I could never myself believe in God

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 13: Suffering and Glory

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross.”

This quote is found on the back of my library’s copy of The Cross of Christ. I’ve seen it every time I grab the book to read it–and, quite frankly, it has always mystified me.

Sure, if it were not for the cross, God would be a very different God than the God of the Bible, since the cross is the crux of all Scripture (pun partially intended!) But does that mean that I could not believe in Him? I don’t know. I mean, He would still be powerful and in control and creative and so on and so forth. Surely I could still believe in Him. Couldn’t I?

As I said, that quote puzzled me.

But then finally, in the very last chapter of the book, I found the quote’s origins. And then I understood.

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross’. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples…and stood respectful before the statue of the Buddha…a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering.”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

Stott is not speaking of whether or not he could believe that God exists without the cross but of whether or not he could believe in Him–that is, whether he could place his trust in this God.

A God who is incapable of pain, who is merely a detached observer, cannot be trusted. A God who cannot be touched by suffering is a God who can heedlessly cause all sort of suffering. And we would be right to rail at Him: “What are we,” we might say “but pawns in a game, moved about to suit your purposes without any regard for our suffering.”

But the God of the cross is ultimately worthy of trust. For He has experienced our pain, has borne our pain, has drunk the full dregs of God’s wrath. He has suffered at man’s hand and at His own father’s hand. And it is He, who has for our sakes experienced pain beyond our comprehension, who now calls us through the pains of this world to take heart for He is using these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, to work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (II Cor 4:17).

I could never myself trust in God, if it were not for the cross.

Yet because of the cross, I can make no better choice than to entrust my all to Him who bore my suffering.

(See more of my notes on The Cross of Christ.)

Does the cross promote pacifism?

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 12: Loving Our Enemies

Those of you who’ve been following me for a while know that I’m in a book club that’s reading Greg Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation (our last meeting is tonight, boo-hoo.) Well, Boyd, who appears to be from an Anabaptist tradition, seems to be a pacifist (I’m reading the last chapter, about violence, right now).

If you’re at all familiar with my family, you know that I have two brothers in the Marines (currently, they’re “poolies”.) John leaves for training in October. Tim’ll leave in January.

And a few of you know that, over the past year, I’ve developed friendships with several people who ascribe to a basically pacifist or nonviolent position on the basis of their faith–in Christ.

It’s been an interesting process, sorting out my own thoughts in relation to pacifism and the cross and how the two relate–or if they relate.

I definitely don’t have it all figured out. I don’t have any problem with personally being non-violent (I don’t have any desire to join the military, etc.)–but I’m not sure if I’m ready to suggest that others should also subscribe to non-violence, or that I should promote non-violence as national policy, etc.

Of course, those are merely side issues compared to the big question that I’m wrestling with, that is: How does the cross inform a Christian’s involvement or non-involvement, support or opposition, approval or disapproval of war and other acts including violence? Or, to put it more simply: Does the cross promote pacifism?

Many of those within my book club (who tend towards non-violence) have said that they do believe in some concept of justified violence–that states have some authority to “wield the sword” (a la Romans 13) which results in violent acts of justice. The question, then, is whether Christians can and/or should be participants in this just violence. This has been my primary struggle.

John Stott addresses Christian involvement in state administration of justice (including via violent means) in The Cross of Christ:

“It is important to note that Paul uses the same vocabulary at the end of Romans 12 [‘do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath’] and at the beginning of Romans 13 [‘he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath’]. The words ‘wrath’ (orge) and ‘revenge/punishment’ (ekdikesis and ekdikos) occur in both passages. Forbidden to God’s people in general, they are assigned to God’s ‘servants’ in particular, namely officials of the state. Many Christians find great difficulty in what they perceive here to be an ethical ‘dualism’. I should like to try to clarify this issue.

First, Paul is not distinguishing between two entities, church and state, as in Luther’s well-known doctrine of the two kingdoms…

Secondly, Paul is not distinguishing between two spheres of Christian activity, private and public, so that (to put it crudely) we must love our enemies in private but may hate them in public….

