Cheap Grace or Costly?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells us in his work, “The Cost of Discipleship” that “…grace and discipleship are inseparable,” [Bonhoeffer, page 46]. In a phrase: Grace is costly, not only because it cost God His Son’s life on Calvary [1 Corinthians 7:23] but because it costs us, ours, as well [Luke 9:23]. A grace that saves us but does not change us: our perspective on life, our passions, our dreams or how we live, is a cheap grace since it has accomplished nothing for which Christ gave His life to provide.

We are called to “deny ourselves and carry our cross as we follow Christ. …and not on weekends or Sundays only but “daily” [Luke 9:23]. And what does it mean to “deny”? Its most basic meaning is “to say, ‘No!’” [Kittel, vol I, page 469]. Oh how demanding we are of self! How soft, selfishly soft, the comfort we seek and rationalize we deserve! Have we lost the ability to say, “No!” to ourselves, to sin and comfort, for the sake of our witness and God loving others through us [1 Corinthians 9:27]?


Grace might be free but it is not cheap. We have always recognized the ‘e’ in the acrostic to mean “expense” And yet, that is not the whole story; for, in speaking of “cost” Jesus taught the parable about an unmerciful servant [Matthew 18:21-35] and his master’s absolute forgiveness of this servant’s debt which was not the result of risky investments or poverty but of swindle. This servant defrauded his master of what was his master’s rightful possession, which is a metaphor for our unfaithfulness toward the God Who loved us. We abused through sinning the gift of life God gave us while He made us for His fellowship. But what did Jesus emphasize in this story? Not His forgiveness but the need of ours toward each other and others [Matthew 18:35]. Grace is cheapened when we are thereby forgiven without any interest in forgiving. To forgive indeed we must forgive in deed! This incorporates a desire for reconciliation. A forgiving heart holds no bitterness or vengeance. The story of grace is a story of God creating in us forgiving hearts.  [It is not strange to discover that both words, grace and forgiveness, derive from the same Greek word, Ephesians 4:32.]


Jesus cannot become our Savior and not our Lord! The message of grace is cheapened if nothing is required of us to “come out and be separate” [2 Corinthians 6:17]. If so, if we seek to receive His love but not let it flow out to others, our experience is a stagnant religion rather than the witness of the living stream of eternal salvation Jesus spoke of [John 7:38]. Love is put in to flow out [Romans 5:5]. We are to love as He does [John 15:12]. Our thoughts may become so fixed on what He did for us we don’t take serious what He intends to do through us. The rich young man toward whom Jesus’ heart was warmly drawn is not really the story of liquidating one’s wealth for charity as it is relinquishing all personal ambition and interest for the glorious vision of following Him as one of His disciples [Luke 18:22]. Bonhoeffer calls fellowship, followship, and rightly so [1 Corinthians 1:9].

Grace, therefore, is more than forgiveness, it is God’s empowering to follow in our Lord’s footsteps. [Seventeen times in the Gospels we read Jesus instructing His disciples to “Follow me.”] Justification is a marvelous gift of God but the same word also translates “righteousness” [Kittel, vol II, page 202ff]. We should not claim justification if we do not live it! Grace is cheapened if it is only a declaration of righteousness without sanctification. As we can rightly maintain God’s gift of grace is working on us [“from glory to glory”] transforming us into the image of Christ [2 Corinthians 3:18]. Justification leads to glorification [Romans 8:30]. It has to! It is cheapened if it becomes mere religious duty or devotion or a Sunday morning habit.


Grace is cheapened if we continue in sin [Romans 6:1-2]. Cheap grace is a carte blanche to sin and is not what God offers! As Bonhoeffer, in other words, noted, “acquired knowledge cannot be divorced from the experience in which it was acquired” [Bonhoeffer, page 51]. “The call to discipleship,” the pastor affirmed, “is [the] gift of grace” [italics added. Bonhoeffer, page 51]. There is no biblical word for academic knowledge.


