True Reformation part 5a: Christ Crucified – deeply rooted in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus
We sing the praise of Him who died,
Of Him who died upon the cross,
The sinner’s hope let all deride.
For this we count the world but loss.
Inscribed upon the cross we see
In shining letters “God is love.”
He bears our sins upon the tree,
He brings us mercy from above.
The cross! It takes our guilt away;
It holds the fainting spirit up;
It cheers with hope the gloomy day
And sweetens ev’ry bitter cup.
It makes the coward spirit brave
And nerves the feeble arm for fight;
It takes the terror from the grave
And gilds the bed of death with light;
The balm of life, the cure of woe,
The measure and the pledge of love,
The sinner’s refuge here below,
The angels’ theme in heav’n above.
To Christ, who won for sinners grace
By bitter grief and anguish sore,
Be praise from all the ransomed race
Forever and forevermore
The final point I would like to highlight on the elements of true reformation is a deep and abiding passion for the Cross of Christ. I will look at this central aspect of reformation more thoroughly in the next several entries.
In recent decades it has become quite fashionable by evangelicals to ignore the substitutionary atonement of Jesus (focusing on more pragmatic applicable thoughts), while many mainline progressive theologians and many Emergents openly mock the belief as “child abuse”.
At the heart of true reformation is an abiding and deeply growing understanding, appreciation, and even passion for the Cross of Christ. Reformation requires a surrender to the full meaning of the cross of Christ—to know Christ and him crucified. In the gospel of Mark, at the pinnacle of his earthly ministry, having withdrawn with his apostles to the northern district around Caesarea Philippi, he asked them who they thought he was. After Peter said that he was God’s Messiah, immediately Jesus “…began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this” (Mark 8:31-32) and later he said, “45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Myth: It has been stated by many progressives that the theme of substitutionary atonement was minor or even non-existent until St. Anselm (A.D. 1000), but this is a misrepresentation of the truth. The substitutionary atonement can be seen throughout the writings of the early church. Here is a tiny sampling: Clement of Rome wrote, “Because of the love which he felt for us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave his blood for us by the will of God, his body for our bodies, and his soul for our souls.” Ignatius wrote, “All these sufferings, assuredly, he underwent for our sake, that we might be saved.” In the Epistle to Diognetus we read, “God gave up his own Son as a ransom for us—the holy one for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. For what else could cover our sins except his righteousness? …O sweet exchange!” Augustine later wrote, “Christ bore for our sakes sin in the sense of death as brought on human nature by sin. This is what hung on the tree… Thus was death condemned that its reign might cease, and accursed that it might be destroyed…When the Father was angry with us, he looked upon the death of his Son for us and was propitiated toward us.” In much of the writings of the early centuries of the church the substitutionary atonement is often assumed as a foundational identifier for believers.
The substitutionary atonement of Christ is clearly and deeply foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament, and was at the heart of God’s covenant with his people. I will look at that in my next posting.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
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