Satisfaction for Sin

Easter's Gospel

Series: Easter's Gospel

by Bruce McDowell April 2, 2014

During the weeks leading up to Easter our pastoral staff will tackle theological topics related to the resurrection in a series we're calling "Easter's Gospel."


Satisfaction of a Capricious God

Muslims do not believe that Jesus died upon the cross. Nor do they believe that Jesus could pay the penalty for our sin. They believe we must pay for our sin through doing good deeds (such as giving a thirsty dog a drink of water), keeping the five pillars of Islam, and submitting to the will of Allah. At the end of life it is hoped that one’s good outweighs one’s bad in a balance. But there can be no assurance of entering paradise for anyone, as ultimately it is up to the capricious will of Allah. There is no rhyme or reason for why Allah decides what he will do, for the god of Islam does not have the character of the God of biblical revelation.

Satisfaction of a Consistent God

For us as believers in Christ, things are totally different. The forgiveness we experience is based upon the total consistency of the character of God revealed in Scripture. For this reason we see in the cross of Christ satisfaction of God’s holiness and justice through substitution of the unrighteous by the righteous. Some see this as ancient primitive superstition. Why does God need satisfaction before he is ready to forgive? What are the demands that stand in the way before being satisfied? Who is making these demands? Various ideas have been proposed, such as the devil, the law, God’s honor or justice, or the moral order. Each of these have some merit, but do not ultimately account for this dilemma. They share the limitation that, unless carefully stated, “they represent God as being subordinate to something outside and above himself which controls his actions, to which he is accountable, and from which he cannot free himself” (Stott 123). Rather, the demands come from within God himself. He must satisfy himself through the means of salvation that he devised by not contradicting himself (Stott 112). The atonement is necessary because it arises from within his character.

A Loving, Just God

God must act according to the perfection of his nature and name. So satisfaction is found in his intrinsic nature, a law of his own being. God cannot disown himself (2 Timothy 2:13) or contradict himself, for he never lies (Titus 1:2). He is never arbitrary or capricious, but always acts within his holy character (Ps. 89:33). This is expressed in two primary ways. First, God is “provoked” by the sins of his people to jealous anger so that it “burns” and he “unleashes” it and “pours” it out in judgment. Second, this anger is set against the background of God’s love for his people whom he has chosen and with whom he has made a covenant. The love relationship that God initiated, sustained, and promised to renew developed out of his character. God acted for the “sake of his name.” He loved Israel, not because they were more numerous than other peoples, but only because he loved them (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).

A Loving, Holy God

So we see both God's justice and his love as consistent with his perfect character. But we do not need to set them against one another as some kind of divine dilemma. Using anthropomorphic imagery, Hosea portrays God as a father who has raised a son (Israel) who has gone wayward and deserves to be punished. However, his compassion is aroused, and he will not come in wrath (Hosea 11:1-9). There is inner tension described between what God ought to do because of righteousness and what he cannot do because of his love and compassion. In his wrath God remembers mercy. Scripture speaks of God as “the compassionate and gracious God…Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” Paul tells us to consider, “the kindness and sternness of God.” God demonstrates his justice, “so as to be just and the one who justified the man who has faith in Jesus.” This dual nature of God has been described as one of the central mysteries of Christian revelation. In the cross of Christ the dual nature of God’s holiness and his love is simultaneously revealed. At the cross we have both “inflexible righteousness, with its penalties, and transcendent love” (Brunner in Stott 131). Calvin wrote of God, “in a marvelous and divine way he loved us even when he hated us” (Stott 131). It is only because our God is both holy and loving that we have the necessity of the atonement. At the cross righteousness and peace kiss.

How Can God Satisfy his Holy Love?

John Stott asks, “How then can God express his holiness without consuming us, and his love without condoning our sins? How can God satisfy his holy love? How can he save us and satisfy himself simultaneously? We reply at this point only that, in order to satisfy himself, he sacrificed—indeed substituted—himself for us” (132).

The Divine Exchange

Thus in the cross of Christ God satisfies the requirements of his holiness and justice by punishing our sin, yet in love setting us free from its bondage and penalty. This was made possible because, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). There was a divine exchange whereby Christ bore our sin and we received the righteousness of Christ through faith in him. Only because of this can we have full assurance of salvation and hope for eternity. No other religion can offer this. Only the gospel has this sure hope.