Cheap grace cheapens faith because it denies that the word “faith” includes “faithfulness,” the other side of the same coin, so to speak. And faithfulness is also an ongoing experience [“from faith into faith” Romans 1:17] …into Christ according to Paul [Philippians 1:29 says “into” as an activity (faithful) and not “in” as a condition (faith)]. Salvation is a deepening relationship with Him. Faith is faithfulness. Saving grace is God’s empowering us to follow in His steps as His disciples.

Here is where Bonhoeffer waxes eloquent and inspired. “Do we also realize that this cheap grace has turned back upon us like a boomerang?” he asked. “The price we are having to pay today, “he observed, “in the shape of the collapse of the organized church [I think not just a dwindling membership but the apparent absence of commitment to pastoral vision] is only the inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low cost. We gave away the Word … wholesale.” [Bonhoeffer, page 54] Bonhoeffer recognized with sadness the Church’s message being made more seeker friendly than challenging.


Bonhoeffer continued, “Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving. We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way [Matthew 7:14] was hardly ever heard” [Bonhoeffer, page 54]. We need to relearn the relationship between grace and discipleship. Bonhoeffer concludes, “It is becoming clearer every day that the most urgent problem besetting [the] Church is this: How can we live the Christian life in the modern world?” [Bonhoeffer, page 55].

The encouraging thought is that Jesus gave us the answer in His “Sermon on the Mount” and added “it’s easy” [Matthew 11:30]. Jesus used the word, “Happy” [blessed] as He unfurled the scroll of such a revelation. There is a bit more to this truth than what is found in Matthew’s record but it is all good—excitingly good.

Bonhoeffer concluded, “Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in this world. Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship. Happy are they who have become Christians in this sense of the word. For them the word of grace has proved a fountain of mercy” [Bonhoeffer, page 56].

The Sermon on the Mount

One cannot talk grace without studying discipleship and that is a study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and primarily the Beatitudes. Here is where we find the gateway that opens to the way that is narrow that we are called to walk.

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Keep Up!

We take comfort in calling this life a “pilgrimage” in which our real home is in heaven (John 14:2-3) along with our true citizenship as believers (Philippians 3:20). Yet before we get there, it’s all about …“the journey.” The Scripture that comes to mind is Hebrews 12:2) which was written to the early Jewish believers who were holding on too tightly to their religious traditions to appreciate the changes happening in their experience as believers. We, as followers of Christ, have come to view suffering (1 Peter 5:9) as a real part of our worldview. Sometimes it hurts to be a Christian either because of some form of persecution or being marginalized by family or others, or perhaps, because we didn’t realize that life goes on—same job, same emotional luggage, same “headaches” are brought along with us on this journey. Our faith has not immunized us against pain or hurt.

Yes, God knows when this or that in our circumstance is a hinderance to what He is perfecting in us and He will remove it accordingly (Revelation 3:7), but somehow our humanity is very much a part of life as it always was. The temptations are just as real, sickness is just as real. We may become flummoxed about the paradoxical inconvenience of pain while knowing that God’s faithfulness and love were never more real as when we are hurting. Suffering on many levels remains a part of life as it did for the Savior!

What has changed? We have Jesus as both our example to follow and the One who will “perfect” our faith. Our trust in Him will be absolutely rewarded. He is irrefutably trustworthy. He didn’t save us to abandon us! That’s what “perfect” means.

But the gem of this verse is found in the word “for.” When Jesus was, Himself, looking at a level of suffering off the scale of human endurance, He knew that at the other end of what He must endure, there was a joy. Joy is what Mary Magdalene and “the other” Mary experienced when an angel told them Jesus was alive! (Matthew 28:8). Joy is what awaits us when He welcomes us home! (Matthew 25:21, 23).

Meanwhile we “endure,” we soldier on (is what it means)! And it makes a huge difference if we are looking at our tired legs or heaving diaphragm, or, instead, at that joy that is ours—to use Paul’s analogy from verse one—after this race is run! For some of us, the banner over the finish line is almost visible. It reads “Enter into the Joy of Your Lord.” And if we see it, it inspires us, or, as verse three reads, encouragingly, “so that [we] may not grow weary or fainthearted” when we are so close to that mark!

