What impact does the Gospel and reconciliation have in our every day lives? Specifically, what does the death of Jesus in our place to remove sins, propitiate God’s wrath, fulfil the Scriptures, redeem a people, forgive the elect, ransom a people, bring us into relationship with the Father, all to the praise of his glory, have upon our daily Christian lives? The Gospel is glorious, wonderful, helpful, and practical. We see that on full display in Peter’s first epistle, when Peter says the following:
“For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”
– 1 Peter 3:17-18
We can see straight away from these verses a clear explanation of the Gospel, and our reconciliation to God. We see that Christ suffered. A key concept. But we see also that Christ suffered one time because of something. Namely, Christ died once for sins. Not simply “sin” in an abstract sense, but “sins.” When we begin to question what Peter meant by that, he continues to expand. Christ suffered, Christ died, as a righteous figure in the place of those who are unrighteous. We see here a substitutionary core, but also a “penal” element to what Peter is saying. He died in our place, the righteous for the unrighteous. But he also suffered, was punished, due to the sins of the unrighteous. But there was still an express purpose for Jesus in doing those things. Christ died a penal substitutionary death for a purpose in 1 Peter 3:17-18. Namely, to bring us to God. Here we see divine reconciliation taking place through the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on a cross outside of Jerusalem two thousand years ago.
But we can see also an incredible pastoral outworking in the book of 1 Peter. In the context, Peter is advising his audience what they should do when people “speak maliciously” about Christians and the Church. When they or members of their Church are “slandered”, what are disciples of Jesus called to do? Peter is also talking here about Christian mission and evangelism, giving people “the reason for the hope” that we have. This is an incredibly practical and pastoral situation. We see this emphasised in the word “for” at the start of 1 Peter 3:18. Why is it better to suffer for doing good? Why should Christians be prepared to witness for Jesus? Why should Christians be willing to overlook and forgive people speaking badly about them? Why should Christians be willing to endure under external pressure? Why should Christians not fear the threats and taunts of those outside of the Church? 1 Peter 3:18 answers with a loud exclamation. For! Because! Because Jesus died a penal substitutionary death in our place to bring us forgiveness and reconciliation to the Father, and because of that, these practical and pastoral situations can be addressed in light of, and because of, the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. Because Christ died once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. Because of that, on the basis of that, we should witness, stand up under pressure, be faithful, endure suffering and hardship, forgive, be reconciled to those who slander us and so much more.
The logic here is beautiful. Is someone slandering you right now? Are people speaking ill of you? Are people giving you a bad name? Well then, remember how God redeemed you to himself through the death of Jesus. One of the most natural things we all experience is the pain we feel when people speaking maliciously about us, especially when it’s not true. But remember, that is exactly what happened to Jesus. Peter also reminds us that each one of us is going to go through suffering in our lives. Maybe that’s you right now, and you are struggling with sickness, joblessness, pain, loss, depression, or ten thousand other things that may weigh down your soul. One of the antidotes that Peter turns our eyes to is the penal substitutionary death of Jesus. Simply put, you can face whatever comes because of the atoning death of Jesus in your place. Peter also links the importance of this doctrine to our outreach and evangelism. Just like David’s mighty men were willing to fight through the enemy lines to get David a drink from the well at Bethlehem, how desperate are we to help people to drink from the well of living water. Penal substitution, according to Peter at least, is meant to spur us on to see others reconciled to the Father. I hope you are beginning to see that, for the New Testament writers, penal substitutionary atonement is at its heart a practical doctrine.