Why I think we are punished in Christ

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The consensus around here seems to be that we are not punished in Christ. So I'd like to post my reasons for thinking that we actually are punished in Christ.

First of all, I'd like to point out that the particular punishment for sin is death, and the particular death that Christ suffered was crucifixion. So when Paul talks of us being crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20), or that our flesh or our self has been crucified (Gal 5:24, 6:14; Rom 6:6), or that we have died with Christ (Rom 6:8; Col 2:20), he is saying that we have been punished in Christ since death/crucifixion = punishment. (I should here point out that if we have died, then our death can only have served one purpose--the payment of sins/satisfaction of wrath. We have no ability to ransom, nor to act as a sacrifice for another.)

This is not mere reckoning (Rom 6:11). While it is certainly true that God reckons us dead, I believe that He does so in recognition of the fact that we really have died in Christ. The reality precedes the accounting, not the other way around. (Note that Galatians doesn't ever say that we are "reckoned" or "counted" or "considered" dead. It simply asserts that we are dead--as in really actually dead--in Christ.)

As further support, I point out Rom 8:11. Though you can argue that the suffering in this verse is not the suffering of the Cross (though I would argue that it includes the suffering of the cross), it is clear that we are indeed suffering with Christ in some manner. This helps to indicate what kind of union we have with Christ. (The prefix "sum"--"together with"--in Greek allows for no sense of substitution here.) This is not a mere union of reckoning. It is not a mere legal union. There is something more substantial going on here. Paul is not talking about the reckoning of suffering to us. He is talking about sharing the experience of Christ's suffering. This union is participatory, not just legal. (Though I must point out that it is a passive participation on our part.)

Thus, I feel that it is biblical to say that we are indeed punished in Christ. Prove me wrong. Either show where my reasoning is wrong by proving a) that we did not really die in Christ, or b) that such death is is not punishment, or else show that Penal Substitution is right by showing that the Bible says that we escape punishment.

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Wink has flung down the gauntlet with a specific challenge to those who believe that the penal aspect (the punishment or the carrying out of justice part) of the atonement is substitutionary, and so I'm heading straight for a passage of scripture tha... Read More


I do not think there is any way to deny "penal substitution". But first let me affirm the idea of Spiritual Union. Because I am Spiritually unioned with Christ, "I have every spiitual blessing in Christ". "Christ in me is the hope of Glory" and "the one who has joined himself to the Lord is one spirit with the Lord". I agree with you, if this is your motivation, that Spiritual union is underemphasized in American Evangelicalism. I endlessly preach that the Gospel is power and the foundation of this power is our spiritual union. In fact, to see the gospel as only penal and only about forgiveness and not power is a very weak gospel indeed BUT...

The penal element is thoroughly intended to be understood as substitutionary. My proposition is that a theological emphasis on union does not mean that the penal element of the cross should not be contemplated as substitutionary.

1. We agree that the cross has a penal element. Matthew 26:28
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Ephesians 1:7
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace.
It is accepted that forgiveness of sin is reconciliation and the removal of our guilty standing before God due to sin. This is penal.

2. We agree that Jesus was punished for my sin. Isaiah 53:5But 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.
Isaiah 53:10 But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering.
Certainly Jesus was punished due to our sin.

3. Is this substitutionary or union? Well, I ask, "Can I celebrate that I do not experience punishment?" Yes. "Can I contemplate that Jesus experienced punishment due to my sin, but I do not experience punishment for my sin?" Yes. This is exactly what we do contemplate and what produces affection. He willingly suffered as a perfectly free agent. He was without sin and therefore had no obligation to suffer except in order to alleviate my suffering. You are trying to seperate punishment from suffering which gives the word punishment no meaning. If punishment is a state of well-being then it is not punishement at all. Suffering may not involve punishment BUT, for punishment to have any meaning, it must involve some discomfort or to deprive one of some form of well-being. This discomfort and suffering due to God's wrath on sin was entirely taken from me and placed on Jesus. Therefore, because I will never suffer for my sin, it has no meaning to say that I share in suffering God's wrath for my sin with Jesus. This simply IS NOT TRUE. I will never suffer God's wrath for my sin. This is the penal truth of the Gospel!!!

This meaning then needs to be applied to "sharing in Christ's suffering". Christ's suffering was never for His sin, and, when I share in Christ's suffering, I am not suffering for my sin either.
This view of penal substitution is clearly the intent of the Apostles and a key to our affection for Christ. Nonetheless, this does not negate that I have spiriutal union with Christ and that because He took my sin, I am able to share in His death. This death is death to sin not death on account of sin. When I share in His death, I am celebrating my liberation from sin and the flesh. "Do you not know that you are dead to sin".

I think it is appropriate to say that the penal element which is entirely substitutionary is seperate from the union element which is entirely linked only to Spiritual blessings and the fulfillment of the promise of liberation.

I've answered your challenge here.

Rebecca's response was a good one, though one I was prepared for (as it is hard to do any research on atonement without running into multiple discussions about the word "hilasterion"). You can see my response in the comments of her post.

What I find interesting is that in her response she states: 1) "I agree that we really do die in Christ" and 2) "I do agree that Christ's death is punishment".

But if we really are dead in Christ, and that death is punishment, then how does she avoid the conclusion that we really are punished in Christ?

One of the things that I think my critics haven't seemed to pick up on in my model is how I view wrath. So I'm going to discuss it some here, as it explains some of why I insist that we are punished in Christ.

The defenders of Penal Substitution seem to view wrath as a Bad Thing, and that avoiding it is a Good Thing. I think that that is a mistake.