I had to run the mile in high school in 6 minutes to pass Physical Education. I was running far to slowly to make that clock until a friend of mine, realizing the shortfall, jumped on the track in front of me and yelled out, “Keep up!!” All I knew was I had to keep up with Carl as hard as it was to breathe (compliments of my asthma) or how my legs aches. I kept up … and passed!

Let’s keep up with Jesus!

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The Church’s Salvation

The Church does not depend on its theology for its existence. The Church depends on the faithfulness of its parishioners, their devotion to God. I can say this confidently because most church-goers do not know what their church believes. Newcomers, who were not raised on its teachings, are less likely to be drawn to its doctrine than to friendships within its doors or the atmosphere it maintains for worship.

Young’s Literal Translation of 2 Peter 1:7 calls this “piety” [translated “godliness” elsewhere] and what the dictionary calls, “a belief … that is accepted with unthinking conventional reverence.”

But this is as it should be because as much as any church endorses discipleship, our knowledge of the Bible remains incomplete—a confession which should be an encouragement. A close friend who has been pastoring now for decades admitted with a soupçon of irony that if Jesus will grade his understanding of all Biblical truth at 10% when God calls on him, he will be humbly grateful for having had the opportunity to learn that much (1 Corinthians 13:12). He speaks for me, too.

Theology doesn’t save; God does!  It is not what you might know but Who you know, Jesus, Who saves.  We are not called “believers” for no reason. We trust Him, Whom we love, to save us! It is our faith in our Lord’s work on Calvary that is our salvation (Romans 10:9; Galatians 3:8), not our knowledge of the theological details. In Biblical days the cult of Gnosticism [after the Greek word, “knowledge” which based salvation on a supposed understanding of God’s revelation that to outsiders remained a mystery] was unequivocally rejected by the Apostles (Galatians 1:6-10).

That devotion, I speak of, is now being threatened in “subtile” ways [Genesis 3:1. The Hebrew word means “crafty”] through TV movies and series, talk shows and other media. All these are methodically introducing a narrative that compromises the Biblical message. I was interested to find out that the issues being discussed today where prevalent in their infancy in movies and TV series a decade ago. We have been the proverbial frog in the sauce pan of hot water and we haven’t hopped out yet! Church leaders have for the last half century been reevaluating church theology in the light of all this change.

This is a mistake, if the narrative being sold by the media is bought by the church to live below or outside the Biblical message! And that much we do know! It is Eve and the snake all over again! The Devil’s deception always begins with “Did God actually say.” The devil’s rhetoric is understood to mean, “God didn’t mean what you think He meant.” And yet nothing could be said in simpler terms: “this tree here, avoid it!” (Genesis 3:3)! The account begins with the devil spouting, “APH!” It is a rhetorical “yea,” ”really!” or “indeed!” It is an impassioned challenge to what we know all along about what God did say!

There is a lot of Bible to learn and some of us have had more time than others to learn it. But without our faith or an absolute devotion to our Lord, our faithfulness lived without compromise and without apology, the church ceases to be a spiritual force. It is our faith that has empowered our witness and message! We are “… God’s people … set apart by faith…” (Acts 26:18).

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Biblical Nobility

In Proverbs 17:7 we understand Solomon to say, “Lies do not become a nobleman.” Perhaps, a more literal translation might read: “too much talking is not attractive for a fool, as it is equally so that the nobleman will not disappoint when they speak.” But why these words? Who is “noble”? What “lies” and who is a “fool”?

The Lie

The Hebrew for “lying” speaks to all forms of deception. In the Bible this word describes the unreliability of the heathen gods made of wood and stone to whom supplication was made in vain (Jeremiah 10:14). Any devotee who prays to a pagan statue will be disappointed. Lies always disappoint!

