“Jesus Did Not Come to Save Us from God.” Well, Actually, That Is Exactly What He Came to Do.

This statement, “Jesus did not come to save us from God,” has been a kind of mantra of the so-called “Progressive Christians” over the last few years. In a way, it’s a kind of clever statement, and accomplishes the emotive purpose of the statement. However, it is only clever by way of a caricature of what those who are not so “progressive” actually believe. In particular, it has been aimed at those of us who believe in Penal Substitutionary Atonement. In this post, I would like to show how wrong this statement actually is. In order to do this—and perhaps I shouldn’t, but I am going to anyway—I am going to bracket out the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement. In other words, what am I going to show is that, regardless what “theory” of the atonement one adopts, it is actually quite true to say, “Jesus came to save us from God.” Before I begin, I want to say that there are two things that are actually quite surprising about this whole issue.

(1) The first surprise is how so many people have been absolutely duped by this statement. It only demonstrates how so many sectors of the modern church can be so easily persuaded of something that is so completely illogical and unbiblical. The soundbite, the mantra, the poorly-thought-out cliché takes precedence over logical thinking, sound doctrine, and, frankly, just the ability to read.

(2) The second surprise is how absolutely easy it is to demonstrate the falsehood of the statement. To borrow a slogan from the past, “Thankfully, the task is not a difficult one.”

We will be looking at a number of New Testament texts to examine this issue; but before we do, it would be good to start this off by looking at one Old Testament passage. In Ezekiel 3 we have one of the better known passages in the book, the famous “watchman” text. The Lord tells Ezekiel that he is to be a watchman for the Israelites. He says to Ezekiel,

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. (Ezek 3:17)

Several commentators on this passage have argued that the Hebrew preposition translated “from” in this verse should rather be translated “against.” So the verse should actually read, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning against me.” Now, the preposition can actually be translated either way, so, linguistically and grammatically, one cannot be dogmatic on the actual translation. However, both conceptually and contextually, this understanding is exactly correct. Ezekiel’s task is to provide warning of the enemy who is going to come against them. That enemy is the Babylonians; but Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians are but the sword in the Lord’s hand. Ultimately, the Lord is the enemy at the gate. Ezekiel’s task is to warn the Israelites against Yahweh. In essence, all the prophetic books in which Israel is warned of impending disaster are warnings against Yahweh. The importance of this understanding is that we should be prepared to realize that when Jesus comes as the ultimate prophet of the Lord, this is going to be his message as well. Now, on to the New Testament.

(1) First, we need to look at the preaching of John the Baptist, Jesus’s forerunner. Here are some excerpts from John’s preaching in Matthew 3:

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? (v. 7)

The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. (v. 10)

Speaking about Jesus, John says:

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (v. 12)

John is delivering a message in which he warns against the “coming wrath.” It is quite clear in the passage that the wrath against which he is warning is God’s wrath. And not only that, but this wrath is in fact the wrath of Jesus himself (more about that later). John the Baptist came preaching, and warning against God’s coming wrath. He came to save his hearers from God.

(2) Now, there are those who would argue that Jesus’s message was not the same as that of his forerunner and cousin, John. However, there is very little (actually, nothing) to support that argument. So, note this passage in Matthew 23:33-36, where Jesus takes up John’s phrase, “Brood of vipers.”

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

Jesus takes up John’s language and refers to his hearers as a “Brood of vipers.” Then he lets them know that they are in danger of being condemned to hell. He even tells them that their generation is going to suffer for the accumulated sin of previous generations, as well as for their own sins. Jesus goes on in the passage to tell them that he had longed to gather them under his wings, to save them from this judgment, but they would not accept that offered protection. Therefore he tells them, “Your house is left unto you desolate.” Jesus came to save them, to protect them from the coming wrath, the very wrath of God.

Now, there are those who would argue that Jesus is not warning them against God’s wrath, but against the wrath of the Romans and the destruction that would come from their armies. The simple answer to this objection is that it is not an either/or. It is a both/and. It is no different at all from the message of Ezekiel and the other OT prophets who told the people that the Assyrians and Babylonians who were going to come against them are actually swords in the hand of the Lord. I would add here as well, that N. T. Wright, who, as much as anybody in our generation, has demonstrated that the actions of the Jews in Jesus’s day were going to bring the Roman armies down on their heads, nevertheless also argues quite clearly that we cannot simply regard Jesus here as a political prognosticator. Rather, Wright argues that we must see Jesus as a prophet, one who warns the people of the coming judgment, and that the wrath of the Romans is really the wrath of God.

