I don't know if you can remember the last St Helen's RML Mark weekend away? It was only a month ago, but I suspect already the cobwebs are forming on your memory of it. This week seemed like an appropriate opportunity to reflect again on a talk from the weekend. Whether you were there or not, you can have a listen to 2011's recordings. They're best listened to in order, starting with 'Penal substitution' and 'Victory over Satan'.

Andrew helpfully described to us the ‘Facts of the cross' - not different models which we can pick between, but different aspects that are all true of the cross, and help us to understand what God achieved there. Particularly key was the first of these aspects, the topic of ‘Penal substitution' (or ‘penalty swap', as it was also phrased).

The problem we're all prone to is this idea that we have freedom to do good - the ‘Bob the Builder Complex'. "I can fix it" is the message behind most superhero films, or the M People hit from the 1990s (which exposes my age!). For those whose youth precludes them from remembering the song, the lyrics include ‘Because you and only you can build a bridge across the stream', and ‘Just seek yourself and you will shine'. It's motivating, but the problem is that it creates false hope.

The reality is that we have a problem we can't fix. We are guilty, and God - being just and truthful - cannot ignore it. Our sin is a problem, but forgiving sin is an even bigger one. Which is why the Bible's offer of hope and forgiveness is such an amazing one.

We looked at Isaiah 53 to see that the passage must be describing the punishment of someone else in our place. Almost every sentence is a swap or a contrast, contrasting all of us who deserve punishment (v6a) and the one who was punished (e.g. v7). The penalty swap has taken place - so that ‘he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities' (v5).

The implications are indescribable, and well worth considering. Why not meet up with a Christian friend to discuss the great position we are now in (Romans 5:8-10)?

Questions to ponder

  • Where are we guilty of the ‘Bob the builder' complex? Why is it dangerous? How will it leave us feeling - when things are going well, or badly?
  • Some people ask the question, ‘Why can't God just forgive everyone?' What would you say?
  • When was the last time you meditated on Romans 5:8-10? How does it leave us feeling, if we are Christians? What does it promise Christians about the future? Do you really believe that?