The Noble

The Hebrew term “noble” [translated ruler or prince] is spoken of one who is generous, who offers freely of his resources, or who volunteers himself to the service of another. He is a good Samaritan. His offerings to God are spontaneous and wholehearted—called free-will offerings. In the Biblical narrative this was apparently considered “noble” or what should characterize nobility. Thus, a ruler or prince among the people is one who is “generous as well as just.” The Dictionary concluded someone is “noble of rank and by implication [noble of] character.”

The Fool

The “fool” is an ignoble, arrogant or insolent person who treasures his wealth over any opportunity to help another—riches often gained through [if I may] ignoble means. Jeremiah defines this kind of fool [NIV 17:11] “Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay… who gain riches by unjust means. … and in the end they will [be] prove[n] to be fools.”

The miser is a constant provocation to the Divine Heart (Psalm 74:22) because they do not believe in Him (Psalm 14:1; 53:1) nor represent Him before others. A just or righteous man will be generous with his or her “good fortune.” He or she is no hoarder of wealth. Isaiah 32:6 told us that, “The fool is a hypocrite, and misrepresents the heart of God toward the poor and needy. They leave the hungry empty and the thirsty man in his thirst.” A person who is truly noble cannot turn away from the needs so obvious to him or her.

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Nothing explains this better than Jesus’ words [Luke 12:20-21]

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

True Nobility

Matthew 25:34-40 perhaps, says it best:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

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Remembering a College Friend

A few days ago, our Lord called home a fellow college classmate of Joyce and mine, Dan Fratto. He was from Joyce’s hometown in those earlier days and on a few occasions drove Joyce and me back to school after a visit with her family. This now begs me to revisit the scriptures that reaffirm our faith in the hope of a reunion in that glorious place where now our brother enjoys an unfettered, unfiltered, and unrestricted absolute joy in our Lord’s presence.

My imagination runs wild with the thought that so many former classmates, as well as beloved teachers, who already have made that journey have been awaiting Dan escorted by our Lord into such a saintly community. They must have joined a chorus of angels applauding his homecoming!

Perhaps, it is my age and mortality that has me hungering for that reunion; perhaps, the home going of a friend from days long gone has become, like our Lord’s gentle touch upon the soul, a simple reminder that as more and more from those school days are finding their way to the gates of that heavenly city, we must stoke the fire in our own souls, to stir up the gift, remind ourselves why we are here for now and to inspire a joy that robs all sorrow to detain us or sidetrack us while we press forward toward the mark for that prize (Phil. 3:14).

Out Lord’s Word is His promise that He (John 14:3) will someday come for us, too. He is away building us a home in His Kingdom. And when He said He will return “to receive” us, “to take” us to Himself, these are the words of the Bridegroom reaching out for His bride’s hand to join her to himself. This is the language of intimacy and companionship.

Recalling Paul’s own heart’s cry (2 Corinthians 5:5-9):

We know that we are journeyers but will soon no longer need this tent we travel in because God has made us a permanent home in heaven. Oh how we long for it! This body is but a garment which we long to replace with that glorious one. Such a heavy burden, to finally let go of it and don that incorruptible and immortal one, when death will be finally defeated by eternal life! And how might we know this! The Spirit whom Jesus sent confirms it, guarantees it!!

We are therefore most confident, our hope rests in this truth, that while here, in this life, we live by faith. We live each day trusting our Lord who is most trustworthy. Our confidence has excited hope. Yes, our sole desire and aim, is to please our Lord in the meantime. But we are no longer at home in this life—to be sure—we so much prefer to be with our Lord where we will be … home!

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A Day Of Forgiveness

Let us call for a day of forgiveness patterned in part after the Ancient Jewish notion of a Year of Jubilee in which all debt was “forgiven” although this will be one day every four years (paralleling the USA election for the presidency) and it will not be about money but about family and community.