(3) In a similar passage in Luke 21:20-24, Jesus again fulfills the role of prophet, and says the following:

When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

The word “punishment” in this passage could be translated even more appropriately as “vengeance.” It will not do to argue that this is simply Roman punishment or vengeance. By context, and by the phrase “in fulfillment of all that has been written,” it is abundantly clear that this is not merely a human Roman punishment or vengeance, but a theological one, a divine one, in fulfillment of the curse of the covenant. Jesus came to save the people from this judgment, this wrath of God.

(4) Of course, we have the famous John 3:16, but also the not-so-well-examined verses that follow.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

It is important to note that John 3:16 is not simply a verse reference to put on a large piece of cardboard and hold up at a baseball game. No, it is a matter of life and death, or more precisely, a matter of eternal life or death. Jesus, as the passage says, did not come to condemn us. But that is because there is already a condemnation in place. And that condemnation, if not reversed, will result in destruction; they will “perish.” And whether the person perishes or lives depends on their belief in, and relationship to, God’s one and only Son. Jesus came to save us from a condemnation that already exists, and in context, that condemnation is from God. But to make that even more clear, we go on to the next passage.

(5) Later in this same chapter we come to v. 36:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

Again, just as in the earlier verses in John 3, this verse has to do with issues of life and death—eternal life and eternal death. And if it was not completely explicit in v. 18 that the condemnation is God’s condemnation, it is explicit here. The two passages, in the same chapter, have to be read in the light of each other. The condemnation in v. 18 is, in v. 36, “God’s wrath.” Jesus has come to save us from that condemnation, that wrath. Jesus came to save us from God.

(6) In Romans 5:9-11, the apostle Paul says the following:

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Christ died for us, and we have been justified by his blood. Because he died for us, we shall be saved from God’s wrath. Note that, in accord with the teaching in the rest of this chapter as well as in the entirety of the book of Romans and the rest of the New Testament, this salvation from God’s wrath is not an automatic; it must be appropriated through faith in Christ and his blood. Only those who believe are saved from wrath and given eternal life. But, again, we are taught here that through the death of Christ, through faith in his blood, we will saved from God’s wrath. Jesus came to save us from God.

(7) Paul says this in Ephesians 2:1-7:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh m and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Paul, at first apparently addressing the Gentile believers among the Ephesians, nevertheless goes on to include himself, and apparently all believers, as those who can be characterized as “by nature deserving of wrath.” But God, by his great love and mercy saved us from that wrath through what he did in Christ Jesus. Of course, that wrath is God’s wrath, and God saves us from that wrath through Jesus; as a result we become trophies of God’s grace.

With this passage, though there a quite a few more we could look at, I am going to bring this examination of texts to an end. However, I need to make two more points.

The first one is this. Those who brandish this caricaturish cliché, “Jesus did not come to save us from God,” also go on to a further caricature and argue that the ones against whom they use this cliché believe that God is angry at us, and then Jesus, in love and compassion, comes to change God’s mind and persuade God to love us. But this is so far from the truth that it’s absolutely mind-boggling how they ever came up with such a silly accusation. Christ does not have to change God’s attitude toward us, to persuade him to love us, to get him to reluctantly pull back his wrath. No, not at all! We believe that God loved us so much that he sent his Son to die for us. Christ was not trying to persuade God. God did not need any persuading. As our last passage in Ephesians says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” There was no opposition between the Father and the Son on this. What Christ did to save us, God was doing in Christ to save us. God’s anger at us was real, God’s wrath was real, and there was indeed a death sentence hanging over our head. But God is also rich in mercy, and in Christ he worked to provide redemption for us. Jesus did not have to persuade God to do this.

But the second thing that is important to note is this. Jesus is God. Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity. Whatever is true of God the Father, is also true of God the Son. Therefore, whenever we say, “Jesus came to save us from God,” we are also saying that Jesus came to save us from himself. Again, Jesus and the Father are not at odds on this. It is not just the wrath of the Father, it is also the wrath of the Son. That is what Jesus came to save us from. Remember that John the Baptist said of Jesus, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And this is why the book of Revelation, though it puts the words in the mouth of the wicked, speaks not only of the wrath of the one who sits on the throne, but also of the “wrath of the Lamb” and then, collectively, of “their wrath” (Rev 6:16). The wrath of God from which we are rescued is Jesus’s own wrath as well.

I have done nothing in this post to argue for the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement. And usually, that “Jesus did not come to save us from God,” cliché is used specifically against that teaching. I am absolutely convinced that this doctrine is true, but this post is not about Penal Substitutionary Atonement. It really doesn’t matter which one of the so-called theories of Atonement you hold to. Whichever one you hold, it is still true—yes, Jesus came to save us from God. And that is not a bad thing. That is a good thing. Praise be to God!

Jerry Shepherd

May 19, 2020

55 thoughts on ““Jesus Did Not Come to Save Us from God.” Well, Actually, That Is Exactly What He Came to Do.

