How Much of Christ’s Suffering and Death Did YOU Owe?

I owed it ALL. ALL of His blood was needed to wash away my sin alone. I cannot look to His cross and say that only one stripe on His back or only one drop of His blood was for me—He suffered my penalty and all of it was for me. So how is there any left over to save you?

Most Baptists see Christ’s sacrifice as an overabundance, paying for the sins of all God intends for it to pay, and with an infinite surplus of “value.” As Millard Erickson sees it, Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), pp. 825-826, the reason that Christ’s sacrifice is able to save so many is because it is of infinite value:

When evangelicals ask the question, “For whom did Christ die?” they are not asking whether the death of Christ has value sufficient to cover the sins of all persons. There is total agreement on this matter. Since the death of Christ was of infinite value, it is sufficient regardless of the number of elect…

But this is flawed, as it makes each sinner’s share of those finite hours of vicarious suffering infinitely small, so that only an infinitely small part of Christ’s suffering was necessary to pay what I owed for my sin. Not only is sin devalued, it is infinitely devalued. The cross does not save on the principle of a value-based transaction, but on the principle of one-for-one substitution. As Andrew Fuller rightly pointed out, if the same sacrifice is required to save one sinner as to save all sinners, then there is no more “propriety” in asking, “Whose sins were laid on Christ?” Atonement must proceed on the principle of one-for-one substitution alone.

Rather than the time-worn axiom, sufficient for all but efficient for some, I suggest that the cross of Christ is sufficient for any sinner and efficient for every believer. One-for-one substitution requires a one-for-one application. The scope of applicability is universal, and the effectiveness is complete to all to whom it is applied. The only limiting factor is the lack of faith in those who do not believe. Even the nonelect sinner would be gloriously saved by this cross if he would but be willing to believe.

The payment that was exacted of Christ on the cross was exactly equal to what any single sinner owed: it was the suffering of the complete wrath of God. The fact that each of us owes exactly that same debt means that anyone can look to the cross and say, “He paid what I owed.” When He suffered and died, He did not represent us according to a collective, divided up value—one stripe to pay for your sin and one nail to pay for mine. But rather, He suffered as the archetypical sinner, so that the entirety of His sacrifice can extinguish the sin-debt of any sinner who comes to Him in faith, leaving no excess value.

Atonement is the satisfaction of justice by the interposition of the sacrifice between the sinner and God. God does not choose to hide you behind the cross until you come to faith. The cross was a general, universally applicable sacrifice that particularly atones for the sinner only when he comes to Christ in faith.

Ken Hamrick, 2013

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9 thoughts on “How Much of Christ’s Suffering and Death Did YOU Owe?

  1. Hey Ken,
    you say: “The payment that was exacted of Christ on the cross was exactly equal to what any single sinner owed”
    David: Then why didn’t Christ suffer eternity in hell or death?
    Normally its put like this: Christ suffered what was deemed by the Trinity to be a “just equivalent.” The infinity of value for his life in suffering is a just equivalent to the infinite demerit the human sinner deserves.

    So there is so proper proportional correspondence.

    Thanks,
    David

  2. David,

    There are two other ways of looking at this. First, Christ’s physical suffering was only the tip of the iceberg, and His spiritual suffering was infinite in ways that only the theanthropic Son of God could experience. In other words, although His suffering was not chronologically infinite, it was qualitatively infinite. Secondly, He endured the full wrath of God against sin while He Himself continued to be a righteous man; whereas, even if a sinner in hell were to come to the end of God’s wrath for all of his former sin, his continuing sin at every point would incur continuing wrath—there can be no exit without the propitiation and perfect righteousness of Christ. Also, even if the traditional idea of Christ’s personal value compensating for the difference between His suffering and ours is true, it has not been established such an equivalence would suffice in the eyes of justice for more than one sinner’s infinite debt. Rather, it is merely assumed that the value of the One is what saves the many.

  3. Hey Ken,

    You say: There are two other ways of looking at this. First, Christ’s physical suffering was only the tip of the iceberg, and His spiritual suffering was infinite in ways that only the theanthropic Son of God could experience.

    David: I am not sure what that means. We cannot say Christ as divine person suffered in is divine nature. The person of Christ is the incarnated logos. Speaking of God suffering is always problematic. Normally theologians will say that Christ suffered in his human soul and body. In classical literature they would call it the anguish of his soul, etc.

