A Sermon Discussion: Did Christ Die For Us Or For God?

I intended to put a lot more time into this post then I have. I was also hoping for some dialog with others pre-writing to get my thoughts stirring, but neither of those two things happened, and I promised you readers I’d get something up, so here goes (how’s that for a lame preface)

 

Last week, I suggested listening to this sermon, Did Christ Die For Us or for God?, by John Piper. It was one of the foundational sermons in my early faith development and something I had not really gone back to reflect on in several years. Listening to it this past couple weeks I found I could still quote much of it verbatim, which gives you an idea of how much I’ve listened to it. So, for those who have and haven’t here is an ever so brief summary.

SPOILER ALERT: The answer to the sermon title is “for God.”

Summary:

  • Secular Mindset: Man is at the center of the universe vs. Biblical Mindset: God is the most absolute reality.
  • “Is the basic riddle of the universe how to preserve man’s rights and solve his problems (say, the problem of suffering)?” “How shall God be known in the fullness of his personhood and glory?”
  • Jesus Christ was a sacrifice of atonement to show God’s righteousness, “because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed.” (Romans 3:25)
  • “All sin is a preference for the fleeting pleasures of the world over the everlasting joy of God’s fellowship.”
  • “God would be unrighteous if he passed over sins as though the value of his glory were nothing.”
  • But, how can self-exaltation be an act of love? “God’s self-exaltation is loving, because it preserves for us and offers to us the only all-satisfying Object of desire in the universe – the all-glorious, all-righteous God.”

(quotes pulled from this transcript)

That is an ever so brief summary. Now let me breakdown a couple things that I think have really had an impact on me.

 

First of all, I really resonated with Piper’s explanation of mindsets, because I don’t think it has to assume you believe in the Bible (the catch 22 of many apologetic arguments). If a creator exist, then it would be fair to argue The Creator has the ultimate rights in the universe, not the creation. That does not, for me, have the terrible implications some people see in believing in God (that of an angry supreme being eager to wreck havoc on the earth for no reason). I think it simply settled in my mind that, if I believe in a Creator (which I do), then that creator should be considered in your worldview (rather bland explanation).

 

Two, and I think this is the main thing I’d like to get at, I think Christ’s death and sacrifice make sense as a “vindication of God’s righteousness.” The explanation used in the sermon is that say someone tried to assassinate the president, was stopped at the last second, apologized, and where then let go, scot free. What would that say about how much we value our president? God would not be a righteous God if there was not some sort of payment for the wrong doing we humans have done (and continue to do, myself included). See, God was already being a loving God by forgiving wrongdoings (like King David), but, unless there was some form of payment (like a sentence served in the above example), God would be unjust. Thus, Christ life and death was an act to vindicate God’s righteousness.

 

Now what does that all mean for me? Even after writing it, I’m not totally sure. I didn’t find in revisiting the sermon and the theological points or anything else, that I was uncomfortable with the theology or points put forward. Maybe there are things that should make me uncomfortable, maybe not. I do think my above two paragraph sound a lot more evangelistic and typical “gospel presentation” then I intended.

 

The reason for doing this though was to allow for dialog. So please, take a minute after reading to lend your insight as well. Push back if you have a thought. Lend an encouraging or corrective word if you have it. Add further insight you came across. I can’t find the second sermon tape, but I’ll do my best to talk about the next topic next week: Christian Hedonism. Peace.

31 thoughts on “A Sermon Discussion: Did Christ Die For Us Or For God?”

  1. Sorry for the delay Ariah, I finally finished listening to the message yesterday. Here are a few thoughts I had.

    I haven't really carried this through, but I wonder what changes if instead of asking "What problem did the cross solve?" as Piper suggest, we instead ask, "In Christ, how was God continuing his mission in the world?" To me, this seems like a better question from a hermeneutical perspective.

    There was also a pretty major flaw in Piper's analogy of the attack on the President. He supposes that the nation forgives the terrorists thus saying to the world that we don't honor our leader. But, in the biblical story that he is referencing, it is not some abstract court rendering a decision, but Gd himself. So, the fairer way to work the analogy would be to have the President forgiving the terrorists which doesn't lead to the same implications.

