Questions About Christ’s Death – Part 2
September 12, 2008 Blogs by: Tim Jennings, M.D.

I received the following in response to Part I along with many quotes from another Christian writer. I’m limiting the cited quotations to one due to space.

In regard to the issue of Christ dying for my sinfulness or for sins, I believe He died for both. We need redemption from what we are and from what we do. The Greek word for sin in the NT, according to Strong’s (266 amartia hamartia) has several meanings, one of which is “collectively, the complex or aggregate of sins committed either by a single person or by many”. And what is the full penalty of sin?

Christ in His wisdom gave to His church in its infancy a system of sacrifices and offerings, of which He Himself was the foundation, and by which His death was prefigured. Every sacrifice pointed to Him as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, that all might understand that the wages of sin is death. In Him was no sin, yet He died for our sins.  1Selected Messages pg 114

You said, “We need redemption from what we are and from what we do,” but I ask, do you think these are somehow disconnected or different?  Or is it like Jesus said, “from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” in other words, what we do is merely a reflection of the condition of our heart?

I think much misunderstanding occurs because people often separate what we do from who we are rather than seeing the connection Christ taught that what we do is the outgrowth, the symptom, the inevitability of what we are. Thus, healing the defect in character, healing the heart and mind, restoring us back into God’s original ideal resolves all the things we do.

One of the things I have learned along the way is that as we study the Bible, we must go beyond what an inspired passage says to understand what it means. You cited multiple passages in which the words, “died for our sins” or “suffered for our sins” were used. The question is not whether this language is used, but what does this language mean!

Does it mean individual acts of sin perpetrated by every individual sinner or does the language used convey the idea of our sinfulness, using the word “sins” to ensure that readers connect themselves to the equation? 

Some theologians take the former position and teach things like, “every sin (actual act) ever committed in the past, present, or future was place upon Christ on the cross and He suffered the penalty for every act of sin.”  Let’s consider the idea that every act of sin was put on Christ and He suffered for every individual act of sin.

First, is sin a commodity? Can it be transferred from person to person?

If every act of sin ever committed or yet to be committed by every saved and lost person the world would ever see was put on Christ and punished in Him and He paid “the full penalty” for all of these acts, then why do the unrepentant wicked have to suffer the “penalty” of sin since their penalty was already “paid in full” by Christ? But then we say God forgives us our sins, because Jesus prayed “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Well, which is it?  Does God forgive or does Jesus pay?

Let’s look at it this way.  If you owed a debt, could the person you owed the debt to both collect the debt and forgive the debt at the same time? Conversely, if you forgave someone a debt they owed you, could you also collect it? 

If the above theory is true, then could we say that Hitler and Stalin, who together killed 100 million people, thus shortening their lives and preventing trillions of acts of sin from ever being committed, reduced Christ’s suffering on the cross because all those sins never happened? Could we say those who perform abortions reduce Christ’s suffering on the Cross, because by preventing people from being born they are preventing billions of sins from being committed? In other words, would Christ have suffered more if no abortions were performed, because more sins would have been committed that would have needed to be placed on Him at the Cross? 

These scenarios are illogical.  Christ took upon Himself our terminal condition of sinfulness and at the Cross He experienced a weight of emotional anguish (including guilt) beyond which any human will ever suffer. But why? (and this will answer your question as to what the full penalty of sin is). Christ was made to be sin though He knew no sin and in so doing suffered the full penalty of sin, which is separation from God! And why was this so much more devastating and more severe than anyone else will ever suffer? Because Christ was closer to God than anyone else could ever be.

If you were told today you will never be able to be with Osama Bin Laden again, how emotionally distressed would you be? However, if you were told you would never be able to be with your wife again, how emotionally distressed would that make you? It is not distressful to be separated from someone you don’t like, but it is devastating to be separated from someone who is part of you (the two shall become one). God is One! Their unity was broken up.  This is the anguish which is beyond our understanding. Why? Because our condition was upon Him, He was tempted in everyway just like we are, tempted to use His power to save Himself, but He chose to give His life in love instead!  And in doing so He defeated death rather than “paid” the wages of sin – eternal death!

It seems there is another area of misunderstanding I need to clear up as well. I have never said that sin does not carry a penalty.  Sin does carry a penalty. This has been my position all along. So you are quite correct to press forward the idea that sin carries a penalty. What I do say is that the penalty is not an external, God-imposed legal sentence, but an inherent consequence (“penalty “) that comes from sin itself. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  “Sin when full grown brings forth death” (James 1:15).  This penalty is the destruction of one’s character, which ultimately results in total and eternal separation from God by our own unfitness and unwillingness to be one with Him in His presence. 

I think the area in which we often get stuck is a misunderstanding of God’s law. Many seem to use a “legal model” of lawyers, advocates, and law-makers with the idea of imposed or created law requiring a sovereign to “impose” penalties to “enforce” the law. This idea has been long standing in religious thought, but it is fundamentally flawed. God’s law is not created or imposed.  It is natural and is the Law of Love, emanating from God’s very personhood.

Think of God’s law like “the laws of health.”  If someone violates the laws of health does anyone have to “impose” penalties on them such as illness, pain, suffering, and/or death? For example, take a person who smokes.  Does anyone (including God) have to impose the penalty of cancer or emphysema? In order to be healed by a doctor, can this person continue to smoke and violate the laws of health or must they come into harmony with the laws of health by ceasing to smoke? 

Likewise, God could not cure the sin problem by violating His Law of Love. He could only cure the sin problem by bringing humanity back into perfect accord with the Law of Love. This is what Christ came to do, perfectly meeting and fulfilling the “demands” of the law, which is none other than perfect, self-sacrificing Love. Violators, on the other hand, who refuse to be healed of their selfishness do not need God to impose an external penalty and instead reap the natural consequences of their choice to be and act selfishly – eternal death.  Why? Because life is designed to operate upon the Law of Love and disharmony with the Law of Love is incompatible with life. On a physical level we could say that life is designed to operate upon the law of respiration and tying a plastic bag over one’s head (violating the law of respiration) results in death, why? Because violation of the law is incompatible with life.

Thanks for such excellent and thoughtful questions. It is only by thinking, studying, reasoning, and following the truth that the lies of satan can be cleansed from our minds.

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Tim Jennings, M.D. Timothy R. Jennings, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist, master psychopharmacologist, international speaker, Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association (DLFAPA), Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association (DFAPA), and Fellow of the Southern Psychiatric Association (FSPA). He is President and Founder of Come and Reason Ministries and has served as President of the Southern and Tennessee Psychiatric Associations. Dr. Jennings has authored many books, including The God-Shaped Brain, The God-Shaped Heart, and The Aging Brain.