Recently, Dr. Bob Terry, the editor of “The Alabama Baptist” newsletter wrote an article that has stirred up some controversy. Probably more accurately, he has created a degree of shock among those who held him and his theological paradigm in high regard.
Before I respond, I want to be clear that in no way is this blog post throwing stones at Dr. Terry. As the world around us erodes, Christians must find ways in which we can work together and quit all of the unnecessary infighting. Yet, I believe that what Dr. Terry was quoted as saying demands some responses from those who hold very different views of God’s attitude and role in the atonement. Here are my thoughts…
The title of the online article is “Why Disagree About the Words of a Hymn?” (access full article here.) He begins with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s decision not to include the modern hymn “In Christ Alone” in their updated hymnal. The committee wanted to replace the lyrics of the second verse from “’till on that cross as Jesus died the wrath of God was satisfied” to “’till on that cross as Jesus died the love of God was magnified.” The Gettys, the authors of the song, refused to allow the change and the song was therefore dropped from inclusion in the hymnal.
After his introduction, Dr. Bob Terry wrote: “The Bible speaks clearly about the wrath of God and warns that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God (Ps. 90:11). Yet there remains a question about whether God was an angry God at Golgotha whose wrath had to be appeased by the suffering of the innocent Jesus. Sometimes Christians carelessly make God out to be some kind of ogre whose angry wrath overflowed until the innocent Jesus suffered enough to calm Him down. It is the ultimate “good cop/bad cop” routine where God is against us but Jesus is for us. Some popular theologies do hold that Jesus’ suffering appeased God’s wrath. That is not how I understand the Bible and that is why I do not sing the phrase “the wrath of God was satisfied” even though I love the song “In Christ Alone.”
I suppose that one of the biggest questions that comes to my mind after reading that is: “Who did God pay off to purchase us?” Because, very clearly in Scripture, we understand that a price had to be paid to save us.
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
“You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.” (1 Corinthians 7:23)
“knowing that you were ransomed (bought out of slavery) from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—” (Galatians 3:13)
I could keep going but you get the idea. God purchased us. But, from whom? Did he pay the Devil off? Did God buy us from Satan?
Absolutely not! God has never owed Satan anything! The last reference I gave in Galatians 3:13 lets us know. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law”, specifically God’s law. God, the lawgiver is the One who judicially expected complete compliance. He expected nothing short of complete holiness.
It was in His court that we stood guilty of breaking His laws. His justice demanded that payment be made for offenses committed. So, the payment to erase our sin debt was made to God’s holy justice.
But, notice the language used in Galatians 3:13. It says “the CURSE of the law.” Hardly tolerant, compassionate language. Cursed means to be condemned and experience the resultant consequences.
Who placed the curse on us before we were redeemed by Christ? In fact, who made Jesus a curse as He hung on the cross? Read Galatians 3:13 again and see that Jesus had a curse put upon Him as He hung on the cross. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—”.
All you need to do to see who placed the curse is to look at Deuteronomy 21:22-23 where Moses recounted the law that God gave to the people of Israel: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God…”
Did you catch those last few words? “Cursed by God.” When Jesus hung on the cross, He became a curse for us. To use the vernacular of Galatians 3:13 and Deuteronomy 21:22-23, He was cursed by God. He wasn’t just paying our sin debt as a loving God watched. He was bearing our sin as He became our curse.
It’s hard to understand how anyone could say that God was only expressing His love while Jesus died on that cross because on that cross, Jesus was bearing the curse of God. Of course God the Father loved His Son. Yet, He sent His Son so that His wrath could be poured out on Him and not us so that we could come into God’s family. (The truth is, God expressed BOTH while Jesus was on the cross: anger AND love.)
To show how these two attitudes (anger and love) were equally expressed by our incomprehensible God, I’ll end with one final passage of Scripture. It shows very clearly how God, who was and is incensed at unbelievers is also a loving God who appeased His wrath and satisfied His justice by sending His Son to die as our substitute. (The beauty of the cross is that God sent Jesus to take the punishment we were due so that we could be completely forgiven and brought into His family.) Here’s Ephesians 2:1-10 –
God’s wrath directed at us while we were unbelievers
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—
3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
God’s love directed at us to draw us to Himself
4 But God (I LOVE those two words!), being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.