To argue that Christ “paid the penalty for our sins” or (worse) outright “paid for our sins” would not be quite so misleading were it immediately added: but this was a heinous injustice because he was sinless and had done no wrong but remained perfectly obedient to his Father; therefore God repaid him superabundantly for that terrible injustice he suffered, raising him from the dead and exalting him to David’s throne, covenantally promised him in Scripture, even in spite of the scheming of Satan to keep him from that sovereign position.
Of course, the Bible never states that Christ “paid for our sins” but that he “died for our sins”–quite a different matter! It was, indeed, for us and for our sins and for our salvation (in different senses) that Jesus died. He surrendered himself, in obedience to his Father’s desire, to his mortal enemies whom they both knew would slay him. He thereby fulfilled or “satisfied” the ancient covenant. But this is far different from “paying for sins,” or “satisfying” sin’s affront to God’s honor (Anselm’s theory), or yet “satisfying” God’s penal justice against the sins of the elect, or even of all mankind (Calvin’s theory, with variations). [08/05/94]
The message of the Gospel–the Proclamation of God’s Kingdom–is that God loves human beings. The entire apparatus of covenants, the paraphernalia of priesthood, the regalia of kingship, the paperwork of scripture…they all aim to substantiate this one message: God loves us and He wants to save us for His own agelong inheritance. If we but trust that this is true (which, without the Resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ–who taught in the fullest way that this is, in fact, the case, and confirmed his own explanations with miraculous liberating acts of compassion–we could never have believed) then we are thereby justifying God’s behavior in sending Christ to us and allowing him to suffer and die for us. We are thereby confessing, admitting, avowing, alleging, asserting, in fact nothing less than proclaiming (!) that God is upright-and-just in allowing–even ordaining, destining!–such evil to befall His only Son. We are proclaiming, likewise, that everything Christ taught was true and right since God would never have resurrected–and thereby confirmed and glorified–a liar and imposter. The Resurrection of Christ is God’s supreme theodicy; yes, it even goes so far as justifying evil in the world because it shows us God’s bedrock intention and power to reverse its effects, even far overcompensating its victims for their suffering of abuses. With this firm knowledge we can dare to contemplate the meaning–even the benefits (!)–of various evils without spiritually blanching and fainting from dread. It may be Friday, but Sunday’s comin’!!!
The love of God is first, last, and central. The knowledge of that–which comes only through the Proclamation of Christ and of God’s favor in him–is what creates a new breed of humans who can love vigorously, ferociously, durably, indefatigably, intransigently, in the midst of, in the face of, in the teeth of, evil-not-yet-destroyed. The knowledge of God’s love, confirmed to us by sufficient proofs, accordingly engenders love within us and, further progressing, makes us more truly human, that is, more brilliant reflectors of God’s image, producing wholesome fruits of the Holy Spirit in every conceivable variety of good activity on planet earth.
Thus does the Wisdom of God get the credit for our salvation by choosing the “stupid” device of mere trust. For trust cannot clutch God to force His repayment of the debt under which we may otherwise imagine our “love,” “sacrifice,” “works of law,” “good works,” “self-immolation,” “fasting,” “celibacy,” “poverty,” “humility,” etc. have placed Him. Any of these could potentially be valid only as fruits or end-products of His love for us, not as “merits” for exacting (extorting?) our “rightful due” from Him. [11/03/94, with some inspiration from William Tyndale’s tract, “Justification by Faith”]
If indeed, “through law is the recognition of sin” (Rom. 3:20), “where no law is, neither is there transgression” (4:15), “sin is not being taken into account where there is no law” (5:13), and “sin I knew not except through law” (7:7), then it should not be hard to imagine the effect of Jesus’ great intensification of legal requirements, both in his exalted teaching and in his absolutely sinless conduct. In fact, his behavior far exceeded the rightness/justness of the Decalogue; he demonstrated for the first time in history the full, miraculous extent of divine self-sacrificial love in service to needy humanity.
This profoundly intensified manifestation of the divine norm for human behavior evoked envy, hatred, jealousy, outrage from the leaders of the Jews–scribes, lawyers, Saducees, Pharisees, and chief priests. The conviction and exposure of sin brought by the public career of Christ led ineluctably to his crucifixion. For his righteousness was too great to be tolerated by sinners, especially self-righteous, hypocritical sinners–which is to say, censorious, judgmental of others, not excluding even the sinless…nay, especially the Sinless One. Hence the extraordinary restitution of which that Worthy One was worthy, deserving first Resurrection, but then Royal Exaltation in extremis! [11/15/94]