Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Atonement Of Christ

The Atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ
By Davin Wong, GCF icommentary

Some time last year I was introduced to the term "great words of salvation". They are covenant, sacrifice, The Day of Atonement, passover, redemption, reconciliation, propitiation and justification.

Some of the words sound familiar, others I probably heard for the first time when I read "The Atonement" by Leon Morris.

For starters, I learned that approach to God in the days of Moses and Aaron was tricky business. Selected passages in Exodus, Numbers and Leviticus revealed that God made it clear to the Israelites that they could not rush into His presence at any time they wanted and just as they were. Not even the high priest! (Lv 16:2) Besides that, coming before the presence of the Lord was done in connection with
putting away of the nation's sins, hence the added importance and solemnity of
the occasion. Surely, we Christians who live in this time and age have reason to be glad that Christ came and did away with all these technicalities. Because of Him and through Him we now have direct access to God and His forgiveness. (Heb 10:10, 13:12)

Then there is the word "covenant". Looking at the OT, Exodus 24 recounts the significant event where God established the covenant with Israel which proceeded from God's choice of the nation. In verse 8, we find the familiar words "This is the blood of the covenant" which accompanied the putting of blood on the people. The
significance of the blood is seen in the light of Israel being cleansed from the sin
and defilement of its tainted past and at the same time being consecrated for its new role as the people of God. In response, Israel took upon itself the obligation to obey God's law even though this was not a condition of the covenant.

Nevertheless, the righteous requirement of the law could not be fulfilled as it was
weakened by the flesh and God decisively intervened by sending His own Son as the
once-for-all sacrifice that takes away sin, brings about forgiveness and establishes a new covenant with His blood. (Jer31, Luke 22:20, Rom 8:3-4, Heb 8:6-3, 1 Pet 3:18) Holy Communion then is a constant reminder of the place of the covenant. Our participation is a pledge that we, whose covenant with God has been established at such a cost, will live in a manner befitting the covenant.

A new word I learned from reading this book is the word "propitiation". Simply put, propitiation means the turning away of anger. Specifically, we're referring to God's anger. Some find it difficult in that they see wrath as incompatible with the fact
that "God is love". But this is faulty reasoning. The opposite of love is not wrath. It is hate. We can say that if God is a God of love, He will not hate those whom he has made, but we cannot say that He will never be angry with them. In fact, the more He loves, the more He would be angry with every sin that mars the perfection of the

Part of what Christ did on the cross was propitiation, the taking of such action so that the wrath of God no longer rests on us. This means a wonderful assurance of peace for the Christian. In the end we have nothing to fear, for "he is the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 2:2, ESV). Learning about propitiation definitely changed the way I approach fellow Christians on Sunday with the greeting "Peace
be with you!"

Finally, reading the book has brought before me some of the richness of the New Testament teaching about the cross of Christ. The great words of salvation provide many facets to the atonement. Each way of looking at the cross underlines the fact that the way of salvation is not a way of human merit. Salvation is of grace, for salvation is of God. Christians are to see the cross at the heart of their faith for
two reasons. The first is that it is solely by the way of the cross that Christ brought about our salvation. But we should not just stop at the study of the cross, for Jesus said that if anyone wanted to follow him, he must take up his cross daily (Lk 9:23). The one thing this book has done for me is to show that no matter how you
look at it, the cross still challenges us today to live a life worthy of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Soli Deo Gloria!


alwyn said...

I've been pondering the whole penal sub issue a bit: If a judicial system sacrifices an innocent, albeit willing, party so a guilty one can be freed, is that justice?

It isn't merely the sacrificial aspect here. It's the fact that an innocent takes on the crimes of someone else. It sounds very noble, but not entirely right.

An innocent party has suffered - isn't there something wrong with such justice? What would this say about the system? What does it say about the Judge?

Another thing is: Jesus taught us to love ppl unconditionally, even to the point of dying for our enemies. Does this square with the undderstanding that God demands payment for sins against His holy nature? Where did we get the idea that God MUST have punishment, a 'kill', etc. failing which things can't be made right?

Anybody else read the recent '4 Views of Atonement'?

Moses said...

I have!

Davin said...

Hi Alwyn,
I'm afraid I've not read the book about the 4 views. In any case, at this point in time, I would differ to Alistair McGrath's caution on stretching analogies and parables to the limit. At the end of the day, these tools (analogies and parables) serve only to illustrate a point. Stretched to a limit, they will all break down.
My respond does however sound like a cheat to escape the questions you raised. In any case, if I am reading you right, you've already answered your initial questions with your questions in the following paragraph. Not sure if I am making sense here. But take a look the last 2 paragraphs of your post. After reading them, my questions to you would be:
1. Doesn't a just God demand restitution?
2. Doesn't restitution require sacrifice?

alwyn said...

Hi Davin...i guess my 2nd paragraph is the very issue in question: should our (somewhat arbitrary and specualative?) understanding of divine demand for restitution be rethought in light of what we know about the pro-enemy teachings of Jesus, and so on?

and on that note, I'm actually quite intrigued by Boyd's highlight of a NON-penal substitutionary motif, which requires a deeper look at the OT (he also quoted Goldingay). I think it's possible we've traditionally read too much of modern law(!) into phrases like 'take away our sins'.

Dave said...

Well said, Davin! Perhaps it's difficult for us to grasp ideas like the imputation of guilt and suffering in corporate solidarity of another due to modernistic individualism? :)

Dr Leong Tien Fock, an OT prof, gave a great answer to the justice of atonement here:

alwyn said...

Dave, how would you link something like 'modernistic individualism' to this issue?

Thanks for the links. I do hope, though, that you can continue exploring the counter-arguments against the concept of PENAL substituion presented, e.g. in the analogy you gave about Jow Blow being punched out, I can understand that everything makes sense.

Yet the crucial question remains as to why someone needs to be punched out in the first place.

Will check out the second post (which looks quite comprehensive)...

What does anyone else think? in the meantime i'm trying to work out the 'spirit' to write a review to the 4 Views of Atonement - a book certainly worth discussing.

Dave said...

Alwyn, since we breathe in an age of individualism (further removed from the communal/corporate/ collective consciousness of OT/NT times, perhaps it makes us a bit difficult to appreciate how one person cud live or die in corporate solidarity for another..

Say, how would you link something like 'modern law' to penal substitutionary atonement?

I do hope the links help w the "counter-arguments" against the concept of PENAL substituion presented, let us know if something fresh comes up.

why someone needs to be punished for sins committed in the first place? Hm... That's a tough one. Perhaps Davin point us in the right direction... that God is holy seems a good place to begin :)