“You were ransomed 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 Pet. 1:18-19).
Like most of you, my wife and I have sat down with our children to tell them about the saving blood of Jesus: “We want you to know that we are all sinners, guilty under God’s law and deserving His just condemnation. But the good news is that God sent His Son, Jesus, to bear the penalty for our sins by dying for us. We are forgiven by trusting that Jesus died in our place on the cross.”
Christians realize that these words are offensive to many people, since we are calling everyone sinners and we insist that we could only be saved by Jesus’ death for our sins. We know this teaching is offensive to non-Christians and to many who attend liberal churches. But what is alarming is how offensive the blood of Christ is to increasing numbers of so-called evangelical Christians. Twenty years ago, liberal Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong wrote that he “would choose to loathe rather than to worship a deity who required the sacrifice of his son.” This is to be expected from a man who denies the truth of the Bible. But more recently, British evangelical Steve Chalke describes the atonement as “a form of cosmic child abuse – a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offense he has not even committed.” Evangelical scholars Joel Green and Mark Baker complain that in the doctrine of the atonement, “God takes on the role of the sadist inflicting punishment, while Jesus, in his role as masochist, readily embraces suffering.” Michael Hardin compares the God of the cross to the gunman who murdered Amish schoolgirls: “For both, blood satisfied, and in both, innocent blood, truly innocent blood is shed.” These things were written about God the Father and Jesus Christ in books printed by such trusted Christian publishers as Zondervan, InterVarsity, and Baker Books.
My response to these challenges was published by Crossway Books, titled, Precious Blood: The Atoning Work of Christ. My purpose in editing this book was to teach the Bible’s message of the atonement and to defend Christ’s precious blood against these detractors. It is urgently necessary that Christians know what and why the Bible teaches about the cross of our Lord: if we are going to have any faith to defend in our generation, we must defend it at the cross. I make it my practice to read practically every new book that comes out on the atonement, since the cross of Christ is the very heart of our faith. Please pray that God will use my book to honor His Son and to help Christians to stand fast at the cross.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, the apostle Paul listed what he considered to be truths “of first importance” to salvation. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received,” Paul writes, going on to name the doctrines of the cross and the resurrection. Regarding the cross, Paul states that it is essential to our salvation to believe: 1) that Christ died; 2) that His death was “for our sins” – that is, to pay in our place the penalty our sins deserved (also known as vicarious, penal substitution); and 3) “in accordance with the Scriptures,” that is, as foretold and prefigured in the Old Testament. This says that every Christian should know and be able to tell others about Jesus’ death on the cross, how Christ paid the penalty for our sins, and how the Old Testament foretold and prefigured the cross. Paul goes on to add the necessity of belief in the resurrection: “that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Cor. 15:4-5). If you are unsure about the truth or meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection, or if you do not know how to explain it to others, now is a good time for you to devote some study to the doctrines of the cross and the resurrection. We must stand firm in these blessed truths, apart from which there is no salvation.
Let me conclude with some recommendations for your reading. In addition to my book, I would suggest the following books on the atonement (all of which were written for regular folks):
- The Heart of the Cross, James M. Boice and Philip G. Ryken
- The Truth of the Cross, R. C. Sproul
- In My Place Condemned He Stood, J. I. Packer and Mark Dever
First published in The West End Herald, April 15, 2019.