Thirdly, what Paul is doing is to distinguish between two roles, personal and official. Christians are always Christians (in church and state, in public and private), under the same moral authority of Christ, but are given different roles (at home, at work, and in the community) which make different actions appropriate. For example, a Christian in the role of a policeman may use force to arrest a criminal, which in the role of a private citizen he may not; he may as a judge condemn a prisoner…and he may as an executioner (assuming that capital punishment may in some circumstances be justified) kill… This is not to say that arresting, judging, and executing are in themselves wrong (which would establish different moralities for public and private life), but that they are right responses to criminal behavior, which however God has entrusted to particular officials of the state.”

~John Stott The Cross of Christ

This makes a lot of sense to me–but still leaves the question open in my mind: But should a Christian seek out “official” roles in which they must perform actions that are not permissible to them in their “personal” roles as private citizens and members of the body of Christ?

The Week in WordsSince bulk of this post is an extended quote from Chapter 12 of John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, I’m linking it up in lieu of my regular Week in Words post. Collect more quotes from throughout the week with Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”.

(See more of my notes on The Cross of Christ.)

***I’d also like to clarify that we should attempt to keep our comments Christ-honoring. I know that this is a topic that can get people riled up (I do, after all, belong to a military-ish family, and you know those pacifists :-P) But let’s try to be respectful.****

Self in light of the cross

I’m three chapters from the end of The Cross of Christ–and I’m going to get it finished! Not that the book isn’t engaging. In fact, I’ve already finished reading the book–and have my notes all on paper. It’s just getting them on the computer that’s the problem. That and trying to figure out when to post them without loading you down with too many “thinking” posts. But I want to get them done by next Wednesday–so here goes!

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 11: Self-Understanding and Self-Giving

The ways worldly people look at themselves can easily be divided into two broad categories: self-love or self-loathing.

The cross leaves room for neither.

Rather, the cross calls believers to a life of self-affirmation and self-denial.

It’s strange, isn’t it, to put those two together?

The world’s attitudes, self-love and self-hatred, are mutually exclusive–but they are both rooted in pride. The cross’s attitudes, self-affirmation and self-denial–despite their apparent contradiction–are complementary. Both of these are rooted in humility.

The cross’s self-affirmation is different than the world’s self-love. While the world encourages unconditional acceptance of self (both the good and the bad) as “self-esteem”, the cross affirms both the fallenness of self and its worth to God. The cross says that I have value, not because I am particularly special, but because God has valued me.

“As William Temple expressed it, ‘My worth is what I am worth to God; and that is a marvelous great deal, for Christ died for me.'”
~Quoted in John Stott’s The Cross of Christ

The cross’s self-denial is also different from the world’s self-hatred. While the world loathes itself and engages in self-destructive behaviors, the cross calls us to recognize and identify with Christ–and to “reckon [ourselves] dead to sin” (Romans 6:11).

The world’s view of self leads to self-centeredness. Either one idolizes self, placing self as lord and following its every whim, or one villifies self, making self the enemy and focusing energy on self-destruction.

The cross’s view of self, on the other hand, leads to others-centeredness. One’s self is affirmed–but not in such a way as to inspire self-worship. One’s self is denied–but not with self as its object. Rather, the affirmation of self leads to worship–and the denial of self to service.

It is in the cross that we lose our lives in order to gain them (Luke 17:33).

I love how C.S. Lewis describes the effect of right relationship with God on “self”:

“The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become….It is no good trying to ‘be myself’ without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires…It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own….Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look to Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

(See more of my notes on The Cross of Christ.)

Community of the Cross

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 10: The Community of Celebration

In our discussion of the cross thus far, Stott says, we might be tempted to consider the cross to have only individual and/or cosmic effects.

This is not true.

Christ did not die merely to save individuals but to secure for Himself a people.

