Tom: You are listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage everyone who desires to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him. We’re going through Dave Hunt’s book In Defense of the Faith as a resource for tough questions regarding the reliability of the Bible. These are questions people have addressed to him over his many years of ministry, and, I have no doubt some have troubled many of our listeners. Dave, one of the reasons I have personally been blessed by In Defense of the Faith is that it encouraged me to consider issues in the Bible that my habit had been to sort of blow past, and because of that tendency I missed a lot of things, which now I find really strengthen my faith. And, hopefully, our going over such issues will be an encouragement as well as to our listeners.
Let’s get right to the first question: “Some of my friends think that the teaching that Christ’s death upon the cross paid the penalty for our sins, which is the very heart of Christianity, is itself reason for rejecting Christianity. They argue that it is unjust for an innocent party to suffer imprisonment or execution in the place of a criminal and that such a practice would encourage sin. I’m stumped, can you help me?”
Dave: That’s a tough one, Tom.
Tom: Yeah. Well, these are tough questions, Dave, and this is why I’m glad we’re having the opportunity to wrestle with them.
Dave: I suppose that any thinking person might come up with that question. I think, first of all, it reflects a basic misunderstanding of what happened on the cross. I have often illustrated it like this: There was a man (this is a true story)—there was a man on Death Row (it actually happened)—and he was there for murder and insurrection and so forth, and when the day of his execution arrived, he heard the footsteps of the jailer coming down the corridor. The key turns in the lock, and the door swings open. He thinks he is being led out to his execution and the jailer shocks him by saying, “You have been set free. Another man is dying in your place.”
Now, for those who know the Bible, I think they’d probably have guessed that was Barabbas. Barabbas had a fantastic testimony! He could actually say, “Jesus died for me. Jesus died in my place.” He could have gone around to all the Southern Baptist churches and Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowships and so forth, had there been any in Jerusalem at that time, and wowed his audiences: “Jesus literally died in my place! Jesus literally set me free!” And that was his problem. He was set free—to live his life as he pleased, to continue his life of crime. It didn’t change him at all.
Now, in contrast, we have the Apostle Paul. Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”
That’s a big difference. Paul said, “If you believe in Jesus as your Savior, first of all you have accepted his death as your death. You wouldn’t believe in Him unless you acknowledged that you deserved to die. You deserved the judgment that He took. So, having acknowledged that, you have submitted yourself to death. You are not out to use Christ’s death on your behalf to be able to further your own plans and desires, but something has happened inside of you.”
Paul also said in 2 Corinthians 5, “We thus judge that if One died for all, then were all dead. And, he died for all that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto him who died for them and rose again.”
So, on the one hand, it seems unjust—Jesus died in our place. But if we accept that, we have really died in Him. We see His death as our death. We didn’t suffer the pain, the punishment that He endured, but we have taken our place with Him, and we are no longer our own; we have died to self, to life as we would live it, and by faith we experience a new life—the resurrection life of Christ!
Tom: Dave, we have one question here, but the question that I’m thinking about as you’re explaining this, how many people are offered the gospel with this idea? In other words, I rarely have heard somebody explain the gospel in terms of offering it to people with this in view, and how does that really affect what people are receiving, what they’re . . . I don’t remember when I came to Christ, initially, that I had this kind of understanding. How important is it?
Dave: It’s very important for living the Christian life. It’s not important for our salvation, because the Bible doesn’t articulate that part of it, as far as salvation is concerned. For example, Paul says, Romans:1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes.” And in 1 Corinthians 15, the first few verses, he explains the gospel: “The gospel (he says) that you believe and wherein you stand . . . “ I.e., “If you remember what I taught—this is the gospel by which you are saved, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried and He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
Now, the average person believing that, he just sees that—well, here is an escape from hell, here is an escape from God’s judgment. He recognizes that he’s a sinner and believes that Christ died for him. It takes some maturity, some deeper understanding of the Christian life and of the Word of God to begin to understand Galatians:2:20: “I am crucified with Christ,” and so forth. Of course this doesn’t answer all of the man or woman—I don’t remember who this was—this doesn’t answer all of that person’s question.
Well, you say you died in Christ. Okay, well, it still isn’t just that an innocent person should pay the penalty for someone else. Now, on the one hand, we have a God of love and justice, and He cannot love us at the expense of His justice, and He will not dispense His justice at the expense of His love—the two come together. Psalm:85:10 says, “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”
So, what God is going to do will be perfectly righteous. Paul argues this in Romans 3, “How can God be just and yet justify sinners?” Now, I have the confidence that the just God has ordained this. Furthermore, He is the one who set the penalty, “The wages of sin is death; the soul that sinneth, it must die,” and He is the one who accepted Christ’s death in our place. Furthermore, understand that we are finite beings. We could never pay the penalty for our sins. We would be eternally . . . death is separation—we would be eternally separated from God. We would be forever paying off the penalty for our sins.
