Substitutionary Sanctification

I’ve been working on some thoughts towards the idea of Sanctification (becoming like Christ) and have begun to see a correlation between atonement theories (answering why Jesus had to die) with sanctification. In sum, does your atonement theory have the power to create energy towards Christlikeness?

My general impression is, that those who ascribe to an atonement theory of Penal Substitution (God is good, we are bad, God placed all of our guilt on Jesus, Jesus took all of it in our place and absorbed the wrath of God in our place) appear to have a significant challenge on the “what do I do now that I have been converted? Does it really matter what I do now that I have been forgiven and assume that I will make it into heaven?” Dallas Willard calls these folks, “Vampire Christians”, because they want Jesus for his blood. Indeed, I once heard a Lutheran say that we should shoot a person the moment after they are converted because it will be the most holy they will ever be the rest of their life. Really? Do we lack any confidence that the gospel indeed has the power to “raise the living, not just the dead?” (hat tip to Peter Rollins)

Plus, preachers who share the plan of salvation in this way appear to be having a difficult time transitioning their people into the process of sanctification. Interesting to note, though they relieve the hearer from guilt in the process of conversion, they heap up the guilt to get the newly converted to engage in Christlike shaping.

It is clearly the case that those who view the cross as only Substitutionary would then have a difficulty switching over into a process of life-time change. After all, any mention of effort rubs them the wrong way. Dallas Willard carefully notes, “Effort does not mean Earning.” We should re-examine the Substitution narrative and explore the possibility of a Participation idea, also.

Indeed, Paul says that he is “crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20) not merely that the cross of Christ is applied to his eternal balance sheet, but that, somehow, his life underwent the terror of the event that Christ went through and he came out the other end a new person.

Paul also notes, that he wants to know Christ in suffering and resurrection. (Phil 3:10-11) The words that Paul uses are “fellowship” and “sharing” when he speaks of suffering.

This is not language we often hear, nor would we really want to, I guess. However, the Christian story does not promise us that we will be better, but that we will be new. That type of overhaul doesn’t merely require an honest, sober moment- but our whole life. We don’t surrender our lives as easy as we’d like to think. The way to the center, then, is through suffering, either literal suffering when life doesn’t work out as we thought, and simulating suffering through spiritual disciplines (prayer, giving, fasting, etc…).


Published by joeskillen

I'm a husband, dad of 2, Pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, KS.

One thought on “Substitutionary Sanctification

  1. Great post, Joe. It reminded me of a quote from the late Rich Mullins: “I think there is great joy in compassion. I don’t think you can know joy apart from caring deeply about people — caring enough to actually do something.”

    When Paul writes of sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, I believe he’s alluding to a kind of joy that Christ felt on the cross. There is definitely a joy to sacrifice, not that it’s pleasant, but true satisfaction and fulfillment come only from following the Father’s will, and especially when it involves doing something really significant for someone you love. Can there be any greater joy than that?

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