    You say: In other words, although His suffering was not chronologically infinite, it was qualitatively infinite.

    David: Sure. That is why it cannot be identical. This is what you said: ““The payment that was exacted of Christ on the cross was exactly equal to what any single sinner owed”

    What does that mean? If you mean only that Christ’s suffering deemed as being of infinite value matches the infinite extension–as to time–the suffering of the sinner, thats one thing. But its not “exactly equal” to what the sinner owed,

    You say: Secondly, He endured the full wrath of God against sin while He Himself continued to be a righteous man; whereas, even if a sinner in hell were to come to the end of God’s wrath for all of his former sin, his continuing sin at every point would incur continuing wrath—there can be no exit without the propitiation and perfect righteousness of Christ.

    David: that sounds to me to be saying, the sinner in hell incurs finite demerit of wrath due to his on going sinfulness in hell. While that may be true its speculation. All we need to know, I think, is that the sin in life deserves eternal punishment–awful as that is to think of.

    You say: Also, even if the traditional idea of Christ’s personal value compensating for the difference between His suffering and ours is true, it has not been established such an equivalence would suffice in the eyes of justice for more than one sinner’s infinite debt. Rather, it is merely assumed that the value of the One is what saves the many.

    David: Why has it not been established? As I see it, it is a necessary presupposition: Christ’s suffering is accepted as a vicarious satisfaction not only for one man, but for all men. What is more, Scripture references Christ being the morally spotless victim. We presuppose then that his death was deemed as a just equivalent for the sins of all men. The aspect of his infinity is one theodical tool to justify and defend that.

    That aside, I think its your statement which I have underlined which is problematic. It was not exactly equal. If it helps any, there is some classical documentation here: http://calvinandcalvinism.com/?page_id=7339

    Thanks for your time,
    David

  4. David,

    I’m not saying that His spiritual suffering was of the divine nature, but of His human spirit. He was able to suffer what no other human could have even begun to suffer without dying immediately. His divine nature kept the human nature alive until the last of the cup was drank. The words, “exactly equal,” are not synonymous with “identitical.” If I borrow silver from you and repay you with gold, I can repay what is exactly equal to what I owe without paying what is identical to what I borrowed.

    When writing on a blog, it is always a difficult question for me as to how thorough to be. Every theological topic seems to offer at every point opportunities to expand and address related questions. In this particular article, I was addressing the question of whether Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to simultaneously pay the debt of all, or, sufficient to pay the debt of any single sinner who believes. It’s not really a matter of whether or not the value of Christ’s Person is somehow substituted for a certain amount of suffering; but rather, it’s a matter of whether or not any method of calculation would Biblically result in a value-based, one-for-many transaction. The cross does result in the One dying in the place of the many; but that is not the modus operandi. Check out Toward Southern Baptist Unity, Part 7: Unifying Propositions on Atonement:

    In and of itself, the shedding of the blood of the Sacrifice does nothing to satisfy the claims of justice upon the individual sinner. There must be a connection established between the Sacrifice and the sinner if the former is to affect the latter. While sovereignty is free from the exigencies of substantial reality, justice has no such license. God may sovereignly declare that a mere nominal connection between the Sacrifice and sinner is sufficient to free him from wrath, but He cannot justly do so. There are two ways in which justice must be satisfied: 1) justice must be satisfied that the penalty has been fully suffered within substantial reality; and 2) justice must be satisfied that the Sacrifice and sinner are so joined as to become one within substantial reality. Neither of these two can be mere choices within God’s mind to view them as if they were true (in contradiction to substantial reality). Justice demands more than that the sin be punished — justice demands that the one who sinned be punished.

    The union of believers with Christ is spiritual, and not merely legal or “federal.” This union happens within the believer, and does not exist only within the mind of God. Rom. 6:3, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” and, 1 Cor. 6:17, “But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” It is not speaking of water baptism, but baptism into the Spirit, which happens at the point of saving faith. To be spiritually baptized into Christ is to be joined to Him so that the new believer and Christ are one spirit, and the result of this is that the new believer is joined to (or, baptized into) His death.

