THE MYTH OF PENAL SUBSTITUTION
What would you think of a human father whose younger son committed a violent crime, but who punished his innocent older son “in his place” and was thereby “satisfied” so that he could let the younger son go scot free? Then… concerning our own wrongdoing, did someone actually “take our place” and presumably our punishment?
George MacDonald put it this way:
They say first, God must punish the sinner, for justice requires it; then they say he does not punish the sinner, but punishes a perfectly righteous man instead, attributes his righteousness to the sinner, and so continues just. Was there ever such a confusion, such an inversion of right and wrong! Justice could not treat a righteous man as an unrighteous; neither, if justice required the punishment of sin, could justice let the1 sinner go unpunished. To lay the pain upon the righteous in the name of justice is simply monstrous. No wonder unbelief is rampant. Believe in Moloch if you will, but call him Moloch, not Justice. Be sure that the thing that God gives, the righteousness that is of God, is a real thing, and not a contemptible legalism. Pray God I have no righteousness imputed to me. Let me be regarded as the sinner I am; for nothing will serve my need but to be made a righteous man, one that will no more sin.
If that is the case, some may ask, “Was it necessary then for Jesus, the Son of God to die? Yes, certainly it was necessary, or He would not have undergone death. He prayed to the Father, “O my Father, if possible let this cup of suffering and death pass from me.(Matt 26:39). And the Father didn’t release His Son from suffering and death. So obviously it was not only necessary for Jesus to suffer and die, but impossible for it to be otherwise—that is, if the purpose of God were to be realized.
So clearly it was necessary. But WHY was it necessary for the Son of God to die? Peter, Paul, and the writer to the Hebrews answer that question plainly:
I Peter 2:24 He himself endured our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
II Corinthians 5:15 And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Romans 14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Titus 2:14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
Heb 9:26 …he has appeared once for all at the end of the age for the abolition of sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Many cannot accept these reasons for the death of the Messiah. They make statements such as, “No one can be sinless! So it must be the case that God IMPUTES righteousness to me because of Christ’s death.” No, that is not the case at all. It does not follow that through His death the Anointed One of God imparted to us “imputed righteousness.” Rather, through His death, He made possible ACTUAL righteousness. The attainment of this righteousness is a process. This process is known as “salvation from sin,” and continues throughout our lives. The process ends in the day of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul put it this way:
I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
So in the day of Jesus Christ, the process will be complete for all those in whom the process has begun, and who continue in it, coöperating with the enabling grace that God made available through the death of His Son.
For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all people, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and to live sensible, righteous, and devout lives in the present age, expecting the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of the great God and of our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; encourage and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you. (Titus 2:11-15)