Did Christ really have to die?

“Why do we do this?”

We’ve all thought his, haven’t we? We’re processing some data, we’re writing a report, or we’re engaged in a routine task, and we suddenly realize, “There’s absolutely no reason for this.”

We ask around, “Why is this process or report necessary?” No one seems to know and no one wants to know. “We’ve always done it that way,” or “Don’t ask questions, just do it,” are frequent responses.

Sometimes—though rarely—someone says, “Good question. Either we should find out why this is necessary or we should stop doing it.” After a bit of investigation and research, a reason is discovered; and it’s a good one. The meeting or the process is absolutely and indispensably necessary and there’s no other way of accomplishing the aim.

Why did Christ do this?
Have you ever applied the same question to Christ’s death? Why did he do this? Was it really necessary? Why did Christ have to die, and to die such a death?

Though it’s rarely asked today, it was asked by many in the 19th century and many wrong answers were proposed. In Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement, Scottish theologian George Smeaton addressed a number of these erroneous and dangerous answers. Among them were:

  • Christ’s death was prophesied and therefore had to happen to fulfill these prophecies.
  • Christ’s death was necessary to confirm his teaching.
  • Christ’s death was necessary to impress humanity with God’s love.

Smeaton argued that there was a much deeper necessity involved: the morality of God’s government. God could not pass over sin without his justice being completely and perfectly satisfied. As Smeaton said:

 There could be no other reason sufficiently important for God to abase Himself and to be made in fashion as a man, and suffer on the cross; for God would not subject His Son to such agonies if sin could have been remitted without satisfaction.

The error that had taken the deepest hold in Smeaton’s day was idea that the atonement was a way of impressing the human mind with God’s love. This, said Smeaton, turned Christ person and work into a mere drama, an act, a theatrical performance, that was designed to make an inward impression upon humanity but had no impact or influence upon God and his moral government.

Silence does not mean denial
Smeaton concedes that Christ was relatively silent on the necessity of his dying to satisfy divine justice. However, he defends this silence by explaining that Christ was addressing Jews who were already familiar with the necessity of an atonement. The whole history of Israel and especially of the sacrificial system had developed in them the core idea that sin must be punished by sacrifice to God.

The whole Old Testament was thus calculated to bring into prominence the necessity of an atonement, and to sharpen the conviction that sin required a higher sacrifice; and the sacrifice, presupposing the sinful deed, showed the inviolability of the law and covenant.

Smeaton even went so far as to say that the primary reason for Israel’s election and separation from the nations of the earth was to demonstrate to the world that sin must be punished, but that sacrifice could avert punishment. Christ took that national consciousness for granted in his ministry and therefore did not speak much about the necessity of an atoning sacrifice. He knew the Jews knew that an atonement was indispensably necessary.

Beheading the Hydra
Not surprisingly the same error is rearing it’s ugly head in our own day. Smeaton cut off one head of this hydra, but other heads appear in different forms at different times. Whatever the form it takes though, the root cause and remedy are the same. Just as in Smeaton’s time, present denials of the atonement are rooted in an ignorance and neglect of the Old Testament (see here and here for evidence of that). Only by recovering its core message—God must punish sin, but God’s anger can be satisfied and averted by sacrifice—will the indispensable necessity of Christ sin-atoning death be recovered.

Previous Posts in this Series on the Atonement

Was Jesus ever ill?
The Most Sympathetic Man in the World
What did Christ believe about the atonement?
The Four Essentials of a Successful Atonement
Three Old and New Errors about the Atonement
Christ’s Weaknesses
How to Measure the Immeausurable

Grace-Paced Life Links

We all know self-care is important, but it can be hard to make the time for it. Amy Jen Su shares ways to weave self-care into your workday:

One CEO I worked with summed it up best when he said: “Self-care is no longer a luxury; it’s part of the job.”

So, what exactly is self-care, and how do we do it?

