Editor’s Note

The Heart of the Gospel
Journal
08.20.2019

Few doctrines are more beautiful than penal substitution. To behold it is to stare into the Godhead itself.

Penal substitution shows us a God who is three in one. Only by the Trinity could God absorb the wrath of God—what John Stott calls the self-substitution of God.

It shows us the simplicity of God. Penal substitution affirms that God’s love cannot be separated from his justice and his justice cannot be separated from his love, his holiness from his goodness and his goodness from his holiness.

It shows us the self-sufficiency of God. Christ can undertake to pay our penalty and count that transfer of guilt as just because the moral law of the universe is his law. It is not outside of him but is the expression of his own character.

Penal substitution shows us the love of God and the nature of that love. When he stands in our place, he makes a covenantal vow, like Adam declaring “Her bone is now my bone; her flesh is now my flesh.” Only Christ says, “Her sin is now my sin; my righteousness is now her righteousness.” His love is love for a bride—not a pristine one, but one who has played the whore.

It shows us the righteousness and justice of God. Other theories of the atonement leave some injustices—at least those of the saved—unpunished, unaccounted for. Yet penal substitution insists that every sin and injustice must be punished, so just and righteous is our God. It says to the victim, “Every injustice will be addressed,” and to the sinner, “He will show his justice in your salvation if you belong to him. He cannot forsake himself.”

It shows us the holiness of God, meaning the atonement is wholly consecrated to him. God is the ultimate focus of Christ’s death. He is its subject and object. It is from him and through him and to him, sweeping us up into the arch of its swirl.

Penal substitution is good news for those who have hurt and those who have been hurt. It speaks to the oppressor and the oppressed. It reveals God as the wisest and the humblest. Who else would have conquered kingdoms through a cross, stooped low to raise others up, created life out of death?

And yet, amidst this beauty and glory, our world and our sin conspire to render penal substitution nonsensical, knocking out every conceptual buttress. The world teaches us to measure morality in relation to ourselves, leaving no room for the holiness of God. It says we are bound only by standards or laws that we create or consent to, leaving no space for the judgment of God. We define love by whatever is most conducive to self-discovery and self-expression, and so reject the Son-exalting love of God. We believe that truth and goodness is found only by looking inward, and so reject our need for the vicarious righteousness of God. On every front the Evil One has placed roadblocks to comprehension and belief of this sacred doctrine.

Therefore, to enjoy the glory and to wage the battle, 9Marks devotes this Journal to penal substitutionary atonement. Speaking personally, working through each of these articles has edified my soul and fortified my faith. The theological and practical meditations alike should create a joy which you will want to share, like the woman who has found her lost coin. We commend to you every piece. Read them with a spouse or a friend, your fellow elders or members. As the hymn invites,

Come behold the wondrous mystery
Christ the Lord upon the tree
In the stead of ruined sinners
Hangs the Lamb in victory

See the price of our redemption
See the Father’s plan unfold
Bringing many sons to glory
Grace unmeasured, love untold

(From Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery, by Matt Boswell, Michael Bleecker, Matt Papa 2013)

— Jonathan Leeman

* * * * *

Check out the Table of Contents here.

By:
Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan Leeman is the Editorial Director of 9Marks, and an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in Cheverly, Maryland. You can find him on Twitter at @JonathanLeeman.

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Church Mergers and Plants

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The Church Praying

Spring 2016
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Missions: Adding Wisdom to Zeal

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Multi-Ethnic Churches

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Expositional Preaching

Spring 2015
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Complementarianism & the Local Church

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Vanishing Church?

Fall 2014
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Biblical Theology: Guardian and Guide of the Church

Summer 2014
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The Church Singing

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Prosperity Gospel

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Evangelism – Part 2

November–December 2013
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Evangelism – Part 1

September–October 2013
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Is Scripture Enough?

July–August 2013
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Church and Churches

May—June 2013
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Pastoring Christians for the Workplace

March—April 2013
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Lay Elders: A User’s Guide—Part 2

Jan—Feb 2013
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Lay Elders: A User’s Guide – Part 1

November—December 2012
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Discipling in the Church

September—October 2012
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Mercy Ministry in the Church

July—August 2012
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Wanted: Apostolic Pastors

May—June 2012
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The Underestimated Doctrine of Conversion

March—April 2012
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Don’t Be Too Cool for Sunday School

January—February 2012
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Revitalize: Why We Must Reclaim Dying Churches—and How

November—December 2011
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The Pastor and his Staff, Part 2

September—October 2011
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The Pastor and his Staff, Part 1

July—August 2011
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Church Membership: Holding the Body Together

May—June 2011
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Church and Parachurch: Friends or Foes?

March—April 2011
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Pastoral Moves

January—February 2011
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Book Reviews on the Mission of the Church

November—December 2010
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Hell: Remembering the Awful Reality

September—October 2010
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Pastoring Women

July—August 2010
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Journal about Deacons

Deacons

May - June 2010
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A New Evangelical Liberalism

January—February 2010

Church Discipline (Part 2)

November—December 2009

Church Discipline (Part 1)

September—October 2009

Missions

July—August 2009

Multi-site Churches

May—June 2009

Young Pastors

March–April 2009

Raising Up the Next Generation of Pastors

January–February 2009

Counseling in the Church

November–December 2008

Family & Parenting

September–October 2008

Marriage & Pastor’s Wives

July—August 2008

Living As a Church

May–June 2008

Cooperation

March–April 2008

Corporate Prayer

January–February 2008

Church & Culture

November–December 2007

Race and Ethnicity

September—October 2007

The Gospel

July–August 2007

Preaching

May–June 2007

Elders (Part 2)

March–April 2007

Hospitality & Friendship

January 2007

Elders (Part 1)

February 2007

Biblical Theology

November–December 2006

The Church’s Mission

October 2006

The Emerging Church

September 2006

Miscellaneous Articles

December 1999