Article 4: Reasons for This Infinite Value
This death is of such great value and worth for the reason that the person who suffered it is--as was necessary to be our Savior--not only a true and perfectly holy man, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Another reason is that this death was accompanied by the experience of God's anger and curse, which we by our sins had fully deserved.
At this point, it is vital to state with some precision what was only implied in the earlier articles. The reason why Jesus’ death can satisfy God’s justice and anger toward our sin, is that Jesus is the God-man who suffers and dies for us, and in our place. Jesus can identify with us, and our sin can be imputed to him since he is one of us in every respect. As true man and the Second Adam, Jesus Christ comes to stand in our place as our representative before God, just as did Adam. But unlike Adam, Jesus Christ passed the test, and endured all temptation without sin.
Since Jesus Christ is also God in human flesh, his death alone is sufficient to bear the Holy God’s wrath in such a way as to satisfy his justice. As we have seen, this is what Scripture means when Paul says, “he became a curse for us.” This is what Peter is proclaiming in his first epistle when he writes, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. . . . He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 1:18-19; 2:24).
This simply means that Jesus Christ bore in his own body the penalty of the curse due us for our own sins. Because he is truly God, his sacrifice alone is sufficient for to satisfy God’s justice so that our sins are forgiven. Because Jesus is truly human, he can die for us and in our place. This then is the heart of the biblical teaching about the death of Christ—Christ dying for us and in our place to satisfy the justice of God. This is what the famous doctrine of the “substitutionary atonement” is all about.
It is God’s love for his fallen creatures and his mercy towards his elect which motivates him to send Christ to do what is necessary so that we might be saved. Let us not make the mistake of “neutering God” by making him all love while forgetting the part about him hating all sin. For even the words “God is love,” are meaningless apart from the death of Christ, where we see the second person of the Holy Trinity, having taken to himself a true human nature, suffering unspeakable agony so that God’s anger toward us is turned away.
It is in the cross that we see both the love and the justice of God. Neither is sacrificed, and through Christ’s death, God’s elect are delivered from the guilt and power of sin.