This morning brings us to our next reading in John Stott’s classic work The Cross of Christ. We are now in chapter 5 which is titled “Satisfaction for Sin.” In this chapter Stott argues that the cross was necessary because God “must ‘satisfy himself’ in the way of salvation he devises; he cannot save us by contradicting himself.”
Satisfaction for Sin
Stott uses this chapter to explain that the cross was necessary for satisfaction. This is something most people affirm. However, the nature of that satisfaction has been debated throughout the history of the church. The question is, Who or what needed to be satisfied, thus making the cross a necessity?
Stott looks at “five ways in which theologians have expressed their sense of what is necessary before God is able to forgive sinners. One speaks of the overthrow of the devil by ‘satisfying’ his demands, others of ‘satisfying’ God’s law, honor or justice, and the last of ‘satisfying the moral order of the world.’ In differing degrees all these formulations are true.” But there is something that we need to be careful to avoid.
The limitation they share is that, unless they are very 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. Satisfaction is an appropriate word, providing we realize that it is he himself in his inner being who needs to be satisfied, and not something external to himself. Talk of law, honor, justice, and the moral order is true only in so far as these are seen as expressions of God’s own character. Atonement is a ‘necessity’ because it ‘arises from within God himself.’
He means to emphasize God’s self-consistency to show that there is nothing outside of God that demands satisfaction. It is not like the devil demanded of God a kind of satisfaction or that the moral order demanded a kind of satisfaction that God himself did not. Rather, God must judge sinners in order to remain true to himself. The Bible uses several kinds of language to express this reality. There is the language of provocation, the language of burning, the language of satisfaction itself, and the language of the Name in which God always acts according to his name–his character. As he speaks of that, Stott includes this important quote: “When God thus acts ‘for the sake of his name,’ he is not just protecting it from misrepresentation; he is determining to be true to it. His concern is less for his reputation than for his consistency.”
And then he gets to the heart of it all:
The way God chooses to forgive sinners and reconcile them to himself must, first and foremost, be fully consistent with his own character. It is not only that he must overthrow and disarm the devil in order to rescue his captives. It is not even only that he must satisfy his law, his honor, his justice or the moral order: it is that he must satisfy himself. Those other formulations rightly insist that at least one expression of himself must be satisfied, either his law or honor or justice or moral order; the merit of this further formulation is that it insists on the satisfaction of God himself in every aspect of his being, including both his justice and his love.
He closes the chapter as he has done throughout the book, with a lengthy list of quotes from other authors (making it a little bit difficult for me to quote him).
Once again, this has been a penetrating look at one aspect of Christ’s work on the cross.
For next week please read chapter 6, “The Self-Substitution of God.”
The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose.
More in The Cross of Christ:
- RCT: The Cross of Christ
- RCT2: Why Did Christ Die?
- RCT3: Looking Below the Surface
- RCT4: The Problem of Forgiveness