What did Paul mean when he wrote, “Christ died for our sins”? [1 Cor. 15:3; italics supplied.] This is part of our study for this Saturday (March 29). As a preview, this is a little of what Ken Bailey writes in Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes.
“Christ died because of our sins” is the preferred (legitimate) Arabic translation of this text…
Theologian Miroslav Volf has written,
“Let us beware that some accounts of what it means for Christ to have died on behalf of the ungodly—what theologians sometimes call his “substitutionary” death—are deeply problematic. If we view Christ on the cross as a third party being punished for the sins of transgressors, we have widely missed the mark…”
William Temple points out that the New Testament always starts with the love of God, not his wrath. He writes,
“… So the forgiveness that Christ wins for us is not chiefly a remission of penalty; it is the restoration to the affectionate intimacy of sons with their Father…”
God is angry at sin, but, as Temple argues,
“[God’s anger] is not anger, if by anger we mean the emotional reaction of an offended self-concern; it is anger, if by anger we mean the resolute and relentless opposition of a will set on righteousness against a will directed elsewhere… He seeks to abolish sinners by winning them out of their sin into the loyalty and love of children in their Father’s home… It is only through preoccupation with thoughts of punishment that people have come to invent doctrines of transferred penalty…”
Suffering is the divine choice in which we participate. Temple writes,
“There are two ways of expressing antagonism to sin; one is to inflict suffering on the sinner, the other is to endure suffering…”
The issue is the reform of the sinner. Temple concludes,
“Fear of punishment might deter me from sinful action, but it could not change my sinful desires… But to realize what my selfishness means to the Father who loves me with a love such as Christ reveals, fills me with horror of the selfishness and calls out an answering love… We plead His Passion, not as a transferred penalty, but as an act of self-sacrifice which re-makes us in its own likeness.”
What Bailey describes by quoting Volf and Temple is Christus Victor – where the atonement is not about paying the penalty but about love transcending the demands of the law, and where love transforms wrath into grace and mercy, so that sinners may recognize and accept the power to transform into Christlikeness. The resurrection is the most vital part of the gospel because it is proof that love has conquered death and the grave.
 Bailey, locations 5118-5169.