    None of that is necessarily to say that I don't jive with his ultimate conclusions: the secular mind being unable to grasp the centrality of God or God being most concerned about God's own glory. I do take issue with how those truths are couched however, favoring a broader understanding of the good news and a more missional/narrative interpretation of Scripture.

    No idea if any of that is truly generative for conversation, but those were some of my thoughts as I listened and reflected.

  2. Comment coming Ariah, I just haven't had a chance to sit down and listen to the sermon and really think about it enough to post.

  3. Hmm… I really like what you pointed out about the analogy. It makes me think right to Jesus' death on the cross and how he was forgiving his persecutors as he went. That sends a very different message then a lack of honor. Great point.

    This is already becoming quickly theological I'm realizing. I think I really want to get at the Christian Hedonism piece. Better start trying to articulate my thoughts on that now.

  4. I tend to lean towards the argument that the life and death of Christ was more a great act of love rather than of justice, with God having shown himself just through the law, but now that I'm thinking about this again I'm thinking it may not be necessary to separate the two things.

    Regarding the paragraph sounding evangelistic and "gospel presentation"-like, my theory is that because of the nature of the gospel and God's pursuit of reconciliation, that any accurate/truthful presentation of the Gospel is going to sound like a call to join in.

  5. The second sermon in the series talks about how vindicating God
    through Christ death was a great act of love. It gets into the
    Christian Hedonism thing, “God is most glorified in us when we are
    most satisfied in Him.” God maintaining God's glory is the most loving
    thing God could do for humankind.

    And I really appreciate your point about how a truthful presentation
    is “going to sound like a call to join in.” I think the reason I was
    surprised by my tone in it is that I haven't really made much of a
    “call to join in” either in writing or in person in quite a while. I
    think that's part of the reason I want to revisit a lot of this,
    because maybe in reality my actions (not readily sharing the gospel)
    aren't really matching up with my beliefs (the gospel is something
    that needs to be shared). Sort of rambling now.

  6. The second sermon in the series talks about how vindicating God
    through Christ death was a great act of love. It gets into the
    Christian Hedonism thing, “God is most glorified in us when we are
    most satisfied in Him.” God maintaining God's glory is the most loving
    thing God could do for humankind.

    And I really appreciate your point about how a truthful presentation
    is “going to sound like a call to join in.” I think the reason I was
    surprised by my tone in it is that I haven't really made much of a
    “call to join in” either in writing or in person in quite a while. I
    think that's part of the reason I want to revisit a lot of this,
    because maybe in reality my actions (not readily sharing the gospel)
    aren't really matching up with my beliefs (the gospel is something
    that needs to be shared). Sort of rambling now.

  7. The second sermon in the series talks about how vindicating God
    through Christ death was a great act of love. It gets into the
    Christian Hedonism thing, “God is most glorified in us when we are
    most satisfied in Him.” God maintaining God's glory is the most loving
    thing God could do for humankind.

    And I really appreciate your point about how a truthful presentation
    is “going to sound like a call to join in.” I think the reason I was
    surprised by my tone in it is that I haven't really made much of a
    “call to join in” either in writing or in person in quite a while. I
    think that's part of the reason I want to revisit a lot of this,
    because maybe in reality my actions (not readily sharing the gospel)
    aren't really matching up with my beliefs (the gospel is something
    that needs to be shared). Sort of rambling now.

  8. The second sermon in the series talks about how vindicating God
    through Christ death was a great act of love. It gets into the
    Christian Hedonism thing, “God is most glorified in us when we are
    most satisfied in Him.” God maintaining God's glory is the most loving
    thing God could do for humankind.

    And I really appreciate your point about how a truthful presentation
    is “going to sound like a call to join in.” I think the reason I was
    surprised by my tone in it is that I haven't really made much of a
    “call to join in” either in writing or in person in quite a while. I
    think that's part of the reason I want to revisit a lot of this,
    because maybe in reality my actions (not readily sharing the gospel)
    aren't really matching up with my beliefs (the gospel is something
    that needs to be shared). Sort of rambling now.