Here are some of Su’s main points:

  • Define self-care more broadly
  • Take out the word “should”
  • Operationalize self-care in your day-to-day work
  • Notice when you’ve slipped out of self-care mode

Similarly, Courtney Reissig speaks to the reality of work in our day and age. She says, “…so while [my husband] might be on vacation from work, his customers are not. In an ever-connected digital age, work never stops.” She goes on to dive into the subjects of rest and Sabbath and how both work and rest exist for the Lord, not for oneself. She shows us how sometimes rest may look differently than we expect.

In When You Feel Spread too Thin, Christine Hoover encourages us to “steward the abundance.” She reminds us to:

  • Praise God for the abundance. “If your ministry or your life has vitality, praise God. If you have relationships and friendships, praise God. If you have more coming at you than you know what to do with, praise God.”
  • Check your heart. “Are you spreading yourself too thin because of self-idolatry?” Ouch. A potentially painful question to ask yourself.
  • Clarify your people priorities. “After spouse and kids or roommate relationships, who are the people He most wants you to invest your life in?”
  • Say yes and also say no. “I’ve learned that a slow response gives me time to ask God about it.”
  • Cultivate intersections rather than being a cul-de-sac. “Use your opportunities and influence to connect people with each other…”
  • Plan ahead for friendship. “Plan ahead for time with those you consider heart friends.”

Are we facing an epidemic of loneliness? “All too often, what is sacrificed at the altars of ‘work’ and ‘family’ is friendship (and sleep). In the process of reporting the piece, Baker comes to realize that he is, in fact, ‘a textbook case of the silent majority of middle-aged men who won’t admit they’re starved for friendship, even if all signs point to the contrary.’” Philip Lorish goes on to speak to the “crowding out” effect technology is having on our person-to-person relationships and the reasons a Google Hangout just won’t cut it when it comes to meaningful relationships.

Next, we have 25 Signs of a Healthy Leader. The article is meant to be used as a self-assessment tool and contains statements like:

  • I get enough sleep
  • I exercise on a regular basis
  • I spend time in God’s Word and in prayer on a regular basis
  • I listen to others well (including my spouse and children)
  • I am not in debt or have a concrete plan for getting out of debt
  • I forgive myself when I make mistakes

Some strong words to consider here from Chris Thomas:

We have forgotten how to be quiet. We have long abandoned the notion of developing stillness as a way of life. These joint disciplines have somehow slipped from grace and tumbled into the dark closet of the past.

Like all things unknown, we’ve become afraid of what’s lurking in the darkness.

So while we like to dim the lights at an appropriate time in the service and pull down the levels on the band while we all sing “Be still and know that I am God”—the reality of that statement is often a mystery to us.

Chris continues to give some encouragement on how to turn down the volume knob in our own lives.

Lastly, seasoned pastor Todd Gaddis shares “nineteen matters I will give special attention to as I head into the home stretch.” Here are some favorites:

  • Build margin into my schedule
  • Find a new hobby
  • Speak positively
  • Dig deeper in the Word
  • Remember the Sabbath
  • Please God first.

More grace-paced life links here.

Selfaholism or Servaholism

Dear Selfaholic,

You have a problem. It’s yourself. To be blunt, you are addicted to yourself.

I’m afraid that you were born this way, as all of us are. However, most of us learn to hide it most of the time; or at least we come to realize that 100% self-centeredness is not the best way to achieve our goals! That’s a selfish motive, I know, but it’s kind of how society works.

There is another way out of this addiction, a way that actually removes self rather than just manages it, but I’ll get to that later.

Like most addicts, you probably don’t realize you have a problem. Although you are constantly thinking about yourself, you know hardly anything about yourself. So, let me describe the symptoms of selfaholism and then give you some hope of getting free from it, especially as you are still young.

Selfaholism is characterized by self-centeredness, self-righteousness, self-promotion, self-sufficiency, self-will, self-worship, self-love, self-praise, etc. However, these symptoms manifest themselves differently, depending on the age of the addict. If you are still a teenager, you are probably in one of the worst phases of selfaholism – strong, independent, and self-conscious enough to show the uglier side of selfaholism; but not wise or experienced enough to realize that it is self-destructive and self-defeating unless at least “managed” and modified.