“…who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. ”
~Titus 2:14

Nowhere is this communal aspect of the cross better seen or understood than in the one sacramental celebration that Christ Himself instituted: The Lord’s Supper.

In the Lord’s Supper, we remember Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

“and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.'”
~I Corinthians 11:24

In the Lord’s Supper, we partake of the benefits of Christ’s death on the cross.

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”
~1 Corinthians 10:16

In the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
~I Corinthians 11:26

In the Lord’s Supper, we are unified by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

“For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.”
~I Corinthians 10:17

Finally, in the Lord’s Supper, we give thanks for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”
~Hebrews 13:5


“The Christian community is a community of the cross, for it has been brought into being by the cross, and the focus of its worship is the Lam once slain, now glorified. So the community of the cross is a community of celebration, a eucharistic community, ceaselessly offering to God through Christ the sacrifice of our praise and thanksgiving. The Christian life is an unending festival. And the festival we keep, now that our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us, is a joyful celebration of his sacrifice, together with a spiritual feasting upon it.”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

(See more of my notes on The Cross of Christ.)

Taking on the devil

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 9: The Conquest of Evil

A friend attended a teen conference at which the speaker urged the youth to “take on the devil.” With rash words and brash self-confidence, he practically dared the devil to attack, insisting that the youth would whup him when he did. My friend was appalled by this foolhardy behavior, as was I when the story was recounted to me.

I couldn’t help but think of my friend’s experience as I read Stott’s description of triumphalism vs. defeatism.

“Some are triumphalists, who see only the decisive victory of Jesus Christ and overlook the apostolic warnings against the powers of darkness. Others are defeatists, who see only the fearsome malice of the devil and overlook the victory over him which Christ has already won. The tension is part of the Christian dilemma between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’.”

The truth is that Christ has defeated Satan. He is a conquered foe. Yet, although the crushing blow has been delivered, the enemy has not been eradicated. He still has power within this world. To nonchalantly taunt the enemy is foolhardy and unbiblical. Jude 9 states that even the archangel did not dare to bring an accusation against the devil, but said “The Lord rebuke you.”

Some will assert that we have been given authority over demons, citing Luke 9 and 10. A careful reader will see that this is an occasion in which Christ specifically gives the twelve and the seventy authority over demons. This cannot necessarily be transferred directly to all believers. But even if that authority is transferable, we should take to heart Jesus’ caution in Luke 10:17

“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

It is worthwhile for us to develop a healthy Biblical view of satan–a view that sees him as a formidable foe, but as one who has ultimately been defeated at the cross. Keeping these two thoughts in mind can keep us from running in fear of the enemy as the defeatists do, and from rushing heedlessly into battle as the triumphalists do. Instead, these two realizations help us to put into action the call of God in spiritual warfare: to stand, to resist the devil, and to proclaim Christ.

“First, we are told to resist the devil…We are not to be afraid of him. Much of his show of power is bluff, since he was overthrown at te cross, and we need the courage to call his bluff. Clad in the full armour of God, we can take our stand against him. We are not to flee from him, but on the contrary to resist him so that he flees from us. Our own feeble voice, however is not sufficiently authoritative to dismiss him….

Secondly, we are told to proclaim Jesus Christ. The preaching of the cross is still the power of God. It is by proclaiming Christ crucified and risen that we shall turn people ‘from darkness to light and from the power of satan to God’, and so the kingdom of satan will retreat before the advancing kingdom of God.”

~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

(See more of my notes on The Cross of Christ.)

God Revealed in the Cross

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 8: The Revelation of God

The cross not only accomplished our salvation–it also revealed God’s nature.

In the cross, God demonstrated His justice: His wrath poured out on sin.

In the cross, God demonstrated His love: His mercy in dying for us.

In the cross, God demonstrates His wisdom and power: using the world’s foolish cross and the Son’s human weakness to accomplish the greatest miracle ever–our salvation.