    A man’s spirit is the core of his identity. When the Holy Spirit indwells the man, He creates a new man by joining the spirit of the man to the Spirit of Christ. They are not joined to the extent that either is lost in the other, but they are joined to the extent that the man’s new identity is in Christ and his old identity is no longer valid in the eyes of justice. In fact, the believer is so identified with Christ that he is considered to have been crucified with Him. Gal. 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” To be immersed into the Spirit of Christ is to be plunged into that flood of sufficiency that all His human experiences provide. For me to be saved requires more than that God see Christ on the cross: God must see the Christ of the cross in me. Only by the two becoming one can I gain a title to Christ’s righteous life and atoning sacrifice just as if they were mine. And God has required faith before He will give that saving union to the sinner. The applicability of the cross of Christ is universal in scope, but only those who put faith in Him have their sins atoned for by His sacrificial death.

    Christ’s suffering cannot pay my debt in any “arm’s-length transaction;” but rather, His suffering only has value as I am able to identify with it (through a real spiritual union with Him).

  5. David,

    (continuing…)
    You stated:

    Why has it not been established? As I see it, it is a necessary presupposition: Christ’s suffering is accepted as a vicarious satisfaction not only for one man, but for all men. What is more, Scripture references Christ being the morally spotless victim. We presuppose then that his death was deemed as a just equivalent for the sins of all men. The aspect of his infinity is one theodical tool to justify and defend that.

    It is a necessary presupposition only in a one-for-many value-based transaction (which is assumed). But if the mode by which the One saves the many is not a single value-based transaction but many spiritual-union-based transactions of shared identity—one for each believer who is indwelt with the Holy Spirit—then His death need only be deemed a just equivalent for the sins of that particular sinner. And what we find in Scripture regarding sacrifices is that they were piacular and substitutionary on a one-for-one basis. The sinner was not to look to the value of the bull or goat or lamb to see what the animal cost the sinner; but he was to look at what his sin cost the animal. What was being pictured was that it was the life of the sinner that was forfeit and by grace redeemed. Even in the Day of Atonement, the backdrop of the whole sacrificial system from Abel on up served to drive home this one-for-one aspect. No one on the Day of Atonement should have looked at the sacrifice as if only a fraction was for their particular sins. The death was what each deserved, and being driven away was what each deserved. Every sinner as an individual could truly say, “It should have been my blood that was shed.”

  6. Hey Ken,

    You say: I’m not saying that His spiritual suffering was of the divine nature, but of His human spirit.

    David: Thanks I wanted to make sure I understood what you meant.

    You say: He was able to suffer what no other human could have even begun to suffer without dying immediately. His divine nature kept the human nature alive until the last of the cup was drank.

    David: How do you know that? How do you know that any other man would have died immediately. If his suffering was only sustained by the divine nature, then did he truly suffer as a man?

    You say: The words, “exactly equal,” are not synonymous with “identitical.” If I borrow silver from you and repay you with gold, I can repay what is exactly equal to what I owe without paying what is identical to what I borrowed.

    David: Well thats why I was underlining that statement. What did you mean by it.

    So the debt is in silver, but the payment is in gold. Sure, but that is my point the gold is deemed as a just equivalent. Clearly paying in Gold would mean paying in less quantity of gold as gold is more valuable than silver. Its an equivalent, and so not exactly the same as what the sinner pays in his own person.

    You say: When writing on a blog, it is always a difficult question for me as to how thorough to be. Every theological topic seems to offer at every point opportunities to expand and address related questions.

    David: Sure, as a blogger I know that because of what you say, I need to be open to interaction and patient. There are many out there who just want to blast away without a smidgen of adult behaviour.

    You say: In this particular article, I was addressing the question of whether Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to simultaneously pay the debt of all, or, sufficient to pay the debt of any single sinner who believes.

    David: But its both, right? Because Christ sustained an equivalent satisfaction sufficient for one man, then its sufficient for all men, because all that condemned one man was the same that condemns the second man, and so on, indefinitely. Therefore, if Christ’s satisfaction was sufficient for one man, then all things being equally, his death is sufficient for all men. Thats what sufficiency for all meant historically.

    You say: It’s not really a matter of whether or not the value of Christ’s Person is somehow substituted for a certain amount of suffering; but rather, it’s a matter of whether or not any method of calculation would Biblically result in a value-based, one-for-many transaction.

    David: I think its simpler to say this: It is not a case of so much suffering for so much sin. There is no quantitative proportionality going on here.

    You say: The cross does result in the One dying in the place of the many; but that is not the modus operandi. Check out Toward Southern Baptist Unity, Part 7: Unifying Propositions on Atonement:

    [cut quotation as I am not sure whats going on there]

    You say:
    Christ’s suffering cannot pay my debt in any “arm’s-length transaction;” but rather, His suffering only has value as I am able to identify with it (through a real spiritual union with Him).