  1. Some people say “Jesus did not come to save us from God” out of ignorance or a desire to water down God’s wrath as you said, but overall I think it is a true statement.

    When I take the car keys from my inebriated friend, I am not trying to save him, ultimately, from a DUI or even prison. I’m ultimately trying to save him from killing himself. In the same way, Jesus did not come to save us, ultimately, from God. He came to save us from sin. It is important to recognize that sin is inherently self-destructive, independent from and prior to God’s judgments upon it. Adam and Eve debase themselves in misery, shame, and death immediately upon eating the fruit (Gen 3:6-7) prior to God coming into the Garden in Genesis 3:8.

    Human beings are designed to love God above all else. That is our proper function. When human beings rebel against God, they are also rebelling against their own design, their own humanity, necessarily engaging in self-destruction in the very act of rebellion itself. To not acknowledge the self-destructive nature of sin is to fail to take both God and sin seriously enough.

    If God did not lift a finger to punish sin, sin would still destroy sinners. As even Jonathan Edwards says (notably, in a sermon called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God) “Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature; and if God should leave it without restraint, there would need nothing else to make the soul perfectly miserable.” Even in hell, Edwards says, “The wicked in hell are their own tormentors, their lusts are their tormentors, and being without restraint, (for there is no restraining grace in hell) their lusts will rage like raging flames in their hearts. They shall be tormented with the unrestrained violence of a spirit of envy and malice against God, and angels and saints in heaven, and against one another.” (Christ’s Agony)

    Small note on your use of Ephesians 2. The phrase reads in my NASB “by nature children of wrath” which has an important difference regarding time frame. Your translation “deserving of wrath” seems to indicate future, impending judgment in the afterlife to be saved from. But I think Paul is referring to the fact that we were all born into a world that is under God’s wrath since the Fall, specifically that we are all exiled from Paradise and the Presence of God. The narrative in Ephesians 2:1-10 is not:

    Problem: deserving wrath
    Solution: avoiding wrath

    But

    Problem: dead in our sin (which includes suffering wrath)
    Solution: raised to new life in Christ.

    Finally, when sharing the gospel with victims of severe oppression, say a fifteen-year-old girl who has been a victim of sex-trafficking since the age of nine, the emphasis that “Jesus came to save you from a holy God who is bringing eternal wrath on your offenses against Him” I don’t think is the best route to go. I’m going to talk about how Jesus saves us from evil, from sin. So the message that “Jesus came to save us from sin” is far more universally applicable, to the oppressed and to those not suffering that kind of severe oppression.

    • Hi Gabe,

      Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. Here are some responses:

      (1) Your DUI analogy isn’t really pertinent to the argument. You cannot use the natural consequences of sin to argue that Jesus is not saving us from the wrath of God. The natural consequences of sin exist because that is the way God has set things up. So, yes, Jesus does come to save us from the wrath of God. Yes, sin is inherently destructive, but not “independent from and prior to God’s judgments about it upon it.” Adam and Eve do not bebase themselves in death immediately upon eating the fruit. They only die because God decrees it, exiles them from the garden, and bars their access to the Tree of Life. God actively responds in wrath and carries out the death sentence of which he had warned. Sin is not inherently self-destructive; rather, that is the way God set things up.

      (2) Jonathan Edwards, in that famous sermon, is not by any means taking God’s active wrath out of the equation, as a closer examination of both that sermon as well as the rest of Edwards’s writings amply demonstrates. To be sure, there is an element of self-torment in hell; but this only begs the question. How did they get in hell. Jesus’s answer to the question is that God put them there. God is still active in his punishments.

      (3) As for as Ephesians 2, no, there is no important difference regarding time frame. For sure, “children of wrath” is a more literal translation than the NIV’s “deserving of wrath.” But there is no real difference in meaning or time frame. Notice that in Matt 23:15, “child of hell” is not referring to what someone is currently suffering, but to their destiny. “Children of the resurrection” in Luke 20:36, is referring to the future resurrection. I don’t necessarily disagree with what you are affirming. But I am disgreeing as to what you are denying. Jesus came to us from the wrath of God.

      (4) I appreciate the sensitivities regarding those who have suffered severe oppression. But those who have suffered severe oppression are still sinners. Jesus came to save them from their sins. And that means that he came to save them from the wrath of God. Again, I appreciate the pastoral sensitivities, but even victims of oppression need to be saved from their sins.

      So nothing here really supports the idea that Jesus did not come to save us from God.

  2. Hi Jerry,

    Apologies as well for the delay in response. I never got a notification from wordpress that you responded for some reason. Maybe I forgot to click the box.

