Saving Easter – part one

Saving_EasterIn my last post I asked a couple of questions. First, where in the Bible does it actually say that Jesus paid for our sins? The second question was, if Jesus did pay for our sins,  who did He pay, and how did He pay for them?

We did not find such a verse. But let me say up front that the Bible uses a lot of metaphors to describe how God saves us. Furthermore, it’s not necessarily wrong for us to use our own metaphors in our stories or songs to describe Jesus’ redemptive work that aren’t directly found in the Bible.

The problem I have with the “Jesus paid it alla debt He didn’t owe…” story line is that there’s a terrible conclusion we must come to if we think it through.

I’m calling this series of posts, “Saving Easter.” The reason for the somewhat provocative, possibly even pretentious title is because I believe there are some things about the atonement that we’ve taught that are detrimental to our relationship with God–specifically, with our heavenly Father. Since this blog is all about living in the Father’s embrace, it’s a pretty important subject for me.

I’m also going to warn you up front that if you’ve never heard what I’m about to share before, your heart will probably shout “Hallelujah!” and your mind will rebel. That’s okay. Really. Just hang in there with me until you can get your mind and heart back in sync.

Are you ready to see how far this rabbit hole goes, Alice? We’ll take it slow… 🙂

The old story…

Here’s the story we’ve been taught for almost five centuries. See if it sounds familiar to you. It comes from the Penal Substitution theory of atonement. There are actually several theories, but this particular one has dominated evangelical Christianity since the Reformation. I will talk more about theories of atonement in a separate post. For now, here’s a loose summation:

  • Man sinned and committed a crime against God.
  • While God is love, He is also just…so someone must pay for our crimes (penal)
  • Jesus, an innocent Man, takes our place and receives the full fury of God’s wrath upon Himself (substitution)
  • Therefore, “Jesus paid a debt He didn’t owe but we could not pay”

What’s wrong with this story? Sounds like what the Bible teaches, right? Well…here are a few points to consider:

  • If Jesus faced God’s wrath, it must mean that He paid His Father.
  • If this is true, Jesus paid by being brutally beaten, tortured and killed.
  • Therefore, we must conclude, Jesus saved us from God…by being killed by…God.

If we were really honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that this explanation is a bit embarrassing. Trying telling any thinking person that God is love and forgiving…that is, as long as He can kill someone first! (Not to mention, the God killing God thing.)

Their first response might be, why can’t God forgive unless He kills someone?

After all, what would you normally think of any father who must torture and kill His own child before he can forgive?

Furthermore, is this even how we were taught forgiveness in the Bible? Is this how Jesus taught forgiveness? We can only forgive if those who’ve offended us are punished? Huh?

Whatever we want to do with this, let’s please stop being in denial about this conundrum we’ve created.

Here’s the problem with our “love/justice” answer:

Retributive justice and forgiveness are mutually exclusive. If you pay for a crime, the debt was not forgiven (released) because justice was served.

Forgiveness, by definition, cannot be contingent on payment or punishment. Either God got justice or He forgave us–we can’t have both.

A popular evangelistic model used to get people to see our love-justice argument is the “courtroom” scenario. Briefly, the story goes like this. You are found guilty of a crime punishable by death, but an innocent man steps in and tells the judge he will take your punishment instead. They handcuff him and execute him in your stead.

While this story is a great way of showing Jesus’ sacrificial love, it’s equally terrible in what is says about our heavenly Father who’s obviously the Judge.

Again, the Father tortures His Son instead of us so that He can forgive us???

Let’s plug this idea into a Bible story, shall we? Many use the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32) for evangelism. Jesus used the story to show us what His Father is like. So, according to the courtroom scenario, how would we tell Jesus’ story about His Father?

