Thursday, 5 October 2017

Focus on the Atonement

This is a brief article I was asked to write on this subject.

The Bible teaches that Christ did not die as a helpless victim, a noble martyr, a political revolutionary or merely as a perfect example, but as a sacrifice for sin. By His sacrifice He has made atonement. The word atonement basically means a sufficient payment.
i. To whom is atonement made?
Christ’s sacrifice was made to God. God’s righteousness demands that sin be punished (Habakkuk 1:13; Romans 2:1-16). He cannot set aside His law or lower His righteous standard (Psalm 36:6; 89:14). The righteousness of God leaves us with no hope of being accepted by God based on our own goodness: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).
The only way God can forgive sinners is if the demands of His righteousness are satisfied. This is why Christ died. When He was on the cross He was not only suffering the pains of crucifixion, He was suffering for sin from the hand of God.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all... Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief. (Isaiah 53:5-6, 10)
He was taking the punishment our sins deserved and making the payment God’s justice demanded. This is atonement – an offering to God that satisfies His justice (Romans 3:21-26).
God desired to show grace to the guilty. He could not do it at the expense of justice, but He did it at the expense of Jesus. This brings us to our second question.
ii.By whom is atonement made?
Because God is infinitely sin-hating, sin is infinitely offensive to Him and carries with it an infinite penalty. This means that no finite creature can ever pay the price for sin (Psalm 49:7-8). That is why those who are never saved will be lost forever (Matthew 25:46).
Only an infinite person could pay an infinite penalty, and that is why God sent His Son.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation [atoning sacrifice] for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
Atonement was not by God punishing some innocent third party. It was God Himself, in the person of the Son, taking the punishment due to His sinful creatures.
By giving Himself into the hands of God to experience God’s wrath against sin, the Lord Jesus Christ paid the price we could never pay. He said “It is finished” (John 19:30). As proof of God’s satisfaction He raised His Son from the dead.
The sacrifice of Christ expresses God’s inflexible righteousness and also His infinite love, for He “spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
iii. For whom is atonement made?
The sacrifice the Lord Jesus made at Calvary is infinite in its value and also unlimited in its availability.
And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
Salvation has been provided for all without exception, but it is only those who put their trust in Christ for salvation who have the value of His sacrifice applied to them. We are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-25, ESV).

Only in the gospel do we find “a just God and a Saviour” (Isaiah 45:21), and it is because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. God’s justice demands the condemnation of all without Christ as Saviour, but His justice demands the salvation of all with Christ as Saviour.