    You seem to be collapsing all of sin’s destructive effects into the wrath of God, and I’m just not seeing how that is possible, Biblically or from experience. Adam and Eve’s act of sin is an act of destruction towards God’s created order. They are submitting themselves to a beast over whom they are supposed to rule; the act itself is one of debasement, of dehumanization. And immediately upon eating the fruit they did die spiritually. They are dead in their transgressions and sins, even though they are still breathing and walking around. Physical death at which the soul separates from the body is merely one aspect of the Biblical concept of death. Sin is not just some violation of an abstract legal rule that only brings destruction as a judicial consequence. Sin is disobedience against God that disrupts His created order.

    As God defines sin in Jeremiah 2:13, “My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and have hewn for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that hold no water.” What did God do to make the humans die of thirst? Nothing. It was the act of offense against God itself that killed the humans who forsook the fountain of living waters.

    If sin is not inherently destructive, what do you do with the sin of suicide? How is that sin not inherently self-destructive? And is not all sin a form of suicide?

    And if you are going to consider all of sin’s destructive effects as God’s wrath, then haven’t you made unjust suffering an impossibility? When Bob envies Jim’s house and so burns his house down, is Jim to think that he suffered the wrath of God? After all, Jim is suffering the destructive effects of sin, and all sin’s destructive effects should be considered God’s wrath. Of course that would be absurd. Jim suffered Bob’s sin.

    If we say that sin is not self-destructive in the very act of sin itself, it seems that we are entertaining the idea that were it not for God’s punishments, humanity could find happiness and fulfillment in sin. That sin is not a destructive lie, but sin is an alternate true path to happiness that God dislikes and therefore punishes. You seem to be saying that sin itself really isn’t that bad, it’s just bad because God punishes it. It seems to me that view doesn’t take sin very seriously, or God very seriously as the only source of happiness and fulfillment.

    I think the DUI analogy is helpful: Jesus saves us from the wrath of God in the same way I save my friend from a DUI. Of course we use warnings of the wrath of God and DUI’s to deter people from misbehavior, knowing that ultimately we are saving them from destroying themselves in their own sin.

    • Hi Gabe, sorry, I didn’t see this response till now with the sudden flurry of comments. So, to answer your question, it is entirely possible, both biblically and from experience. Of course sin is not and a violation of some abstract rule. It is a violation of a very concrete rule. And the punishment for that violation is the execution of God’s wrath, as Scripture affirms over and over.

      God does not define sin in Jeremiah 2:13. Rather, he is speaking to a concrete example of sin. For sure, sin carries its own consequences, but that is because God has decreed that it be way. Those consequences are God-ordered consequences.

      No, I have not said, and Scripture does not say, that all negative effects are brought about by sin, or by God’s punishment against sin. But God’s punishments against sin are indeed God’s punishments. He is the one who puts them in place, whether he does directly, or by setting up a deed-consequence schema.

      We can certainly talk about sin as self-destructive, but we cannot talk about sin as only self-destructive; that destruction is put in place by God.

  3. That’s really not how the Bible presents things. Rather, we are destroying ourselves in our sin, and God loves us and sends His own Son to show us how to live, but we decide to torture and kill him. The Son then rises from the dead and offers us forgiveness of sins by participating in his resurrection as a reversal of our self-destruction.

    My point to Jerry is that our fundamental problem is not that we deserve punishment, but that we are destroying ourselves in our own sin because we are violating God’s created order. To deny the definition of sin as inherent destruction is to deny God as Creator and to embrace moral relativism. For if we say that sin is simply “breaking God’s law and thereby deserving punishment,” we are saying in essence that sin itself could be an alternate path to happiness, were it not that God disliked it and therefore punished it. Sin on this view is a matter of taste (even if it is God’s taste), not of objective and inherent destruction as a violation of God’s created order.

    • Then why are all sinners by nature, and the slightest sin have consequences set up by God to lead to infinite life in hell? That sure sounds like a punishment to me.

      • The foundational text on hell in the Bible is Genesis 3:22-24. In this passage, God fears that Adam and Eve, having sinned and thereby entered a state of spiritual death, will eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. This would consign them to a state of everlasting death, aka hell. God then banishes Adam and Eve from the garden to save them from this fate.

        So, no, foundationally hell is not a punishment assigned for the slightest infraction of God’s law. Rather, hell is everlasting existence in a state of sin and spiritual death. Having said that, it is true that hell is regulated according to the retributive principle, that is, people suffer according to their deeds committed during their finite lifetime on earth, so in that sense there is a punishment aspect that regulates hell. But this is also merciful, as sinners cannot grow in sin while in hell, or suffer worse than what is according to their own deeds.

        • Imagine eating of the tree of life before being thrown into the Lake. What difference in experience does it actually make compared to those who didn’t?
          If there is no difference, and our consciousness (spirits) are everlasting, where is the actual “death,” and why doesn’t this ‘death’ straightforward parallel the death of the physical body?

