Error from Penal Substitution

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. – 1 John 3:7

It would be wise for us to go throughout the Bible to look for verses like these that begin with, “let no one deceive you…” There are several. The sad thing is that so many are being deceived in precisely the way that these verses tell us not to be deceived. When a New Testament author takes the time to qualify a statement with do not be deceived, it would be wise for us to take extra care to hear what he says.

In my previous blog I wrote about what I believe is the true theory of the Atonement. If you haven’t read that yet, read it first. This blog will make better sense if you read the other first. I mentioned in that blog that there are errors that I believe spring forth out of a faulty understanding of the Atonement. This faulty understanding, which is embraced by most Christians today, is called Penal Substitution.

Penal Substitution, in a nutshell, is the idea that our sin was imputed to Jesus on the cross; there He literally bore the punishment our sin deserved. Or, as it is often put, on Him the wrath of God was poured out in our place.

Like I mentioned, I believe this theory to be wrong. And not only wrong, but potentially dangerous. In recent years, bad theology has emerged that is rooted in Penal Substitution. I’m going to address this bad theology in this blog and why I think Penal Substitution is much to blame.

God’s Disposition Towards Man

Lately, I’ve asked God this question: What is your disposition towards man? How to you feel about us? What are your thoughts toward us?This is an important question to ask. If we get this wrong, we’re in big trouble. 

I’ve been troubled by what I have heard taught regarding this question. Instead of seeing God as a Person whose disposition towards man varies based on circumstance, many have taught that, because of the cross, God is now permanently happy towards mankind, never angry. In fact, some people base their entire ministries upon this idea. Their reasoning is thus: ‘God’s wrath was carried out upon Jesus 2000 years ago! God’s not angry anymore!’

I heard a preacher put it like this recently: “If God was an emoji, some of you you see him like this: (angry face). I want to tell you that there is only one emoji for you as far as God is concerned, and that is an emoji with a smile as far as the east is from the west. Not because of what you have done but because of what His perfect Son did upon the Cross, paying the price 100% for the sin you have committed, you will commit, or you are committing right now (emphasis mine). Jesus paid the price which means when God sees you He smiles over you.”

I don’t believe this preacher to be preaching error on purpose. I believe he genuinely thinks he’s helping people. However, I don’t believe this helps people at all. This man is basically teaching that a professing Christian is in perfect favor with God, no matter what He does. Period. He bases this idea on the faulty grounds of Penal Substitution. Here’s why this is dangerous:

1 – It’s biblically incorrect.

The Bible emphatically states that ‘He who practices righteousness is righteous.’ But this doctrine teaches that righteousness can be had in the midst of sin. This is wrong and the Bible warns against it (e.g. Matthew 7:21-23, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

2 – It comforts those in sin.

Imagine that a professing Christian has some sin that they have held on to and a preacher comes along preaching this message. What would be their likely conclusion? Would it be to cut off the hand or pluck out the eye? Would it be to forsake all and follow Christ? Would it be to repent and do the first works? No, they would feel a false comfort—that God accepts them in their sin. They would feel no urgency to repent. They’d feel no danger. And, indeed, this minister, whom I quoted, said nothing about repentance. Nothing. Satan would be very pleased. 

I’ve personally seen several examples of this. I remember a young man who was confused when I preached repentance. He said, “I thought God loved me no matter what I did…” He was fond of marijuana and drinking and wasn’t keen to give it up. He had heard this erroneous preaching before I came along. Now he was in conflict. Would he give up his sin and follow Jesus? Or would he walk away like the rich, young ruler did? It’s easy to see why churches that preach these things are so large. They fill their pews with the unsaved—who think they are saved—and never love them enough to tell them the truth.

3 – It leads to loose living.

Professing Christians are increasingly unconcerned about holiness. They are living worldly lifestyles, drinking more, dressing in a more worldly way, and slipping often in regards to sexual matters. There is very little talk of fearing God or forsaking the world. The line between the world and Christendom has grown increasingly gray. Many professing Christians look like the world, dress like the world, indulge like the world, date like the world, consume media like the world, and the list goes on. There is hardly a distinction, even among those in church leadership!

One issue that is particularly baffling to me is the willingness on the part of professing Christians to ingest any and all types of media. How is it that I see professing Christians post on social media their love for ‘Game of Thrones?’ And how is it that young men in Christian families are allowed to play games like ‘Grand Theft Auto?’ It used to be that Christians would never darken the door of a movie theater, but now it is nothing to sit at ‘R’ rated movies. This is the fruit of weak and erroneous preaching and is only the tip of the iceberg.

I hate being the guy to say these things. I really do. But I’m genuinely concerned. Is the church moving in the right direction? Not that I can tell.

Is God Always Smiling?

It bothers me when people say that God isn’t angry anymore because of what Jesus did on the cross. What it implies is that, before the cross, God was perpetually angry and couldn’t be appeased until He brutally murdered His own Son. How do people believe this? How do they read the Old Testament and think that God was always angry? He wasn’t. He was angry at times. But not all the time. Was God angry when Abel brought his sacrifice? Was God angry when Enoch walked with Him? Was He angry when Abraham demonstrated his faith by bringing up his son Isaac to Mount Moriah? Was He angry with Jacob, who wrestled with him until he obtained the blessing? Was He angry with Joseph when he was faithful for 13 years in Potiphar’s house and in the dungeon? Was He angry when David brought the ark of the Lord into Jerusalem (the right way), dancing with all his might before the Lord? Was He angry when Solomon dedicated the temple, when His glory filled the temple? I don’t think so. I could go on and on. Jesus death on the cross did not change God’s disposition towards man. It’s always been the same.

