Question: Why did Jesus have to be our "substitution" on the Cross (specifically the substitution for those who put their faith and trust in Him)? Why can't a "loving God" just forgive us -- and why did He require such a gruesome death for those who trust in Christ to be made right with Him?
Explanation: Jesus had to die on the Cross because God is just and honest. (Romans 3:26; Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18; Deuteronomy 32:4)
As a just God, God could not just turn a blind eye to sin. If a judge just lets a guilty criminal go Scott free, despite an unquestioned record of guilt against him, that judge would no longer be just and fair. And surely the judge of all the Earth must do right. (Genesis 18:25; see also Romans 3:5-6; Hebrews 12:23; Deuteronomy 32:4)
As an honest God, God cannot look at a guilty sinner (which we all, by default, are) and call that person righteous or even innocent. (Romans 3:19-20. See generally Romans ch. 3.)
With these realities about God in mind, we must also consider the state of man: We have ALL sinned and fallen short. We are all guilty when measured by our own actions, and we all deserve death for our sins. (Romans 3:23, 6:23)
As such, SOMEONE had to pay the penalty for our sins -- and that penalty is great. And there are only two options as to who can pay that penalty:
(1) Each person can pay the penalty for their own sins, which requires an eternity of damnation, or
(2) An eternal God can demonstrate His love by bearing that penalty for those who have put their faith and trust in Him, thereby making Him our substitute.
As for how all of that squares with God's love, most people fail to understand the true Biblical meaning of agape love, and instead read the Western / American cultural definition of love into the text.
For instance, most Americans see love primarily as an emotion, as a positive feeling, and so forth. Many (also) confuse "love" with "sex" or sexual attraction, but that is to confuse agape with eros. Many (also) confuse agape love with a Fatherly love, or with a "love" that equates to unconditional approval. But none of those things are true.
God's agape love is primarily an action, not primarily an emotion. The word agape could also rightly be translated as good will, benevolence, or charity. That is the kind of love that God shows to the world at large -- the love of doing things for our benefit, such as the provision of the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, the sun and rain and seasons of rest that sustain us, and so forth. That is how God shows His love to the world, in addition to the greatest act of sending the Son to take on flesh, live the perfect life that no one else could live, and ultimately laying His life down for us (although the offer of forgiveness is only extended to those who put their faith and trust in Him). Agape is primarily about action, not primarily about emotion, not about a Fatherly love, and certainly not even a little bit about unconditional approval (let alone a sexual form of love).
In other words, even as mankind continuously rebels against God, God continuously acts for our good through His provision in our life. Far from teaching that God "unconditionally approves" of us or has a Fatherly love for the world at large (so, we should not think that everyone is in good standing with God no matter what), what this really does is serve as a contrast between how bad we are towards God (and each other), and yet how good God remains towards us. When we as humans get into fights with each other, we tend to say, "Well I know I was wrong, but look what you did to me!" But unlike such human interactions, when we stand before God at the judgment, every mouth will be stopped. We will have no ability to look at God and even SUGGEST that He did anything wrong, because all that He has done is good. (Nehemiah 9:33 ("However You are just in all that has befallen us; For You have dealt faithfully, But we have done wickedly.")) He has continually acted in charity, benevolence, and good will towards us, even while we continuously rebelled (and for most, actively rebel) against Him.
And so when the final judgment comes, God will remain good, just, honest, righteous, and even loving (in the agape sense) by casting unregenerate sinners into hell. In fact, God has no other choice but to do that, lest He violate His own divine character, which is impossible.
Nevertheless, the Cross makes it possible for God to "remain just AND be the justifier (the one who justifies) those who have put their faith and trust in Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:26)
And, as the new covenant promises, those who truly trust in Christ are born again of the Holy Spirit (regeneration) (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27), and are adopted into the family of God as children of God, and even as friends of Christ Jesus. Those people -- the ones who are forgiven and justified -- are the only ones who will ever truly experience the Fatherly love of God and the friendship of God and the approval of God.
Everyone else will remain apart from the Fatherly love of God, and indeed under the wrath of God, for God is angry with the wicked every day. (Psalm 7:11)
As such, there is no conflict between God's love and His justice. God does not have a Fatherly love towards those who die in an unregenerate state, even though He provide(s/d) for them in the agape sense throughout their lives. There is no conflict between any aspect of God's love and the fact that God will send such people to an eternal damnation in a very real lake of fire. God never approved of such people, and never considered such people friends, even while He he Himself remained good, fair, and just in His dealings with them. (Nehemiah 9:33)
If you liked this post, please like and follow Uncompromising Gospel on Facebook.
"For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." (Acts 20:27)