    David: Well Christ paid the debt on the cross, it was a once and for all time action, never to be repeated. Christ is not continually paying debts as he sits glorified at the right hand of the Father. On the hand, that once and for all time payment is applied in time when a person believes. So the payment was once and for all, but the application is progressive.

    You say: It is a necessary presupposition only in a one-for-many value-based transaction (which is assumed). But if the mode by which the One saves the many is not a single value-based transaction but many spiritual-union-based transactions of shared identity—one for each believer who is indwelt with the Holy Spirit—then His death need only be deemed a just equivalent for the sins of that particular sinner.

    David: thats pretty dense language, Ken. There has to be an easier way to say all that. So if you are saying that Christ “saves” a person by an action that has a twofold aspect, the first the objective work on the cross, the second the subjective application of that work in the life of the sinner, who appropriates it by faith, then sure, I agree.

    You say: And what we find in Scripture regarding sacrifices is that they were piacular and substitutionary on a one-for-one basis. The sinner was not to look to the value of the bull or goat or lamb to see what the animal cost the sinner; but he was to look at what his sin cost the animal.

    David: Not quite one for one, because of the yearly offering in behalf of the nation, as well. I am not sure its that explicit that the sinner in the OT was to look how how his has cost the life of the animal. In the OT, some sacrifices were valued by the cost of the animal. A bull was worth more than a dove. Poor people could pay with coins if they could not afford a certain animal etc. So it was not that the case that all sacrificial victims were created equally in the OT.

    This gradation of valuation is all over the place, spotless lambs were deemed more valuable than mottled lambs, animal flesh deemed more valuable than grain, in offerings.

    You say: What was being pictured was that it was the life of the sinner that was forfeit and by grace redeemed. Even in the Day of Atonement, the backdrop of the whole sacrificial system from Abel on up served to drive home this one-for-one aspect. No one on the Day of Atonement should have looked at the sacrifice as if only a fraction was for their particular sins. The death was what each deserved, and being driven away was what each deserved. Every sinner as an individual could truly say, “It should have been my blood that was shed.”

    David: no problem, generally with all that.

    My point is a little more single-focussed and which comes back to that statement you had made.

    I think we are in basic agreement, especially with the silver-gold analogy.

    Thanks for your time,
    David
    ps, from reading the other links, I suspect that the C&C site is the source of some of your materials and distinctions that you have used, eg material from Shedd and C Hodge.

  7. David,

    I did check out the link you gave me today, to the C&C site, and did find that you have a lot of good material from Calvinist theologians available. But today is the first time that I have looked around over there. For most of what I cite, I have the books and have actually read them. Hodge and Shedd are two of my favorites, as are Andrew Fuller and John Murray. When I cite from a link, I generally post the link with it. I’m out of time today, but I will return to address your comments.

  8. I am reading it now. I have some problems.

    1) third para., redemption is twofold. A man is redeemed by the laying down of a price, and is redeemed as to application of that upon faith which results in actual deliverance. This is the way to make sense of 2 Peter 2:1, etc.

    2) third para., the word atonement is ambiguous. On the cross, there as an atonement for sin, sin was atoned for, objectively. Upon faith, there is reconciliation. Our modern English word “atonement” tends to cover both ends of the process, sometimes collapsing them into one point. I prefer the older terms satisfaction, and/or expiation, etc. There was a perfect satisfaction for sin accomplished on the cross, which objectively satisfied the laws demands against any sinner. But that application of the benefit of that is not applied until faith. Thus, Christ could have obtained a satisfaction for a given man and yet that given man remain under wrath and unjustified until the time of faith.

    3) 4th para, first sentence. The blood shed does actually satisfy, as it is received and accepted by the Father as a perfect satisfaction for sin needing no supplemental sacrificial work.

    4) 5th paragraph, “federal” theology is a dodgy theological construct of late invention, probably around 1580s (to the exclusion of any medieval precursor forms if any ).
    5) 5th para., the baptism of Romans 6 is probably water baptism. :-)

    6) I agree with the point of the closing paragraph.

    Thats why I said I dont think we disagree that much in principle. It is just some of the details and language that we might disagree over.

    Does that help?

    Thanks,
    David

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