Is God really free?

Is God, the Creator and Sustainor of the universe and everything in it, really free to be God?The Mad Potter.. by cilinia powell

Can He speak worlds, and things in those worlds, and people in those worlds into and out of existence ?

Is He really free to give new life to sinners? Real sinners with no redeeming qualities in God’s eyes? Sinners who don’t clean up their acts? Sinners who are left with absolutely nothing at all to point to except to the One who has promised to  forgive them and save them?

Or is God obliged to listen to those who have may have some reasonable expectations of those who are saved and forgiven?

Are there certain prerequisites in the text of Holy Scripture that must be met by those who are hoping to receive God’s grace and mercy?

Is He free to save whom He will?

88 Responses

  1. God is free to do whatever is consistent with His character. The disagreements usually arise when considering the repercussions of the absence of coerciveness in love.

  2. Romans 9:14-18

    What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

    “Is He free to save whom He will?”

    Yes. He is free to save whom He will. It’s all in His hands.

  3. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out… He’s free but He is not cheap! :-). Our freedom came with the Cost of Jesus Christ on Calvary where Jesus showed us Calvary quality love (John 3:16).

  4. The verse in Romans above was eventually meant (read later in Romans 8) to show that Gods grace is also extended to the gentiles.

    The Lutheran purist stance (since I am on this BLOG) is that baptism alone is sufficient to save but also that It is by our faith that we fully take hold of that Grace. Steve or Pastor Mark can correct my interpretation or add words around it. Its a reformed stance but the theology of the Cross stance as opposed to a theology of Glory or theology of Sovereignty stance (Ie Calvinism).

    I tend to fall in the Lutheresque theology of the Cross camp.

  5. Josh,

    Could you expound a little on what you meant by “…the absence of coerciveness in love.” ?

    Thanks, Josh

    – Steve

  6. WayneDawg,

    Romans 9 is key to our understanding of God’s freedom.

    When coupled with other places in the N.T. where Paul, and others, speak of baptism, we can come to an understanding that God really is free to act on our behalf in any way He so chooses.

    In baptism, apart from baptism….for the ungodly.

    Anyone who is ungodly qualifies.

  7. Jon,

    You have hit upon another important facet and that is the theology of the cross.

    The theology of the cross is not valued (especially here in America) precisely because it brings the freedom of God to the fore, in that He acts for us in death. His own and our own.

    We don’t like that. That’s negative. We ought be positive and climb up to higher and higher spiritual growth and master the “Biblical Principles for living. That is the theology of glory..which the cross itself denies in no uncertain terms.

    Thanks, Jon.

  8. Jon,

    How is it that your name (in these comments) doesn’t link to your blog as the others that have blogs do?

  9. Not sure why. I am logged into wordpress.

    The proper Law/Gospel equation is not easy. This is why Jesus says “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy not sacrifice”. We have to go against our natural selves and act in faith and in the “It is finished” words of Jesus Christ.

    In view of His mercy (romans 12:1-3) we begin to operation in Grace and then to offer our bodies as living sacrifices hopy and pleasing to God.

  10. Sure, Steve!

    I personally do not believe in double predestination or limited atonement. I think both John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 2:4 are abundantly clear in that regard.

    So if there are still people in hell although God loves everybody and wants ALL men to be saved, I really see no other explanation than the refusal of the God who is love to force people to submit to Him. That’s what I meant by “absence of coerciveness”.

  11. Josh,

    I get it now ( I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer).

    I guess, that if God did force people into a relationship it would be one built on fear rather than love.

    So He gives us faith, shows us how much we need Him, shows us how much He loves us, and we respond in love and gratefulness…sometimes.

  12. Jon,

    Shameless plugs are not allowed here.

    Don’t do this:

    …again. 😀

  13. God is obliged by His character. He cannot do anything that goes against His character.

    But the freedom of God and perceived freedom of man do not fit into a neat little box. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to ponder how God’s grace and mercy work in conjunction with the fact that we live, breathe and make choices. You go to the scriptures and see what it says, then you TRY to make it all fit…and yet it does not. There is a mysterious side of God that we will not understand until we are living and breathing in eternity.

  14. Roger,

    “There is a mysterious side of God that we will not understand until we are living and breathing in eternity.”

    Well put, Roger.

    He has only allowed us to see the tiniest tip of the Iceberg.

    For us, for will have to be enough.

    Thanks for that reminder, Roger!

    – Steve

  15. If Christ died for all people with exactly the same intent, as measured on any axis, then it is surely impossible to avoid the conclusion that the ultimate distinguishing mark between those who are saved and those who are not is their own will. That is surely ground for boasting. This argument does not charge the Arminian with no understanding of grace. After all, the Arminian believes that the cross is the ground of the Christian’s acceptance before God; the choice to believe is not in any sense the ground. Still, this view of grace surely requires the conclusion that the ultimate distinction between the believer and the unbeliever lies, finally, in the human beings themselves. That entails an understanding of grace quite different, and in my view far more limited, than the view that traces the ultimate distinction back to the purposes of God, including his purposes in the cross.

  16. Will all of God’s purposes for sending Christ to die ultimately be accomplished? Did God intend something by the atonement that will not come to pass? Is there any purpose in Christ’s dying that will ultimately be frustrated? And if you ask those questions it puts the importance of the whole issue in a totally different, clearer light. And I believe that Christ’s atoning work on the cross ultimately accomplishes precisely what God designed it to accomplish, no more no less. If you believe God is truly sovereign you must ultimately come to that position. The fruits of the atonement are no less than what God sovereignly intended. God is not going to be frustrated throughout all eternity because He was desperately trying to save some people who just could not be persuaded. If that’s your view of God than your God isn’t really sovereign. Pharaoh fulfilled exactly the purpose God raised him up to fulfill. God is not wringing His hands in despair over Pharaoh’s rebellion and unbelief.