  9. The second sermon in the series talks about how vindicating God
    through Christ death was a great act of love. It gets into the
    Christian Hedonism thing, “God is most glorified in us when we are
    most satisfied in Him.” God maintaining God's glory is the most loving
    thing God could do for humankind.

    And I really appreciate your point about how a truthful presentation
    is “going to sound like a call to join in.” I think the reason I was
    surprised by my tone in it is that I haven't really made much of a
    “call to join in” either in writing or in person in quite a while. I
    think that's part of the reason I want to revisit a lot of this,
    because maybe in reality my actions (not readily sharing the gospel)
    aren't really matching up with my beliefs (the gospel is something
    that needs to be shared). Sort of rambling now.

  10. The second sermon in the series talks about how vindicating God
    through Christ death was a great act of love. It gets into the
    Christian Hedonism thing, “God is most glorified in us when we are
    most satisfied in Him.” God maintaining God's glory is the most loving
    thing God could do for humankind.

    And I really appreciate your point about how a truthful presentation
    is “going to sound like a call to join in.” I think the reason I was
    surprised by my tone in it is that I haven't really made much of a
    “call to join in” either in writing or in person in quite a while. I
    think that's part of the reason I want to revisit a lot of this,
    because maybe in reality my actions (not readily sharing the gospel)
    aren't really matching up with my beliefs (the gospel is something
    that needs to be shared). Sort of rambling now.

  11. Thanks for starting this conversation. Just in thinking about it recently, I realize how much I don't have a grasp on this subject, one of the central acts that Christianity hinges on.

    This article really helped me out. I highly recommend the whole thing, but make sure to read the last 1/3 of the article for sure: http://www.gregboyd.org/essays/essays-jesus/the-c

    This part really stood out to me:
    "One of the foremost problems with the western church today is that people understand what Jesus came to accomplish in legal terms. God is viewed as an austere and angry judge who wants to send us to hell, we are seen as guilty defendants deserving of hell, and Jesus is viewed as our defense attorney who wants to find a way to “get us off the hook” from going to hell. So he works out an arrangement whereby the Judge gets to vent his wrath, receiving full payment for sin, yet the guilty defendants are freed from their eternal sentence.

    Now, there’s many problems associated with this legal-arrangement view of Jesus (such as, if the Father gets payed by Jesus’ death, did he really forgive our sin?). But what concerns me most is that this view easily divorces justification from sanctification. That is, so long as a person believes Jesus died as their substitute, they’re off the hook. How they actually live isn’t central to the legal arrangement. Given this view, it’s hardly surprising that there are millions of people in America who profess faith in Jesus but whose lives are indistinguishable from their pagan neighbors.

    The Christus Victor understanding of the atonement avoids this completely. In this view, what Christ does for us cannot be separated, even theoretically, from what Christ does in us. One either participates in Christ’s cosmic victory over the powers or they do not. If they do, their lives by definition will be increasingly characterized by the ability and willingness to overcome evil with good as they imitate the Calvary-quality life of Jesus Christ (Eph 5:1-2). (19) The idea that one is “saved” by intellectually believing in the legal transaction Jesus allegedly engaged in with God the Father can thus be dismissed as magic."

  12. Jake,
    I really like Boyd's article, I think that makes a lot of sense. At the same time, I don't find myself coming to the conclusions mentioned in the first paragraph ("angry judge", "off the hook", and not actually living differently). Trying to sort out why I don't feel that way will be a task for future posts. I can see how one can come to that conclusion, but I agree it's misguided.
    I also find, and it sounds funny again for me to say this, but it's getting to theological for what I was trying to get at. I'd agree with Boyd, if someone sees the gospel as a legal arrangement and they say a prayer and that's it, they miss the whole point. But, I think Piper would agree with that too, and so it's not so much about a root theological difference (though maybe it is and I'm missing it). I think we have "millions of people in America who profess faith in Jesus but whose lives are indistinguishable from their pagan neighbors" because our "faith in Jesus" just doesn't mean much but, as Boyd would say, a civil religion.

