The thread on atonement has me asking lots of questions about Calvary. I used to subscribe to the penal substitution atonement model. In fact, it wasn’t until relatively recently that I found out there are alternative explanations for how Jesus’s resurrection ‘works’. Penal substitution offers a coherent explanation of why God would become man and willingly die at the hands of violent men. The problem is, (as noted in my review of “Atonement, Justice, and Peace”), it’s contradicted by plain statements in the New Testament in which God freely forgave people their sins prior to Christ’s resurrection. Now I’m questioning how Jesus’s resurrection makes people righteous, in light of data from the Old Testament.
A core principle of the Christian faith is that no one could be righteous by works alone; faith in the resurrected messiah is needed. That was Paul’s main message.
Paul was quoting Psalm 14. But is his interpretation of Psalm 14 – that no one was righteous – consistent with the rest of the OT?
If you go through Psalms and the prophets, one of the major themes is the juxtaposition of the righteous and the wicked. That would imply that when these texts were written there were righteous people. But how could they be righteous if they didn’t have faith in Christ?
What if a man in Old Testament times sinned? It sounds like he would be forgiven if he repented.
Someone might say it was impossible for Jews to keep the law of Moses and for gentiles to keep the laws of Noah and so it was impossible prior to Christ for people to repent and be righteous. I have three things to say to that. (1) As the verses I quoted above indicate, people did keep the laws. If they didn’t, why would they be called righteous? (2) In many cases, the law of Christ is harder to keep than the law of Moses. The sermon on the mount is an intensification of the Ten Commandments. No longer is merely staying out of your neighbor’s bed good enough; the law of Christ prohibits us from even fantasizing about it. (3) What percent of Christians live sinless lives from the moment of their baptism until death? People in the atonement thread who don’t think faith alone can justify a person seemed to concede as much, saying salvation is a long, slow process. What does that mean if not that Christians imperfectly keep the law we’re under? People in OT went through cycles of sin, repent, sin, repent – how is that any different from the life of the Christian?