I take it as axiomatic that The Father always acts in love towards The Son. And everyone in this discussion agrees that the Father poured out His wrath on the Son. Therefore, this particular pouring out of wrath must be an act of love. (I would argue that all of God's wrath is a form of God's love, but that is neither here nor there for the purposes of this discussion and can wait till another time.)

If the wrath on the cross is an expression of God's love, then it is not implausible that it brings some measure of good things to the object of wrath, despite the inherent unpleasantness of being the object of wrath.

In particular, as I've argued before, I think that wrath is a purifying thing, much as a crucible purifies gold. It burns away sin. Alternately, it cuts, or even wounds us, but it is the wound of a surgeon's scalpel who is removing a cancerous tumor.

If wrath serves as part of God's mechanism for purifying us, then you can see why I am averse to the idea that we are spared from it. Far from fleeing God's wrath in this case, we should be craving it, secure in the knowledge that we are together with Christ and the object of the Father's lov(ing wrath).

Oh, and to pre-emptively ward off this particular line of attack, if you try to bring up verses that talk of us being "saved from God's wrath" (e.g. Rom 5:9), then I will simply respond that words like "saved" and "delivered" in the Bible, usually (though not exclusively) mean "rescue out from the midst of", or "preserving through trial", not "spare from ever experiencing". I trust that you can see how that helps me rather than hurts me.

This last argument has something to it, but there's one danger. The two senses you give are distinct. One involves cutting short judgment or unjust persecution, as is clearly true of the "time, times, and a half a time" (and the various other wordings in terms of years, months, etc.). This is a cutting short of the persecution of God's people, which would normally be the completion number 7 instead of half that. I don't see how this could be true of dying with Christ unless you count being raised as the cutting short of judgment. The second sense of "preserving through trial" doesn't have this problem, but the first of "rescue out of the midst of" might. Since it could mean either, it's not a real problem, but it's something worth thinking through to see why it's not a problem.

I am entirely new to this discussion, and really should probably just look and listen. But have read Rebecca's post (which had me digging into my old Systematic Theology text), and now Wink's and the responses above, so may I add one thought?

I would agree with Brad when he says, "...because I will never suffer for my sin, it has no meaning to say that I share in suffering God's wrath for my sin with Jesus."

This is where Wink's interpretation of "wrath" needs to be dissected, I think. The book I hauled out explained it this way: "There is a difference between chastisement and punishment. Chastisement proceeds from love and is intended to be corrective; but punishment proceeds from justice and so is not intended to reform the offender. Neither is it primarily intended as a deterrant and preventive...but a just retribution; it is not a means but an end..." Lectures in Systematic Theology - Thiessen.

If you look at God's wrath on Jesus as punishing wrath directed at sin vs. chastising wrath with some corrective intent, it becomes plain to me that Jesus has taken this wrath - death - in my stead (and I would quibble with Wink's axiomatic statement there - "The Father always acts in love towards The Son" because "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us..." 2 Cor. 5:21 - and how could God act in love toward sin?). I thus escape God's punishing wrath, which was directed, instead, at Jesus.

Violet, might it not be that we are now only chastised, as you use the term, because we have already been fully punished, as you use the term? I think that's what Wink would say to that.

I'm not sure I'm with you on God not acting in love toward sin. John 3:16 says God loved the world, and 'world' in John always refers to the order of the world set against God, similar to Paul calls the flesh. Paul says in Romans that Christ died for us when we were still sinners, and thus the motivation is prior to our final state of not being judged sinners. Paul also says in Ephesians that he showed love to us when we were his enemies. The image of Hosea marrying a prostitute comes to mind. I think Wink is on good ground in saying that God's love is directed toward sinners even insofar as they are sinners and not just due to the image of God and whatever goodness remains as a result.

violet - punishment proceeds from justice and so is not intended to reform the offender.

Punishment indeed proceeds from justice. But I see no reason why one of the intentions of justice would not be to reform the offender. Justice is not only about punishment of wrongs. It is also about the setting right of wrongs. (Case in point: justice demands not only that a thief be punished, but that the stolen goods be restored to the rightful owner.) Now if, on a cosmic scale, the sinner himself is seen as a wrong that needs to be set right, then reform is indeed one of the intentions of justice.

how could God act in love toward sin?

Like Jeremy, I'm not with you here. I think that the biblical pattern is that God consistently acts in love towards sin.

But can't punishment be meted solely with the view to being retributive? We do that when we enact the death penalty. It's my contention that is what happened here when Jesus became sin for us and experienced the wrath of God.

I guess the bigger question I have in all this is, in what way would your thesis (that we are punished with Christ), if proven on paper (oops, the computer screen), have any basis in reality?

Because if the penalty for sin is death, I can show you from the Bible that the believer's experience with death in its every nuance (physical, spiritual and eternal) is qualitatively changed because of Jesus' substitutionary death for us and resurrection.

Punishment can be purely retributive, but that doesn't mean it always is. On Wink's view, ultimate punishment of believers for sin is not purely retributive. Presumably punishment of nonbelievers for sin is.

Wink's claim is that we were punished with Christ in the past (and we didn't experience that in any subjective way). I'm not sure why that undermines the statements that our future experience of death will be qualitatively changed because of Jesus' death and resurrection, first because a past event happening one way doesn't mean future events happen the same way, second because Wink's view doesn't mean we experienced this punishment in the manner Christ did. He suffered for it. We were spared the suffering of it, even though we were there in a metaphysically/ontologically real way.

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