Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Are Substitution and Unlimited Satisfaction Compatible?

If we are to maintain that Jesus died for all men, or that somehow His death was a general satisfaction pertaining to all of mankind, then some will immediately object, claiming that one cannot truly believe in a substitutionary, vicarious death and hold to a general satisfaction. Why? Because it is believed that a true substitution means that, if He died for all, that all would be saved -else God would be unjust.

The problem here is that the person making this objection is assuming a commercial type of satisfaction. If Jesus substituted in a commercial sense, literally paying our debt in our place, then of course all for whom it was done would be automatically liberated -God would be unjust to exact justice on a person for whom Christ substituted (paid) in this sense, but the question is...is the satisfaction commercial or a true penal substitution?

In a previous post, I did my best to briefly outline the difference between a commercial satisfaction and a penal satisfaction. To briefly restate, a commercial satisfaction looks at the thing owed and, once a commercial payment is made, the debtor is legally freed -without any room for any conditions or obligations. With a penal satisfaction, the issue is the person as a criminal. The fact that the Judge would even agree to accept someone as a stand-in is pure grace. And the Judge is free to stipulate any conditions upon which He will legally credit that satisfaction to the criminal and pardon them. God stipulates that we repent and trust in Christ, and then Christ's merits are legally credited to us. It is by faith that it would accord with grace (Rom 4:16). God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Notice that in the penal understanding, the difficulty of the above objection goes away. First, the doctrine of justification now makes sense: people are liberated as the satisfaction or substitution of Christ is legally applied to them through faith, not ipso facto. Second, Christ's substitution can be for all men, for all mankind, and yet only those who believe will benefit: penal substitution doesn't imply application. Third, we can say with no contradiction at all, because of the sovereign intent to save the elect, that this substitution was especially designed for the elect. It will save them. They will be brought to faith and united to it.

Thus, a true penal substitution that is a general satisfaction does not at all imply universalism.

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