How the Pinning Works

I want to spend a few moments on why the penal substitution of Christ is the only possible ground of human happiness. My point is not to defend the doctrine here — that has been ably done by others — but rather to show one of the many glorious outworkings of the doctrine. In our life together, whether that life is being lived in family, church, or town, the substitutionary death of Jesus is the only thing that can keep us from becoming scolds who are impossible to live with.

This is what I mean, and I will use marriage for my example. Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). Now, whatever it is we believe that He did there, that is what we are going to imitate.

Unless you believe that at the heart of the atonement we find a complete identification of Christ with His people, then what you will imitate is that same failure to identify. But if you understand that the cross was the place where God went “all in,” then your love for your wife and family will likewise be all in.

If Jesus was just setting an example, or just doing some other thing external to us, then our imitation of this will tend toward the bossy and censorious. How many moral examples are crushing examples? How many things done for us, outside of us, designed to make us grateful, are actually burdens that are being tied on our backs by Pharisees? But Christ’s example and Christ’s gifts to us are not like that at all. They are true liberation. Why? Because He died in our place, and only because He died in our place.

If we take that away, then morality ceases to be liberation, and becomes what little we learn in lectures full of scolding and hectoring, and finger pointing. It becomes the kind of righteousness that the devil loves to go on about.

We are never exercising biblical authority over others unless we are identifying with them as we do so. In order to identify this way, we need an example — because we don’t think this way naturally. To use Chesterton’s image, we tend to bestow honor by pinning a cross on a hero, while God did it by pinning a hero on a cross.

And unless our sins were pinned there with him, we have no hope in our lives together. No hope at all.

Theology That Bites Back



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  • Nate Harlan

    “…the penal substitution of Christ is the only possible ground of human happiness.” That, my brother, will preach.

  • J

    Doug, How is an “all in” life to be maintained? I have actually prayed for those exact words to be true of me many times and yet it seems just outside of my grasp. To live in such a way that all hopes, desires, loves, and everything else would be completely abandoned in a Luke 14:26 kind of way for the treasure of solely trusting in Jesus in order to imitate him. It’s as though I can hold what that life would be like in my mind’s hands and yet it evades me when I open my eyes and start walking around again. Although not an exact parallel in it’s point, I can’t help but think of Ecclesiastes 3:11 when pondering these things. “Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end”. At the same time I know that I have been granted everything I need that pertains to life and godliness. And round and round we go… 

  • Jon Marq

    The cross is God’s pinterest board.

  • RFB

    I do not know if this helps, but some things that I have learned from my vocation seem related. I spent 40+ years in public safety (all three rails). Whether it was being in absolute darkness, no air to breathe except another few minutes in the tank on your back, with heat so intense that a few inches in another direction would melt your helmet, on hands and knees with your brother, because he is your brother…
    going through a door and turning right or left, completely exposing your back to the person you KNOW is there and has every intent and means to kill you, because you do not know whether he is on the right or left, and your brother must enter simultaneously with you and going in the opposite direction, because he is your brother, for if you do not do it just like that…
    and kissing your wife and children bye every day as you head out to the job, really hoping to return to them, because they are yours…
    is a little bit like all in. Jesus did it best. I always remember this: “if you seek Me, let these men go”