Chapter 4


What about the Penalty for Sin?


Someone will say, "Well what about the penalty for sin?" Jesus is the Savior because He bore the just penalty for sin. "Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18). "Him Who knew no sin He made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor.5:21). "Who His own self bare our sins in His body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness; by Whose stripes ye were healed" (1 Peter 2:24). "And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world" (1 John 2:2).


Paul insists that Christ's death on the cross as a propitiation for sin manifests the righteous judgment of God upon sin. "Whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood, to show His righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God" (Rom.3:25). That is, for thousands of years God did not deal adequately and completely with sin--He "passed it over." He did not deal with mankind on the "cash basis," where full payment is required immediately on each transaction; but He dealt with the race on the "credit basis," under which method payment in full is expected at a later date.


Now when God made Him "to be sin on our behalf" (2 Cor.5:21), and "laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isa.-53:6), Paul insists that God dealt fully and righteously with human sin in all its aspects. Accordingly, whatever debt, or price, or judgment, or penalty should have been met (call it by any word you choose), He exacted in full from His own Beloved Son. "In Jesus, God is dealing with the whole sin of the whole universe in holy love, in righteous judgment, and in redeeming grace." Recognizing this great fact, our Lord, hanging upon the cross, and ready to give up His spirit, spoke the word that, in His day, was regularly written across every receipted bill, "Tetelestai," "Paid in full" (John 19:30; lit., "It is accomplished"). Christ on the cross demonstrates the love of God as nothing else ever did or can yet He did more. The holy Son of mankind was making complete amends to the holy and righteous throne of God.


But notice carefully what price He paid. If the just and ultimate penalty for sin is eternal torment, then Jesus can never be the Savior of anyone! Because He is not being eternally tormented. Again, if the just and ultimate penalty for sin is extermination, then Jesus can never be the Savior of anyone! But He was not exterminated. Instead, He died for all; and, He is now in the glory as our advocate!


There are a lot of false ideas about God! John said in 1 John 5:21, ""LITTLE CHILDREN, keep yourselves from idols" (i.e., false gods, or false ideas of the true God). The most important aspect of the three proposed doctrines regarding the fate of the wicked is not what their consequences might be in relation to the wicked but what their consequences would be in relation to God. The most important thinking in the world is the thinking men do about God. True ideas of God lead to nobility of life; false ideas of God lead to the opposite and theology and philosophy mold the life of the world. For example, a leading factor in the attitudes and beliefs that led to World War I was the adoption by some of the philosophy of Nietzsche. Similarly, as in so many lands, it is belief in idols that makes an idolatrous people. This is so even as it is also true that a Catholic theology makes a Catholic land and a Protestant theology makes a Protestant land.


Do we have false ideas about God? I fear we do. We say that God is all wise and all powerful and then turn around and deny it. We say that God is all loving and then turn around and deny it. We read John 1:1-14, and say that the Creative Word of God and the Redemptive Word of God are the same but then turn around and deny it.


"God as Creator and God as Redeemer and the God Who acts through the order of nature and the God Who acts through the order of grace, God in the law, and God in the gospel are all the one and the same God!" (Edwin Lewis, in "Philosophy of Christian Revelation"). If only we held true to such beautiful teaching!


Let us look a bit more carefully at our teaching. Though we may formally affirm that God is all wise and all powerful, we do indeed turn around and deny this when we fail to unreservedly accept such glorious declarations as, "Is My hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at My rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness" (Isa.50:2). "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and as a cloud, your sins: return unto Me; for I have redeemed thee" (Isa.44:22).


Folks who claim that they are true to the Bible, may indeed affirm that the Word Who creates, and the Word Who redeems are the same Word of God but they effectually deny this very affirmation by their attitude toward the question of ultimate salvation for all men. They have an infinite Creator but a very little Redeemer. Their Christ is a comparatively helpless and puny Savior Who is going to lose most of those for Whom He died. He can pay the price for the sins of the whole world but the stubborn will of man makes it ineffective. Man's will is mightier than God's will. God is infinite to create yet powerless to redeem.


