Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Atonement - Six Views

Atonement lies at the heart of our relationship with God.   It means repairing a damaged relationship or separation (like reconciliation).  Christian atonement relies on Jesus being our substitute in His life, death on the cross and resurrection.(You can replay or download our Sunday meetings on

  1. Substitution was established by God in the old covenant through the Passover and sacrificial system.  This validated the principle, and dealt with both His people’s deliverance and transgressions.
  2. In Christian history, new covenant atonement has been described six ways, as:
    a)  A perfect moral example, so through new life we’re influenced and able to conform to Christ (Augustine; Orthodox church).
    b)  A ransom, so that we who have been captured by Satan, sin and death are set free (Origen).
    c)  Christ’s victory over the powers of darkness, rescuing us and elevating the Trinity (to 1,000AD).
    d)  Satisfaction for the offended honour of God, involving Christ’s passion (Anselm and Thomas Aquinas).
    e)  A penal punishment for every individual, satisfying God’s justice (Protestant Reformation onwards).
    f)  Forgiveness for all through faith as God’s new order of government of morality (Arminians).
  3. Our modern world struggles to come to terms with the damning nature of sin, and therefore atonement and its underlying concepts (God’s justice and wrath, man’s inability, Christ’s sacrifice).  But careful understanding leads to a more certain, less insecure, relationship with God, and greater motive to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in sanctification and in evangelism.
  4. Ask of other religions: if the analysis of man’s poor condition is correct, how do you propose atonement?
So, what’s this about?  What precisely is it about Christ’s life and death that sets Him at the centre of our faith?  His divinity is a mystery, and 2,000 years have passed since the events.  What pictures can we use that capture the heart of His uniqueness and work?  Substitutionary atonement is a powerful foundation for our faith.
ROMANS 5:6  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


The old covenant foundation is laid in the Passover, Day of Atonement, and Suffering Servant/Saviour.
EXODUS 12:1  The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt,    3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.    7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.    13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you.
LEVITICUS 4:15  The elders of the community are to lay their hands on the bull's head before the LORD, and the bull shall be slaughtered before the LORD.  16 Then the anointed priest is to take some of the bull's blood into the Tent of Meeting.  17 He shall dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle it before the LORD seven times in front of the curtain.
ISAIAH 53:4  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.


A perfect moral example and influence.  Jesus died at the hands of the ungodly: this stirs our hearts.
JOHN 15:12  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  14 You are my friends if you do what I command.    17 This is my command: Love each other.
1 PETER 2:24  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness;


A ransom from captivity and bankruptcy.  Today we hear of exchanges of prisoners, girls being bought out of sex trafficking, and debts being annulled.  Jesus took our place, and paid the “price on our heads”.
MATTHEW 20:28  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
HEBREWS 9:15  For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance -- now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

Jesus’s victory.  Through the reign of sin, death and the devil, the cosmic pre-eminence of God appear-ed compromised.  The cross was the climactic victory for humanity, sometimes called the “harrowing of hell”.
1 PETER 3:18  For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison   21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand--with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.  4:1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.


Man by sin dishonoured as well as disobeyed God.  Christ’s merit and passion satisfies the offence.
1 JOHN 4:9  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.


Justification.  Protestants emphasise the legal/forensic nature of Christ paying our penalty: “faith alone”.
ROMANS 3:22  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished -- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.


For all?  Many say God has opened a door for all who will choose to come under His new Kingdom rule.
1 TIMOTHY 2:5  For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men -- the testimony given in its proper time.  7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle -- I am telling the truth, I am not lying -- and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.


Scandal!  The cross overthrows self-righteousness and privileges of race, class, ability, culture and sex.
2 CORINTHIANS 5:14  For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.    20 We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.  21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.


Application.  Why would anyone believe that an innocent person died efficaciously for a multitude of convicted sinners?
·       When you take bread and wine do you find the spiritual reality of substitution, so you grow in Christ’s life?
·       Some current sentiment reacts against God punishing His Son; would this diminish or vindicate God?
·       By faith alone is accurate; but how do we deal with cold hearts, indifference to sin and hell in the church?

Scripture quotations from the New International Version.

1. Blood is the price of heaven
Blood is the price of heaven;
All sin that price exceeds.
O come to be forgiven;
He bleeds, my Saviour bleeds!
My Saviour bleeds!

2. Under the olive boughs,
Falling like ruby beads,
The blood drops from His brow;
He bleeds, my Saviour bleeds!
My Saviour bleeds!

3. While the fierce scourges fall,
The precious blood still pleads
In front of Pilate’s hall.
He bleeds, my Saviour bleeds!
My Saviour bleeds!

4. Beneath the thorny crown
The crimson fountain speeds;
See how it trickles down;
He bleeds, my Saviour bleeds!
My Saviour bleeds!

5. Bearing the fatal wood,
His band of saints He leads,
Marking the way with blood.
He bleeds, my Saviour bleeds!
My Saviour bleeds!

6. On Calvary His shame
With blood still intercedes,
His open wounds proclaim:
He bleeds, my Saviour bleeds!
My Saviour bleeds!

7. He hangs upon the tree,
Hangs there for my misdeeds.
He sheds His blood for me;
He bleeds, my Saviour bleeds!
My Saviour bleeds!

8. Ah me! His soul is fled,
Yet still for my great needs
He bleeds when He is dead.
He bleeds, my Saviour bleeds!
My Saviour bleeds!

9. His blood is flowing still,
My thirsty soul it feeds!
He lets me drink my fill;
He bleeds, my Saviour bleeds!
My Saviour bleeds!

10. O sweet, O precious blood!
What love, what love it breeds!
Ransom, reward, and food;
He bleeds, my Saviour bleeds!
My Saviour bleeds!

F W Faber © Public Domain

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