    All that to say. I find his last sentence amazing in it's critique. This is priceless:
    "The idea that one is “saved” by intellectually believing in the legal transaction Jesus allegedly engaged in with God the Father can thus be dismissed as magic."

  13. Jake,
    I really like Boyd's article, I think that makes a lot of sense. At the same time, I don't find myself coming to the conclusions mentioned in the first paragraph ("angry judge", "off the hook", and not actually living differently). Trying to sort out why I don't feel that way will be a task for future posts. I can see how one can come to that conclusion, but I agree it's misguided.
    I also find, and it sounds funny again for me to say this, but it's getting to theological for what I was trying to get at. I'd agree with Boyd, if someone sees the gospel as a legal arrangement and they say a prayer and that's it, they miss the whole point. But, I think Piper would agree with that too, and so it's not so much about a root theological difference (though maybe it is and I'm missing it). I think we have "millions of people in America who profess faith in Jesus but whose lives are indistinguishable from their pagan neighbors" because our "faith in Jesus" just doesn't mean much but, as Boyd would say, a civil religion.

    All that to say, I find his last sentence amazing in it's critique. This is priceless:
    "The idea that one is “saved” by intellectually believing in the legal transaction Jesus allegedly engaged in with God the Father can thus be dismissed as magic."

  14. Sorry – didn't mean to stoke the old piper/boyd debate. We certainly don't need more of that 🙂

    I do think that a lot of people see Jesus' death as a legal transaction, I was certainly taught that growing up. So for me personally, it's very liberating to not have to believe that.

  15. Ok, are you ready for me to push back a little bit?

    I agree that if there is God, then the world must be God centered, so it makes sense that Jesus' death on the cross would be for God's glory (God focused) before being for man's salvation (human focused). But here's two things I hope that your more theologically minded readers could weigh in on:

    1. Couldn't it be that it is to God's glory for Him to redeem His creation? I mean, this current situation wasn't the original structure and relationship between God and man. Thanks to Satan and our desire to "be like God" we broke from God. Couldn't the man centric idea of the cross as salvation ultimately be God's way of saying, "no, you might have decided to take to long way around to Me, but man/satan doesn't get the victory by messing up my world so I will provide a way to restore the world to what it originally was intended to be." ? Thereby proving His God-ness, and reasserting His power and Glory.

    2. And this is actually the one that I want someone to focus on: How does one innocent death (Jesus) vindicate God's righteousness? Piper says, "God saw his glory being despised by sinners (like David) – he saw his worth belittled and his name dishonored by our sins – and rather than vindicating the worth of his glory by slaying his people, he vindicated his glory by slaying his Son." How? How is it vindicating of God's Glory to slay his Son?

  16. You might have read my earlier posts, not sure, but I'm a big fan of
    both Piper and Boyd, and haven't found a major conflict in my beliefs
    or theology come out of it (maybe because I'm missing the point).
    I know the legal transaction thing gets used a lot, but it's an
    analogy and thus falls short. At the same time, like I said earlier, I
    don't think the legal transaction assumes the conclusions Boyd gives.
    They are likely maybe, but not necessarily the default. Does that seem
    fair?

  17. Joel, great thoughts thanks for dialoging.

    1. I definitely think “it is to God's glory for Him to redeem His
    creation.” I think that makes sense and I would agree.

    2. As to this question: “How does one innocent death (Jesus) vindicate
    God's righteousness?” I hope your asking just to quiz me and have an
    answer of your own, because I'm kind of stuck on that one too.
    Honestly, I know some of the Sunday school answers I could give, but
    I'm not really satisfied with any of the explanations at the moment.
    Which brings up an interesting point:
    If I've “prayed the prayer” and in previous years have very
    confidently believed all the basic tenants of the faith, but currently
    have serious questions and struggles with doubt, but my life and
    lifestyle choices still fall clearly in line with how I would be
    living if I didn't confidently believe those truths: What does that
    make me? Am I straying away from the faith? Am I still part of the
    flock? what am I?

  18. Joel, great thoughts thanks for dialoging.

    1. I definitely think “it is to God's glory for Him to redeem His
    creation.” I think that makes sense and I would agree.

