Jesus Paid It All?

I’m back on the “Jesus Paid It All” bandwagon again.

I saw a blog I won’t reference because I really liked it. I’ll link to it some other time when I’m not using it to point out an error that infects evangelicalism.

The blogger has some good things to say, but one of them reminds her that “Jesus has paid the price for all of us.”

I wish I could believe that she means what Peter means when he speaks of Jesus purchasing us with his precious blood. Peter meant that we were purchased by him, and therefore we owe him our life and obedience:

Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of the King Jesus. As obedient children, do not conform yourself to your previous lusts which you had when you were ignorant, but as he who has called you is holy, so be holy in all your behavior. … Because you know that you were not redeemed with perishable things, like silver or gold, from your empty way of life received by tradition from your fathers, but by the precious blood of the King, as of a lamb without spot and without blemish. (1 Pet. 1:13-15,18-19)

She doesn’t however. She means, I’m certain, that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins so that we can have a ticket to heaven apart from works.

Problems with Jesus Paid the Penalty

1. The Terminology Is Unscriptural

Scripture never uses Jesus paid the penalty. In fact it never uses “Jesus paid.” It does say that we were bought with a price. That price, our purchase price, Jesus did pay, so that “we should no longer live for ourselves but for him who died for us and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:14).

2. There Is No Penalty To Be Paid

The only thing God asks in order to forgive sin is repentance. This is all over the Scriptures, both under the old covenant and under the new. When David sinned, he said God didn’t want sacrifice and offering. He wanted a broken heart and a contrite spirit. He promised forgiveness for that kind of repentance not just to David, but to any wicked person who would repent (Ezek 18:21-23; 33:14-16).

3. The Doctrine that God “Must” Punish Sin Is Blasphemous

I suspect that well-meaning Christians will avoid the charge of blasphemy because they don’t think through what they are saying.

God must punish sin?

It’s in almost every tract I’ve sin. God is merciful and he “wants” to forgive sin, but he is also just and he “must” punish sin.

What kind of crazy teaching is this, that the God of all the universe must do something he doesn’t want to do? What greater God is forcing him to do this? Is it a cosmic rule of the universe, greater than God himself, that has God in an arm bar and is forcing him to submit.

The idea is unscriptural, ludicrous, and blasphemous because it puts something above the will of God.

4. The Problem Is Not God

God has always had a way out for us. It has always been true that if we would simply repent and walk in his ways, then all our wickedness would be forgotten (Ezek. 18:22).

The problem is us. According to Romans 7, because of the sin in our flesh, the lusts of our body, there is no law that we can obey.

So what solution does Paul describe? Does he describe the penalty of our sins being forgiven because of Jesus’ death?

No, Paul says that Jesus’ death cured the sin problem so that we can repent, have our sins forgiven and forgotten, and go on to live in righteousness.

The end of Romans 7 is Romans 8:

There is now therefore no condemnation to those who are in King Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, for the law of the Spirit of Life in King Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death [i.e., from Romans 7]. What the Law could not do [described in Romans 7], God did. By sending his Son in the likeness of our sinful flesh, as sin offering, he destroyed sin in the flesh so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (vv. 1-4)

Note here that it does not say that if we walk according to the Spirit we can set our mind on the Law and fulfill the Law. No the righteous requirement of the Law—not the Law itself, which was made for fleshly Israel, and awaited the expansion and fullness brought by Jesus’ new Law (Heb. 7:12)—will be fulfilled in us if we keep our eyes on the Spirit and on King Jesus, who sits at the right hand of the Father.

Paul later gives another reason, exactly similar to this one in Romans 8, why Jesus died:

For to this end the King died, rose, and lived again: that he might be Lord of both the living and the dead. (Rom. 14:9)

The Breadth of the Atonement

I cannot possibly sum up the meaning of the atonement in a one-thousand-word blog post. In fact, neither I nor any human can sum up the meaning of the atonement, period. Gene Edwards, by wisely using pictures and parables rather than mere explanation and teaching as I do here, may do the best job of all of helping us understand the cross … and to understand that the cross is way over our head. We should cherish it, embrace it, let it crucify us, and learn its depths in our spirit.

There is much more to the atonement than I describe in this post, though the “more” does not include God being forced to punish sin nor Jesus “paying the penalty.”

