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MacDonald, William

A Stupendous Problem

William MacDonald

God had a problem. Well, not exactly. The great God is too powerful and wise to have problems. He only solves them. But it appears to us that He had a problem in figuring out a plan of salvation for mankind. We are simply using the language of human appearance when we say that He had a problem.

Now that we have cleared that up, what is the problem? Actually it arises from a seeming clash between two of the great attributes of God—His love and His righteousness.

On the one hand, God is a God of love. He loves people passionately. There are His crowning work. Among all the marvels of creation, He is delighted in a special way with humanity. He wants the companionship, the fellowship, of every man, woman boy, and girl for all eternity.

But the problem arises from the fact that we all are sinners and God is righteous. He can’t look on sin with approval. He can’t wink at sin, overlook it or condone it. Sin must be punished and the wages of sin is death. If sinners are ever going to be at home with God in heaven, their sins must somehow be put away. The penalty must be paid. People must be clean and pure to live with God.

So there you have the stupendous problem. On the one hand, God is love, and His love is not willing that any should perish. He doesn’t desire the eternal destruction of anyone. He wants everyone to enjoy the splendors and delights of heaven forever. But God is also light. His righteousness demands that the sinner’s sins must be atoned for. He demands full satisfaction for every evil thought, word, and deed. No unforgiven sinner can ever enter heaven.

Now how can God devise a plan of salvation that satisfies His love and yet does not compromise His righteousness? How can He be a just God and a Saviour at the same time? How can He be a righteous God and pardon ungodly sinners? That’s the dilemma. The famous Greek philosopher, Socrates, once said to Plato, then his pupil, “It may be that God can forgive sins, but I don’t see how.”

Seven Requirements for Any Plan of Salvation

It was an act of indescribable grace when God decided to rescue fallen mankind. But once He made that decision, He had to devise a plan that would fully satisfy His love and His holiness. Since He loves everyone, His salvation must be:

  • Offered to all. He doesn’t want anyone to be left out.
  • Sufficient for all. It must meet the needs of every person without exception.
  • Something for which everyone is eligible. No amount of evil should be able to bar anyone from participation.
  • Simple enough for anyone to understand. There’s no use making an incomprehensible offer.
  • Something that anyone can receive. The true religion must not have any conditions that some couldn’t meet.
  • There must be no possibility for human boasting. Pride is the parent sin, and there will be no pride in heaven. In order to exclude boasting, everyone must have the same fitness for heaven.
  • Yet the plan must be one that God will not force on a person against his will.

A Unique Solution

There is only one conceivable solution to the divine dilemma. It lies in the word substitution. A suitable substitution must somehow be found to pay the penalty of the sins of the people. Most of us are familiar with the idea of substitution. In some athletic events, the coach sends someone onto the field as a substitute for another player. The average Hebrew believer in Old Testament times understood substitution. When he brought an animal to the altar of sacrifice and laid his hand on the animal’s head, he pictured the transfer of his sins to a substitute that would die in his place.

Yes, the solution to the divine dilemma is to have substitute die in the place of sinful humanity. But even here there are conditions to be met by the substitute.

The Substitute Must Pass Five Tests

  • The substitute must be human. Otherwise, the exchange would not be fair or equal.
  • He must be a sinless person. Otherwise, he would have to die for his own sins.
  • He must be God. Only an infinite person could atone for the numberless sins of the human race. The value of the substitute must be great enough to cover all the sins of humanity—past, present, and future.
  • His blood must be shed, because divine law has decreed that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. Life is in the blood and there must be life for life.
  • He must be willing. Otherwise Satan could charge God with unjustly forcing an involuntary victim to die in the place of ungodly sinner.

Jesus Qualifies on All Counts

The only Person in the universe who meets these conditions is the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • He became Man at Bethlehem. Born of the Virgin Mary, He is perfect Man (1 Timothy:2:5). As the great Christian hymn writer, Charles Wesley, put it, “Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made Man.”
  • He is God (John:1:1). He has the attributes of God, the titles of God, and is equal with God the Father.
  • He is without sin. The record cannot be denied. He knew no sin, He did no sin, and there is no sin in Him (2 Corinthians:5:21; 1 Peter:2:22; 1 John:3:5).
  • His blood was shed as a substitute for sinners on the cross of Calvary. Multitudes have availed themselves of the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son that cleanses from all sin (1 John:1:7).
  • He did it willingly so that sinners could be saved. There was no reluctance, no holding back. On the contrary, there was a joyful submission to the will of God (Psalm:40:8; Hebrews:12:2).

The truth of Christ as our substitute is found throughout the Bible. Isaiah boldly proclaimed: Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed…and the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah:53:4-6).

John the Baptist cried, Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John:1:29). Lost in wonder, the Apostle Paul said, The Son of God…loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians:2:20). Peter added his testimony: He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter:2:24). And not to be left out, John, the apostle of love, affirmed, He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John:2:2).

God’s Plan of Salvation Qualifies on All Counts

Since the Lord Jesus perfectly meets all the requirements for a substitutionary sacrifice, God can now proclaim His marvelous way of salvation, the good news of His grace. He can offer salvation as a gift to all who repent of their sins and receive His Son as Lord and Saviour by a definite act of faith.

  • Notice that this salvation is available to all. The gospel says, Whoever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life (John:3:16). If it depended on money, the poor would be left out.
  • It is sufficient for all (1 John:2:2). The death of this infinite Saviour has power to atone for all the sins of all the world. It is supremely adequate.
  • Everyone is eligible for it because everyone is a sinner (Romans:3:23). It’s his very unfitness that qualifies anyone for God’s salvation. It’s a good thing that the gift of eternal life is not just for the intellectual, the wealthy, the good-looking, or the famous. Some of us would never qualify. Even if it were only for those who could read, walk, talk, or see, some would be excluded. Only the gospel suits the whole world.
  • It is simple enough for anyone to understand. No one is too primitive or illiterate. In the gospel, the Lord Jesus says, Come (Matthew:11:28). Nothing complicated about that. As William Cowper put it,

O! how unlike the complex works of man,

Heaven’s easy, artless, unemcumbered plan!

  • Anyone can receive it (Revelation:22:17). Salvation is by repentance; anyone can do that. It is by faith; anyone can believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. No one is more credible than He, and nothing is more reasonable than for the creature to trust His Creator.
  • Grace excludes boasting. It says, “I did all the sinning. Christ did all the saving. I claim His merits, and not my own. I have no right to enter heaven because of what I am or what I have done. Christ alone is my passport.” If we could earn heaven by our performance or by our supposedly fine character, we could indulge in boasting. And there would be degrees of boasting, each one trying to outdo the other. Heaven would be a scene of constant one-upmanship, bickering, envy, jealousy, and rivalry. It wouldn’t be heaven at all.
  • Man is not coerced into accepting God’s salvation (John:3:36). The Creator made him a free moral agent. Strange as it may seem, not everyone wants to be saved. God does not force heaven on anyone. He will not take anyone to heaven against his or her will. You can be certain that any religion that grows by coercion, violence, and cruelty is not the true one.

So we see that God’s way of salvation is perfect. It meets all the terms necessary to satisfy God’s requirements and at the same time is available to all humanity. Christ’s work on the cross enabled God to fully exercise His love without compromising His justice. The Psalmist says it poetically:

                  Mercy and truth have met together;

                  Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (Psalm:85:10)

Given the character of God and given the sinfulness of man, it is clear that it is the only possible way of salvation. People could never be saved in any other way.

An excerpt from Now That Is Amazing Grace! (pp. 9-18), Gospel Folio Press (Port Colborne, ON:2001)