    2. As to this question: “How does one innocent death (Jesus) vindicate
    God's righteousness?” I hope your asking just to quiz me and have an
    answer of your own, because I'm kind of stuck on that one too.
    Honestly, I know some of the Sunday school answers I could give, but
    I'm not really satisfied with any of the explanations at the moment.
    Which brings up an interesting point:
    If I've “prayed the prayer” and in previous years have very
    confidently believed all the basic tenants of the faith, but currently
    have serious questions and struggles with doubt, but my life and
    lifestyle choices still fall clearly in line with how I would be
    living if I didn't confidently believe those truths: What does that
    make me? Am I straying away from the faith? Am I still part of the
    flock? what am I?

  19. Joel, great thoughts thanks for dialoging.

    1. I definitely think “it is to God's glory for Him to redeem His
    creation.” I think that makes sense and I would agree.

    2. As to this question: “How does one innocent death (Jesus) vindicate
    God's righteousness?” I hope your asking just to quiz me and have an
    answer of your own, because I'm kind of stuck on that one too.
    Honestly, I know some of the Sunday school answers I could give, but
    I'm not really satisfied with any of the explanations at the moment.
    Which brings up an interesting point:
    If I've “prayed the prayer” and in previous years have very
    confidently believed all the basic tenants of the faith, but currently
    have serious questions and struggles with doubt, but my life and
    lifestyle choices still fall clearly in line with how I would be
    living if I didn't confidently believe those truths: What does that
    make me? Am I straying away from the faith? Am I still part of the
    flock? what am I?

  20. Joel, great thoughts thanks for dialoging.

    1. I definitely think “it is to God's glory for Him to redeem His
    creation.” I think that makes sense and I would agree.

    2. As to this question: “How does one innocent death (Jesus) vindicate
    God's righteousness?” I hope your asking just to quiz me and have an
    answer of your own, because I'm kind of stuck on that one too.
    Honestly, I know some of the Sunday school answers I could give, but
    I'm not really satisfied with any of the explanations at the moment.
    Which brings up an interesting point:
    If I've “prayed the prayer” and in previous years have very
    confidently believed all the basic tenants of the faith, but currently
    have serious questions and struggles with doubt, but my life and
    lifestyle choices still fall clearly in line with how I would be
    living if I didn't confidently believe those truths: What does that
    make me? Am I straying away from the faith? Am I still part of the
    flock? what am I?

  21. Joel, great thoughts thanks for dialoging.

    1. I definitely think “it is to God's glory for Him to redeem His
    creation.” I think that makes sense and I would agree.

    2. As to this question: “How does one innocent death (Jesus) vindicate
    God's righteousness?” I hope your asking just to quiz me and have an
    answer of your own, because I'm kind of stuck on that one too.
    Honestly, I know some of the Sunday school answers I could give, but
    I'm not really satisfied with any of the explanations at the moment.
    Which brings up an interesting point:
    If I've “prayed the prayer” and in previous years have very
    confidently believed all the basic tenants of the faith, but currently
    have serious questions and struggles with doubt, but my life and
    lifestyle choices still fall clearly in line with how I would be
    living if I didn't confidently believe those truths: What does that
    make me? Am I straying away from the faith? Am I still part of the
    flock? what am I?

  22. Joel, great thoughts thanks for dialoging.

    1. I definitely think “it is to God's glory for Him to redeem His
    creation.” I think that makes sense and I would agree.

    2. As to this question: “How does one innocent death (Jesus) vindicate
    God's righteousness?” I hope your asking just to quiz me and have an
    answer of your own, because I'm kind of stuck on that one too.
    Honestly, I know some of the Sunday school answers I could give, but
    I'm not really satisfied with any of the explanations at the moment.
    Which brings up an interesting point:
    If I've “prayed the prayer” and in previous years have very
    confidently believed all the basic tenants of the faith, but currently
    have serious questions and struggles with doubt, but my life and
    lifestyle choices still fall clearly in line with how I would be
    living if I didn't confidently believe those truths: What does that
    make me? Am I straying away from the faith? Am I still part of the
    flock? what am I?