Forgiveness gives us the chance to start over, to set aside all self pity, and to have a chance to emphasize unity—on all  levels: relational, family and national. If the “Day of Forgiveness” comes the Sunday after a presidential election, we can have at it, politicking passionately, but  with a sincere desire for unity just afterward. (This always had been an American democratic tradition.)

Over the course of a relationship, whether in a marriage or in a friendship or within a community, mistakes are made, regrettable and hurtful things are done, some planned out, some recklessly rushed into in the heat of the moment, that strains relationships, sometimes to the breaking point. We are animals of indiscretion—as the song goes: “Everybody plays the fool, sometime.”

We all realize later after a lapse of wisdom, when we come to our senses, that what we did or said was the worse mistake of our lives. People break laws, incur fines, make financial investments that prove too risky. People are prone to say hurtful things. People live with addictions. All of us make mistakes that tend to divide us, that damage our relationships, but nonetheless, we are loved by persons who wants us back—emotionally back, back for real!

No one moves to Canada, but there is an unforgiving spirit present when we are not united; when we cannot resolve a matter, we cannot compromise, we cannot empathize. A banquet turns into just another meal and no one is hungry anyway. We win battles but the war is too costly in terms of our friendship and union. We celebrate ourselves but in the absence of those who should be celebrating with us. We make new friendships sometimes to hide the pain. But what we really need is forgiveness!

Some church congregants treat militancy and division as a righteous thing, although, by biblical definition, it is the exact opposite. A worship service without Christian unity is nothing more than an exercise in social pride that we fulfilled some commitment (which in our hearts, we did not do at all). Did you know that repentance and forgiveness is by biblical definition [Joel’s prophecy] what revival is all about and Christians are always longing for revival.

Families are sadly divided by politics and religion. Married people have affairs, children are sadly and tragically hurt, money is often misappropriated, gambled away. Any one of a number of excuses are readily available to accuse another, project blame, in our pain, on someone we used to be close to.

We need a day of forgiveness which should come every fourth year after a presidential election to erase the escalating contention of the past four years, to give families a chance to be families again, to remind couples of their wedding day and believers of the first day of a new found faith in God’s goodness. November should symbolize renewal. Let’s call for a day of forgiveness in which families and communities as well as congregations within churches may “let go” of the past and look to a more hopeful future …together.

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What Was God Thinking?

To apply Paul’s commendation to God, let me use his words about the Savior:

Behold, [Jesus] you were in pain for God’s Work. What sense of urgency you exhibited, what an apologetic,  what indignation for what is right to do, what respect  of God’s will, what passion and zeal and vindication of God’s Word [vengeance]. In every way without sin you presented yourself Your Father’s Servant at Calvary.

To reconcile us to God, Jesus had to deal with the sin in our lives that broke the first covenant by not only forgiving us [He would not annul the covenant] but by making restitution [He would fulfill it].  Some say He did this through His perfect obedience in His incarnation and death. Others see Jesus satisfying divine justice. After this in His resurrection He could bring into being the New covenant now written on the heart.

Love displayed—we might add—with a vengeance!

Is it possible that English is weak in explaining the Divine intention? Vengeance with God was an act of judgment directed always at God’s enemies.  To think that somehow God’s intention was to return pain for pain, blow for blow against someone with whom He was displeased suggests that such a punishment [which is another word for vengeance] was merely intended to give God some satisfaction as the more powerful or the victor in such an exchange. It is to suggest that God was not particularly conscious of how His opponent felt or to what degree they were experience the pain of His divine blows. It suggests uncontrolled rage on an infinite level without any further thought about the offender turned victim [in today’s parlance].

What we do know for sure is that the unfaithfulness of His people [me and you included, Galatians 3:22 “concluded all under sin,”] ignited a flair up of Divine jealousy to get us back, and to bring this about Jesus willingly submitted to the Cross. Would this not mean that on the Cross Jesus was engaged in a battle with Satan and sin but, as regards me and you, He wanted us back? (John 3:16)

The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies. Nahum 1:2

Understood, we teach and sing that Jesus at Calvary paid our debt in full and we found a couple scriptures that support this interpretation. In Colossians 2:14  we may interpret “handwriting of ordinances” as a certificate of debt as well as have Jesus’ words from the Cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30) mean “paid in full.”  The Lord instructs me not to disturb this because such a presumption would be pure arrogance on my part that suggests I know something which the Lord has not yet shared.

