatsoever in the redemptive work of mankind!

There is nothing in Scripture to support the RANSOM THEORY TO THE DEVIL.

If anything, Satan was condemned for his participatory role in the Fall of man. Satan will be punished for it, not rewarded with the souls of men.

Genesis 3:14: “And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:”

This idea that Satan rules over Hell and the souls of the dead is fiction. It’s not found anywhere in the bible.

Satan himself will be punished for all eternity, alongside the unbelieving.

Revelation 20:10: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

So Satan doesn’t own the souls of men.

God owns the souls of all men, and it will be he who punishes the souls of unbelievers!

Psalm 49:6-8:
6 They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;
7 None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:
8 (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)

We see that the Bible teaches that the redemption of the soul is associated with a ransom being given to God.

And the Bible verses get even more clear.

Ephesians 5:2 destroys the RANSOM TO THE DEVIL THEORY, as it’s very direct on this point: “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.”

So who was the sacrifice being given to?
It says right there, TO GOD, for a sweetsmelling savour.

And you might know from previous sermons that the sweetsmelling savour is a reference back to the OT sacrifices which foreshadowed Christ.

And these OT atoning sacrifices were always given to God, not to the devil.

Just 1 example, Numbers 29:2 of the numerous sacrifices in the OT that were given to God: “And ye shall offer a burnt offering for a sweet savour unto the LORD; one young bullock, one ram, and seven lambs of the first year without blemish:”

That’s why in Ephesians 5:2, Jesus is called a sacrifice to God and a sweet smelling savour.

You can’t get any clearer than that …

… there’s no basis in the bible for the RANSOM TO THE DEVIL theory …

The substitutionary atonement is even foreshadowed by Abraham offering his only son, Isaac, as a burnt offering to God, when God tested Abraham.

In Genesis 22:10-13, the Bible reads:
10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
11 And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

The sacrifice was being made to God, not Satan.

And we see that God provided a substitute for Isaac, by Himself providing a ram in his stead.

That ram, represented Christ.

As men, we don’t owe Satan anything; it is God’s Law which we have broken, not Satan’s!

Colossians 1:21-22 affirms this:
21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in [your] mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: [not in the devil’s sight].

2 Corinthians 5:19 says: “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself [not unto the devil], not imputing their trespasses unto them [that’s the substitutionary work]; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”

Jesus was the only suitable ransom or sacrifice, Himself being perfect and having all sufficiency in Himself to die for the sins of the whole world.

No else has the qualifications to satisfy God’s Law but God Himself.

And that’s where propitiation comes in, which means to appease the wrath of someone, in this case God …

… and to make Him propitious or graceful towards our sinful condition.

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

1 John 4:10: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Romans 4:25 says that He: “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” [emph. mine].

But the SUBSTITUTIONARY ATONEMENT which the Bible teaches states:

…. that Christ’s sacrifice frees man from the judicial demands of Justice found within the Law, thus satisfying the righteousness of the Law & the Holiness of God.

Galatians 3:13: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:”

But people sometimes wonder (and this is one of the questions that that inquisitive young man that I mentioned earlier had for us):

How does Jesus suffering for 3 days equal the price that all mankind would be in an eternity in Hell?

In other words, Jesus didn’t suffer for all eternity, but for only 3 days …

… so how does that equate to the eternal punishment in Hell that the unbeliever will experience for all time?

The perfect God, in the form of a perfect man, paid the perfect and all-sufficient payment for all sin once and for all.

Finite men are required to pay an infinite price for offending an infinite and eternal God.

But because Jesus is God and therefore, by nature, Himself eternal, He was able to make a one-time finite payment to cover our infinite offenses.

He is ETERNAL. He’s God. That’s makes Him the perfect sacrifice to satisfy all wrongs.

His eternal nature surpasses everything, including Death itself and thereby claims the victory!

Hebrews 10:14 says: “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”

Hebrews 10:17-18 says:
17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
18 Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.

Jesus had only to be offered one time; He only had to die once.

It comes down to this: when you die and get to the judgment, are you going to boast in your own works, and say that you were a good person and that God should let you in!

Or are you going to say that Jesus, the perfect Son of God, stood in your place …

…. & that it is through HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS that you would like to be granted entrance into the Kingdom of God?

The vast majority of the world’s false religions teach that you have to be good person to go to heaven.

That if you behave morally and are a good person, that you will go to heaven!

And that’s actually true. IF you are a good person.

The problem is, there are no good people by God’s standard.

We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.

There’s the story of a man in the Bible who thought he was good.

Mark 10:17-22:
17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
[By saying so, Jesus was affirming that HE IS GOD; and at the same time explaining to him that there are no good men].
19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. [Jesus was telling Him that to inherit eternal life all He has to do is follow the commandments perfectly.]
20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. [But Jesus shows him otherwise. You see, the man was covetous of material possessions.].
21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

There are two ways to get to heaven:

(1) Live a perfect, sinless life.

(2) Or admit that you are a sinner and that it’s impossible to live a perfect, sinless life, and receive Jesus Christ as your Savior.

Is Christ your substitute?

Or will you stand on the merits of your own work before a holy and righteous God?

The choice is yours, and you only have this lifetime to make it.

Hebrews 9:27-28:
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.


One Coment, RSS

  • Van Fisher

    says on:
    October 8, 2016 at 1:25 am

    Hi Afshin,

    I came across some of your posts on the Baptist Board. I was struck by your honesty and clarity. This comment is not intended to find fault or debate with your presentation.

    But, thinking my comments might be helpful, I offer them for your consideration.

    1) The wages of sin is death, which you indicated referred to physical death and the second death in the lake of fire. However, somewhere in the mix must be our fallen condition, dead in our sins and trespasses. I think this refers to our separation from God. Now upon salvation we are united with God and “made alive.” Something to think about.

    2)You referenced John 5:24, and this also indicates part of salvation is “passing out of death into life. I submit we are conceived in iniquity, and therefore in a separated from God “spiritually dead” state. When, and if, we are saved, God puts us spiritually into Christ, where among other things we are united with Christ and made alive.

    3) You referred to being sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. This, I think refers to Christ’s second coming where those “in Christ” are (1) raised from the dead, and (2) changed in the twinkling of an eye into glorified bodies. Our indwelt Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Adoption) is our pledge that we will indeed be physically redeemed. But before that occurs, we are sealed in Christ as a pledge for that resurrection.

    In any event, I want to encourage you, and my prayer is that you will continue to be an effective servant of Christ. God bless

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