I think that Christ’s victory is the overarching framework within which Christ’s saving work is best viewed. (See my post, “Is there an overarching model of the atonement?”) Penal substitution was the way in which Christ delivered us from the adversary’s ability to bring a damning accusation against those who are in Christ. We were dead in our trespasses but “God made [us] alive together with [Christ],” by “cancelling “the record of the debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in him” (Col 2:13-15).
I thought of this as I meditated on Heb 2:14-15. The Word became incarnate so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
I remember my Dad commenting on his missionary years in India, where the death of Christians was one of their great moments of testimony. Christian funerals were remarkably different from Hindu funerals, because they were infused with hope. Christians died, just as Hindus did, but the meaning of their deaths was completely transformed by life in Christ and the promise of resurrection to life with him. By his death, Christ had overcome the one who has the power to enslave us and bind us until we experience the second death which entails participation in the devil’s own judgment by God (Rev 20:10-15). Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we no longer fear physical death, because we are confident that we have been saved from the second death. The demands of the law have been satisfied by Christ on our behalf, and he intercedes for us at the right hand of God so that no one, including the devil himself, can bring a charge against us. When God justifies us, there is no one who has the power to condemn us (Rom 8:31-34).
Because of Christ’s victory through his death and resurrection and session at the right hand of the Father,
we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:37-39)