We see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12) but when we arrive in Glory, the fog surrounding this central truth, “Jesus died for me” will lift and we will “know as we are known.”


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Vengeance is Mine, Saith the Lord

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. KJV Romans 12:19

When the Lord talked in Leviticus 26:25, of executing “the vengeance of the covenant” little doubt He knew that to keep His word according to the covenant He would have to indict a nation now guilty of  breaking their word, breaking covenant. This has to be what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:17 in fulfilling the Law and not abolishing it. To discard or nullify the covenant He made through Moses, which included the commandments, would mean not to honor His own Word and God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19).  To bring about a New covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-33) He had to first honor the Old one by recompensing disobedience—someone had to make payment for sin. Scholars call this a punishment and because it is God’s decision, He recompenses the sins of the world accordingly, and He did that through His Son on the Cross..

Appeasing God

Did Jesus’ crucifixion appease God’s wrath (John 3:36)? In Romans 12:19 vengeance in human terms is the wrathful act of paying back, getting even, whereas with God it speaks more of retribution or paying the penalty for wrong done. Unlike the pagan idea of an enraged and dangerous deity, the word vengeance in our Old Testament is linked more to God’s justice (divine judgment). Vengeance with God is final judgment intended to bring an end to sin (Daniel 9:24; Hebrews 9:26). It is not someone with an enraged and offended self-interest that wants to inflict pain on someone who had inflicted pain on them. Punishment that only focused on the offended who takes pleasure in seeking to return pain for pain (lex taliones) does not answer to the biblical idea of vengeance. God’s vengeance does duty for a number of Old Testament terms: judgment, a divine visitation, and rebuke, correction, and chastisement. If we want our word punishment  to say all this, so be it.

An overjoyed Paul wrote to a repentant Corinthian church, “Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong (vengeance). You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right.”

Perhaps, unintentionally but under inspiration, Paul also gave God’s vengeance a context in this verse, 2 Corinthians 7:11, when he put it in the neighborhood of words (using the NLT) like: earnestness, concern to clear or vindicate oneself, indignation (a passion to deal decisively with all sin), alarm, longing, and zeal—all pointing to a “readiness to punish wrong,” or to make things right.  If we use this to interpret Leviticus 26:25 God vowed in conversing with Moses to make things right between Himself and His people and not by tossing the Covenant to the curb.  He would keep His word in fulfilling the Old Covenant in judgment and then replace it with a New one, written on the hearts of His people.

We are still left asking: Why did the Savior need to suffer and die? What happened at Calvary? What was the Father thinking?


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Punishment con’t.

For some believers there are a few more concerns worth mentioning:


Some concluded that Jesus’ wholehearted submission to the Cross had, at least, to imply something other than punishment, that His death was restorative also, that there was something more happening at Calvary than assuaging an angry God.

Augustine believed, “Christ’s human attitude in proximity to his death is exemplary. He is a fitting and pleasing sacrifice on account of his obedience even in the face of death. This is what propitiates God.⁠”

It is this debate that consumes us, the theories of the Atonement abound, because elements of Jesus crucifixion suggest so. To start with: as retribution, punishment does not require the cooperation of the offender, but Jesus went to the Cross willingly (John 10:18; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 10:9).

A. W. Tozer reminds us, “When Jesus died on the Cross the mercy of God did not become any greater. It could not become any greater, for it was already infinite. We get the odd notion that God is showing mercy because Jesus died. No–Jesus died because God is showing mercy. It was the mercy of God that gave us Calvary, not Calvary that gave us mercy. If God had not been merciful there would have been no incarnation, no babe in the manger, no man on a cross and no open tomb.” 

