The biblical teaching on the Atonement is vital for the integrity of the Christian faith, for the proclamation of the gospel, and for the health of the church.
This teaching and its clarification is actually embedded in the book of Galatians.
We are justified by Christ Himself. The word of the cross is the power of God, and preaching the gospel is preaching the cross: preaching Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1;17; 2:2). We are justified by the objective work of Christ on the cross. The basis of our justification is that Christ has died for us. A double exchange of significance has taken place at the cross; God ‘made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God’ (2Cor. 5:21). The double exchange is at the heart of the gospel: our sin was imputed to Christ; Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.
Chist has taken what is ours in our fallen human nature (he was made sin) in order that we might become by grace what is his in his human nature (we become the righteousness of God).
This is ‘Christ’s finished work’. It does not take place because we believe or after we believe; it took place on the cross. There our sins were imputed to him; there God deals with the objective grounds for his alienation from us. God has done the reconciling – the reconciliation accomplished for us by Christ, offered to us by God though the message of the gospel, and made ours by faith.
The atoning work of Christ is thus completed already – God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting humans’ sins against them – this has happened; it has taken place at the cross.
Paul said that one has died for all, therefore all have died. The death has been completed. But in what sense have all died? In the same sense as Paul teaches in Colossians 2:11-12 and 3:3, with Christ in His death – all have died to sin, in Christ’s death to sin (Rom. 6:2, 6-8).
We died with Christ, in the death of Christ, because He died that death as our representative-substitute. If Christ died for us, we died in Christ. But not all can be said to have ‘died with Christ’ in His death; only those who believe (by faith) can claim this reality. Those who have died in and with Christ have died to the old Adamic order.
The price of our reconciliation was Christ’s alienation; He took from His Father the cup of judgement (the cup of wrath) which He drinks to the bitter dregs on the cross. On the cross He became the scapegoat of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:6-10, 20-22), bearing our guilt out into the uninhabited desert.
He takes our sin and gives us His righteousness – this is the heart of the atonement. It is this objective exchange that lies at the heart of the gospel. It takes place at the cross – hence we cannot preach the gospel without preaching the cross and Christ-crucified.
The Father Himself in love planned and enabled the death of Christ for us (John 3:16). The harmony of the Trinity and the nature of the atonement are a demonstration of the Father’s love (Rom. 5:8); God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ – this has taken place at the cross. But Christ willingly obeyed the Father in this process of reconciliation – in love for us, and in absolute obedience and submission to his Father, with the enabling of the Spirit, he went to the cross. Hence the Triune God is involved in our redemption and reconciliation.
The preaching of the atonement is the preaching of Christ crucified. To preach the gospel is to preach Christ as Saviour – it is the means by which God brings into His kingdom those whom He gave to His Son before the foundation of the world, and for whom His Son shed HIs precious and effectual blood.
We have looked at the subject of the Atonement in the previous sharing and we noted what lies at the heart of the gospel – a double exchange: our sin was imputed to Christ; Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.
If we ponder over what this means, it would surely deepen our worship of the Triune God and also the intensity of our gratitude toward the Three-in-One.
The exchange can only take place if we are convicted that we have sinned and the consequence of our sin is death (physical and spiritual). This conviction should be accompanied by a deep repentance, acknowledging that we are helpless and hopeless in saving ourselves and we need someone to ‘save’ and ‘redeem’ us.
This someone must have our same human nature (for humankind transgresses against God), and this one must also be someone without sin, and is not among those who are heading for condemnation, damnation, and judgement. He must also be one who is willing to pay the penalty of our sin in full, and is able to allow God to be just and also the justifier of man by taking the judgement and wrath that is due to mankind on himself.
The double exchange can only take place by the power and love of the Triune God, for not only must Satan be defeated, death also has to be conquered, and the resurrection must take place subsequently for the exchange and victory to be sealed once and forever.
All these are completed and finished at the cross with the Son of God obeying the will of the Father and enduring to the point when He could utter, “It is finished”.
It is no wonder that Paul exclaimed in 1 Corinthians 2:2:- “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. It is equally understandable why Paul uttered “Anathema” to those who preached the wrong gospel in Galatians 1:8-9 (meaning ‘be under God’s curse’).
It becomes clear then that we are not saved by our own works (or by keeping the law); it is equally true that we are not saved by just a theological understanding and acknowledgement of what happened at the cross; we are saved by the all-demanding, all-consuming Son-in-the-flesh- forsaking activity of the God of grace. The Lord Jesus had said that no greater love is like that of a person who died for his/her friend. But here is the heavenly Friend who, in love, in obedience to His Father, willingly suffered, was mocked, whipped, stripped naked, crucified, not for his sin and transgression, but for all his enemies’ and rebels’ sin from all generations of mankind! He, together with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, effected the double exchange at the cross for all those who believe. We died in Him, died to the law; died to the guilt and power of sin; died to the bondage of the devil – rose to life with Him, forsaking the Adamic order, adopted to be children of the living God, with an inheritance and glory yet to be consummated in the new heaven and new earth. What a Saviour! What grace and mercy! What intensed and all-consuming Love! – it took place and was completed at the cross for all those God has chosen from the foundation of this world.