  17. In one sense, Gd is in control – this is a realization thing we find out and can do nothing about (likely the actual reality – since none of us know God that well in a speaking person to person motif).

    On the other hand, no. We control the printing rights to the whole bible. We control the churches and the finances. We control the hymnals. We control the theme, set-up, and music. We are the preachers and the interpreters. We administer the sacraments. We lead the prayer times. In some crazy sense, we make God into our image (and that image is usually one of our leaders – ie: a pastor or a priest – call it projection).

    So even if God is in the business of saving whomever whenever – what does that matter – how do we know that? All we really have control of us is ourselves anyways – what really matters is what ‘we do’.

  18. I find it strange we are disputing if God saves by the action of a sacrament – baptism – when it is not water that saves anyways.

  19. Ike,

    “God is not wringing His hands in despair over Pharaoh’s rebellion and unbelief.”

    Right! I do not believe that God worries about such things.

    It may grieve Him, though.

    But as you say, Ike, God’s will be done. His purposes will be accomplished. With us…or without us.

  20. I think I started this discussion.

    Gods soveregnty and how He chooses to exercise it is His choice not ours. Martin Luther and most Lutherans, like the Calvinists, believe that God chose people before they were born for His Soveriegn purpose. However, unlike the Calvinists,

    Lutherans do not believe God predestined people for damnation… thereby maintaining the Universality of Gods Grace which is extended to all people — although not everyone takes hold of His Grace.
    Although I am not a Lutheran, I am a Lutheresque in my heart. 8-).

    Here is one reference for the difference between the theology of Glory (Calvinism) and the Theology of the Cross: Point #1 is the key to understanding Lutheranism.

    As a side note, people like Tim Keller are bringing back a Lutheresque focus to reformed Churches…. although probably mostly to Presbyterian Churches. I hope his thoughts take hold in his denomination.

  21. Thanks, Jon, for mentioning Tim Keller. Here’ s what he said about hell and the role of human will in it:

    “What is hell, then? It is God actively giving us up to what we have freely chosen-to go our own way, be our own “the master of our fate, the captain of our soul,” to get away from him and his control. It is God banishing us to regions we have desperately tried to get into all our lives.”


  22. Because of Scripture we must believe in hell.
    Because of Christ we must pray it will be empty.

  23. People…people…people…first we state God does the choosing, then we state which ones He didn’t choose…*; )

  24. “Because of Scripture we must believe in hell.
    Because of Christ we must pray it will be empty.”

    If only our prayers could be answered that Hell be empty.

    It grieves me greatly to think that so many will be there.

  25. Like I said, Nancy, I don’t believe in God choosing anyone for damnation. Nothing could be more inconsistent with His character revealed in Jesus.

  26. Jon,

    God’s wrath was poured out on the Son at the cross for the sins of His people. If He died for “everyone” there would be no eternity under the wrath of God in a place called hell.

  27. Deut 29:29 Secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those that are revealed belong to us and our descendants forever, so that we might obey all the words of this law.

  28. Some things God might have chosen NOT to let us know…

    1. Are Heaven and Hell expandable?
    2. Can God travel back and forth through time and change His mind?

  29. Ike,


  30. Actually Ike, I agree with the first part of your statement but not the second part.

    U (Unconditional predestination) Scripture does teach that it is by grace that God has predestinated the elect to eternal salvation and given them justifying faith. It is not because of any condition fulfilled by them (2 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 1:4-6; Phil. 1:29). However, the Bible does not teach, as do the Calvinists, that some are predestined for damnation. God wants all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4).

  31. If Jesus died only for the “elect”, then Paul must have been very confused when he wrote 1 Tim. 2:4, and whatever John meant by the statement “God is love” must be so completely opposed to our understanding of selfless love that I would have to ask myself why he chose that term in the first place.

  32. The original intent of the discussion was “Is God Free” Yes. 8-).

    Hell exists… Yes. I don’t think I tried to say that it does not exist if someone got that from me. God desires for all to be saved or Universal Grace is a staple point of Lutheranism.

    The calvinists (CRCers at least) do a tricky thing ( I used to belong to a CRC CHurch). They are the only denomination that has a formal definition of “Common Grace”. Common Grace, in the CRC, is grace… but its not eternal, salvational grace. Its Gods grace providing for you (but not eternally) while your here on Earth. SInce they believe in “double predestination” I guess they feel the need to come up with definitions like this.

  33. Might common grace be extended to all creation…as the sparrow…

  34. I hope my dog and sparrows are in heaven!!!!! Good thought! It would be fun playing fetch with my dog in heaven.

    I like that definition much better than the CRC interpretation.

  35. What about Judas…was he particularly chosen by Jesus or was he just one of a number that could have filled the purpose?

  36. Ike, you wrote, “If you believe God is truly sovereign you must ultimately come to that position.”

    Not necessarily. Universalism operates with that same understanding of sovereignty and concludes that hell is not endless but only the means to the end that all are eventually saved.

    I just wanted to mention it here to show that logic can take us down different paths in that regard.

  37. Sorry, something’s wrong with my mouse or laptop obviously!

  38. If it keeps happening, Steve, we’ll easily pass the 100 comments mark again! 😉

  39. “However, the Bible does not teach, as do the Calvinists, that some are predestined for damnation. God wants all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4).”

    Jon…..there is a vast difference between a calvinist and a hyper-calvinist. The Bible does NOT teach that God predestines anybody to hell!