The prodigal Son squanders all his inheritance on sinful living. Finally comes to his senses and returns home…
PRODIGAL: “Oh father, forgive me! I’m not worthy to even be called your servant…”
FATHER: “I really want to forgive you, son, but first you must to pay for your crimes!”
ELDER BROTHER (steps in): “No dad! I’m innocent of his crimes. I will pay for my kid brother. Kill me instead!”
FATHER: “Well, okay, because somebody’s gonna pay!!!”
FATHER CONCLUDES: “The son I was so angry with and couldn’t even stand to look at has finally come home….kill the elder brother! Let’s have a feast!

Of course, this is ridiculous. But my point is valid because it’s not too far from the story we’ve been telling people about God for centuries.

Here’s another issue thinking people have with this story.

Why should anyone be punished for something they didn’t do? We would never be allowed to go to jail for someone else’s crimes in our own court systems.

This is not justice, it’s a travesty of justice! Why, then, do we think it’s okay for our heavenly Father? In fact, didn’t He Himself tell us that one should not be punished for the sins of another? (Ezek.18:19-20)

Do you see the inconsistencies in our popular story yet? Neither forgiveness nor real justice is served here.

I think we need better metaphors and stories, don’t you? Fortunately for us, our ancient fathers of the faith and, I believe, the Bible did just that. In fact, our relatively modern story wasn’t what the early church taught at all for over a thousand years, and it’s not what the Eastern church has ever embraced.

A better story…

What did Jesus actually do then? It will take the next several posts to unpack this but I will summarize here.

The early church (and I believe the Bible) never taught that Jesus paid for our sins but that He took them away (John 1:29; Rom.11:27; 1 John 3:5).

They saw sin more like a terminal spiritual disease. To give it a more modern spin, Adam contracted a deadly communicable virus from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It entered the world through him and became pandemic, infecting everyone (Rom.5:12). We inherited it through Adam’s spiritual DNA. This disease puts us in bondage and darkness, distorting our view of God and of ourselves. Furthermore, Satan can manipulate us and put us in his prison because of it.

Wherever it’s allowed to germinate and become full grown it always leads to death (James 1:15).

With this in mind, let’s step back and notice for a moment how Jesus describes His mission. Pay particular attention to the words I’ve capitalized:

“For God SO LOVED the world that He GAVE His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
For God did NOT send His Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world THROUGH HIM might be SAVED.” (John 3:16-17 NKJV)

Kind of hard to fit this into the penal substitution model, isn’t it.

The word “saved” is the Greek word sōzō. It means to rescue; to preserve safe and unharmed, to cure, heal, restore to health, to deliver from, set free from.”

Notice the common theme here. Everything with salvation has to do with healing, restoration and wholeness. The motive is not punishment; it’s pure love!

So…if we’re going to make up scenarios and metaphors, I think the following would be a better one than our courtroom drama:

Our heavenly Father saw that His children were hopelessly infected with this terminal disease called sin. It was killing us and there was no way we could cure ourselves. Like any good papa, He couldn’t just stand idly by and see His kids being abused and dying from this sickness. No, He loved us too much for that. So He said, “We have to do something about this!”

Jesus, the eternal Son, who loves us just as much as the Father, steps in, “Father, I will become one of them. I will take all their deadly infection upon myself. Then, they will have my blood as an antidote to Adam’s blood disease. They will have my spiritual DNA (Rom.5:17).

The Father responds, “You know it will kill you, Son. As a human, you will die.”

Jesus responds resolutely, “Yes, that’s exactly my plan! I intend to take it to the grave and to bury it forever in the toxic waste dump of hell! It will never infect them or hold them in bondage again!”

The Father got a smile so big it shook the heavens. “Son, if you would do that, how could I help but raise you up from that grave!!! And I’ll even do one better…I’ll bring all of them up with You and we will be together forever! (2 Cor.5:21; Rom.6:3-11; Eph.2:6)

Conclusion: LOVE WINS!!! Hallelujah! Death, where is your sting now! Ha!

Beloved, Jesus didn’t pay it all, He took it all! The Father wasn’t against us, He was for us. Jesus wasn’t paying the Father anything, it was a rescue mission!

More next time.