“So when we look at the cross, we see the justice, love, wisdom, and power of God. It is not easy to decide which is the most luminously revealed, whether the justice of God in judging sin, or the love of God in bearing the judgment in our place, or the wisdom of God in perfectly combining the two, or the power of God in saving those who believer. For the cross is equally an act, and therefore a demonstration, of God’s justice, love, wisdom, and power. The cross assures us that this God is the reality within, behind, and beyond the universe.”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

(See more of my notes on The Cross of Christ.)

Salvation: a courtroom view

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 7: The Salvation of Sinners

So far, we’ve looked at two ways of describing what takes place at salvation: propitiation and redemption. Now, we shall turn to the courtroom for our third view, the view that is most personally meaningful to me.

Justification is a legal term–a term that refers to being proven or shown to be right or just. Justification is the opposite of condemnation. While condemnation proves that one is in the wrong or has done wrong, justification proves that one is in the right and has done right. In this way, justification differs from a “not guilty” verdict (which implies only that there was insufficient evidence to condemn). Justification involves a declaration of righteousness.

My dad has been ministering in our local Juvenile Detention Center for years and has an illustration that he loves to use to describe justification to the inmates. He’ll ask the inmates to think of their criminal records–all of them have them–and then to imagine that everything they’d ever done (good and bad, whether they’d gotten caught or not) was written on that record. Then he’ll describe Jesus’ record–a record that declares that he had never done anything wrong, and had in fact done everything right. Justification, my dad describes, is when God trades Jesus’ record for ours. Jesus took our rap, and gave us His own righteousness.

I loved this illustration–still love it. But in the summer of 2006, I discovered that I’d let this illustration become a stumbling block to me, keeping me from reveling in the fullness of justification. You see, I’d gotten so caught up in the paperwork aspect of the record, that I missed a vital point.

God didn’t just trade my paperwork with Jesus’–He traded my identity. Christ became sin for me. I became, in Christ, the righteousness of God.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
II Corinthians 5:21

I’d been thinking paperwork and seeing my situation like this: I stand before God and He looks at me with disgust, seeing the filthy sinner that I am. He turns His face away with an “Eww, gross”, but before He banishes me from His presence or pours out His wrath on me, He calls to an angel to pull my file. The angel returns with my file. When God the Father sees that my file and Christ’s have been replaced, He swallows back His distaste and beckons me forward–“It’s okay, you’re covered.”

I was glad to be right with God on paper, but I really craved being right with God for real. To that end, I worked. I made lists of rules and strove to keep them. I pored over the Scriptures, trying to figure out how to be the “perfect Christian”. I volunteered with a dozen ministries, hoping that my involvement could somehow allay that initial recoil I felt sure God experienced when He looked at me.

And then, by the grace of God, He used a sermon by Jerry Bridges, delivered in Jacksonville Florida, to open my eyes to the reality that I was right before God for real. It wasn’t just on paper. It was reality. I was righteous in God’s eyes. Nothing I could do could make me right before God–because I already WAS right before God through Jesus Christ.

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”
Galatians 2:16

That reality transformed my life. It was maybe six months before I got over the daily reminders of how different life was now that I understood justification. Before, I would sin and immediately bash myself over the head, intent upon doing penance. “You are a bad person,” I’d say. Now, I found myself going to God, repenting of my sin–“Lord, I have sinned.” And far from dissuading me from a desire for holiness and service, the realization that I was already right before God gave me new motivation. Now, rather than desperately attempting to justify myself, I was at peace in the knowledge that I was justified in Christ–and my heart’s desire was to turn that into worship through my life.

To this day, I can barely think of justification and of the miracle God wrought in my life that summer without tearing up. What a wonderful grace, a marvelous love, that God made me righteous through no act of my own, but merely through faith in His divine act.

