My brother recently asked me to read this post by Joe Hayward at Evangelist Changing on the penal substitution debate. Needless to say, I haven't read it just yet (deadlines, deadlines, and more deadlines...), but it got me thinking of what it is I actually believe was effected at the cross - was it a simple legal transfer of God's righteousness onto humanity, or is there something more?
A few thoughts came to me as I wandered here and there upon the earth...
Firstly, the doctrine of penal substitution certainly hits the mark with regards to the efficacy of our standing before God. That is, 'God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.' This much is fairly clear to me.
What does this mean then? It means that along with penal substitution, on the tree planted by men Christ reverses the original sin of Adam's disobedience on the tree planted by God. The tree planted by God was desirable (to look at, to eat, and to make one wise), whereas the tree planted by men, as an expression of man's wickedness, is wholly undesirable. By submitting himself to total self-emptying without remainder on the tree planted by men, Christ reinstates humanity's position before God, recreates the species in the image of God, and pays the penalty for our original sin. The concept of penal substitution, then, can be upheld, but with the proviso that it doesn't go far enough. The cross is not simply a legal transfer of righteousness, but a reversal of humanity's fallen state of disobedience through obedience.
Anyway, must go and read that blog post...:)