An Examination of the Legal Aspect of Jesus' Sacrifice in Support of Limited Atonement

  1. Sin is breaking the Law of God.
    1. 1 John 3:4, "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness."
  2.  Breaking God"s law is a legal problem.
    1. It is not only a legal problem. Sin also blinds us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, etc. But since we are going to be talking about being saved (justified " a legal declaration of righteousness), we are focusing on the legal aspect.
    2. Matt. 6:12, "And forgive us our debts (opheilema), as we also have forgiven our debtors." The parallel in Luke 11:4 says, "And forgive us our sins (hamartia)"
  3.  Laws have punishments " otherwise a law is not a law; it would be a slogan.
    1. Sin, breaking God"s law results in death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23), separation from God (Isaiah 59:2), and eternal judgment (Matt. 25:46).
  4.  The sinner needs to escape the righteous judgment of the Law. This can be done only through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
    1. Heb. 9:22, "And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."
    2. Rom. 5:9, "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him."
    3. 1 Pet. 2:23, "and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed."
    4. 2 Cor. 5:21, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
    5. Col. 1:21-22, "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach"
  5. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross was legal (John 19:30), substitutionary (Isaiah 53:4-6), is where our sins were imputed to Christ (1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21), and it cancelled out the certificate of debt (Col. 2:14).
    1. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross was a legal sacrifice:
      1. John 19:30, "When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit."
        1. The words "It is finished" in the Greek is the single word "tetelestai". "Papyri receipts for taxes have been recovered with the word tetelestai written across them, meaning "paid in full."
        2. Therefore, Jesus was offering a legal payment on the cross that satisfied the Law of God.
      2. On Matt. 5:17, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill."
        1. Lev. 17:11, ""For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.""
        2. Deut. 17:1 "You shall not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep which has a blemish or any defect, for that is a detestable thing to the Lord your God."
        3. John 19:36, "For these things came to pass, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, "Not a bone of Him shall be broken.""
          1. Exodus 12:46, "It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it."
          2. Numbers 9:12, "They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break a bone of it; according to all the statute of the Passover they shall observe it."
          3. Psalm 34:20, "He keeps all his bones. Not one of them is broken."
    2. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice:
      1. Isaiah 53:4-6, "Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried. Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him."
    3. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross was where our sins were legal reckoned to Jesus" account:
      1.  1 Pet. 2:24, "and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed."
      2. 2 Cor. 5:21, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
    4. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross cancelled the certificate of debt.
      1. Col. 2:14, "having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross."
        1. NASB, "having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us""
        2. ESV, "canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands""
        3. KJV, "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us""
        4. ASV, "having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us..."
        5. NIV, "having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us""
        6. HCSB, "erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations..."
        7. ISV, "having erased the charges that were brought against us..."
        8. NCV, "He canceled the debt, which listed all the rules we failed to follow..."
        9. NLT, "He canceled the record of the charges against us..."
        10. RSV, "having canceled the bond which stood against us..."
        11. TNIV, "having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness..."
        12. YLT, "having blotted out the handwriting in the ordinances that is against us..."
      2. Eph. 2:15, "by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace."
  6. When a legal payment is made that satisfies the requirement of the Law (i.e., Jesus' sacrifice), then the debt is cancelled (Col. 2:14). A cancelled debt can no longer be held against the debtor/sinner since it has been legally paid for.
    1. If the debt has been paid and is also still held against the person, then that is called double payment.
    2. Double Payment is immoral and illegal because it requires two payments for the same debt " especially regarding a debt that has been cancelled.
      1. It would also mean that the legal satisfaction accomplished under the Law is not really effective.
    3. Jesus made a legal payment required by the Law.
      1. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), Jesus died (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
      2. Sin causes a separation (Isaiah 59:2), Jesus was forsaken (Matt. 27:45).
  7. Summary:
    1. Sin is breaking the Law (1 John 3:4) which requires judgment (Exodus 20). Jesus took our place on the cross (Isaiah 53:4-6), bore our sins (1 Pet. 2:24), and fulfilled the requirements of the Law by dying (Rom. 6:23). In so doing, he cancelled out the certificate of debt (Col. 2:14). This would mean he justified them (Rom. 3:24). If he cancelled it out for everyone who ever lived, then everyone"s debt has been paid and canceled and they are justified and cannot go to hell. But, not all are justified. Therefore, Jesus did not cancel the certificate of debt for everyone because he only bore the sins of the elect and cancelled their debt.
  8. Illustration of actuality of legal payment
    1. A man goes to his bank to pay his mortgage. On the way there he gets into a car accident and ends up in a hospital, in a coma, for one month. During that time, a philanthropist goes to the man"s bank and pays his mortgage debt. By doing this, he satisfies the legal requirement of the law, by paying the man"s debt. The debt is cancelled. The man in the coma is unaware of the payment. But, is the debt actually cancelled? Yes, it is. Upon awakening the man goes to the bank to make his payment. He hands the teller his check. After bringing up the man"s account, the teller informs him that his debt has been fully paid. It has been cancelled. It no longer exists. The man does not believe it and pushes the check towards the teller saying he has a debt to pay. The teller says that there is no debt against which to make a payment because it has been paid in full," tetelestai" (John 19:30). Someone else bore his debt (1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21) and by making the payment, cancelled it (Col. 2:14). There is nothing the man can do. He cannot legally be held responsible for his mortgage debt any longer since someone else has legally paid it for him. Furthermore, if the bank were to accept the payment from the man it would be both illegal and immoral to do so.
    2. Questions to ask.
      1. When the philanthropist paid the man"s debt, was it actually paid or not? " Yes, the debt is actually paid.
      2. Was the debt actually paid or not paid even though the man was unaware of the payment? " It was actually paid even though he was not aware of it.
      3. Can the bank legally and morally accept the payment to a debt that no longer exists since it has been paid for and legally satisfied? " No, the bank cannot take the payment since the debt has been paid and satisfied. It no longer exists " otherwise it has not been paid for and it has not been cancelled.
  9. Application to Christ"s atonement
    1. When Jesus paid the debt of sinners, was it actually legally paid or not? " Yes the debt was actually legally paid.
    2. When Jesus paid the debt of sinners, was the debt actually paid or not paid even though people are unaware of the payment? " It was actually paid even though people were not aware of it.
    3. Can God the Father legally and morally accept Christ's sin-debt payment and also send people to hell -- even though it is legally paid and cancelled by Jesus on the cross? " No, God cannot send people to hell who have had their sins legally paid for and cancelled " otherwise the sin debt has not been cancelled.

Objections Answered:

  1. The debt payment has to be accepted in order to be effective.
    1. This is not true. As is illustrated by the man in the coma, even though he was unaware of it, the debt was legally satisfied. The satisfaction of a legal debt is not dependent on whether or not the person was aware of it or not or even accepts it or not. When a payment is legally made, then it is effective whether or not the person is aware of it or accepts it.
    2. For this objection to be valid, it must be demonstrated that when a legal payment is made against a debt, that the payment is not then actually made and accomplished because the person is unaware of it. If this cannot be demonstrated, then the objection is invalid.






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Copyright by Matthew J. Slick, B.A., M. Div., 2022
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