          • I’m not sure I understand your question. If you are trying to understand the nature of spiritual death, a good analogy is addiction to something incredibly destructive.

            If you are asking why God keeps humans alive forever while they are in this self-destructive state, I think the Biblical answer, from Genesis, is that humans want to stay alive forever. It is humanity that seeks to eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. Hell is not contrary to humanity’s sinful decisions and sinful desires – it is the product of those sinful decisions and sinful desires.

            Another good illustration is that of Satan in Dante’s Inferno. He flaps his wings in a mad attempt to ascend higher than God, but in flapping his wings he stirs up freezing winds that trap him in the frozen lake at the bottom of hell. If he ever just stopped flapping his wings, the lake would melt and he would be free. But he will never stop, because he is set on sinfully rebelling against God’s authority and trying to ascend above His throne.

          • So our spirits are dead, but they still live forever anyways, even if actual death is preferable, yet so without eating the fruit of life? And God in his mercy refuses to put us out of our misery despite sin taking away our ability to make rational decisions, and in so doing eternally locks us in the inability to repent of the sinful nature we were born with, with no chance for purgation or euthanasia?

          • I don’t think we have grounds to be upset that God has given us the freedom to destroy ourselves.

            God says “don’t drink and drive, you will seriously hurt or kill yourself.” And I then go drink and drive and break my legs then say “God, how could you let me do that?” No, I don’t think I get to blame God in that way.

            It may be the case that some are annihilated post mortem. It may be the case that some are converted post mortem. I believe both possibilities are allowed within a Biblical Christian worldview, although none of those outcomes are guaranteed in Scripture. We are warned in the strongest possible terms to avoid everlasting death, which is the outcome of our sinful decisions and sinful desires.

          • Why then, does he set up things so that everyone is born drinking and driving? Why does he only inform a privileged few about its dangers, with or without our cooperation? Why does he make it require divine intervention and a human savrifice in order to help us stop, and even then not all of us will be accepted?

          • I would argue that the Bible teaches that every person, while they live, has an opportunity to accept God’s gift of salvation through Jesus. Even if they have never heard his name, God convicts the conscience of every human being that they have sinned and need to be forgiven, that is, saved by grace. So every human is free to destroy himself, or to accept God’s offer of salvation—in this respect it doesn’t matter what state we are born into, the choice over our destiny is the same: reject God or accept Him. God desires to save all human beings, has provided sufficient means to save all human beings, and we either accept His salvation of us or reject it.

          • Sounds like he’s decreeing what they did in the first place then too. Not a stretch if God decreed our nature to offend him.

    • Inherent destruction is not a definition for sin. You confuse matters by arguing in this way. Sin is not inherent destruction, it is an offense against God. And it deserves punishment, which is put in place either indirectly or directly by God.

      Sin has no independent existence. Sin is sin because it offends God.

      • And being a son of Adam is offensive to God already, thus him telling us to be fruitful and multiply in order to send more souls to hell.

      • “Sin is not inherent destruction, it is an offense against God.”

        My argument is that it must be both/and. An offense against God must be inherently destructive. As creatures made to love God, when we rebel against God we are also rebelling against our own design, necessarily resulting in self-destruction in the act itself. God is our true source of happiness. When we rebel against God, we also rebel against our own happiness, necessarily resulting in misery caused by the act itself.

        Sin is offense against God that destroys the offender. Both aspects are within the act of sin itself.

        Yes, God punishes. His punishments are His punishments. But in order to understand His punishments, we should first understand what it is that is being punished.

        • Sin is not inherently self-destructive. It is so because God decrees it as a punishment. Of course we should “understand what it is that is being punished.” It is sin!

          • Therefore God is negatively but directly the author of sin by defining it according to his arbitrary decree?

          • “Sin is not inherently self-destructive.”

            So suicide is not inherently self-destructive?

            And what about this logic doesn’t work for you: As creatures designed to love God, when we rebel against God we are also rebelling against our own design, necessarily resulting in self-destruction in the act itself. The act of sin is a disordering of our souls. It is a privation and a perversion, a corruption. It is impossible for it not to be inherently self-destructive.

            Are you saying that were it not for God’s punishments upon sin, sin could actually be an alternate path to happiness?

          • Suicide would be inherently destructive. But not every sin is suicide.

            “And what about this logic doesn’t work for you: As creatures designed to love God, when we rebel against God we are also rebelling against our own design, necessarily resulting in self-destruction in the act itself. The act of sin is a disordering of our souls. It is a privation and a perversion, a corruption. It is impossible for it not to be inherently self-destructive”

            Yes, but it is so because God has set up the world to operate on this principle. It is not because anything is inherently so in sin. So you cannot “define” sin as self-destruction. That would be a good description of its consequences. But it is not a definition. Sin is an act that is offensive to God.