I can, though—I hope—save us from the crazy idea that God had to kill someone, just anyone, because we sinned and he “must” punish sin.

I can, I hope, save us from the idea that the penalty of all our sins are paid for so that if we just believe, no matter what we do, we’ll go to heaven. It’s not true. Just read on, all the way from Romans 8:1-4, which we quoted above, out to Romans 8:13. Read Galatians 5:19-21 and its corollaries, 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and Eph. 5:5. If we practice such things, we will find they are not paid for at all, no matter what we believe.

If I can get you to see those Scriptures, for they seem to be hidden from our sight and thought, then I can save you from having all your fear of God stolen by a doctrine that is at the heart of the problems I described yesterday.

For I did not speak to your fathers, in the day that I brought them out of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. This is what I commanded them, “Listen to my voice and obey all that I command you that it may go well with you.” (Jeremiah 7:21-22)

If you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one’s deeds, then conduct yourself throughout the time of your traveling here in fear. (1 Peter 1:17)

By mercy and truth iniquity is purged, and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil. (Proverbs 16:6)

The following articles are examples of the modern idea of Jesus paying the penalty for our sins. I think we all have to look at whether or not the idea is scriptural. Does this idea fit all of Scripture, or does it leave you with many contradictory verses? If so, you need a better idea, no matter how sweet it seems.

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13 Responses to Jesus Paid It All?

  1. miketea says:

    Dear Paul,

    Thanks for your thoughtful answer. I do take your point about some who teach that you will go to heaven if you believe no matter how you live or what you do. I am not sure I made my point clear however. I wrote that, in my own experience, I don’t know anyone who teaches this. That is to say, I know of all sorts of ideas floating about out there but I judge these things on how they work out in church life. In church life the “do as you please and still go to heaven” idea simply doesn’t work out.

    The question to ask is, if so many people believe that nothing you do makes any difference to your salvation, and if this idea leads to a lazy Christianity, why do so many sacrifice, serve and grow in grace? Another is, if your salvation depends in part on your conduct and works, how much is enough? I am concerned that I am seeing a story being told that may speak to academics and theologians but that misrepresents what ordinary Christians do to work out their salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord (Philip.2:12) So, what is the difference between your perception and their practical application?

    Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life and will not be condemned.” (John 5:24)

    Anthony Hoekema explains, ‘The verb rendered “crossed over” is metabebēken from metabainō, meaning “to go or pass over.” The verb is in the perfect tense, a tense which is irrevocable, like that of a person who has burned his bridges behind him. The idea that a true believer could cross back over from life to death is contrary to the finality of the passage.’ (Saved by Grace)

    It is not difficult to marshal “key texts” that speak of works – we all know they are there – and make them say saved by faith and works, just as it is perfectly possible to round up a list of references on grace and argue you can live as you please and still go to heaven. Both positions are questionable though.

    Paul reminds us, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor.1:27-31)

    So, we have the irreversible promise of Jesus, in his own words, that the one who believes (trusts in) the one who sent him has eternal life (present possession) and has crossed over from death to life (past action) and will not be condemned (future assurance). Then we have Paul’s words, saying this same Jesus is our wisdom, righteousness, holiness and redemption.

    I once sat and explained this to a very confused young Mormon who, as it happens, used the same texts you use to make a very similar argument to the one you make. As he sat looking confused, on one hand unable to deny what Scripture clearly tells us, on the other unable to square this with what he had always believed based on that familiar text in James, I remarked, “Now you are wondering, where is the motivation to do good works if you have your ‘ticket to heaven?’” His face lit up with the light of recognition.

    Salvation cannot be separated from sanctification; we are saved and we will be sanctified. Being in union with Christ in our salvation means being simultaneously involved in the work of sanctification. The works we do are the fruit of Christ’s work to sanctify what he has justified. Again I draw on Hoekema to make this distinction:

    Justification removes guilt of sin, Sanctification removes its pollution and makes us more like Christ.

    Justification takes place outside the believer and is a legal status, Sanctification takes place within the believer and progressively renews his nature.

    Justification takes place once-for-all and is not repeatable, Sanctification is a process lasting a lifetime and completed in glory in Christ.

    But both are the work of Christ with which we cooperate through faith that issues in Salvation and in the fruit (works) of sanctification. This way, as Paul insists, we can only boast in God.