About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 37 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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16 Responses to Saving Easter – part one

  1. John Cummuta says:

    Good explanation. Although the brutality of Jesus’ death is quite different than just dying from a disease. Still, your logic is good.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Great point. Haven’t gotten to the brutality part yet. I was only dealing with Jesus paying the Father in this post. Until I do get to it, we could ponder on just who was doing the brutalizing there. 🙂

  2. Cindy Powell says:

    This is SO good and important Mel. I sang (and sing) all those songs right along with everyone else and have often used a lot of the “lingo” – but something always felt a bit off somewhere for me. Most likely because I am one of the fortunate ones who never had a Good God (Jesus) / Bad, sad, mad God (Father) paradigm. (I guess that makes the Holy Spirit the forgotten God – which is a sadly accurate description of Him for most of mainstream evangelicalism!) To me He has ALWAYS been ONE – which caused more than a little conflict between what I knew in my heart and what I “thought” I knew in my head. Although I long ago resolved to simply rest in the truth of His unchanging love for me (and for all mankind), I still love His Word and feel it is important to seek wisdom and revelation where there are gaps in our understanding. You’ve put better language and imagery to some of these things than I have been able to thus far, and for that I am grateful. However even as the Lord has reshaped much of my thinking, one scripture that has still provoked me just a little is Ephesians 2:3 (the bit about being rightly “subject to His wrath”). I recognize it is followed by such wonderfully good news in verse 4 (“But God who is rich in mercy…” such sweet words, eh?); however, even after reading every version known to man and trying to dissect the Greek myself, to me, the statement in v.3 still seems to convey a bit of the Love/Justice paradigm we are used to–which does not fit in so well with what I know of unchanging character and nature of God. Perhaps I’ve filtered it through an old grid for so long that I’m making it too complicated? Or maybe it is simply that we SHOULD rightly be subject to His wrath, but BECAUSE of His great mercy, INSTEAD of subjecting us to His wrath, He made a way for our complete freedom and restoration. This is where I lean. Any thoughts? I never want to apply a “beat it to fit” method of interpretation, so I’d be interested in your take. Despite having a Mary heart, there is still a Bible nerd lurking inside of me so thanks for letting me process (sorry for the long comment)! Thanks again for taking the time to convey some incredibly important truths. Blessings to you!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Cindy. Good points. On the question of Ephesians 2:3, we should ask the question, who does this wrath belong to? Because, even though some translations include the word “God,” the Greek word for God (Theos) is not in the original text. And looking at the context, I would say Paul is talking about our wrath (vs.1-3). Lance (“A Lance to the Heart”) did a great post on that point, which I re-blogged here…

      It’s not to say God doesn’t have wrath (Greek word “orge”- yup, it’s where we get the word, orgy!). Wrath can mean a lot of things, like intense passion or like a loving father being angry at seeing his child being abused. It can be anger at injustice. I will talk more about that in later posts. 🙂

  3. Cindy Powell says:

    Thanks Mel. Must have missed that post when you reblogged. His take is very much in alignment with my heart 🙂 Although this isn’t something that I’ve been”troubled” by per se, I do appreciate the input as I’ve felt there must be another way of looking at it. That God was, more or less, inserted into the text is significant (funny how we “insert” Him into a lot of things He had nothing to do with)! My recent ponderings on the verse came by way of recently reading the text in The Passion Translation. I LOVE the Passion Translation and have been devouring it. He translates Eph 2:3 (in part) as “…living as rebellious children subject to God’s wrath like everyone else.” I was bummed. But I think, always, we know and see in part. Looking forward to you continuing on with the series 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, what you’re seeing in the various translations are the “pair of glasses” that people have on when they translate Scripture (we all have them). Everything is seen through our paradigm. This is the inherent problem with translating anything into another language. As I have said in times past, the original text is the inspired Word of God, the translations aren’t necessarily inspired. Not that we can’t find the truth, but always understand that human bias is coloring what God is actually saying. It’s like drinking pure water through a garden hose. It will taste a little like the hose! 🙂

      This is why having many translations and other study tools, understanding context, original audience, will help us find what was originally meant. But the only fool-proof glasses to have on for understanding God and what He does is seeing everything through His love!