The International Dictionary  of New Testament Theology concludes,

“The law nowhere indicates that in sacrifice…an act of punitive punishment is executed; it in no way asks us to look on the altar as a place of punishment. …sacrifice in the Bible is concerned with expiation rather than propitiation.”


Punishment is final. Romans 3:23 the wages of sin is always death. Punishment, biblically speaking, is a sentence of death—spiritual and eternal (Hebrews 10:29 KJV) but what is evident to faith if not to reason is the our Savior rose from death—a point unaccountably overlooked by some.

It is, perhaps, of some interest that neither the apostles nor Jesus nor the writers of the Old Testament books ever referred to Jesus’ crucifixion, theologically, as a “punishment.” Our verse in Isaiah is better translated “chastisement.” [It is Hebrew for discipline, correction]

Notwithstanding any theological doubt, Christendom still endears herself to the old hymn, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for me…Be of sin the double cure, Save from wrath and make me pure.”

“If the Cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything – the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery.” ― John R.W. Stott, The Cross of Christ

But there is a Biblical path through the labyrinth of theories and the focal point, for me, on which all theories teeter is the Biblical meaning of vengeance.

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Is Punishment the Right Word?

Isaiah 53:5 NIV …the punishment that brought us peace was on him….

A study of the word “punishment” suggests to me that English is weak in offering this word as a reasonable explanation why Jesus’ crucifixion was required as the means of our salvation. Yes, punishment can be a judicial term and those who by faith accept Jesus as their Savior, thanks to Calvary, will not be “condemned” Romans 8:1.  Jesus bore our punishment in our place. But is “punishment” the word?

And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. [CSB] 1 Timothy 3:16


Punishment is a criminal judgment as opposed to a civil one or, as an example of a civil judgment, a fine included in the repayment of debt [Leviticus 27:13]. When Jesus spoke of “debt” was He not talking about His forgiveness and our forgiving others. Forgiveness does not suggest punishment (Matthew 18:21-35). In fact, for some, they are mutually exclusive.

The understanding that “tetelesthai (John 19:30, It is finished) meant “paid in full” as well as the interpretation of Colossians 2:14 that the “handwriting of ordinances” was a certificate of debt—as scholars argue—does not point to our Savior’s crucifixion as a penal substitution …even though we know it was.

We sing “He paid the debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay.” This reminds me of Anselm of Canterbury in Church Tradition who spoke of Jesus’ death in terms of debt, liability, compensation, satisfaction, honor, price, payment, merit. Jesus’ calling Himself God’s “Ransom” makes sense here (Matthew 20:28) Anselm was arguing for the truth that Jesus was both God and man:

“Our situation is compounded by the fact that in order to compensate God we need to give back more than we owed originally and … the debt we have incurred is of infinite proportion. So no one but God could pay a debt of such magnitude, but no one but man is obliged to pay it. It follows that our salvation requires God become man.” (Cur Deus Homo 2.6)


Conscious of Guilt

We also understand that repentance needs a consciousness of sin. Many believers ask God to forgive them of—they know not what—just in case.  They might be gently compared to the Athenians on Mars Hill that Paul preached to who erected a statue to “the unknown God.”  Many recognize the unknown sins of their past. A dearest friend now with Jesus felt this way; so, it is beyond me to speak ill of it! But think of our word punishment in light of this.

Early theologians argued that we were liable for original sin but not guilty of it, but Evangelicals see no such distinction (Romans 5:14; 1 John 1:9). C.S. Lewis argued,

“Punishment, however severe,  is deserved if the offender is to be treated as a responsible (conscious of sin) human person made in God’s image. “

Yet, from the Cross Jesus forgave those who did what they did unknowingly (Luke 23:34).   The “guilt offering” was the offering  for sins done in ignorance (Leviticus 5:15) This word is used in Isaiah 53:10.

This doesn’t say that it wasn’t a penal substitution for our sins. It was! Had Jesus not gone to Calvary, we all would be destined for a lost eternity without Him. But what is the word for this? Continued.

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