    This is what I see in the Christians around me. I see no one rushing around pushing over old ladies and insisting they will still go to heaven, neither do I see believers polishing up their halos and insisting God is indebted to them. I do see Christians who trust in Christ working out their salvation in works of service.

    Of course, you are not saved by going forward in a meeting, although that may be the start of something good, and neither are you saved by saying the sinner’s prayer. You are saved because you have believed God, if confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead (Ro.10:9-11)

    • Paul Pavao says:

      One problem with drawing a lot of comments is that I’m not adept enough to catch them all the time. I just saw this one, miketea, and I don’t have the energy to respond right now. You’ll get a much better reply if I read this fully when I’m stronger. Probably tomorrow, but could be Monday.

      • miketea says:

        Bless you Paul. Take your time.

        • Paul Pavao says:

          Okay, here goes:

          >>Why do so many sacrifice, serve, and grow in grace.<>It is not difficult to marshal “key texts” that speak of works – we all know they are there – and make them say saved by faith and works, just as it is perfectly possible to round up a list of references on grace and argue you can live as you please and still go to heaven. Both positions are questionable though.<>I see no one rushing around pushing over old ladies and insisting they will still go to heaven<<

          I do see people attending church on Sunday, living with barely a thought of God throughout the week, enjoying life in exactly the same way as the world, and insisting they are going to heaven. I'm a little astonished that you say you don't see them.

          I can just leave it at that because I'm pretty certain the readers of this discussion have had my experience (many such people exist as well as committed believers exist) than yours (only committed believers exist).

  2. Ruth says:

    Educate people give them all the shades of meaning don’t deprive them. That s my thought anyway. Ruth

    • Paul Pavao says:

      I take a wild shot at that on my web site at http://www.christian-history.org/substitutionary-atonement.html

      I must warn you that I think it is an excellent start, and it is excellent food for thought. I hope it’s a death knell to the “paid penalty” theory, but as far as establishing my own theory, I’m afraid I’m only qualified to provide food for thought and some Scriptures. Expanding from there is touching on a magnificent, glorious, transforming event far above my ability to provide a circumspect view.

      I like it as a start, though. I got some feedback from a guy named Jon in England who gives me a lot of feedback. A lot of it is helpful, and on that one, he provided me with about a third of that page by challenging something I wrote.

  3. Felix Alexander says:

    “Christ”/”the Messiah”, “Son of God”, “Son of David”: all of these terms are royal, kingly titles. It is true that “king” lacks some of the intended meaning of “Christ” (just as “emperor” is not the same as “Caesar”—I think here of the NRSV translation in particular), but surely “Christ” lacks almost all of it! I like it and I’ve adopted it into my own reading of scripture. Traditions that obscure the meaning of scripture: what value have they got?

  4. Ruth says:

    Also Paul I should add that I do agree with what you are saying about ” “getting the ticket ” and you re home free. Such an unqualified presentation is irresponsible. The apostles and Jesus spoke clearly about repentance and reconciliation. They and Jesus spoke of the kingdom which of necessity speaks of responsibility to and recognition of authority. the Gospel message is one of conversion. It is not cruising in on a Pre paid ticket. It is recognizing your status as a rebel and purposing to receive undeserved mercy by faith in the provision resulting from Jesus death and resurrection. It is accepting that you are in fact dead and need a transfusion which you have no right to expect, that the only one who could give it is the one you defied and betrayed and that He is more than willing to give it. When you get to that point you are either a humbled believer who recognizes a God so good you are in love and only want to serve or I don’t know what. The question is not will I do good works but how can I do what pleases you God. There is provision for that too and it is the empowering of the Holy Spirit who in turn makes us sons and daughters , in fact a new creation..

  5. Ruth Morton says:

    I find the use of king in place of Christ disconcerting . I realize Christ is not a name and is a title meaning, I believe, anointed. Kings were anointed. Nevertheless is this necessary or an arbitrary decision on your part? I wouldn t like to think arbitrary so perhaps you could identify what translation you are using or by what consensus you are making this choice. If the translators have used this word traditionally I have more confidence in the continued usage of Christ rather than setting a prec I dent of arbitrarily retranslating. Hope this doesn’t seem hyper critical. Ruth

    Sent from my iPad

    • Paul Pavao says:

      Felix (below) answered this better than I could have. I will add a technical thought and a caveat, though.

