Sunday, January 28, 2024

Neither Payment Nor Penalty

The Cross was not about a debt paid or a penalty satisfied, though some have taken passages such as Colossians 2:14, as teaching such. But this passage does not describe some cosmic debt service or penal satisfaction. Rather, it shows us the obliteration of all written charges against us; not by payment but by crucifying them, putting them to death. They were simply removed from all consideration. Why? Because as Paul shows in verse 13, though we were dead in our transgressions and in the “uncircumcision” of our flesh, Christ nevertheless made us alive with him, having forgiven all our sins.

And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nevertheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions. He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. Disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 1:13-15 NET)

This forgiveness was not the result of the Cross but was the cause of it. The Cross did not win God’s forgiveness for us but revealed God’s forgiveness to us. We see this also in Romans 5:8. “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

If the Cross reveals God’s forgiveness, then it is not about payment of debt. There is either debt payment or debt forgiveness. If a debt is forgiven, then it is not paid; if the debt is paid then it has not been forgiven but paid. There is no such thing as a debt that has been forgiven yet still must be paid.

So, what happened at the Cross was not about a debt paid or a penalty satisfied before God could forgive us. Rather, it was the greatest revelation of God’s forgiveness.

The Cross was about destroying everything that was against us. Not only the indictment, which was not satisfied but, quite the opposite, completely set aside, but also the “principalities and powers,” the “rulers and authorities,” the dark spiritual entities behind human institutions and powers, which rise up against God to enslave us. They have been completely disarmed and no longer have any power or authority to hold us in bondage. They have been put to open shame by the Triumph of the Cross. The author of Hebrews puts it this way: 

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The power of death has been destroyed, so also the one who held the power of death (which was not God but the devil). And so also the fear of death which so long held humankind in slavery to sin. We no longer have to fear death; we no longer have to be in bondage to sin, to our desires, to our passions. Now we can, as Paul says, reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11).

This is the work of the Cross and the meaning of the gospel. Not the payment of some penalty to satisfy God, but deliverance from, and the destruction of, all those things that worked together to destroy us.

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