      Thanks for these great questions and points! Blessings.

  4. Ian says:

    Thanks for the post, Mel. I would really like embrace this because on many levels it makes much more sense when considering that God is love. But one of the hurdles for me is why you say that the concept of Jesus “paying” a price for us is not in the bible. That’s what the word “redemption” is all about. In greek the words λυτρόω and ἀπολύτρωσις both mean to release by payment of a ransom or “to buy back” and are found in 1 Peter 1:18 and Hebrews 9:15 for example. (source: interlinear) I would be grateful if you have a moment to shed some light on that 🙂


    • Mel Wild says:

      Thank you for your questions, Ian. First, your question about redemption (Heb.9:15). Redemption does not necessarily require a literal payment. If I told you I “paid the price” to set you free from prison, I don’t necessarily mean I paid your debt. I meant I sacrificed my time and effort to secure your freedom. This is quite different than what Penal Substitution theory (PSA) teaches. Jesus’ sacrifice brought about our deliverance through His death, not as debt payment to the Father, but to put sin itself to death and free us from its power. In Rom.8:23 it’s related to our adoption. The same Greek word is also used in Luke 21:28; Eph.1:7, 14; Col.1:14; Heb.11:35 and none of them require that we take it as Him paying for sin, but delivering us from sin.

      To be ransomed meant to be released, to deliver or liberate. This word is also used in Luke 24:21 and Titus 2:14. In both cases, the connotation is liberation or deliverance. Again, payment for a debt owed in not necessarily in view.

      The early church did hold to a ransom theory of atonement which basically said Jesus purchased us from Satan because he had legal right over us. So God had to become a man to get us back. Basically, God tricked Satan, which is problematic. Certainly, Jesus certainly did deliver us from Satan’s power. And while Ransom theory has some of the same problems as PSA, it’s a much better position for the reasons I stated in this post.

      But consider that no position before Anselm in the 11th century held that God required payment for our sin before He could forgive.That idea is fraught with problems, as I pointed out. There are several other problems with PSA that I may touch on as we go. Unfortunately, most Christians in the West only know PSA.

  5. stand in grace says:

    2 reviews of Kenneth Myers’ “Salvation (and How We Got It Wrong)” here:
    Even Joseph Prince believes in PSA, so it doesn’t contradict grace teaching.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks for the link. I will check it out when I get a chance. I will say this up front. If someone is a dedicated PSA advocate, they will try to shoot down any opposing view. I don’t think Kenneth Myers was trying to make a theological treatise on the subject. The book’s only about 120 pages. It’s just a very long blog post! But the position he shares does stand on solid theological ground and has been a major part of our non-Western church history and teaching. I don’t agree with everything Myers says about it and that’s okay too. We’re all learning what we believe. 🙂

      And you’re right, grace and PSA don’t contradict. I embraced and taught PSA like everyone else I knew for over 30 years of my Christian life. I barely even knew there were other views! But you will see why I think PSA is a huge hindrance to our relationship with our heavenly Father. There are some other issues related to this that I will bring out as I go also. Blessings.

  6. Lance says:

    Well done my brother. Let the revelation roll over us all. He is that good. His name means God saves! That name Jesus is a good one to believe in!

  7. Saskia Hart says:

    Absolutely LOVED this post yesterday.I read it to my husband. I’ll read it to anybody who will sit still for 10 minutes! My heart SINGS with excitement and anticipation of still more! HE is absolutely breath-takingly GOOD!!!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Saskia. 🙂 That’s why it’s called the GOOD news! And when we understand it properly, it’s ALL good. It makes you want to shout it from the rooftops! Blessings.

  8. Pingback: Saving Easter – part two | In My Father's House

  9. Pingback: Saving Easter – part three | In My Father's House

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