      Technical thought – “Christ” is a non-translation. We invented the word Christ so that we would not have to translate “Christos” from Greek. We invented the word Messiah so that we would not have to translate “Meschiach” from Hebrew. Both words mean “anointed.”

      Prophets, priests, and kings were anointed under the Old Covenant, and “the Anointed” could refer to any of those roles. In Jesus’ case, it is all of them. I think the only alternative to “King” is “Anointed One.” I chose “King.”

      Caveat: I’m not sure choosing “King” over “Anointed One” is the best choice. I only think it is.

      I’m open to better alternatives. I’m trying to get people to understand, however, that “Christ” is not a name. It is a Greek word that means something.

      I object to almost all non-translations. I would like to get rid of baptism, seraphim, and deacon as well, translating baptism as “douse” or “immerse,” seraphim as “serpents” or “fiery snakes,” and deacon as “servant.”

      I would really love to see the KJV’s “use the office of deacon” properly translated as “serve,” for example, which is all the Greek says.

  6. Paul Pavao says:

    My second reply concerns your statement that works can’t somehow contribute to salvation.

    I agree that “apart from him, we can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5, I think). We do good works because we are his workmanship, and the good works we do are those that he ordained in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10). It is “by the Spirit” that we put to death the deeds of the body.

    On that we agree, but my terminology is Scriptural and yours is based on tradition.

    James says we’re justified by works. Peter says that we should “make every effort” to add goodness (and several other things) to our faith in order to “make our calling and election sure” and so that “an entrance may be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1:5-11)

    Paul says that if we want to reap eternal life, we not only need to sow to the Spirit, but we also need to “not grow weary in doing good” (Gal. 6:8-9).

    If you believe that 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; and Eph. 5:5-8 are written to Christians and mean that those who practice sin without repenting will not go to heaven, then you agree with me in principle. However, you don’t agree with me in semantics.

    That’s pure tradition. My statement that works have everything to do with going to heaven is Scriptural. Your statement that it does not is not Scriptural.

    Being born again is by faith and faith only. Christians confuse Paul’s statements about being saved/born again with going to heaven. Those are not the same. Read what Paul–never mind James or Peter–says about going to heaven, and you will find works, works, works.

    Why not? Paul told Titus to repeatedly affirm that God’s people should be careful to maintain good works, and Jesus died to have a people that are zealous for good works. (Tit. 3:8; 2:14)

  7. Paul Pavao says:

    Well, that was an interesting comment. I’d agree with most of what you said. I have to address two things, one of which, apparently, you will consider heresy.

    First, on the subject of “I have never heard anyone say that because of Jesus we can go to heaven no matter what we do.”

    1. The girl I quoted probably has enough teaching to avoid actually applying the “ticket to heaven” theology that is behind the wording she used. I would only have an issue with her semantics, not her overall theology.

    2. I’m a little surprised you haven’t run across that. I’d be surprised if Charles Ryrie’s book, So Great Salvation, sold less than 100,000 copies in the 1990’s, and it teaches that you can do whatever you want and go to heaven. He doesn’t recommend doing whatever you want, but he does say you can live in adultery and go to heaven or murder and go to heaven, and he directly states that he means without repentance.

    I just bought the 1992 edition of The Gospel Under Siege by Zane Hodges. On page 12 he writes, “A Christian who lives after the flesh is certainly in danger of death, but he is not in danger of hell.”

    The context of that quote makes it clear he means that as extremely as possible. He takes the time to say that Paul’s warnings make it clear that we can fall into terrible sin after being a Christian, but even if we do the worst God will do is kill us, not send us to hell.

    I think, too, of two people I knew as a young military man. I was stationed at a remote base in the middle of Alaska. There were only about 300 military there, and one young man was ordering xxx videos for anyone who wanted them. We tried to talk to him about Jesus, but he kept quoting John 3:16 and insisting that because of his faith he was already saved.

    Another young man was offended when someone asked me about the Christians in our unit. I didn’t list him, and he told me it made him angry. I told him there was no way to tell he was a Christian, and I hadn’t known he even claimed to be one. His name was Kevin.

