The Substitution of Christ

But when we say that grace was imparted to us by the merit of Christ, we mean this: by his blood we were cleansed, and his death was an expiation for our sins. “His blood cleanses us from all sin.” [1 John 1:7.] “This is my blood … which is shed … for the forgiveness of sins.” [Matt. 26:28; cf. Luke 22:20.] If the effect of his shedding of blood is that our sins are not imputed to us, it follows that God’s judgment was satisfied by that price. On this point John the Baptist’s words apply: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]. For he sets Christ over against all the sacrifices of the law, to teach that what those figures showed was fulfilled in him alone. We know what Moses often says: “Iniquity will be atoned for, sin will be blotted out and forgiven” [cf. Ex. 34:7; Lev. 16:34]. In short, the old figures well teach us the force and power of Christ’s death. And in The Letter to the Hebrews the apostle skillfully using this principle explains this point: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” [Heb. 9:22]. From this he concludes that “Christ has appeared once for all … to wipe out sin by the sacrifice of himself” [Heb. 9:26]. Again, “Christ was offered … to bear the sins of many” [Heb. 9:28]. He had previously said: “He entered once for all into the Holy Place not through the blood of goats and calves but through his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” [Heb. 9:12]. He now reasons on this wise: “If the blood of a heifer sanctifies unto the cleanness of the flesh, much more does the blood of Christ … cleanse your consciences from dead works” [Heb. 9:13–14 p.]. This readily shows that Christ’s grace is too much weakened unless we grant to his sacrifice the power of expiating, appeasing, and making satisfaction. As he adds a little later: “He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred meanwhile which redeems them from the preceding transgressions that remained under the law” [Heb. 9:15 p.].

It is especially worth-while to ponder the analogy set forth by Paul: “Christ … became a curse for us,” etc. [Gal. 3:13]. It was superfluous, even absurd, for Christ to be burdened with a curse, unless it was to acquire righteousness for others by paying what they owed. Isaiah’s testimony is also clear: “The chastisement of our peace was laid upon Christ, and with his stripes healing has come to us” [Isa. 53:5 p.]. For unless Christ had made satisfaction for our sins, it would not have been said that he appeased God by taking upon himself the penalty to which we were subject. The words that follow in the same passage agree with this: “I have stricken him for the transgression of my people” [Isa. 53:8 p.]. Let us add the interpretation of Peter, which will remove all uncertainty: “He … bore our sins … on the tree” [1 Peter 2:24]. He is saying that the burden of condemnation, from which we were freed, was laid upon Christ.

—John Calvin
Institutes II, xvii, 4.