Atonement refers to everything that Jesus was doing on the cross. The reason he went to the cross was out of obedience to the Father. But there were a few things he was accomplishing when he died unjustly. His death on the cross served as a propitiation, the means to reconciliation, the means to redemption, and lastly his death served as a substitute for us. In this post I’m going to be going over what those four aspects of the atonement mean.
The atonement, a propitiation to God
From Romans 1:18 we know that the wrath of God is on all of us because of our sin and unrighteousness. Despite popular belief there is no cosmic moral scale weighing our good deeds against our bad deeds. We were born in sin, that is as members of the human race we’ve all inherited a sin nature from Adam. There’s nothing we can do to make things right with God.
If you’ll remember in the Old Testament the Israelites were to offer sacrifices to atone for (cover) their sins. These sacrifices did not serve as lasting cure alls for our sins. They were meant to point to the ultimate sacrifice made by Christ.
Christ’s death on the cross was a sacrifice that was meant to propitiate (satisfy) the wrath of God. His sacrifice was the thing that could turn away God’s wrath for good. And his sacrifice is the reason why the Church does not offer sacrifices like ancient Israel did in the Old Testament.
The atonement, a reconciliation between God and man
As mentioned above, because of sin man has been at odds with God since the Fall in the Garden. Things have not been the same between us since that time. In the Garden God would walk and talk with Adam and Eve. There was no break or estrangement in the relationship until they disobeyed.
With the atonement our relationship has been reconciled. When we believe in Christ we are saved and the Holy Spirit indwells us. We enjoy a very unique relationship with the Lord unlike anyone else has since the Fall. All of this is made possible because of the reconciliation brought about from Christ’s atoning work on the cross.
The atonement, a redemption from the slavery of sin
As members of the humans race we were all born into slavery to sin. This is blatantly apparent whenever you try to overcome a destructive and addicting habit. But that sense of subservient helplessness runs to our core. It may manifest itself in different ways for different people but we all have it.
When Christ died on the cross he was redeeming us from sin. He bought us with his blood so we are no longer slaves to sin. He has liberated us from being enthralled to our sin. Of course realizing this is another story, and the subject of Romans 6:1-14.
The atonement, Christ our substitute
Christ took the sentence we deserved when he was executed on the cross. Because we all have been born into sin we were the ones who deserved to die. He took the punishment for us.
The Penal Substitution Theory of the atonement was not fully formed until Calvin came along in the 16th century. However I think it is the theory that bests illustrates the nature of the atonement. Put simply Christ himself paid the penalty for our sins by becoming our substitute when he died on the cross.
It can be a little difficult to understand and remember what Christ accomplished on the cross. You have to be familiar with the background Old Testament to understand why he had to die. The people of the early Church would have grasped it quicker because they understood and had systems for sacrificing to gods in place. However we do not, that is why I think a clear understanding of the atonement, the work of Christ on the cross, is so integral in being a Christian.
So what do you think of the atonement? Was there some aspect you would have liked to see me cover or elaborate on more? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. And if you liked this post you should subscribe to the newsletter. That way you’ll be able to keep up with everything that’s happening here at Strong Sword.