Thursday, August 23, 2007

Was the cross just?

An argument for the deity of Christ from the nature of God

Arguments for the deity of Christ generally gather up some scriptural references that are interpreted to mean that Jesus or the apostles claimed that He was God. Instead of that approach, today I want to argue using the logical and moral filters that are built into us all. Such an argument for the deity of Christ can be made from the nature of God if the other person accepts that the death of Christ was an atoning sacrifice. (That both Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses use the term differently than orthodox Christianity is fortunately not an issue in this discussion, but this qualifier effectively eliminates Jews and Muslims from our list of potential uses.)

The basic argument is this: God is just. It is not just to require an innocent person to pay for another’s crime. Jesus’ death paid for our crimes. Therefore Jesus cannot be just “an innocent person” – He must be God.

God is Just. This shouldn’t be the source of much controversy – the moral perfection of God is a basic tenet of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity (including cultic off-shoots). As Moses said, “His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deut 32:4). We can trust that God will do what is right. The guilty will be punished for their sins; the innocent will not be punished (c.f. Ez 18).

We have rebelled against a holy God; His nature requires that we pay for our crimes. Unfortunately, paying for our crimes would destroy us.

Christ Paid for Our Sins. God’s justice should have been the end of us, but in His mercy He sent Christ to die in our place. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph 1:7).This is the key to the atonement. It also presents a sticky situation for those who see Christ as a lesser god or a special creature.

The Problem. If Jesus is not the same God whose law is offended by our sin, then God has asked an innocent being to pay for our crimes. This concept is at the heart of the increasingly common accusation that the atonement represents “divine child abuse.” The very idea is repugnant. Therefore, for God to be just in allowing Christ to atone for our sins, Christ must in fact be the same God whose law was violated.

An Illustration. There is an illustration that is often used to make the gospel message clearer:

A man accused of committing a crime came before a judge. After weighing the evidence, the judge had no choice but to find the man guilty even though he knew that the fine would be ruinous. As the judge read the sentence, his heart went out to him. So the judge banged the gavel then went to the clerk and paid the fine himself.

A criminal with an unpayable debt, a judge both merciful and just, this story illustrates the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ well.

Now imagine that the judge pronounced sentence and then instructed the bailiff to pay the fine. In showing the criminal mercy, the judge would have committed an injustice against the bailiff. Instead of a beautiful picture of mercy, this would be a mockery of justice.

Conclusion. That is precisely what the gospel is unless Jesus is God incarnate. If Jesus is an angel or spirit or even a lesser god – if He is not of one substance with the Father – then the gospel becomes a tale of a monstrous judge who sentenced an innocent person to death rather than a righteous king paying the penalty He himself was owed. But if Jesus is the God whose law we have broken, then the gospel is a story of love and grace from a holy but merciful God.

You may also be interested in The Resurrection: A story no one would make up

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