You probably can’t understand why your parents ever say “No” to you. And why should they even consider what your brothers and sisters want? Why shouldn’t you sit scowling and slouching at the table? Doesn’t affect anyone else, does it? As for chores, why can’t you just come home, eat, and stay in your room? Why should Mom want to know what went on at school today? If only she would talk less, she might have your Abercrombie  T-shirts ready when you need them for a change, right? And isn’t it really annoying the way Dad insists on you going to bed at the same time as everyone else instead of making milkshakes at midnight.

But you’re miserable aren’t you. That’s the weird thing about addictions. They promise much, but deliver little. You think that by pursuing your agenda that you will find happiness, contentment, and satisfaction. But, as you are discovering, self-love causes self-hatred. Oh, I know you think your misery is caused by all the “no’s” in your life – no’s from parents, no’s from teachers, no’s from pastors, no’s from everyone. “Why does no one ever say “yes” to me?”

But the problem is simpler and shorter than you think. It is the big capital letter “I” at the center of your heart. And until that letter is broken in many pieces, your life will continue on its dismal and dreary course. You will wander from relationship to relationship, from college to college, from marriage to marriage, from job to job, from church to church, and from bright shiny thing to next bright shiny thing. And it will always be “their” fault and never yours: parents, teachers, friends, professors, wives, husbands, pastors, bosses, government, whoever, whatever…If only they would all bow down and serve you then all would be well.

But here’s the strangest thing of all; the happiest people in the world are servants – not those who warm the slippers of millionaires, but those who serve others in all their relationships and responsibilities. They may have a million in the bank or even just red ink, but whatever their social or financial standing, they listen well, they give away their money and time, they volunteer at church, they do more than their assigned chores, and they even do some things without pay!

I know that sounds like total misery to you, but, believe me, it’s the way to happiness. Now, of course some people are selfless for selfish reasons. They have the wisdom to see that living just for self is not very helpful socially or vocationally. (I wish you even had that insight). But there are others who not only manage and modify their selfaholism. They actually deny self and live for others. How? Well, they have the great Self-denier working in their hearts. I’m talking about Jesus Christ of course, the Servant who can turn the worst selfaholics into the best servaholics

Study Christ’s life and ask yourself how you too can serve rather than be served. But, above all, study His death. Studying his life will shrink your “I” a little; but it’s when you stand before His cross that your “I” will begin to crack and crumble, even at it’s very foundations. Paul calls us, just as he called the Philippians selfaholics of his own day, to grasp that Christ’s servaholism atones for our selfaholism (Phil. 2:3-7). And as we grasp that supreme act of Self-denial on our behalf, we will not only serve, but we will serve out of selfless motives. We will stop thinking about what we are giving up and all we’ll see is what He gave up.

Is it just coincidence that the great Philippian epistle of service is also the great epistle of joy? (Phil. 3:1; 4:1, 4). I earnestly pray that you too will come to know the joy of servaholism (1 Cor. 16:15).

From a recovering selfaholic.

Check out


Things have been a bit quiet around here the past while as I’ve been moving house. Normal service is being restored!

Why Parents Need To Limit Screens And Make Boredom Great Again
Three practices Brooke Shannon and her family have implemented to protect the endangered emotion of boredom.

Consecutive Exposition Is Not the Only Way
I’ve been arguing this for years…without much success. Maybe it’s just a Murray thing.

While God makes it clear that we must preach the Word, he does not specify one method over the other. I wonder if we have veered too far in one direction. This, after all, is our tendency in nearly everything—to swing from wild extreme to wild extreme. “All I am arguing,” says Murray, “is that the single-text method ought to be taken far more seriously than is often done today.” Based on the historical record, it’s worth considering. But as you consider it, consider not only the idea of preaching a new text each week; consider also the duty of prayerfully seeking that text.”

Deeply sobering.

“Two weeks ago a close member of my family was sentenced to a three and a half year prison sentence for drugs related offences. Although it wasn’t a complete surprise, nevertheless the news when it came was still naturally shocking and distressing. As I’ve had some time to process things I thought I’d write a little about some of the things the Lord has been teaching me over these weeks.”