“Moreover, the faith which justifies is emphatically not another work. No, to say ‘justification by faith’ is merely another way of saying ‘justification by Christ’. Faith has absolutely no value in itself; its value lies solely in its object. Faith is the eye that looks to Christ, the hand that laid hold of him, the mouth that drinks the water of life. And the more clearly we see the absolute adequacy of Jesus Christ’s divine-human person and sin-bearing death, the more incongruous does it appear that anybody could suppose that we have anything to offer. That is why justification by faith alone, to quote Cranmer…’advances the true glory of Christ and beats down the vain glory of man.'”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

The cross is essential to an understanding of justification because it is the means by which true justification could occur.

“When God justifies sinners, He is not declaring bad people to be good, or saying that they are not sinners after all; he is pronouncing them legally righteous, free from any liability to the broken law, because he himself in his Son has borne the penalty of their law-breaking….The reasons why we are ‘justified freely by God’s grace’ are that Christ Jesus paid the ransom-price and that God presented him as a propitiatory sacrifice. In other words, we are ‘justified by his blood.’ There could be no justification without atonement.”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)

Salvation: a marketplace view

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 7: The Salvation of Sinners

Imagine yourself in an olden days marketplace, busy with transactions. Everyone has something to sell, something to trade, something to buy. You can smell the sweat of the dozens of bodies clamoring about you, the spices sold by a caravan of traders, animal offal, and the odor of something being cooked. People press in, jostling you, hurrying to see what each vendor is offering. You hear a vendor calling out, drawing attention to her wares. Others are haggling. Still others stand aside, gossiping.

A man is being sold to the highest bidder. The borrower is slave to the lender, but the lender has no use for a slave. He must be sold to repay his debt. Eager bidders raise the price higher and higher.

A relative rushes up before the sale is complete–and enters the fray. He will pay his relative’s debt–will redeem him from his slavery.


The word has almost lost its meaning in the world in which we live. Generally, we speak of redeeming a coupon–not redeeming a person. The word has none of the connotations it would have had for a first century audience.

Perhaps a more apt word for today’s audience would be ransom. After all, to redeem is to release from captivity by the payment of a ransom. Ransom still holds that key element–the payment of a price to release one from captivity.

Of course, our use of ransom generally refers to a price paid to a kidnapper–to someone who has illegitimately held another captive. Redemption has somewhat different connotations. Redemption implies a payment to free one from a captivity, a debt, an obligation that he legitimately bears.

There are four critical components to every act of redemption. First, there is the object or person that is to be redeemed. Second, there is the fate the object or person is to be redeemed from. Third, there is the price that must be paid to redeem the object or person from such a fate. And finally, but most importantly, there is the subject–the person who is to pay the price and do the redeeming.

The Old Testament uses the language of redemption to anticipate the Messiah. The New Testament uses this marketplace vocabulary of redemption to describe the completed work of the Messiah.

It is worthwhile to explore how these elements of redemption correspond to salvation.

Who is redeemed?

Galatians 4:4-5 says that Christ was born under the law in order to redeem those who were under the law

In Revelation 5:9, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders sing that the Lamb has redeemed those “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation”.

Jesus came to redeem people, those who were under the law, from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. He came to redeem all those His Father had given Him (John 6:37-40).

What are they redeemed from?

Galatians 3:13 says that we are redeemed from the curse of the law. Titus 2:14 says that we were redeemed from lawless deeds. I Peter 1:18 says that we were redeemed from aimless traditions.

We who have been redeemed were redeemed from the curse of the law, from slavery to sin, and from the law’s requirements (by which we were unable to obtain salvation).

With what are they redeemed?

There is little doubt in Scripture as to the price with which we have been redeemed. Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14, Hebrews 9:12, I Peter 1:18-19, and Revelation 5:9 all affirm that we have been affirmed with the blood of Christ–His life poured out in death.

Who does the redeeming?

God Himself has redeemed us through Jesus Christ. In doing so, He established His lordship over us, His church, whom He has bought with His own blood.

“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
I Corinthians 6:19-20

“And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
Romans 6:18

We, those who have been chosen by God, people from every race and ethnicity and persuasion, have been bought out of slavery to sin by the blood of Christ. Now, we are no longer slaves to sin, but are slaves to God, to serve Him who has bought us out of bondage.