          • “Suicide would be inherently destructive. But not every sin is suicide.”

            So, on your view, some sins are inherently destructive and some are not. It would be interesting to see concrete lists of the sins under each category. Idolatry? Murder? Adultery? Dishonor of parents? Theft? Deceit? Which sins are inherently destructive and which are not? I would argue that all sins are suicidal to a certain degree.

            The act of sin is disordered creation (destruction). For a creature to sin, they must disorient their soul in such a way that God is not their highest love. That means the act of sin is to knock the soul off-kilter. Note that when Adam and Eve eat of the fruit, they not only disorder their souls by removing Him as their highest love, but they also submit to the serpent, a being over whom they are supposed to rule. It is a cosmic backfire. Their attempt at ascent in reality is an act of descent. Their attempt to de-God God in reality is an act of self-dehumanization. So yes, sin in the Bible is always presented as inherently destructive and suicidal.

            To deny that would require us to say that sin itself actually could be an alternate path to happiness, were it not that God punished it. This would mean that God is not the Creator. He would be the most powerful being within Creation, who punishes all behavior He dislikes, but He is not the Creator who says, “This is the way I have designed the universe, and to act contrary to it is to destroy yourself.”

          • You are trying to put all sins under the category of a strict deed-consequence theory in which the consequence is automatic (inherent). But that is not what Scripture tells us. And what you write here is more of a free-floating essay as opposed to a reasoned interpretation of Scripture. The way you reason to the possibility that “God is not the creator” unless one adopts your construal is simply convoluted. In fact, on your schema, God is not even necessary. If sin is inherently destructive, God does not even need to be on the scene. Rather, God is the one who set things up they are. And it is because of his decree that any sins can be self-destructive. Any sins that are self-destructive are so because that is the way in which God executes his punishments.

          • You are trying to put all sins in a crime-punishment theory in which the punishment is arbitrary. You are standing against the reasonable biblical interpretation of human decision and adopting what leads to embracing meticulous sovereignty and therefore divine puppetry, which makes God the sinner, or redefines Sin as being the one who executes God’s decree against his own will.
            Instead of God loving us and therefore chastizing and despising our choice to destroy his beloved creation, including ourselves, through sin, which inherently includes rebellion against God’s wishes for our own good, you are saying that God had given us choices (or perhaps controls our minds to make us sin) in order to see us punished, rather than to have us learn how to love, which is the law.

          • I am not arguing that all consequences of sin are automatic. Punishments from God or punishments from the state are consequences of sin that are not automatic (that is, contained within the act of sin itself).

            But I find it inescapable to conceive of sin apart from disordered creation, which is destruction. The creature cannot sin without disordering himself. Again, for a creature to sin, he must disorient his soul in such a way that God is not his highest love, which is contrary to his design. All sin is a violation of God’s created order.

            God is necessary to create the universe. God is necessary to sustain the universe. God is necessary to punish sin. God is necessary to restore creation by the power of Jesus’ resurrection. But God is not necessary to ensure that sin results in destruction for sinners. The act of sin is self-destruction. The degree to which a creature can sin is the degree to which a sinner can destroy himself.

            I could list many more very clear descriptions of sin as self destruction from Scripture, but take a look at the state of humanity prior to the flood. In the two verses of Genesis 6:11-12 the word “corrupt” occurs 3 times to describe how humanity has corrupted their way on earth, along with “filled with violence”. It is not that humanity sinned and then God corrupted the earth. No, humanity corrupts the earth and then God sends the flood (obviously, I am not arguing that the flood is an automatic consequence of sin. It is an assigned punishment from God). Had God not flooded the earth, we are not to think that humanity would have had a happy-fun-great time enjoying his corruption and violence. Humanity was making hell for itself, because that is what sin does.

          • “But God is not necessary to ensure that sin results in destruction for sinners.”

            He absolutely is necessary. If there is no God, then there is not even a standard for what counts as sin. If there is no God, then there is no punishment for sin.

            Genesis 6:11-12 — corruption is not the same thing as punishment. The people who corrupted the earth were punished by the flood that God sent.

          • “If there is no God, then there is not even a standard for what counts as sin.” I agree! Sin is a violation of God’s created order. At the root, sin is a creature displacing God as the soul’s highest love, or rather to “exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and birds and crawling creatures (Romans 1).” Does this sinful exchange deserve wrath? Absolutely. But it is absurd to say that such an exchange is not self-destructive.

            “If there is no God, then there is no punishment for sin.” True. But my point is that even if God did not lift a finger to punish sin, then sin itself would still wreak havoc on sinners. Sinners living in violation of God’s created order plunge themselves into misery, shame, violence, rape, sadism, selfishness, oppression, abuse, torture, etc. How can you say such things are not destructive?