Again, we say that God is love and then turn around and deny it. We confidently affirm that God is going to do to His rebellious children what we would imprison or hang an earthly father for doing to his children. We really make God less than human. Let me quote again from Ferre in "The Christian Fellowship":


"We of the liberal tradition are still too empirical in attitude, however, to define love in terms of a historical revelation which can make love punish eternally the children of its own creation. God's love to us must at least be as good as the best love we know and we believe much better. Punishment and hell must be the decree of God's love. It must be purposive, not [merely] punitive, in nature. If the Christian love be sufficiently wise and strong, heaven can be heaven only when it has emptied hell."


Even so, beautiful as that idea may seem, some of us could not accept it merely on the basis of human philosophy. Unless we can find the truth revealed in God's Holy Word we would still have to reject it.


Another factor in our problem is God's relationship to the introduction of evil and sin into the universe. Some of the theological contortions men go through in order to relieve God of all responsibility in that field are pitiful. They are not explanations but evasions. We do not have   room here for an extended discussion of such a subject but a few observations may be in order.


Over and over, in different ways, the truth declared in Acts 15:18; "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" is affirmed. God knew sin would enter His creation. He made preparation for it ahead of time. The first Christian sermon declares of Jesus, "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23). If God knew about it ahead of time then He could have prevented its entry if He had not wanted sin to get into His universe. But He did know and He did plan beforehand for just that. "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18).


Without relieving man of one whit of guilt for sin, it can be stated on the basis of the Bible that:


(1) God provided a Saviour, "slain from the foundation of the world";


(2) God created Satan, the tempter, and had him on the doorstep of the world when man first appeared (if God had not wanted Satan there, surely He could have located him elsewhere, or else restrained him; "I have created the waster to destroy," Isa.54:16;


(3) God planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and put it right at the cross-walk of Eden (hence, it is folly to assume that Adam is to blame for such factors;


(4) God, in His infinite wisdom, wanted sin and salvation to operate in His universe: "For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of Him Who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God" (Rom.8:20,21). When we attempt to introduce sin into God's world as an oversight, or a slip-up, or otherwise somehow as a weakness on God's part, we are thereby destroying any concept of a Sovereign God, especially One Who is worthy of worship.


What we teach about the fate of the wicked is a reflection of our understanding of God's solution to the Sin Problem. The eternal torment doctrine gives us a fiendish solution, to say the least. Such a God might well be feared, but could never be loved. No wonder the little girl who heard her father preach about such a God wished that God were as kind and good as her father!


Also, the extermination doctrine is a childish solution, at best. If you planned a house and by some chance, no matter whose fault, a door was put in the wrong place, or a partition left out, would you burn down the house? Only children would solve the problem that way! Yet, we confidently affirm that God is going to do such un God like things in spite of the many places in the Bible which plainly show, "That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him" (Eph.1:10). See also Colossians 1:20, Philippians 2:9-11, and other clear statements in the Scriptures which plainly show that all realms of intelligence will ultimately be brought under the sway of Christ.


One other factor should be noted. In the eternal torment doctrine, God is supposed to let the lost suffer in the brimstone for all eternity without His feeling any concern over their suffering. What a perverse paternal care for His creatures such a doctrine would entail! And, according to the extermination doctrine, He would burn up the greater part of His own creation and then go on forever in perfect peace and heavenly bliss with no sense of pain or emptiness of heart over the loss of countless millions of the souls for whom He sent Christ to die for! "Little children, keep yourselves from false ideas of God!" Either God is all-powerful, or He is not. Either God is all wise, or He is not. Either God is all loving, or He is not. Either God's will is sovereign, or it is not. Either God's grace is infinite, or it is not. Isn't it time for the church of Christ to decide one way or the other and then make her theology fit her expressed faith? "Little children, keep yourselves from false ideas of God!"