  23. Joel, great thoughts thanks for dialoging.

    1. I definitely think “it is to God's glory for Him to redeem His
    creation.” I think that makes sense and I would agree.

    2. As to this question: “How does one innocent death (Jesus) vindicate
    God's righteousness?” I hope your asking just to quiz me and have an
    answer of your own, because I'm kind of stuck on that one too.
    Honestly, I know some of the Sunday school answers I could give, but
    I'm not really satisfied with any of the explanations at the moment.
    Which brings up an interesting point:
    If I've “prayed the prayer” and in previous years have very
    confidently believed all the basic tenants of the faith, but currently
    have serious questions and struggles with doubt, but my life and
    lifestyle choices still fall clearly in line with how I would be
    living if I didn't confidently believe those truths: What does that
    make me? Am I straying away from the faith? Am I still part of the
    flock? what am I?

  24. Boyd's and Piper's disagreements seem to stem primarily from their different beliefs about the sovereignty of God. Boyd is an advocate for a kind of "Open Theism". Piper thinks it is heresy.

    Boyd's Christus Victor notion of salvation was the primary mode of thought in the early church by the way.

  25. Yeah, I think if I were to pick between the two I might go with
    Christus Victor, but I'm not really interested in getting into all of
    that or the open theism thing. I think both camps can hold different
    opinions in those regards and still discuss how we should live out our
    day to day lives.

  26. I am not interested in going into it either.

    Well, now that I think about it, I actually do enjoy reading about it and looking into it.

    However, I do not agree with you about the camps being able to dialogue. One of my biggest disappointments with John Piper is his inability to interact with those he disagrees with.

  27. Yeah, I agree I'm often interested in reading opinions and everything,
    I just find too much energy gets wasted there when we could come to
    reasonable disagreements and focus on the millions of other things
    where there is common ground.

    I'd be curious what situations or examples you have of Piper not being
    able to interact with those he disagree's with. Not that I don't
    believe you, I just haven't personally seen those examples, but I have
    heard similar sentiments before. Honestly my Piper views are shaped by
    a few sermons I listened to 10+ years ago and that's about it.

  28. Okay, I finished listening to it, and I was surprised. I didn't disagree with Piper near as much as I thought I would. I really liked his explanation of Romans 3:25 and the cross as a vindication of God's righteousness. I hadn't thought about it that way, and I obviously can't disagree with that part because it's in the Bible.

    I also agree very much about our tendency to operate under a very human-centric mindset. Our natural tendency is for most of what we do in our day-to-day life to revolve around us. We can then begin to apply that mindset to our salvation. Our salvation and Christ's death for us was not about us, per se. It was not about how great we are or how much we deserved it. But it was about us in the sense that God's love for us was SO great that He saw fit to send His only son to die for us.

    Piper says he is not addressing the particular nature of the atonement (whether that be penal substitution, Christus Victor, etc.), and he is addressing the question of "Did Christ die for us or for God?" I would say the answer is, "yes." It's both! I get the part about God's righteousness needed to be vindicated. But what is the reason that God's righteousness needed vindication? Because, in His great love for His creation, he chose to overlook sin.

    I'm not sure if that made any sense at all, but that was my reaction to the sermon.

  29. I really like your thoughts and summary. And I think your right that it doesn't address the particular nature of the atonement. Now I just wish I could find the other sermon of the two. So far no luck.

  30. ok I'm caught up now – I'll listen and post later – good thoughts above my b-4 listening thoughts…

    I like C S Lewis's view of atonement best from the L-W &W "there is a deep magic from the beginning that says all traitors to Aslan belong to the white witch" but their is a deeper magic that if one freely gives their life for a traitor the traitor will go free….

    both the Christ died for God idea – because God made the rules and the Christus Victor theme – conquering death and sin in the cosmic struggle

    also I think it is a travesty most Christians believe it is more "Christian-like" to sit around and talk about these issues – Like Ariah's reply to goose – when the basic gospel of love and forgiveness gets left behind – we act like that's too simple but we avoid it because it is to costly

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