    Everybody wants to go to heaven……they just don’t want God to be there!

  40. We’re not quite half way there Josh…you can become a Calvinist by the time we get there…*; )

  41. Oh I agree Ike. and the CRC is hyper calvinistic although individual churches dont always share that identity and they normally dont openly profess hyper calvinism 8-).

    The Presbyterian Church, is also a 5 point TULIP Church but does not, as far as I can tell, believe in double predestination.

    Here is a better definition of reformed theology. They guy that wrote the article is now on Tim Kellers staff at Redeemer Church.

  42. As the unintentional internet resource guy today. Feel free to check this out for other information. There is quite a bit of Lutheresque thought in the articles here.

  43. “You can become a Calvinist by the time we get there…”

    Well, good luck with that, Nancy! 🙂

  44. Hey…not my choice! The Holy Spirit removes all hindrances…*; ) I’ll put in a good word for you!

  45. Thanks, Nancy! if it doesn’t happen, I guess that means it was already decided before the creation of the world, right?

  46. I take that back. I consider point 2, under the 5 points in the article to be in biblical error of the 1 Tim scripture I stated above.

    I agree with most of the rest of the article.

  47. To argue that 1 Tim. 2:4 only expresses God’s “desire”, (a desire He did not act upon!) is the kind of schizophrenic theology you end up with if you subscribe to 5 point Calvinism.

  48. I’m not saying that I’ve given up on this debate. It’s quite compelling to ponder how God works with man. I’m just saying (and I think this thread supports it) that we’re not going to settle it. It’s a mystery that we cannot fully understand with our finite minds–but the pursuit of the knowledge of God is always a good thing.

  49. I have to admit…my mirror is broken and a bit darkened…so it is as through a glass darkly and with much fractured light I see…It is a good thing to continually look into the Living Word of God…While God is the same yesterday, today and forever…I’m still being molded…Hopefully I am “good clay” and God’s hand print is visible in my life and I will hold my shape with the help of the Holy Spirit…

  50. God’s Word says that it is an abomination to justify the wicked but we sing about it all the time.

  51. I like this version:

    Corinthians 13:12 (The Message)

    12We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

  52. Ike…I don’t understand the ref.

  53. I haven’t had time to thorougly read all the comments here, I’ve been giving this issue a lot of thought recently–mostly because of research I’ve been doing for classes. (I wrote a paper on Augustine’s view of salvation last semster and will be following up with a paper on Aquinas’s view this semester.)

    Some of the Medieval theologians spoke of different aspects of God’s will. One distinction I found helpful was the distinction between his antecedent will (his will that all will be saved) and his consequent will (his will that there will be consequences for our choices). God provides the means for his antecedent will to be achieved, but circumstances (some people’s rejection of grace) might prevent his antecedent will from being achieved.

    There are a bunch of other distinctions, some of which are more helpful than others, and I’m not sure I buy them all. I agree with those who have said that, to some extent, this is all beyond our full understanding. If I get a chance tonight, I’ll pull out my notes.

    And here’s my shameless plug. It’s one of the posts I wrote as I was sorting through some of the questions raised in the Medievals period:

  54. Great post @ your site Teresa!

  55. Thanks, Nancy!

    I’ve found my notes on predestination, etc., and have a couple more distinctions to throw into the mix. As I mentioned above, I don’t know that they answer all the questions or are all completely legitimate, but they do provide a framework for thinking. Some are more helpful than others, but they also build on each other to a certain extent:

    1. Absolute and conditional necessities. Absolute necessities will definitely happen (God will give grace), but conditional necessities are predicated on some other event (a human chooses to reject grace).

    2. Order of intention and order of execution. God wills the end before the means, and the end is that he will give eternal life to those who receive grace.

    3. First and second order causes. God has determined the end that will happen, but it can be brought about of necessity (purely through God’s action) of contingently (with humans as co-agents).

    4. Sufficient and efficient grace (related to antecedent and consequent will from my last comment). God’s gives grace enough to save all, but it is only efficient for those who do not reject it.

    5. A distinction between predestination to sin and the predestination of punishment. Punishment of sin is required by God’s justice. God causes the penalty but not the sin.

    To some extent, I suppose it could be argued that all of these distinctions constrain God’s freedom to some extent, but if God set up the system and chooses to be constrained in this way, then that is God’s choice.

    I will admit that I’m uncomfortable with any conception of God’s freedom that makes him capricious–which is my beef with five-point Calvinism. I don’t see how limited atonement and irresistible grace can work together if God who wants all to be saved. If we can’t resist at all, won’t we all be saved? And if that’s the case, you’ll hear no complaints from me, but I don’t think that’s what scripture teaches. See the parable of the wheat and the weeds, for example.

  56. Great stuff, Teresa!

    Of course the Calvinists argue that grace is only irresistable for those whom He has chosen to save.

    Not my view but logically consistent.

  57. Great comments, folks!


    I haven’t been able to keep up with you guys much lately. Hardly at home for more than a few minutes at a time.

    I think the conversation is much better without me.

    I think I’ve just discovered the main problem with this blog site…me!

    I deleted your extra comments, Josh, but left up your funny post-comments on the double comments. (as you said, Josh, any way to a hundred!)

  58. Nothing wrong with you, Steve … except … maybe … aren’t you the host … so … where are the drinks and the chips, pretzels etc? 🙂

  59. Nancy…

    Proverbs 17:15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.

    According to God’s own word, justifying the wicked is an abomination to God. So His own decree in Scripture illustrates that God is a holy, just God who must punish sin.

    This is the “greatest” problem of the Bible. How can God be just and justify the sinner. The only way to answer that question is to understand what happened on the cross.

