Sunday Sep 24, 2023

Soteriology Lesson 17 - Jesus’ Sinlessness Life, Willingness to Die, and Substitutionary Atoning Death

Jesus’ Sinless Life

     The record of Scripture is that Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), was “without sin” (Heb 4:15), “committed no sin” (1 Pet 2:22), and in whom “there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). But why was the sinless humanity of Jesus necessary? The biblical teaching is that all mankind is sinful and separated from God (Rom 3:10-23). We are sinners in Adam (Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21-22), sinners by nature (Rom 7:14-25; 13:12-14), and sinners by choice (Isa 59:2; Jam 1:14-15). Because of our fallen sinful state, we are completely helpless to solve the sin problem and save ourselves (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3), and good works have no saving merit before God (Isa 64:6; Rom 4:4-5; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). Being completely sinless, Jesus was qualified to go the cross as “a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Pet 1:19) and die a substitutionary death in our place, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). Charles Lee Feinberg states, “Though tempted in all points as we are, He was nevertheless without sin (Heb 4:15); indeed, we are told, He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners (Heb 7:26). In short, the combined testimony of Scripture reveals that in Him is no sin (1 John 3:5).”[1] According to R. B. Thieme Jr.:

  • "As true humanity living on earth, Christ was free from all three categories of human sinfulness: the sin nature, Adam’s original sin, and personal sins. The first two categories were eliminated from our Lord’s life through the virgin birth, but personal sin remained an issue throughout the Incarnation. Scripture confirms that our Lord can “sympathize with our weaknesses,” because He “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). The temptation to personal sin did not come from within, because the humanity of Christ had no inherent sin nature. He did, however, receive temptation from outside His person—even being tempted by Satan himself…By constantly relying on the provisions of the spiritual life (the same provisions available to us), Jesus Christ was able to resist every temptation and remain perfect (1 John 3:3, 5)."[2]

     Sinners need salvation, but cannot save themselves, nor can they save another. All are trapped in sin and utterly helpless to change their condition. But God the Son did what we cannot do for ourselves. He obeyed the Father and stepped into time and space, taking true and sinless humanity to Himself, and living a perfect life before the Father. Then, at a point in time, He surrendered Himself to the cross and died a penal substitutionary death on behalf of all humanity, bearing the wrath of God in their place. Then He was placed in a grave and rose again to life on the third day, never to die again. The benefits of the cross are applied to those who come to Jesus with the empty hands of faith, believing He died for them, was buried, and raised again on the third day. When they place their faith in Him as Savior, they have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This is given freely by grace. R. B. Thieme Jr. states:

  • "Every human being needs to be saved, because everyone enters this world in a state of spiritual death, total depravity, and total separation from God. Because man is born hopelessly lost from God and helpless to do anything about it, God, in His grace, designed a perfect plan to reconcile man to Himself. God the Son took the burden of responsibility: He became true humanity and remained sinless so that He could be judged for the sins of the world (1 Pet 3:18). While Jesus Christ hung on the cross, God the Father poured the full wrath of His justice upon the Son He loved so perfectly (Matt 27:46; Rom 5:8–10; 2 Cor 5:21). Christ “bore our sins in His body” (1 Pet 2:24) and took the punishment in our place. God’s righteous standard approved of Jesus’ sacrifice as payment for all human sins."[3]

Jesus’ Willingness to Die

     Jesus was not forced to go to the cross, but willingly went and bore our sin (Isa 53:4-11; John 10:17-18; 1 Pet 2:24). Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11), and “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18a). It was the will of the Father for Jesus to die a penal substitutionary death, and Jesus willingly accomplished it. Jesus said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me” (Heb 10:5). And once in hypostatic union, Jesus said, “Behold, I have come to do your will” (Heb 10:9). It was necessary for Jesus to be fully human and free from sin to be the atoning sacrifice. Thomas Constable states, “Jesus willingly offered Himself; no human took His life from Him. However, He offered Himself in obedience to the Father’s will.”[4] According to Leon Morris, “The Lord’s death does not take place as the result of misadventure or the might of his foes or the like. No one takes his life from him. Far from this being the case, he himself lays it down, and does so completely of his own volition.”[5] William MacDonald adds:

  • "No one could take the Lord’s life from Him. He is God, and is thus greater than all the murderous plots of His creatures. He had power in Himself to lay down His life, and He also had power to take it again. But did not men kill the Lord Jesus? They did. This is clearly stated in Acts 2:23 and in 1 Thessalonians 2:15. The Lord Jesus allowed them to do it, and this was an exhibition of His power to lay down His life. Furthermore, He “gave up His Spirit” (John 19:30) as an act of His own strength and will."[6]

Jesus’ Substitutionary Atonement

     Atonement is a very important concept in the Bible. In the OT, the word atonement translates the Hebrew verb kaphar (כָּפַר) which means to “cover over, pacify, propitiate, [or] atone for sin.”[7] Theologically, it means “to bring together in mutual agreement, with the added idea, in theology, of reconciliation through the vicarious suffering of one on behalf of another.”[8] The animal sacrificial system—which was part of the Mosaic Law—taught that sin must be atoned for. The idea of substitution was clearly taught as the sinner laid his hands on the animal that died in his place (Lev 4:15, 24; 16:21). The innocent animal paid the price of death on behalf of the guilty sinner.

