This is also the final installment of my special Easter series where we’ve taken an alternate look at traditionally held beliefs about Jesus’ atoning work on the cross.
I’ve been critical of Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory (PSA) up to this point, but today I’ll share where I agree with PSA, and celebrate what Christ has done for all of us, no matter which theory we believe.
The atonement theory I’ve been advocating is the oldest one in church history–the Ransom Theory. I share Gregory of Nazianzus’s position in particular–that Christ didn’t pay anyone the ransom (see part three).
Here’s what Theopedia says about Ransom Theory:
“The Ransom Theory was predominant in the early church and for the first thousand years of church history and supported by all Greek Church Fathers from Irenaeus to John of Damascus. To mention only the most important names Origen, Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and John Chrysostom. The Christus Victor view was also dominant among the Latin Fathers of the Patristic period including Ambrose, Augustine, Leo the Great, and Gregory the Great.”
Christus Victor is essentially the Ransom Theory, but it emphasizes the victorious aspect of Christ’s atonement. It gets its name from Gustav Aulén’s book by the same title. Again, a description from Theopedia:
“Unlike the Satisfaction or Penal-substitution views of the atonement rooted in the idea of Christ paying the penalty of sin to satisfy the demands of justice, the Christus Victor view is rooted in the incarnation and how Christ entered into human misery and wickedness and thus redeemed it. Irenaeus called this “Recapitulation” (re-creation). As it is often expressed: “Jesus became what we are so that we could become what he is.”
I like this title because the Christian faith is not a struggling life; it’s an overcoming life! We’re not fighting for victory; we’re living from the place of victory in Christ! Jesus conquered the grave and made a public spectacle of everything that stood against us.
“Having disarmed principalities and powers,
He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Col.2:15 NKJV)
“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ,
and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge
in every place.” (2 Cor.2:14 NKJV)
The apostles and early church emphasized that Christ humiliated the powers of darkness, defeating death and pummeling every work of the enemy. They demonstrated this good news by doing what Jesus did–healing the sick, casting out demons and raising the death as a matter of course.
Matthew’s divine commentary on Isaiah 53 ties healing and deliverance to Christ’s atonement (Bold-type added):
“When evening had come, they brought to Him
many who were demon-possessed.
And He cast out the spirits with a word,
and healed all who were sick,
that it might be fulfilled
which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
“He Himself took our infirmities
and bore our sicknesses.” (Matt.8:16-17 NKJV)
This is the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt.4:23; 9:35). Much of the modern, rational church today has embraced something very different and less potent.
I think PSA and Ransom/Christus Victor are in agreement in that Christ was our victorious substitute. Maybe Mark Galli is right in his article in Christianity Today, we should be calling it Christus Vicarious! Jesus became one of us so that He could defeat sin and death for us. To that, we can all celebrate!
I also agree with PSA’s emphasis on our need for forgiveness of sin. It’s Christ’s shed blood that cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Amen.
But I also believe that PSA emphasizes guilt and sin-consciousness too much. The Bible clearly says we were forgiven–past tense–but sin has its own punishment. I wrote about that here. Our part is to believe the finished work of Christ on the Cross.
The purpose of Easter – New Creation!
There’s one last thing that needs to be saved about Easter. It’s ultimately why Jesus suffered and died for us in the first place. Forgiveness of sin was only the means to this much more glorious end.
Every Christian knows that Easter is about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Amen. Hallelujah! But too few identify themselves in His death, burial and resurrection.
This is the very heart of the Christian life! You are not a pardoned criminal, a saved sinner–you are a NEW CREATION–an unprecedented race, a fully affirmed son or daughter of your heavenly Father, Christ being the firstborn (2 Cor.5:17; Rom.8:29; Col.1:18; Heb.2:10; James 1:18). NO guilt, NO shame–JUST LOVE!
The ultimate point of Easter is our death, burial and resurrection! It’s about us walking in newness of life. Christ didn’t need new life, we did! (bold-type added):
“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death,
that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father,
even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom.6:4 NKJV)
The most glorious fact of the atonement is what God did to us. Not only did Christ die for us, He died as us. Now that’s vicarious! “Jesus became what we are so that we could become what he is.” This is the very heart and soul of Christianity. But do you know this?
“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death,
certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,
knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him,
that the body of sin might be done away with,
that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” (Rom.6:5-6 NKJV)
Your old sin nature was crucified. It’s dead! We come into experiential alignment with this fact by faith.
This is why Paul said to the carnal Corinthians that he only wanted to know Christ and Him crucified among them (1 Cor.2:2). He wanted to know if they knew that they were crucified with Christ, because you will live out what you believe about yourself.
Do you know that your sin nature was nailed to the cross at Calvary? Or, are you a schizophrenic Christian, believing that you still have two natures? Do you know that Adam’s communicable disease–this “body of sin”– was “done away with”? Do you know that you are now united with Christ forever? This isn’t about waiting for heaven when we die–it’s a finished fact, it’s our way of life now! (Bold-type added)
“and He raised us up and seated us together
in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph.2:6 MEV)
Please hear me. You’re not a homeless beggar anymore; you’re no longer a member of the Adam’s family…where their house is a museum, the people come to see ’em, they really are a screa-um… NO!!! You belong to your heavenly Father’s family; you live both in heaven and on earth now; you have come to Mt. Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem (Eph.3:14-15; Phil.3:20; Heb.12:22-23).
Holy ransomed child of God, lift up your eyes! Stop cowering in the dark in fear-based, powerless Christianity. Stop being a volunteer in Satan’s prison camp–sin-conscious, defeated and full of shame. Don’t empower by unbelief what Jesus has already disempowered and triumphed over on the cross.
Arise and shine for your Light has come! You’re not an orphan anymore! For it was our heavenly Father’s preordained purpose before the world began that we would be His adopted sons and daughters (bold-type added):
“just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world,
that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,
having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself,
according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph.1:4-5 NKJV)
THIS is Easter! This is what Christ accomplished for us on that Resurrection morning. Not just forgiveness, but adoption. This is your Father’s good pleasure! This is what Jesus did for you and to you. You’ve been rescued, you belong to Him. And we’ve all been brought into common-union within the holy Fellowship that’s been going on from eternity (John 17:21-24). We are now part of the Great Dance, or as my friend Randy Dean says, the supernatural society of God!
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” (2 Cor.13:14 NKJV)