    I would like to answer that question but it would be a “long” comment and I’m not sure Steve would like that??

  60. Hang tight, Josh.

    I will be laying out quite the spread for the midnight buffet. 😀

  61. Ike,

    You are quite welcome to have expanded comments on the ‘old Adam lives’…anytime!

    Have at it my friend!

    Ask Larry and Jeff about some of those bills they’ve been getting from me at a 5 cents a word 😀

  62. One of my greatest burdens is that the Cross of Christ is rarely explained. It is not enough to say that “He died” – for all men die. It is not enough to say that “He died a noble death” – for martyrs do the same. We must understand that we have not fully proclaimed the death of Christ with saving power until we have cleared away the confusion that surrounds it and expounded its true meaning to our hearers – He died bearing the transgressions of His people and suffering the divine penalty for their sins: He was forsaken of God and crushed under the wrath of God in their place.

    Forsaken of God

    One of the most disturbing, even haunting, passages in the Scriptures is Mark’s record of the great cry of the Messiah as He hung upon a Roman Cross. In a loud voice He cried out:

    “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

    In light of what we know about the impeccable nature of the Son of God and His perfect fellowship with the Father, it is difficult to comprehend Christ’s words, yet in them, the meaning of the Cross is laid bare, and we find the reason for which Christ died. The fact that His words are also recorded in the original Hebrew tongue tells us something of their great importance. The author did not want us to misunderstand or to miss a thing!

    In these words, Jesus is not only crying out to God, but as the consummate teacher, He is also directing His onlookers and all future readers to one of the most important Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament – Psalm 22. Though the entire Psalm abounds with detailed prophecies of the Cross, we will concern ourselves with only the first six verses:

    “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; and by night, but I have no rest. Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted and You delivered them. To You they cried out and were delivered; in You they trusted and were not disappointed. But I am a worm and not a man, a reproach of men and despised by the people.”

    In Christ’s day, the Hebrew Scriptures were not laid out in numbered chapters and verses as they are today. Therefore, when a rabbi sought to direct his hearers to a certain Psalm or portion of Scripture, he would do so by reciting the first lines of the text. In this cry from the Cross, Jesus directs us to Psalm 22 and reveals to us something of the character and purpose of His sufferings.

    In the first and second verses, we hear the Messiah’s complaint – He considers Himself forsaken of God. Mark uses the Greek word egkataleípo, which means to forsake, abandon, or desert. The Psalmist uses the Hebrew word azab, which means to leave, loose, or forsake. In both cases, the intention is clear. The Messiah Himself is aware that God has forsaken Him and turned a deaf ear to His cry. This is not a symbolic or poetic forsakenness. It is real! If ever a creature felt the forsakenness of God, it was the Son of God on the cross of Calvary!

    In the fourth and fifth verses of this Psalm, the anguish suffered by the Messiah becomes more acute as He recalls the covenant faithfulness of God towards His people. He declares:

    “In You our fathers trusted; they trusted and You delivered them. To You they cried out and were delivered; in You they trusted and were not disappointed.”

    The apparent contradiction is clear. There had never been one instance in the history of God’s covenant people that a righteous man cried out to God and was not delivered. However, now the sinless Messiah hangs on a tree utterly forsaken. What could be the reason for God’s withdrawal? Why did He turn away from His only begotten Son?

    Woven into the Messiah’s complaint is found the answer to these disturbing questions. In verse three, He makes the unwavering declaration that God is holy, and then in verse six, He admits the unspeakable – He had become a worm and was no longer a man. Why would the Messiah direct such demeaning and derogatory language toward Himself? Did He see Himself as a worm because He had become “a reproach of men and despised by the people” or was there a greater and more awful reason for His self-deprecation? After all, He did not cry out, “My God, my God, why have the people forsaken me,” but rather He endeavored to know why God had done so!The answer can be found in one bitter truth alone – the Lord had caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him, and like a worm, He was forsaken and crushed in our stead.

    This dark metaphor of the dying Messiah is not alone in Scripture. There are others that take us even deeper into the heart of the Cross and lay open for us what “He must suffer” in order to win the redemption of His people. If we shutter at the words of the Psalmist, we will be further taken back to hear of the thriceholy Son of God becoming the serpent lifted up in the wilderness,and then, the sin bearing scapegoat left to die alone.

    The first metaphor is found in the book of Numbers. Because of Israel’s near constant rebellion against the Lord and their rejection of His gracious provisions, God sent “fiery serpents” among the people and many died. However, as a result of the people’s repentance and Moses’ intercession, God once again made provision for their salvation. He commanded Moses to “make a fiery serpent and set it on a standard.” He then promised that “everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.”

    At first, it seems contrary to reason that “the cure was shaped in the likeness of that which wounded.” However, it provides a powerful picture of the cross. The Israelites were dying from the venom of the fiery serpents. Men die from the venom of their own sin. Moses was commanded to place the cause of death high upon a pole. God placed the cause of our death upon His own Son as He hung high upon a cross. He had come “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” and was “made to be sin on our behalf.” The Israelite who believed God and looked upon the brazen serpent would live. The man who believes God’s testimony concerning His Son and looks upon Him with faith will be saved. As it is written, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.”

    The second metaphor is found in the priestly book of Leviticus. Since it was impossible for one single offering to fully typify or illustrate the Messiah’s atoning death, an offering involving two sacrificial goats was put before the people. The first goat was slain as a sin offering before the Lord, and its blood was sprinkled on and in front of the Mercy Seat behind the veil in the Holy of Holies. It typified Christ who shed His blood on the Cross to make atonement for the sins of His people. The second goat was presented before the Lord as the scapegoat. Upon the head of this animal, the High Priest laid “both of his hands and confessed over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins.” The scapegoat was then sent away into the wilderness bearing on itself all the iniquities of the people into a solitary land. There, it would wander alone, forsaken of God and cut off from His people. It typified Christ who “bore our sins in His body on the cross,” and suffered and died alone “outside the camp.” What was only symbolic in the Law became an excruciating reality for the Messiah.