            “corruption is not the same thing as punishment.” That’s exactly my point, thank you. Corruption is humanity’s self-destructive act.

            To affirm your position, it seems to me one would have to say “a person can sin without disordering his own soul.”

Or “A person’s disordering of his own soul does not constitute self-destruction.”

Or “It is not an inherently destructive act to exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and birds and crawling creatures (Romans 1).” These all strike me as impossible statements.

          • You are making philosophical statements for which there is no evidence from Scripture. Sin is not inherently destructive. God is the one who punishes. Even in Romans 1, the sins in which people engage effect destruction because God determines to “give them over.” In essence, you are arguing for a deistic model of sin and its effects. I am arguing rather than model in which God determines what sin’s punishments are.

  4. You guys are too fast for me. My last response further up the chain.

    I would say that sin is also determined by the end/purpose for which a human being is created. Again, we are created to love God. When we rebel against God, we therefore rebel against our own design, necessarily constituting self-destruction in the act itself. I do not see how it is possible to affirm otherwise.

      • Is the act of “exchanging the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and birds and crawling creatures” self-destructive or not?

        Was humanity’s corruption and violence of Genesis 6 self-destructive, or not?

        Was Adam and Eve’s submission to the serpent over whom they were supposed to exercise dominion self-destructive, or not?

        Is all sin a violation of God’s created order or not?

        Is the act of forsaking the fountain of living waters for waterless broken cisterns (idolatry) self-destructive, or not?

        I agree with you that all these acts merit punishments from God—but that’s not the issue. I also agree with you that these acts of self destruction only take place within the bounds of God’s sovereign decree of history—but that is also not the issue. The issue is whether these acts constitute self-destruction. And how in the world does any sin NOT constitute self-destruction?

        • “The argument here is whether: our suffering derives from opposition to God’s commandments
          or: God’s commandments derive from his opposition to our suffering.”

          Sorry, that set of alternatives makes no sense to me. I don’t know that you’re trying to say.

        • “Is the act of “exchanging the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and birds and crawling creatures” self-destructive or not?”

          Not inherently, but because God gives them over.

          “Was humanity’s corruption and violence of Genesis 6 self-destructive, or not?”

          Not of necessity.

          “Was Adam and Eve’s submission to the serpent over whom they were supposed to exercise dominion self-destructive, or not?”

          Not of necessity. Note that even after they fell, they could have eaten from the tree of life and lived forever. The destruction came from being exiled from the garden.

          “Is all sin a violation of God’s created order or not?”

          Yes, but more importantly, it is an offense against God himself.

          “Is the act of forsaking the fountain of living waters for waterless broken cisterns (idolatry) self-destructive, or not?”

          Not inherently.

          I agree with you that all these acts merit punishments from God—but that’s not the issue. I also agree with you that these acts of self destruction only take place within the bounds of God’s sovereign decree of history—but that is also not the issue. The issue is whether these acts constitute self-destruction. And how in the world does any sin NOT constitute self-destruction?

          Already asked and answered. They are self-destructive, but that does not constitute the entirety of the decreed punishment.

          • Thanks for your responses. I have just a few more questions:

            -Would you agree with this statement: Except for some acts of direct self-harm like suicide or cutting, any destruction wrought by sin should be classified as God’s wrath.

            

-Can human beings find happiness apart from God?



            -Is all sin an attempt to find happiness apart from God?

            

-Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” Agree or disagree?

            -Does God many times punish sin with sin?

            

-A man takes a pill that he knows will give him fabulous health and flood his brain with endorphins for one year, but then kill him. Would you say his act of taking the pill is inherently destructive or not?

            -75 year old widow Betty Sue is taking groceries to her car, when Carjacker Jim runs up to her, shoots her dead, and takes her key and car. On your view, because Betty Sue obviously suffered the destruction wrought by sin (Jim’s sin), does that mean Betty Sue suffered the wrath of God? Or is this another instance like suicide in which sin is destruction, but not necessarily the wrath of God?

          • “Thanks for your responses. I have just a few more questions:”

            -“Would you agree with this statement: Except for some acts of direct self-harm like suicide or cutting, any destruction wrought by sin should be classified as God’s wrath.”

            I would basically agree. However, not all effects wrought by sin should be categorized as destructive.

            

-“Can human beings find happiness apart from God?”



            Yes. Humans can find happiness apart from being in communion with God. It may not qualify as eternal, but they can be happy. And God causes all happinesses.

            -“Is all sin an attempt to find happiness apart from God?”

            Not necessarily consciously so.

            

-“Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” Agree or disagree?”

            Yes. But this does not mean that humans can experience periods of rest and even happiness apart from conscious communion with God.

            -“Does God many times punish sin with sin?”

