One of our good friends, knowledgeable about evil and the wickedness of abuse, wrote the following excellent essay. It deals with this common business of people telling us that we need to endure suffering in order to save our oppressor. The scripture she examines is 2 Corinthians 5:21. Many thanks to her for her work:
So why do people have this mentality that when we forgive like Christ, we should just absorb the consequences and let the guilty person go free without any repercussions for their sin? As if that’s what Jesus did on the cross? No, that’s a superficial and distorted view of the cross.
What took place is much deeper than that.
“God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor 5:21
First, only perfect justice can make forgiveness possible. God cannot and does not forgive at the expense of justice. It’s an abomination to Him to justify the wicked or to condemn the innocent. (Prove 17:15, Rom 3:23-26) God is a just God. Forgiveness is just.
Second, note, that while Jesus as an atonement for sin was indeed the sinless sacrificial lamb of God who propitiated God’s wrath, AT THE SAME TIME, He didn’t exactly die as an “innocent” person. He BECAME SIN. God MADE HIM, the sinless one who knew no sin, to become something He wasn’t. Jesus died as The Offender, except that it wasn’t His own offense.
What happened on the cross was something extremely unique that only God can do and can never be replicated. It was in Christ at the Cross that sin and innocence, wrath and love, justice and mercy were meshed together. Once and for all. None of us are able to repeat that, nor are we ever called to try.
There was an incredible and miraculous and supernatural and unspeakable exchange at the cross. My sin for His righteousness. Not only did Jesus die as an “offender” but I also live because I’m now considered righteous. I don’t go to hell because I’m no longer the offender. He TOOK my sin. My offense and guilt and sin has been placed on Another Person. Sin was imputed to Christ. Guilt was attributed to Christ. THAT is why God poured out His wrath on Him. God was punishing the “offender” and letting the “innocent” go free. It was not an “innocent” person who bore God’s wrath, but because guilt was imputed to Christ, God was punishing the “guilty”; because God is JUST.
There was an exchange between sinner and God that cannot be replicated between sinner and sinner. What Jesus did on the cross was UNIQUE and impossible in human relationships, humanly beyond comprehension and it’s something only God-made-flesh can do.
So what does the cross teach us about dealing with offenses? For one thing, justice must be done. Nobody is getting away with anything. Tolerating another person’s (unrepentant) sin is an abomination to God. (By the way, God “tolerates” only those He has set apart for destruction. He temporarily tolerates some people but will in the end give them justice in hell. You don’t want God to tolerate you). When God gives grace, God works REPENTANCE in the heart of the sinner and brings him in a right relationship with God. When God makes peace (forgives, pardons) with a sinner, He makes him a new creation with a new repentant heart that loves God back.
Then, it also teaches us that the onus for making things right is on the offender.
We as Christians are not called to be mini sacrifices for people. We are not little walking atonements for those who sin against us.
Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me so that I can then “die” for others’ sins against me. If someone sins against me I’m not called then to make an “exchange” between me and him, of his sin for my righteousness, his guilt for my innocence, my bearing of the consequences for his freedom. That would be quite absurd actually, and to apply the Cross that way in human relationships we would turn Christ’s sacrifice into something vulgar.
But the fact that Christ was willing to do that for us on our behalf, that is part of why the Cross of Christ is so EXTRAORDINARY, so other-worldly. In human relationships the offender and the innocent person must be kept separate and in human relationships the innocent person does not and should not take on the sin or guilt or the consequences of the offender.
So if someone sins against me, then Jesus dying on the cross does not mean that now I need to just suck it up and take it and let the other person go.
I am not an extension of the cross, and I don’t “get to” absorb someone else’s shame, guilt, loss, and punishment on the offender’s behalf. The offender takes the loss. The offender takes the punishment and consequences. But one thing the offender cannot ever do is take my pain away. That’s where forgiveness comes in.
The cross shows that it is in fact the offender who must make amends, take full responsibility for his guilt and sin, make restitution when needed, take on the cost of the damage he’s done. He is not to be let go free with impunity precisely because Jesus wasn’t “let go” when sin was placed on Him. I’m afraid too many times we get that backwards.
The guilty must be punished, the offender must repent, justice must be done, before forgiveness is extended.
If the wrath of God came down crashing on the Son of God to make forgiveness possible, how much more should we not insist that the offender repent at his own cost when seeking forgiveness? Forgiveness is not free, and it is not unjust.