    Is it not astounding that a worm, a venomous serpent, and goat should be put forth as types of Christ? To identify the Son of God with such “loathsome” things would be blasphemous had it not come from Old Testament saints “moved by the Holy Spirit,”21 and then confirmed by the authors of the New Testament who go even further in their dark depictions. Under the inspiration of the same Spirit, they are bold enough to say that He who knew no sin, was “made sin,” and He, who was the beloved of the Father, “became a curse” before Him. We have heard these truths before, but have we ever considered them enough to be broken by them?

    On the Cross, the One declared “holy, holy, holy” by the Seraphim choir, was “made” to be sin. The journey into the meaning of this phrase seems almost too dangerous to take. We balk even at the first step. What does it mean that He, in whom “all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,” was “made sin?” We must not explain the truth away in an attempt to protect the reputation of the Son of God, and yet, we must be careful not to speak terrible things against His impeccable and immutable character.

    According to the Scriptures, Christ was “made sin” in the same way that the believer “becomes the righteousness of God” in Him. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul writes:

    “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

    The believer is not the “righteousness of God” because of some perfecting or purifying work upon his character that makes him like God and without sin, but rather as a result of imputation by which he is considered righteous before God through the work of Christ on his behalf. In the same way, Christ was not made sin by having His character marred or soiled, thus actually becoming depraved, but as a result of imputation by which He was considered guilty before the judgment seat of God on our behalf. This truth however, must not cause us to think any less of Paul’s declaration that Christ was “made sin.” Although it was an imputed guilt, it was real guilt, bringing unspeakable anguish to His soul. He took our guilt as His own, stood in our place, and died forsaken of God. That Christ was “made sin,” is a truth as terrible as it is incomprehensible, and yet, just when we think that no darker words can be uttered against Him, the Apostle Paul lights a lamp and takes us further down into the abyss of Christ’s humiliation and forsakenness. We enter the deepest cavern to find the Son of God hanging from the Cross and bearing His most infamous title – the Accursed of God!

    The Scriptures declare that all humankind lay under the curse. As it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all the things written in the Book of the Law, to perform them.” From heaven’s perspective, those who break God’s Law are vile and worthy of all loathing. They are a wretched lot, justly exposed to divine vengeance, and rightly devoted to eternal destruction. It is not an exaggeration to say that the last thing that the accursed sinner should and will hear when he takes his first step into hell is all of creation standing to its feet and applauding God because He has rid the earth of him. Such is the vileness of those who break God’s law, and such is the disdain of the holy towards the unholy. Yet, the Gospel teaches us that, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” Christ became what we were in order to redeem us from what we deserved. He became a worm and no man, the serpent lifted up in the wilderness, the scapegoat driven outside the camp, the bearer of sin, and the One upon whom the curse of God did fall. It is for this reason the Father turned away from Him and all heaven hid its face.

    It is a great travesty that the true meaning of the Christ’s “cry from the cross” has often been lost in romantic cliché. It is not uncommon to hear a preacher declare that the Father turned away from His Son because He could no longer bear to witness the suffering inflicted upon Him by the hands of wicked men. Such interpretations are a complete distortion of the text and of what actually transpired on the Cross. The Father did not turn away from His Son because He lacked the fortitude to witness His sufferings, but because “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” He laid our sins upon Him and turned away, for His eyes are too pure to ap- prove evil and cannot look upon wickedness with favor.

    It is not without reason that many Gospel tracts picture an infinite abyss between a holy God and sinful man. With such an illustration, the Scriptures fully agree. As the Prophet Isaiah cried out:

    “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save, nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2)

    It is because of this that all men would have lived and died separated from the favorable presence of God and under divine wrath unless the Son of God had stood in their place, bore their sin, and died “forsaken of God” on their behalf. For the breach to be closed and fellowship restored, “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things?”

    Christ Dies under the Wrath of God

    To obtain the salvation of His people, Christ not only suffered the terrifying abandonment of God, but He drank down the bitter cup of God’s wrath and died a bloody death in the place of His people. Only then could divine justice be satisfied, the wrath of God be appeased, and reconciliation be made possible.

    In the garden, Christ prayed three times for “the cup” to be removed from Him, but each time His will gave into that of His Father. We must ask ourselves, what was in the cup that caused Him to pray so fervently? What did it contain that caused Him such anguish that His sweat was mingled with blood? It is often said that the cup represented the cruel Roman cross and the physical torture that awaited Him; that Christ foresaw the cat of nine tails coming down across His back, the crown of thorns piercing His brow, and the primitive nails driven through His hands and feet. Yet those who see these things as the source of His anguish do not understand the Cross, nor what happened there. Although the tortures heaped upon Him by the hands of men were all part of God’s redemptive plan, there was something much more ominous that evoked the Messiah’s cry for deliverance.

    In the first centuries of the primitive church, thousands of Christians died on crosses. It is said that Nero crucified them upside down, covered them with tar, and set them aflame to provide street lights for the city of Rome. Throughout the ages since then, a countless stream ofChristians have been led off to the most unspeakable tortures, and yet it is the testimony of friend and foe alike that many of them went to their death with great boldness. Are we to believe that the followers of the Messiah met such cruel physical death with joy unspeakable, while the Captain of their Salvation cowered in a garden, feigning the same torture? Did the Christ of God fear whips and thorns, crosses and spears, or did the cup represent a terror infinitely beyond the greatest cruelty of men?

