Topic Article #7: The Judicial and Substitutionary Nature of Salvation
by Dr. Eugene Clingman, Executive Administrator
Copyright 2006, International Church Council Project
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How amazing that we should need to defend the very foundations of the Gospel from those who call themselves Evangelical! Yes, there are those who call themselves Christians, yet deny the Cross of Christ. They teach a gospel different than that taught by the Bible; for from the first pages to the last, the Bible teaches salvation by judicial substitutionary sacrifice! When God clothed fallen Adam and his wife with coats of skins, we assume blood was shed in the process, and there we see substitutionary salvation. When we see the Lamb, “standing as if slain,” in the last pages of the Bible, we are reminded that from cover to cover we see judicial and substitutionary salvation (Rev. 5:12). And the intervening chapters of the Bible are full of descriptions of sin offerings, of peace offerings, of atonement, priesthood, tabernacle, and of blood. Blood, countless barrels of blood! For what? It was substitutionary blood and it was the only hope held out to the race of fallen men. Yet sadly, there are those who still insist the Bible does not teach that Christ’s death was for judicial and substitutionary purposes. Jesus’ death, they say, means something else. Topic 7 of the International Church Council Project, “Concerning the Judicial and Substitutionary Nature of Salvation,” is one of the most important topics we are dealing with.
The historic orthodox Christian belief through the centuries has been that salvation in Christ is both “judicial” and “substitutionary,” because the holiness of God requires judgment for sin. Without judicial and substitutionary salvation, sinners will be judged for their sin and rebellion, and cast forever into the Lake of Fire and everlasting torment. The Gospel, the Good News, is that God saves guilty sinners, sinners who have violated God’s Law, and thus are judicially condemned in the court of God’s holiness, where they are held accountable for their guilty deeds. Guilty sinners have no ability to abrogate their guilt, nor pay the debt for their crimes against God and fellow humans. Therefore they must suffer the penalty of their sin, which penalty is the second death, the lake of fire (Psalm 49:7-9; Romans 1:32; 3:23; Rev. 20:14,15). But wait! There is salvation in Jesus! Jesus has paid the price by taking upon himself the judicial sentence of the sinner’s condemnation by becoming their substitute under the wrath of God by submitting himself to the death God himself inflicted on the Cross (Isaiah 53:6,10), so that all who call upon him while recognizing that their only hope of salvation is in him, receive the removal of their guilt and condemnation in exchange for the righteousness which is Christ’s. As it is written, God “made him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him (Jesus)” (2 Cor. 5:21).
So simple a child can understand it, and though this is indeed the message of the Bible, cover to cover, yet amazingly, there are those who are determined to war against the revelation of God’s saving grace, for they exchange the Gospel of our Lord Jesus for a non-judicial, non-substitutionary gospel. This exchange takes several forms. One of those forms is the “moral influence” or “example” theory. This theory says Christ did not die as a payment for sins, but rather as an example of extreme self-sacrifice which we should follow. In his landmark book, “Christianity and Liberalism,” ardent liberal opponent, the late Dr. J. Gresham Machen, shows that if the “moral influence” theory is true, then the only thing that makes the Cross of Christ significant is the significance we give it – “The uniqueness of this particular example [of Christ’s death], then, can be found only in the fact that Christian sentiment, gathering around it, has made it a convenient symbol for all self-sacrifice; it puts in concrete form what would otherwise have to be expressed in colder general terms.”
Another liberal view of the Cross could be called the “God Hates Sin” theory. This theory says that the Cross was not a payment for sin, but rather a demonstration of how much God hates sin. They say God needed a way to convince people that sin is very bad, that God doesn’t like it, and that they should try to avoid it. But this theory reduces the payment of the Cross to an attempt on God’s part to communicate by example. And if the Cross is only a communication, then why wouldn’t God renew the communication every generation by providing other examples?
There are other variations and combinations of these theories, but they all deny the judicial and substitutionary nature of salvation, and in so doing throw away the central truth of the Bible and the sinner’s only hope – that the blood of Jesus has been shed on behalf of guilty sinners.
The Cross is forgiveness of sins. How are sins forgiven? They are forgiven judicially (condemnation is removed, Christ’s righteousness is given to the sinner) by the substitution of Christ (“the Just for the unjust”) in place of the sinner. Without this truth, the Cross is reduced to a sentimental spectacle calculated to capture human emotions with the hope that people will turn to a better life, more kind, more caring, more self-sacrificial. But this gospel is sentiment and warm fuzzy feelings without the substance of the reality that has transpired on behalf of mankind. Without the judicial and substitutionary Cross, the sins of sinners are left untouched, unforgiven, unatoned; the sinner is left guilty in his sins. The true Gospel says that to those who recognize their guilt and confess their need, there is blood poured out on their behalf, that they might be spared and given eternal life as a gift by his grace (Romans 6:23; 5:15). To all who will hear his voice, Jesus says, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28).