We have been considering four of the principal New Testament images of salvation – propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation. These are derived from the shrine, the market, the lawcourt and the home respectively. Because they draw on different life situations, they cannot be perfectly integrated with one another.
However, certain themes emerge:-
1. Each highlights a different aspect of human need – wrath, captivity, guilt and alienation respectively.
2. All emphasise God’s saving initiative. He propitiated his own wrath, redeemed us from our bondage, declared us righteous, and reconciled us to himself. See 1 Jn 4:10; Lk 1:68; Rom 8:33; 2 Cr 5:18.
3. All teach that salvation was achieved through the blood-shedding (i.e. the substitutionary sacrifice) of Christ. See Rom 3:25; 5:9; 8:3,33; Eph 1:7; 2:13; 2 Cor 5:21.
So substitution is not a ‘theory of the atonement’. Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others. It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself. None of the four images could stand without it. I am not of course saying that it is necessary to understand, let alone articulate, a substitutionary atonement before one can be saved. Yet the responsibility of Christian teachers, preachers and other witnesses is to seek grace to expound it with clarity and conviction. For the better people understand the glory of the divine substitution, the easier it wil be for them to trust in the Substitute.
Based on Stott, The Cross of Christ, 202-203