    To understand the ominous contents of the cup, we must refer to the Scriptures. There are two passages in particular that we must consider – one from the Psalms and the other from the Prophets:

    “For a cup is in the hand of the LORD, and the wine foams; It is well mixed, and He pours out of this; surely all the wicked of the earth must drain and drink down its dregs.”

    “For thus the LORD, the God of Israel says to me, ‘Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand and cause all the nations to whom I send you to drink it. They will drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword that I will send among them.’”

    As a result of the unceasing rebellion of the wicked, the justice of God had decreed judgment against them. He would rightly pour forth His indignation upon the nations. He would put the cup of the wine of His wrath to their mouth and force them to drink it down to the dregs. The mere thought of such a fate awaiting the world is absolutely terrifying, yet this would have been the fate of all, except that the mercy of God sought for the salvation of a people, and the wisdom of God devised a plan of redemption even before the foundation of the world. The Son of God would become a man and walk upon the earth in perfect obedience to the Law of God. He would be like us in all things, and tempted in all ways like us but without sin. He would live a perfectly
    righteous life for the glory of God and in the stead of His people. Then in the appointed time, He would be crucified by the hands of wicked men, and on that Cross, He would bear His people’s guilt, and suffer the wrath of God against them. The perfect Son of God and a true Son of Adam together in one glorious person would take the bitter cup of wrath from the very hand of God and drink it down to the dregs. He would drink until “it was finished” and the justice of God was fully satisfied. The divine wrath that should have been ours would be exhausted upon the Son, and by Him, it would be extinguished.

    Imagine an immense dam that is filled to the brim and straining against the weight behind it. All at once, the protective wall is pulled away and the massive destructive power of the deluge is unleashed. As certain destruction races toward a small village in the nearby valley, the ground suddenly opens up before it and drinks down that which would have carried it away. In similar fashion, the judgment of God was rightly racing toward every man. Escape could not be found on the highest hill or in the deepest abyss. The fleetest of foot could not outrun it, nor could the strongest swimmer endure its torrents. The dam was breached and nothing could repair its ruin. But when every human hope was exhausted, at the appointed time, the Son of God interposed. He stood between divine justice and His people. He drank down the wrath that they themselves had kindled and the punishment they deserved. When He died, not one drop of the former deluge remained. He drank it all!

    Imagine two giant millstones, one turning on top of the other. Imagine that caught between the two is a single grain of wheat that is pulled under the massive weight. First, its hull is crushed beyond recognition, and then its inwards parts are poured out and ground into dust. There is no hope of retrieval or reconstruction. All is lost and beyond repair. Thus, in a similar fashion, “it pleased the Lord” to crush His only Son and put Him to grief unspeakable. Thus, it pleased the Son to submit to such suffering in order that God might be glorified and a people might be redeemed. It is not that God found some gleeful pleasure in the suffering of His beloved Son, but through His death, the will of God was accomplished. No other means had the power to put away sin, satisfy divine justice, and appease the wrath of God against us. Unless that divine grain of
    wheat had fallen to the ground and died, it would have abided alone without a people or a bride. The pleasure was not found in the suffering, but in all that such suffering would accomplish: God would be revealed in a glory yet unknown to men or angels, and a people would be brought into unhindered fellowship with their God.

    In one of the most epic stories in the Old Testament, the patriarch Abraham is commanded to carry his son Isaac to Mount Moriah, and there, to offer him as a sacrifice to God.

    “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”

    What a burden was laid upon Abraham! We cannot even begin to imagine the sadness that filled the old man’s heart and tortured him every step of his journey. The Scriptures are careful to tell us that he was commanded to offer “his son, his only son, whom he loved.” The specificity seems designed to catch our attention and make us think that there is more meaning hidden in these words than we can yet tell.

    On the third day, the two reached the appointed place, and the father himself bound his beloved son with his own hand. Finally, in submission to what must be done, he laid his hand upon his son’s brow and “took the knife to slay him.” At that very moment, the mercy and grace of God interposed, and the old man’s hand was stayed. God called out to him from heaven and said:

    “Abraham, Abraham! …Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing
    to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your
    only son, from Me.”

    At the voice of the Lord, Abraham raised his eyes, and found a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. He took the ram and offered him up in the place of his son. He then named that place YHWH-jireh or “The Lord will provide.” It is a faithful saying that remains until this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.” As the curtains draw to a close on this epic moment in history, not only Abraham, but also everyone who has ever read this account breathes a sigh of relief that the boy is spared. We think to ourselves what a beautiful end to the story, but it was not the end, it was a mere intermission!

    Two thousand years later, the curtain opens again. The background is dark and ominous.
    At center stage is the Son of God on Mount Calvary. He is bound by obedience to the will of His Father. He hangs there bearing the sin of His people. He is accursed – betrayed by His
    creation and forsaken of God. Then, the silence is broken with the horrifying thunder of God’s wrath. The Father takes the knife, draws back His arm, and slays “His Son, His only Son, whom He loves.” And the words of Isaiah the prophet are fulfilled:

    “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed
    Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed… But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief.”

    The curtain is drawn to a close on a slain Son and a crucified Messiah. Unlike Isaac there was no ram to die in His place. He was the Lamb who would die for the sins of the world. He is God’s provision for the redemption of His people. He is the fulfillment of which Isaac and the ram were only shadows. In Him, Mount Calvary is renamed “YHWH-jireh” or “The Lord will provide.” And it is a faithful saying that remains until this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.” Calvary was the mount and salvation was provided. Thus, the discerning believer cries out, “God, God, I know you love me since you have not withheld your Son, your only Son, whom You love, from me.”