     The animal sacrificial system under the Mosaic Law taught that God is holy, man is sinful, and that God was willing to judge an innocent creature as a substitute in place of the sinner. The animal that shed its blood gave up its life in place of the one who had offended God, and it was only through the shed blood that atonement was made. A life for a life. The animal sacrificial system under the Mosaic Law was highly symbolic, temporary, and pointed forward to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The Levitical priests would regularly perform their temple sacrifices on behalf of the people to God, but being a symbolic system, the animal sacrifices could never “make perfect those who draw near” to Him, for the simple reason that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:1, 4). For nearly fourteen centuries the temple priests kept “offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Heb 10:11), until finally Christ “offered one sacrifice for sins for all time” (Heb 10:12), and through that one offering “perfected for all time those who are sanctified” by it (Heb 10:14). What the Mosaic Law could never accomplish through the sacrifice of symbols, Christ did once and for all time through His substitutionary death on the cross when he died in the place of sinners.

     Jesus’ death on the cross was a satisfactory sacrifice to God which completely paid the price for our sin. We owed a debt to God that we could never pay, and Jesus paid that debt in full when He died on the cross and bore the punishment that rightfully belonged to us. In Romans 3:25 Paul used the Greek word hilasterion (ἱλαστήριον)—translated propitiation—to show that Jesus’ shed blood completely satisfied God’s righteous demands toward our sin, with the result that there is nothing more for the sinner to pay to God. Jesus paid our sin-debt in full. The Apostle John tells us “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf., 1 John 4:10). Jesus’ death on the cross forever satisfied God’s righteous demands toward the sins of everyone for all time! God has “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:14). Regarding Christ’s death, J. Dwight Pentecost states:

  • "You can be adjusted to God’s standard, because God made Christ to become sin for us. The One who knew no sin, the One in whose lips had never been found guile, took upon Himself our sin in order that He might bear our sins to the cross and offer Himself as an acceptable substitute to God for us—on our behalf, in our place. And when Jesus Christ identified Himself with sinners and went to the cross on their behalf and in their place, He was making possible the doctrine of reconciliation. He was making it possible for God to conform the world to Himself, to adjust the world to His standard so that sinners in the world might find salvation because “Jesus paid it all.” You can be adjusted to God, to God’s standard, through Christ, by His death, by His cross, by His blood, and by His identification with sinners."[9]

     In the NT, the idea of substitution is observed in the use of two Greek prepositions. The first is the preposition huper (ὑπὲρ), translated “for,” which means “in behalf of, for the sake of someone.”[10] The idea of Jesus dying as a substitute in the place of sinners is seen in Romans 5:8 where Paul wrote, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The second preposition that denotes substitution is anti (ἀντὶ), also translated “for,” which expresses the idea “that one person or thing is, or is to be, replaced by another, instead of, in place of.”[11] The preposition anti (ἀντὶ) is seen in Jesus’ statement, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). According to Robert Lightner:

  • "The biblical view of the Savior’s death is that he died to satisfy the demands of the offended righteousness of God. The Savior died in the sinner’s place. This is an essential, indispensable truth in evangelicalism. It is true that Christ died for the sinner’s benefit, but that does not fully describe the nature and purpose of his finished work. He gave his life in the sinner’s place. He died as the sinner’s substitute. The strongest expression of Christ’s substitutionary death is given with the Greek preposition anti, translated “for.” Christ himself used this word when he said, “even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28; cf. Matt 26:28; 1 Tim 2:6). Christ died in the sinner’s place. He died instead of the condemned."[12]

     Jesus’ atonement for sins is the basis for reconciliation, because God has judged our sins in the Person of Christ who died on the cross in our place. The death of Christ has forever satisfied God’s righteous demands for our sin and it is on this basis that He can accept sinners into heaven. The blood of Christ is the only coin in the heavenly realm that God accepts as payment for our sin-debt, and Christ paid our sin debt in full. That’s good news!

     Because Jesus’ death satisfied God’s righteousness demands for sin, the sinner can approach God who welcomes him without reservation. God has cleared the way for sinners to come to Him for a new relationship, and this is based completely on the substitutionary work of Christ. God has done everything to reconcile humanity to Himself. The debt that was owed to God was paid in full by the blood of Christ. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook


[1] Charles Lee Feinberg, “The Hypostatic Union,” Bibliotheca Sacra 92 (1935): 423.

[2] Robert B. Thieme, Jr. “Impeccability of Christ”,  Thieme’s Bible Doctrine Dictionary, (Houston, TX., R. B. Thieme, Jr., Bible Ministries, 2022), 135.

[3] Robert B. Thieme, Jr. “Salvation”,  Thieme’s Bible Doctrine Dictionary, (Houston, TX., R. B. Thieme, Jr., Bible Ministries, 2022), 232.

[4] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Jn 10:18.

[5] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 456.

[6] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1526.

[7] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers 1979), 497.

[8] G. W. Bromiley, “Atone; Atonement,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 352.

[9] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mi., Kregel Publications, 1965), 89.

[10] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1030.

[11] Ibid., 87.

[12] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 194.

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