When God Forgives
Updated: Aug 27, 2018
In a previous note entitled “The Incarnation: God’s Redemption of Man” I addressed the incarnation and several ancient and modern redemption models. Having read that, a friend brought up the issue of God’s forgiveness as relating to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. This is a sensitive topic, and one which I hope I will be able to address with as much care and clarification as possible.
Did Jesus come to enable God’s forgiveness, or did He come because God is forgiving?
To be clear, every early redemption model discussed yesterday is centered on God’s forgiveness, while the latter modern theories were designed to address God’s justice and wrath.
What redemption theory or theories we hold, will inevitably affect how we understand Scripture and the incarnation. If we affirm the ancient models which focus on deliverance, redemption and theosis then we will see the incarnation, life, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Christ as the embodiment of God’s forgiveness; that having forgiven man, God set out to rescue and restore him. However, if we hold a modern view such as Penal Substitution, then we would believe God could not simply forgive sinners and thus the work of Christ was to satiate His wrath via fulfillment of divine justice; God needed to pour His wrath on someone no matter who and without Christ taking our punishment then we remain under His wrath.
These are VERY different views of God, justice and forgiveness.
To be sure, there are passages in Scripture which adherents of these modern redemption models will claim support their particular view. On a surface level they seemingly do just that, but it is my contention that they inevitably slander God and serve to confuse the believer. Having said that, the point of this post is not to claim that affirming one model or another is necessarily salvific, but rather that the basis of modern Atonement models is unsound.
A Common Claim
If one rejects Anselm or Hodge, if one rejects their Satisfaction or Penal Substitution (PSA) Theories, such a person will inevitably be met with the charge that they are disregarding the blood of Christ and Scripture.
This is wholly untrue.
Moreover, if this were the case then every Christian before these theories were introduced in 1095 and 1865 would be guilty of this charge. Surely we are not willing to condemn every believer for the first thousand years or more after His ascension who had not yet heard the opinions of Anselm and Hodge? When did God so affirm and elevate their opinions?
The problems with Penal Substitution are many and I do not have the time or inclination to address them all here. There is a great podcast which is dedicated to addressing this very topic and I highly recommend EVERYONE listen the entire series:
This post is not intended to thoroughly expose every problem with PSA or Satisfaction Theory, but rather to defend the beliefs of the first century Church and the faith of those who do not adhere to these modern theories.
A serious student of Scripture will know that God has always freely pardoned the repentant, not desiring that any should perish.
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” Isaiah 55:7
“The Lord is merciful and gracious; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.” Psalm 103: 8-13
“I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Psalm 32:5
Not only do we see God forgive sinners throughout the Old Testament, but we see Jesus forgive sinners during His earthly ministry and then we see His Apostles forgive sinners. Taking things even further we are taught to emulate God and forgive those who trespass against us! The Holy and Living God is a God of forgiveness and reconciliation!
The goodness of God, His love and mercy, cannot be understated. He could have refused to forgive sinners, or He could have forgiven man but left us to suffer the consequences of our sin, forever being a prisoner of the grave and under the works of the devil. Praise be to Him that He did no such thing! Instead, having forgiven the repentant, He promised to redeem and restore us.
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:21-26
The Incarnation Was a Rescue Mission
God forgives sinners when they repent and return to Him. Then He takes on our flesh and blood, like us in every respect, living a sinless life in perfect submission to the Father, and through death He conquers the hold of the grave, destroying the works of the devil and reconciling those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong futility.
The incarnation of Christ is the manifestation, the revelation, the fulfillment of God’s covenant of forgiveness as it fully rescues and redeems man from the grave and devil. Jesus did not come to save us from the Father, but the Father was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself!
If you believe in the unforgiving, unjust and wrathful God of Anselm and Hodge, I invite you to take the matter before God and earnestly petition Him to reveal to you who He really is. Then invest some time researching these redemption models in light of Scripture, all the while asking yourself: “Do I believe what I am reading, or am I reading what I believe into the text?”