    A couple months later my roommate asked me, out of the blue, how to be saved. We had just turned out the lights to go to bed, and I asked him why he was asking. He said, “Well, no one wants to go to hell.”

    I spoke the Word of God to him, and he was sorely convicted. He went to work the next morning and asked Kevin the same question he had asked me. He came home that evening to tell me he felt better. Kevin had told him, “Look at me, I’m a Christian, and I don’t do any of those things Paul does.”

    So, yeah, I’ve run across it, and so has anyone who has read Charles Ryrie’s books (not necessarily his study Bible) or Zane Hodges’ books.

    Charles Stanley and Billy Graham teach something similar, though it’s not as noticeable because they are not arguing against lordship salvation like Ryrie and Hodges.

    This is a terribly long comment, so I’ll put the second part in a second comment.

  8. miketea says:

    Paul,

    I will have to carefully go through the material you are currently posting in order to do it justice, and church and life commitments currently do not allow me the time, but I simply must comment on this post before the opportunity passes.

    The first thing that jumped out at me as I read was your use of an anonymous writer as an example of a “ticket to heaven” believer. The question that sprung to mind was, have you spoken to her? Do you know this is what she intends when she writes? Does she need to be corrected in what she believes or simply helped to better express her belief? You may be doing her an injustice and I suggest you may be reading/hearing things that are not intended. The second thing that leapt out at me was your comment towards the end of the post where you write:

    “I can, I hope, save us from the idea that the penalty of all our sins are paid for so that if we just believe, no matter what we do, we’ll go to heaven. It’s not true.”

    Amen! Every Christian should have a clear understanding of the place of works in the life of a disciple of Christ. I do not, however, know any respectable preacher/Bible teacher who would dare suggest this “ticket to heaven” message you are so right to refute.

    I have never heard anyone say that, because of Jesus, we will go to heaven no matter what we do, or any variation of that wrong-headed idea. I suggest you are confusing eternal security with earthly complacency and they are two very different things.

    If someone does entertain the idea there is room for slacking then they must immediately be corrected but if the message is that somehow works contribute to our salvation that is more than muddle-headed, it is a heresy that robs Christ by taking some glory to ourselves in claiming we have somehow achieved something.

    Where some, I know, can come dangerously close to antinomianism, others, I suggest, can in their zeal come perilously close to the errors of Pelagius. In this respect, I think especially of Paul’s words in Philippians 3 where he regards everything of works as skubala compared with knowing and depending entirely on Christ. Yet this same Paul urges a strong sense of duty and responsibility throughout his teaching.

    This, I grant you, is a dangerous idea, but more dangerous is the notion that works, which are required of every true believer, form part of what saves us. Works are the fruit and not the root of salvation. They are the indicator of true faith and not the source of it, the mark of the true Christian and not what makes a true Christian. Of course we are saved for something as well as from something, but it is God who equips us for that thing for which we are saved.

    I am currently teaching a discipleship class and at every turn I urge duty and responsibility on class members, the sacrifice of self, the application in daily life of what we learn from the examples of Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus. I also, however, make sure they understand that they have those duties because they are Christians and that their eternal security does not depend on the issue of them. It is a difficult concept for people who are used to the quid pro quo values of this world but, with the Spirit’s help, they understand and believe it, going out determined to practice it.

    The churches in my city, most of them, work themselves to the point of exhaustion in service to the community and in the sharing of the gospel, cooperating together to multiply their effectiveness and giving a good witness to the world of the alternative lifestyle that marks followers of Christ.

    Are there lazy Christians? Of course! Wheat and weeds, wheat and weeds. Might there be a pulpit where easy-believism is proclaimed, or where Christians are encouraged to be complacent? If there is I don’t know it, nor have I heard rumours of it.

    Might sermons on grace be misunderstood? Of course, that is the danger of the message, but if you remove the danger, as might Pelagius, you remove the heart of it . People can draw the wrong inferences from a true message of grace, just as they can draw the wrong inferences from a faithful message on works. But to rob grace of its full effect is to rob God of his full due, just as to deny the worth of works is to rob him of our duty.

    I am sorry if your experience of church is different. I am sorry also if my being so forthright offends but my passion for the gospel is, I hope, as great as your own and, since iron sharpens iron, I am sure there is benefit to be gained in a frank exchange of views.

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