(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)

Salvation: a temple view

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 7: The Salvation of Sinners

Say the word propitiation today and you’re likely to encounter only blank stares. Say the same word to a first century audience and their minds would immediately turn to the pagan temples, where priests and desperate individuals made sacrifices to propitiate (appease, pacify) angry gods.

Many theologians and others who know the meaning of the word propitiation recoil at the image brought to mind when they read that Christ Jesus was “set forth as a propitiation” (Romans 3:25).

The picture of man appeasing God’s irrational anger by offering up an innocent victim is certainly not an attractive one.

But is this an accurate view of propitiation?

Certainly it is true of the sacrifices desperate pagans made to the gods who were not gods. But the sacrifice of Christ is far from this crude caricature.

What makes the propitiation Christ wrought so different than the propitiation of a pagan god?

1. The wrath of God is not capricious
Scripture makes clear that God is slow to anger and abounding in love. Far from the quick flare-ups and irrational inducements of man’s anger or the power-hungry caprices of the pagan gods, God’s wrath is His holy reaction to sin.

“The wrath of God…is His steady, unrelenting, unremitting, uncompromising antagonism to evil in all its forms and manifestations.”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ, page 173

2. God Himself initiated the appeasement
Unlike in the pagan temples where desperate men offered sacrifices hoping to appease an angry god, at the cross God initiated the appeasement. He made a way to satisfy His wrath. In this way, propitiation is not an act born out of the terror of man but out of the love of God.

3. God Himself was the propitiation

The offering of Christ on the cross differed from the sacrifices of pagan temples in one crucial way: Jesus Christ was not a victim. Yes, He was innocent. But He was not a victim. Rather, He willingly chose to go to the cross to offer propitiation on our behalf.

Far from the caricature of propitiation described above, the cross of Christ offers a beautiful picture of propitiation colored with the love of a holy God:
God Himself appeasing His own righteous anger by offering Himself on our behalf.

(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)

A Substitute Sacrifice

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 6: The Self-Substitution of God

“How then could God express simultaneously his holiness in judgment and his love in pardon? Only by providing a divine substitute for the sinner, so that the substitute would receive the judgment and the sinner the pardon.”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ, page 134

The second half of the theology of the cross is substitution. God must be satisfied–and He can be satisfied only through His own self-substitution.

The sacrificial system set up in the Old Testament sets the stage for an understanding of substitution. There were two basic types of offerings instituted by God–the offerings that recognize man as a sinner (sin and guilt offerings) and the offerings that recognize man as a creature (peace offerings, burnt offerings, and harvest festivals.)

The sin and guilt offerings are offerings that atone for and deal with man’s sin in order that fellowship between man and his Creator can be restored.

Even in the Old Testament, the idea of substitution is clearly seen. On the day of atonement, the priest placed his hand on the lamb’s head and confessed over it Israel’s sins–transferring the sins from the people of Israel onto the lamb. Then the lamb was slaughtered, sacrificed for Israel’s sins. It was not merely sacrificed because they had sinned–but it received the punishment for their sins in their place.

Of course, this type of sacrifice could never satisfy. Only a man can atone for the sins of man. And only God, having never sinned, is able to substitute. A lamb could only provide a picture, repeated year after year, pointing to the eventual day when atonement would be made once and for all. Every year when the lamb was slaughtered, Israel’s sins were ceremonially removed, only to return again.

But then in the fullness of time, Christ, fully God and fully man, the spotless Lamb of God, took up His cross and took upon Himself all our sins. A substitute, He stood in our place, received the punishment we deserved–the full wrath of God poured out.

“Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.”
~Stuart Townsend & Julian Getty, In Christ Alone

God was satisfied to substitute Himself in Christ for us and in doing so to restore us to fellowship with Himself. What an amazing, overwhelmingly awesome God!

(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)