The Routine Absurdity of Leaders Growing Large
As Spurgeon used to pray: “Lord keep me down and then I need fear no fall.

“God has a special training program for leaders who think too highly of themselves. Whether it’s Lucifer who said, “I will ascend” or the people of Babel saying, “let us make a great name for ourselves,” God organizes a loving tumble to help us find our right size and right place. Think about this as the loving act of a devoted dad who is dedicated to his child’s rescue.”

When the Darkness Doesn’t Yield
Gavin Ortlund on his recent experience of deep sadness:

“Recently I went through a deeper experience of sadness. It wasn’t as terrible as what some Christians endure, but it wasn’t mild, either. Sometimes it felt fierce and unrelenting, like a wave crashing over me. For a few moments, it felt black and invincible, like Bane standing over a broken Batman. Those who have endured such seasons know what a terrible experience it is. The feeling of aloneness. The lethargy that attaches like a shadow. The incessant low-grade despair, like a dim grinding noise in the distance, always humming. The shocking alarm when certain things don’t excite you anymore, and then (of course) the dreadful question that follows: Will they ever again?

9 Ways to Raise Up Leaders in Your Church
A most important but much neglected part of ministry.

Help Me Teach the Bible: Tony Reinke on How Our Phones Are Changing Us as Teachers
Tony Reinke talks to Nancy Guthrie about how technology is changing us.

Kindle Books

The Disciple-Making Parent: A Comprehensive Guidebook for Raising Your Children to Love and Follow Jesus Christ by Chap Bettis $1.99. Excellent book! Chap also told me this: “Those who send me their receipt number from amazon for the kindle or hard copy can get the audiobook for free. Just send it to audiobook@theapollosproject.com

Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace by Heath Lambert $3.99.

PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace by Daniel Montgomery $3.99.

Broken and Whole: A Leader’s Path to Spiritual Transformation by Stephen Macchia $3.99.


Soldier of Christ 

College or Apprenticeship?

Within the next week or so, President Trump will make the expansion of apprenticeship programs the centerpiece of his administration’s labor policy. I agree wholeheartedly with this policy and recommend John Davidson’s article to explain why. Here’s a summary of it:

  • Currently there are millions of unfilled jobs for skilled workers across the country.
  • For too long, Americans have prized college education as the sole pathway to a respectable middle-class life.
  • Not everyone has to go to college for four years to have a productive, fulfilling career or gain entry to the middle class.
  • Keeping more of America’s youth out of our hopelessly politicized institutions of higher learning, and putting them to work as skilled laborers, might do the country real and lasting good.
  • Last year, some 13 million Americans were enrolled in four-year colleges versus only about a half-million apprentices in training.
  • Most apprenticeship programs are sponsored by industries that want to hire skilled workers. They need these workers so much they’re willing to pay them while they’re learning the skills of the trade.
  • The vast majority of apprentices have a job waiting for them—with an average salary of $60,000—when they complete their apprenticeship.


Check out


10 Things You Should Know about Dating
By he author of a new book on dating: Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness and Dating.

Kay Warren on how God saved her and Rick’s marriage from divorce
This is quite the story

4 Reasons to Enjoy Growing Older
The Christian can stand apart from a culture growing younger and not only embrace getting older but actually enjoy it.

How Debt Can Destroy Your Ministry
|”For those in ministry, you could say that debt is a ministry killer. Personal debt places burdens and barriers on the lives of those in ministry. Let’s consider how debt can destroy your ministry.”

TGC Canada Website Is Now Live
As a good number Canadians visit this blog, you may want to add TGC Canada’s new blog to your bookmarks.

Brain Scans Could Detect Autism In Infants As Young As Six Months
Early diagnosis means earlier and more effective treatments.

Kindle Books

Zeal without Burnout: Seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice by Christopher Ash $2.99.

Comforts from Romans: Celebrating the Gospel One Day at a Time by Elyse Fitzpatrick $2.99.

The Mission of Motherhood: Touching Your Child’s Heart of Eternity by Sally Clarkson $1.99.

Ben Needham Comes Home: An Adoption Story
We all need stories like this from time to time.