    It is an injustice to Calvary that the true pain of the Cross is often overlooked by a more romantic, but less powerful theme. It is often thought and even preached that the Father looked down from heaven and witnessed the suffering that was heaped upon His Son by the hands of men, and that He counted such affliction as payment for our sins. This is heresy of the worst kind. Christ satisfied divine justice not merely by enduring the affliction of men, but by enduring and dying under the wrath of God. It takes more than crosses, nails, crowns of thorns, and lances, to pay for sin. The believer is saved, not merely because of what men did to Christ on the Cross, but because of what God did to Him – He crushed Him under the full force of His wrath against us. Rarely is this truth made clear enough in the abundance of all our Gospel preaching!

  63. Ike,

    The only issue I have with this very good explanation by Paul Washer is the assumption that some romantic cliche is being preached in most churches regarding the cross.

    I personally have never heard and never preached anything BUT what he’s describing here.

  64. Let me rephrase that: I have heard OF other aspects of the cross besides (and by a few AGAINST) penal substitution being used such as the Christus Victor theme.

    But the vast majority of evangelicals, Lutherans, Reformed and RC churches I know have never ever talked about it in some “romantic” kind of way.

  65. Josh,

    I think Washer is so passionate about this subject because the majority of the evangelical churches in America have reduced the Gospel down to a few spiritual laws and then “the prayer” to ask Jesus into your heart.

    Preacher’s need to proclaim the Gospel and not tell people that they are saved because they repeat a prayer. I really think you underestimate how many “church-growth”….”seeker-friendly” churches there are in the USA.

    There is a large sports stadium out in Texas with a 30+ thousand membership and many TV viewers who listen to the “Smiling Preacher” talk about your best life now for 25 minutes and at the end of the program he asks everybody who want to be a christian to repeat the prayer. He then…..pronounces them saved. NEVER have I heard him preach the Gospel. This is just one church (large church)…………and there are thousands more just like it. I’m almost certain these types of churches out number what you are talking about………..I hope I’m wrong!

  66. Ike,

    I sincerely hope that Joel Osteen and the abomination of prosperity preaching and teaching is becoming the norm down south.

    But it’s hard to evaluate from here.

  67. Oops … “I sincerely hope that it is NOT, I repeat: NOT becoming the norm!”

  68. Josh – thanks for the correction…….I almost spit my coffee at the monitor.

  69. Most who believe the “majority” have got it all wrong…just need to get out and about more; take off the doctrinal blinders and learn to listen…*: )

  70. Nancy,

    Read Matthew chapter 7. Of all the people who “emphatically” call Jesus Lord……of these people….only a “few” are genuine. Your argument isn’t with me.

  71. So here I am again, grabbing one specific thought and going off topic.

    Josh, if you ever in MInnesota, lets do Lunch.

    I am strong Christus Victor guy…. and we need to live in view of Christs victory for us on the Cross. However, at the same time Chistus Victor is NOT incompatible with penal substitution.

    The question really is what narrative or theme for your life do we live by that is in our hearts. I believe, wholeheartedly, that its easy for legallistic, pharasaical like Christians to “live” in the theme of Penal substitution. And, I believe, Christ asks us, in view of his mercy for us on the Cross to live in the Victory of the His death and resurrection Cross. Wiht Easter coming up how can we deny it?

    Doees that make sense?

  72. It makes a lot of sense, Jon!

    By the way, I never meant to say that there is an incompatibility. I only wanted to point out that some construe it that way.

    And lunch sounds great although I seldom get to go beyond New Jersey (where I usually visit once a year).

  73. WayneDawg, picturing you splurging your coffee all over your monitor gave me a good laugh!

    But seriously, I almost fainted myself when I saw that the “not” didn’t make it from the brain onto the keyboard!

  74. Ike, I have no quarrel with you at all…My point being that we spend so much time defending our own doctrinal view point, that we don’t see where we are in harmony with one another, where we actually share a common faith in Jesus and what He did for us. I don’t think denominations are a bad thing…they provide groups of like minded Christians a place to walk out their faith in unity…Christians aligned with one another in… Stephen ministry churches…Missions focused churches…et al, will be able to accomplish the great commission much more easily than if we were all mixed together with out specific focus…God chose not to use the Vulcan mind meld on us albeit sometimes I think it would have made things a bit easier…

  75. You are correct Nancy….your comment reminded me of an article written by Ray Ortlund.

    I believe in the sovereignty of God, the Five Points of Calvinism, the Solas of the Reformation, I believe that grace precedes faith in regeneration. Theologically, I am Reformed. Sociologically, I am simply a Christian – or at least I want to be. The tricky thing about our hearts is that they can turn even a good thing into an engine of oppression. It happens when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians. That’s when, functionally, we relocate ourselves outside the gospel and inside Galatianism.

    The Judaizers in Galatia did not see their distinctive – the rite of circumcision – as problematic. They could claim biblical authority for it in Genesis 17 and the Abrahamic covenant. But their distinctive functioned as an addition to the all-sufficiency of Jesus himself. Today the flash point is not circumcision. It can be Reformed theology. But no matter how well argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness.

    Paul answered the theological aspects of the Galatian error with solid theology. But the “whiff test” that something was wrong in those Galatian churches was more subtle than theology alone. The problem was also sociological. “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Galatians 4:17). In other words, “The legalists want to ‘disciple’ you. But really, they’re manipulating you. By emphasizing their distinctive, they want you to feel excluded so that you will conform to them.” It’s like chapter two of Tom Sawyer. Remember how Tom got the other boys to whitewash the fence for him? Mark Twain explained: “In order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.” Paul saw it happening in Galatia. But the gospel makes full inclusion in the church easy to attain. It re-sets everyone’s status in terms of God’s grace alone. God’s grace in Christ crucified, and nothing more. He alone makes us kosher. He himself.