Now Christ, being God in the flesh, a human being but yet God, God and man in one person—He is infinite, and He alone could pay the penalty for our sins. We could never do it. So, there is no other way for man to be forgiven. Now, many people out there—I mean, talk about being unjust! Again, I don’t remember who this person was, but I have a vague recollection it was someone who was involved in philosophy. Whether a Christian or not, I don’t remember, but I’ve had this question thrown at me by a number of people.
Now, the whole religious world is occupied with an injustice far worse than this, if this is an injustice, you know, for Christ the perfect Lamb of God to die in our place. Tom, you were raised a Catholic—you know what the Catholic Church is offering God: scapulars and medals and rituals . . .
Tom: Rituals, sacraments, good works, expiation of sins through suffering here and in purgatory.
Dave: That will never do it. We have often used the illustration: You can’t make up for breaking the law in the past by keeping the law in the future, because if you kept the law perfectly in the future you are only doing what the law requires. You get no extra credit for that. That could never make up for breaking the law in the past. That penalty has to be paid.
So, no religion can offer you a righteous basis for God’s forgiveness to be given to mankind. Islam certainly doesn’t even address the issue; they don’t even see the problem! They talk about Allah being compassionate and merciful and so forth, but there is no basis for his mercy and his love and his grace. In fact, Allah does not love, that’s not one of his ninety-nine characteristics.
But the Bible faces this, and Paul discusses it in Romans 3, and he does raise this question: How is it possible for God to maintain His justice and yet justify sinners? And, he explains, it is only because the penalty was paid. And so, we have often mentioned it: when Christ, as He is about to give Himself to His Father—He is about to lay down his life: He says, “No man takes my life from me, I lay it down of myself.” Although they were held accountable for killing Him because that was their intent, and they did everything necessary to kill a human being. But Christ didn’t just kind of whimper at the end. He didn’t just gasp His last and expire. We are told He cried with a loud voice triumphantly, “It is finished!” And in the Greek, the word is Tetelesti, which means paid in full. The penalty was paid in full. Now, I am going to take God’s Word for that, but if someone wants to maintain that that is unjust for Christ to suffer in my place, then there is no hope, no hope for mankind.
Tom: Dave, as you write about this, this is an absolutely (as you said) this is an absolutely unique situation. Unless this is the solution to our problem, we have no solution. Unless Christ steps forward, as He did, and this was before time and eternity that He knew He was going to die for our sins, He and only He could and would do that, we just have no . . . there’s no way!
Dave: There is no hope. Tom, I don’t know if we can emphasize it enough, because every religion out there, and many Christian churches, pastors, theologians—what are they engaged in? Attempting to appease God, attempting to offer God something that will merit their forgiveness. Think about it, those of you who are out there listening—think about it. Will good works do that? Will prayers do that? Will sacraments—going to Mass or celebrating the Lord’s Supper? Baptism as a baby or as an adult? Will that pay the penalty for our sins?
Look, it’s a matter of God’s justice, and so the person who asks this question is asking the right question. They recognize it’s a matter of justice, and that’s the whole point of the question: How can God be just and yet punish an innocent party for our sins? Well, we can’t pay the penalty for our sins. You see, that again, you say it’s a unique situation—indeed it is. Let’s say that I committed murder, and I’m sentenced to the electric chair, and you want to be electrocuted in my place. But you would be doing something that I could do, you see? Or, I’m sentenced to life imprisonment, or twenty years, or whatever, and you want to bear that punishment in my place. Yet you would be bearing the punishment that I could bear. But in this case, Christ bore a punishment that we could never bear.
In other words, God is infinite, His justice is infinite. We could never pay an infinite penalty. Even to be separated from God forever in remorse and pain and sorrow in the Lake of Fire, where it says the flames are never quenched and the smoke of their torment arises forever before God—even to suffer forever, we would never, ever, ever pay the full penalty. But Christ, who is infinite, was able to pay the full penalty, and He became a man in order to do this. He didn’t do this just as God, but He became a man to represent the human race. And the Bible puts it like this: “As by one man, Adam, sin came into this world [because of Adam’s sin], and death came upon all men, so by one man, Christ . . . ,” the redemption has been procured and the forgiveness of our sins is procured.
Furthermore, the Bible speaks of Christ as the last Adam—He’s the second man, it’s called. In other words, there was never a human being that walked this earth, from Adam until Christ, who deserved to be called a man. We were not what God had created Adam and Eve to be—none of us! We have come short. Man was created in the image of God, and he was to glorify God, and the Bible defines sin as coming short of God’s glory. So, the glory—I don’t understand that, Tom, there is so much we don’t understand, but when it says that Adam and Eve suddenly saw that they were naked—I don’t think it means just that they didn’t have clothes on. There must have been . . . and I can’t be dogmatic about this, but I think it makes sense—there must have been some glow of glory, aura (I don’t like to use that term); there must have been some brightness, something. They were clothed in light, let’s say for example, because “God glows in a light that no man can approach unto.” They were made in the image of God . . .
