Penal Substitutionary Atonement

This biblical understanding of Christ’s penal substitutionary death stands at the very heart of the Christian Gospel. Therefore, it is truly a doctrine for Christians to cherish “in the everyday.” As we walk this pilgrimage on the way to our heavenly homeland, we will continue to battle indwelling sin within us and the influence of sin around us. As John Owen famously warned, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” 

From the Garden of Eden to the present day, the fundamental human problem has always been sin—its destructive power, its all-pervasive presence in the world, and its inevitable consequence of divine judgment. The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement teaches us what God has done through the death of Jesus Christ to save sinners from sin, most pointedly, to save sinners from the inevitable wrath of God against sin (Matt 1:21). To treasure this doctrine in our everyday lives, we should understand how each word teaches precious truths about Christ’s death for us.

Christ’s death was Penal.

In His dying, Christ took on the punishment due for human sin, though He Himself was sinless. The Scriptures clearly teach that sin—as rebellion against the holy, righteous, and eternal God—merits divine wrath both in time and eternity (Rom 1:18Rom 2:5-6). The bad news is that because all have sinned, all stand under the just condemnation of God’s wrath (Rom 3:23John 3:18-19). The good news is that Jesus Christ took on the punishment for the sins of those who repent and believe in Him. Scripture tells us that He was “crushed” for “iniquities” and “pierced” for “transgressions” (Is 53:5).

Christ’s death was Substitutionary.

Because Christ lived a sinless life, He had no sins of His own to pay for. Amazingly, then, in His death, Christ was suffering God’s wrath for sin on behalf of undeserving sinners. Christ “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pt 2:24) and was “pierced for our transgressions” (Is 53:5). Our Lord “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Pt 3:18). In His death, Christ was suffering for us who believe.

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