    The Judaizers would probably have answered at this point, “We love Jesus too. But how can you be a first-rate believer, really set apart to God, without circumcision, so plainly commanded right here in the Bible? This isn’t an add-on. It’s the full-meal deal. God says so.”

    Their misuse of the Bible showed up in social dysfunction. “It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised. . . . They desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh” (Galatians 6:12-13). In other words, “When Christians, whatever the label or badge or shibboleth, start pressuring you to come into line with their distinctive, you know something’s wrong. They want to enhance their own significance by your conformity to them: ‘See? We’re better. We’re superior. People are moving our way. They are becoming like us. We’re the buzz.’” What is this, but deep emotional emptiness medicating itself by relational manipulation? This is not about Christ. This is about Self. Even Peter fell into this hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-14). But no matter who is involved, this is not the ministry of the gospel. Even if a biblical argument can be made for a certain position, and we all want to be biblical, the proof of what’s really happening is not in the theological argumentation but in the sociological integration.

    Paul had thought it through. He made a decision that the bedrock of his emotional okayness would forever lie here: “Far be it from me to boast [establish my personal significance] except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:14-15). In other words, “Here is all I need for my deepest sense of myself: Jesus Christ crucified. His cross has deconstructed me and remade me, and I am happy. Everything else is at best secondary, possibly irrelevant, even counterproductive. Let Jesus alone stand forth in my theology, in my emotional well-being and in my relationships with other Christians!” This settledness in Paul’s heart made him a life-giving man for other people. He was a free man, setting others free (Galatians 5:1). This is the acid test of a truly Reformed ministry – that other believers need not be Reformed in order to be respected and included in our hearts.

    Whatever divides us emotionally from other Bible-believing, Christ-honoring Christians is a “plus” we’re adding to the gospel. It is the Galatian impulse of self-exaltation. It can even become a club with which we bash other Christians, at least in our thoughts, to punish, to exclude and to force into line with us.

    What unifies the church is the gospel. What defines the gospel is the Bible. What interprets the Bible correctly is a hermeneutic centered on Jesus Christ crucified, the all-sufficient Savior of sinners, who gives himself away on terms of radical grace to all alike. What proves that that gospel hermeneutic has captured our hearts is that we are not looking down on other believers but lifting them up, not seeing ourselves as better but grateful for their contribution to the cause, not standing aloof but embracing them freely, not wishing they would become like us but serving them in love (Galatians 5:13).

    My Reformed friend, can you move among other Christian groups and really enjoy them? Do you admire them? Even if you disagree with them in some ways, do you learn from them? What is the emotional tilt of your heart – toward them or away from them? If your Reformed theology has morphed functionally into Galatian sociology, the remedy is not to abandon your Reformed theology. The remedy is to take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only. Let it humble you. Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around. The proof that we are Reformed will be all the wonderful Christians we discover around us who are not Reformed. Amazing people. Heroic people. Blood-bought people. People with whom we are eternally one – in Christ alone.

  76. Wow Ike…excellent reading material!

  77. Steve,
    I take it that the charges you mention are the reason I am getting calls from collectors about a “blog bill”? 😉

    If Steve charges you by the word for that comment, I will cover the bill. I really enjoyed reading that explanation of the gospel of the cross.

  78. Jeff,

    No charges to you, or Ike this month.


    Jeff convinced me that your comments are worthy of exemption from the 5 cent per word comment tax (I like to call it a ‘charge’)

  79. I learned to be thrifty at a young age…I could set my two siblings into a frizzy just by the inflection on one word.

  80. im curious how those who claim god can do anything within his character think he got that character and why he couldnt change his character as well?

  81. Graceshaker,

    How about Malachi 3:6; Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; James 1:17 for starters?

  82. Steve,
    Do I still get to bring my wife to California to experience those beautiful apartments. Since she has cancer she told me she would like to go to Hawaii and see white sand and blue ocean before she dies. Sounds to me that….that would be close enough! I assume the plane tickets would be included?

    Seriously brothers and sisters… wife has had her entire colon removed and a radical double mastectomy. She has completed all her chemo infusions (praise God) and is now on oral chemo. Your prayers for her would be greatly appreciated. Putting all our differences aside……….we are brothers and sisters in Christ!

  83. Ike,
    I saw your story over at Joe’s blog a few days ago and you are in our prayers here.

  84. Ike,

    You and your wife are always welcome! (not sure about the plane tickets at this point…but maybe we can figure something out)

    I am so sorry for all that your wife and you have been going through.

    You will both be in our prayers that she can make a recovery and move on to the next chapter in your lives.

    Our God is a gracious and merciful God. He will not let you go through this alone. He is there, in the midst of all of it.

    The Lord’s Peace be with you and your wife, Ike, as you both battle this illness.

    Your brother in Christ,


  85. Ike,

    You let me know when you want to come (for several days…or a week) and we’ll figure out a way to get the airline tickets.

  86. Thanks Steve…..I was just joking about the freebies. My wife is unable to travel but I really believe you mean what you say and I really appreciate your love!

  87. Ike,

    Well, the offer stands. Hopefully your wife will recover and be able to travel in the not too distant future.

    When that time comes, and if you guys want to, we’d love to have you come out and visit with us.

    And more than one person on the blog here e-mailed me to offer to pitch-in towards your airfare.

    Our love and prayers to you and your wife, Ike.

    – Steve

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