Wednesday, June 21, 2017



Wisdom is one part knowledge and one part understanding. We need both to discern truth from error. A good example is a recent article by a Baptist pastor. He, thankfully, is not a Southern Baptist.

Jim Somerville’s column on Baptist News Global website is another attack published on the doctrine of penal substitution. Penal substitution is the the theological term for Christ’s death on our behalf. It is why we say and sing “Christ dies for us”. It is why Paul wrote “God shows his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Somerville’s main point is that the doctrine of the Trinity conflicts with the doctrine of penal substitution and the doctrine of the Trinity wins. He believes the doctrine of penal substitution pits the Father against the Son, bringing them into theological conflict.

Somerville is correct that the Father and Son are never in conflict. They are always in agreement. But his conclusion that this unity negates penal substitution is not only unscriptural, it denies the great love and work of Father, Son and Spirit to bring salvation.

If you read the article, you will notice that Somerville does not quote a single verse of scripture. There is a good reason for that. The Bible teaches penal substitution and the Bible teaches unity in the Trinity.

All scripture is “breathed out by God”. (2 Timothy 3:16) It was written by men under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 2:21) Therefore, the ultimate author of scripture is God. More precisely, the author of scripture is the Triune God.

Scripture does not contradict itself because God does not contradict himself. This is God in his own words: “I the LORD do not change”. (Malachi 3:6)

The members of the Godhead, the Trinity, work in unity of purpose, agreement and love. Jesus said the Father loves him. He abided in the Father’s love and kept his commandments. (John 15:9) Jesus also said the Holy Spirit would continue his work and teaching. (John 15:13-15) In fact, he showed that there was an unbroken chain of teaching: the Father gave it to the Son, who gave it to the Spirit.

Since the members of the Trinity work in total agreement with each other, there is no conflict within the Godhead while the three persons work in unity to bring justification to men and women. Since both doctrines in question are plainly stated in the Bible, the doctrines cannot conflict.

The wrath of God on sin is a result of God’s just nature. Since he is holy, and requires us to be holy, he must punish sin to be just. Since he, in his holiness, hates sin, his wrath is poured out on it. That theme runs through the Bible from beginning to end. In Genesis, when Adam broke God’s commandment, God cast him from his presence in the Garden and imposed the penalty of death.  In Revelation, sinners who were not in Christ were cast into hell, where sin is punished.

But God is also love. Because God loves those whom he justifies, he provided a way to satisfy his justice and save us at the same time. That is why Paul called him just and justifier. (Romans 3:26) He satisfied his justice by imposing judgment on the one who did not deserve judgment. He did this out of love for us. “God shows his love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Since the members of the Godhead are always in agreement, all members of the Godhead agreed on how to bring salvation to mankind. The Father and the Son were not in conflict in purpose or method. Jesus said “No one takes it (his life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” Jesus willingly laid down his life for us.

The doctrine of penal substitution stands. The doctrine of the Trinity stands along side it. Both are Biblical. Both are the orthodox beliefs of the church for over two millennia.

It is sad to see one who calls himself a Baptist forsake and attack a belief Baptists have held dear as long as they have been called Baptists. My prayer is that the rest of us will have the wisdom to see through the rhetoric and emotion to discern the truth.

The truth is, Christ died for us. That truth makes us what we are. It is the cause of our rejoicing and the reason we love him.

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