I’m baffled by those who seem to believe that God was angry in the Old Testament but nice and friendly in the New. It’s just not true either way. God was friendly in the Old Testament and can be angry in the New. He’s not always angry. Nor is He always happy. He’s a person. His emotions vary according to the person or nation or church that He is dealing with. And His disposition can change if the person or nation or church changes. This isn’t hard to understand. This is the way everyone is. We would expect a perfect being to be angry at those who hurt others while being pleased with those who help others. Revelation chapters one through three demonstrate this well.

Why aren’t we preaching repentance?

Very rarely do I hear anyone preaching repentance anymore. Why is that?

Do you remember the man that Jesus called ‘the greatest man born of a woman’? Yes, it was John the Baptist. What did He preach? Repentance. He pointed his finger at Herod and said, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife!” And the disciples, what did they preach? ‘They went out and preached that people should repent.’ What did Jesus tell them to preach? ‘That repentance and remission of sins should be preached to all nations.’ What did Peter preach? ‘Repent, and be baptized, all of you, for the remission of sins.’ What did Paul preach? ‘That they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.’ And most importantly, what did Jesus preach? ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.’

I hear very little of this kind of preaching anymore. Instead I hear, “Jesus paid for your sins on the cross! God’s not angry with you! Be at rest! Rest in God!” Or if we do hear about repentance it is spoken of with no explanation or simply repeated in a prayer. Just because someone says, “I repent of my sins,” does not mean that they have genuinely done so. They need to hear it, know what it means, and do it.

Is God Angry?

Is God Angry?

Yes and no.

First, yes. He’s angry all the time. How could He not be? According to the Bible, all humanity has enough of a revelation of God to be without excuse (Romans 1). That means that people who know better are doing all kind of evil things. The thief knows he shouldn’t steal, but takes anyway, violating the innocent. The adulterer knows it’s wrong to cheat on his wife, but he does anyway. He leaves a wake of destruction and despair and brokenness behind him. The rapists steals the innocence of a young woman and violates her person. Is God not angry? A young woman despises the instruction of her parents, embraces an immoral lifestyle, and, that her lifestyle might not be hindered, destroys the fruit of her womb. Is God not angry?

Think clearly about this. Humans tend to go to one extreme or the other. Imagine that your teenage son got angry with his brother, beat him with a baseball bat, and ran away from home. Would you be angry with your son? I’d hope so! Why? Because you hate him? No, but because you love his brother also. And what would you want as a father? Would you want him to leave forever and never come back? Of course not. You’d want him to be genuinely sorry for what he did and come home. But what if he felt the need to further inflict damage on the family? What if he harassed your daughter over the internet and threw bricks through the windows of the house? Would you be angry? I’d hope so! Why? Because you hate him? No, because you love the people he’s hurting.

We need to remember that when people are sinning against God they are hurting those whom God loves. It would be strange for God not be angry about that. It would be unloving for Him not to be angry. We should warn people about that. We should warn the young man who is ‘sowing his wild oats’ that he is jeopardizing the future of the young women that he manipulates and that God is not happy about it. We should warn the young woman that God is angry about the innocent lives that are destroyed in the name of ‘choice.’ We should warn young people that if they defile the temple of God (their bodies), God will destroy them. These aren’t fun words but the are the very word of God.

Is God angry?

Secondly, no. Take to heart this important verse:

God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. – James 4:6

Notice how God’s response is different towards the proud than toward the humble. And also notice how it is your response to His overtures that determine His disposition towards you:

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. – James 4:8-10

Read carefully these words and remember that they were written to Christians. 

So how does God feel about you? Well, have you humbled yourself? Have you wept over your sin? Or are you proud? If you humble yourself, God is like the father of the prodigal son to you, embracing you with open arms, ready to shower grace and mercy upon you. But if you’re proud, unwilling to part with your sin, then God is the One saying ‘depart from me, I never knew you.’ You become the very enemy of God.

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. – James 4:4

The problem with the popular message that says, “God’s not angry!” is that it is true for some people but not for others. It’ll help those who are humble before God but it will seal the fate of the proud. How many members in these churches have secrets sins to which they cling to? And how encouraging to hear that God’s not angry with them? A man will leave his wife and family, marry another and be back to church the next Sunday. What’s the message? “God doesn’t see your sin, He sees Jesus’ righteous!” Awful…

We ought to preach the whole counsel of God, that we, like Paul, might be able to say, “I am free from the blood of all men.” We should extend grace to the humble but we should warn the proud. This should be done from the pulpit. People are smart enough not to be confused.

In Conclusion

I want to be clear that not all those who hold to Penal Substitution adhere to the errors that I have written about in this blog. However, I believe these errors are logically sound if proceeding from the ground of Penal Substitution. I think its hard to argue with these errors from the ground of Penal Substitution. I don’t think those who oppose these errors will ultimately be successful if they cling to Penal Substitution, because these errors make sense under Penal Substitution.

I would challenge those who cling to Penal Substitution to rethink their thoughts on the atonement. There are good books out there by fruitful and godly ministers that promote a more biblical view. A good book to start with would be Charles Finney’s Systematic Theology. It’s a difficult read, but very enlightening. And, if you haven’t already, read my thoughts on the Governmental Theory of the Atonement. I believe it most faithfully represents the scriptures.