Tom: And the example of Moses coming down from the Mount, just being in the presence of God, he had to prepare a little cloak for himself.
Dave: Yes. There must have been something about them like that, that suddenly was gone, and that’s what it means when it says they realized that they were naked. Now, for God to love us so much that He (we believe in the trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), that the eternal Son of God, God the eternal Son, would come to this earth, become a man—He didn’t cease to be God, He’ll never cease to be man, He’s the one-and-only God man—that he would become a man, the second man, the only one who deserved to be called a man since Adam, and He is created fresh from the hand of God in the womb of a virgin—this body, which the scripture says was prepared for Him. And then, like Adam, who brought death upon the whole human race because we’re his descendants, Christ brings life—eternal life—upon His descendants and He is called “the last Adam.”
So, Christ became the progenitor. He becomes the representative man, represents the human race as man. He’s the perfect man, and then He becomes the progenitor of a new race—He’s the last Adam.
And those who put their faith in Him, the Scripture says, are born again—born again of the Spirit of God; they become new creatures in Christ Jesus. They are in the family of God, the children of God, they are heirs with Christ, and it is so fantastic—it is so wonderful! But there is nothing else that could save us.
Tom: Dave, you make me think of one of our—we have some young staff members here, and these guys love the Lord, and they’re zealous for ministering to people. But one of them met with an Episcopal priest, and the reason he met with him is because the priest—they’d listened to a sermon that this priest gave, and his sermon was basically, “Well, God loves everybody, and the way it’s going to turn out is everybody is going to be with Him in heaven, and it doesn’t make any difference what your doctrine is, what your teaching is. So, pretty much of what you said, he’s just sort of wiping away. Now that’s the other end of the spectrum from this question that we’ve had, but it’s something that a lot of people believe.
Dave: Well, Tom, it sounds like they think God can just make a bookkeeping entry in heaven.
Tom: It’s more than that. He doesn’t even have to forgive us— “just kind of wipe it away because He is a God of love, and that’s what’s important.”
Dave: But the problem with that is, God has said, “The soul that sinneth it must die; the wages of sin is death.” This is eternal separation from Him. He cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden. And it says He put some angels there, with a flaming sword, to keep man from the Tree of Life. So, we will never get back to the Tree of Life until that sword of God’s justice is quenched. And I don’t remember whether I’ve quoted it on this program, but I love the old hymn that says, “His blood, that flaming blade must quench; His heart its sheath must be.” Referring, of course, to Christ. And this is how He became the Way. He is the way to life; He is the life, because He took that sword of God’s judgment in His heart for us. We all fled, complaining against the death penalty, that it’s unusual, unjust punishment. No, this is what God has said.
Tom: Dave, when I think about somebody like this Episcopal priest, I want to ask, “Well, whose opinion—or where do you come up with this idea that God is just going to forgive everybody?” And you say, “Well, if a person doesn’t believe the Bible, let’s have a little common sense here. Would it be just for somebody who rapes and pillages, you know, just destroys through whatever means, life, and so on, that they—oh well, don’t worry about it! Just . . . in the end. God’s loving and He’s just going to . . .”
Dave: Exactly, Tom! We know it won’t work in this life. We know, for example, that parents need to discipline their children. [If] you don’t discipline your children, you are training them to be disobedient. If our courts—that’s part of the problem in this country—they just slap the wrist, it’s a revolving door. We have criminals, some of them murderers, rapists, and so forth, who have just been turned loose on the streets again—well, they did a little time in prison, perhaps, but supposing there was no prison time, supposing there was no penalty—there were no penalties within the family, within the school, within society, and everybody could just do what he wanted to do, and no matter how evil you were, “everybody turns out the same in the end, we all get to go to this paradise!”
Tom, that’s not going to work—any person with a little bit of common sense knows that, okay? But then we expect that God is going to run His universe this way? No, the very sense that we have that this won’t work is put in our conscience by God; His justice is written in our hearts!
So, Christ paid the penalty for our sins. There is no other hope. If you try to offer your good works, your church membership, your sacraments, your baptism, whatever it is—you are insulting God, because Christ paid the penalty and bought our salvation at infinite cost! Furthermore, you are rejecting the gift. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” This is why it has to be a gift, because we cannot possibly earn it, and if you try to earn it, you are rejecting that gift. You are insulting God. Let’s accept the payment that Christ has paid, and I just hope and pray that everyone out there listening has done that or will do so.