            Yes, but key phrase is “many times.” Not always.

            

-A man takes a pill that he knows will give him fabulous health and flood his brain with endorphins for one year, but then kill him. Would you say his act of taking the pill is inherently destructive or not?

            Yes. But you cannot extrapolate from this and say that it is the case for all sin.

            -“75 year old widow Betty Sue is taking groceries to her car, when Carjacker Jim runs up to her, shoots her dead, and takes her key and car. On your view, because Betty Sue obviously suffered the destruction wrought by sin (Jim’s sin), does that mean Betty Sue suffered the wrath of God? Or is this another instance like suicide in which sin is destruction, but not necessarily the wrath of God?”

            Betty has experienced what happens in a world that has been subjected to frustration by God. So, in that way, she has suffered the effects of sin, even the wrath of God, but not necessarily for her own sin (which you do not mention). But not all sin is destructive, and it is not inherently destructive. You cannot extrapolate from one example to all instances.

          • This is a very helpful exchange.

            

-Would you affirm that living in sin could be an alternate path to happiness, were it not that God finds it offensive and will therefore punish?

            

-Let’s say God never walked into the Garden in Genesis 3:8. Adam and Eve sin, submit to the dominion of the serpent, then they eat from the Tree of Life to live forever as well. God continues sustaining the universe, but makes no other intervention. Are Adam and Eve forever happy—or could they be?

            

-I want to tweak the pill illustration slightly: A man takes a pill that will give him fabulous health and flood his brain with endorphins for one year, but HE DOES NOT KNOW that after a year it will kill him. Would you say his act of taking the pill is inherently destructive?

          • “Would you affirm that living in sin could be an alternate path to happiness, were it not that God finds it offensive and will therefore punish?”

            It very could be for a very long time, but, of course, not ultimately.

            

-“Let’s say God never walked into the Garden in Genesis 3:8. Adam and Eve sin, submit to the dominion of the serpent, then they eat from the Tree of Life to live forever as well. God continues sustaining the universe, but makes no other intervention. Are Adam and Eve forever happy—or could they be?”

            They could certainly be happy to a measure, but neither complete nor ultimate.

            

-“I want to tweak the pill illustration slightly: A man takes a pill that will give him fabulous health and flood his brain with endorphins for one year, but HE DOES NOT KNOW that after a year it will kill him. Would you say his act of taking the pill is inherently destructive?”

            Yes, it would be inherently destructive. However, there is no indication in your scenario that the taking of the pill is sinful, or that the man understands it to be sinful.

  5. God is not made up of parts. He is who he is. To talk about God’s nature and his holiness and his will is not to say three separate things. He is love, he is holy, he is wisdom, he is power, he is will. And he is all these things at the same time and perfectly. No one of these “things” takes ascendancy over the others. You talk about God as if he is someone who can be subjected to some kind of psychoanalysis. Sin is that which offends God, and that which offends everything he is.

    • Unfortunately, you are making too many assumption about I believe. For example, I don’t think sin is infinitely easy to commit, or that God is infinitely easy to offend. And, again, you are mischaracterizing God. His holiness does not work in opposition to his love. There is never a time when Go is holy and not loving, or loving and not holy. God cannot segmented into parts.

      • Arguing for what?

        Sorry, I deny your premises about he easiness of sin and offense.

        And, again, your last paragraph fails to take into account anything I said. God does not sometimes act in holiness and sometimes in love. The two always work together.

    • Gabriel and I disagree over the issue of Penal Substitutionary Atonement. So all his points are for the purpose of denying it. And I’m not really arguing with him. He’s arguing with me. 🙂

        • Thank you Gabriel. Thank you @Jerry. I read through. Great thoughts from both of you! Though I tilted more towards Gabriel’s model and argument.

          I opine that sin is an offense to God and whatever offends God destroys us simply because we were created to live in him and for his pleasure. That is the only way we can find true life and meaning. Both are not mutually exclusive.

          Thanks again. I enjoyed the read.

      • Sorry, Gordon, you’ve got your history wrong on this one. PSA goes back to the New Testament and the teachings of the earliest church fathers. And if you are going toss words around like “blasphemous” and “horrendous,” and “egotistical baron-God,” then I really have no interest in discussing with you further.

    • Sorry, Gordon, but you are simply wrong on the history here. I don’t know what your sources are, but Aulen has not been taken seriously as a reliable source for some time now. The literature in this area is voluminous. And there are lots of assumptions flying around that have been totally discredited. But PSA does indeed go back to the church fathers. And as for your assumptions about what resonates with unbelievers, you are way off base there, as proven by the millions of people who love the Christ who died for them as their ransom from sin and their penal substitute. So your statements here are quite baseless. I think we’ll bring this to a close, since you only want to engage in accusations and insults.

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