*The 11th century theologian Anselm once wrote, “All defective views of the atonement have this one thing in common—they have not yet considered how grievous a thing sin is.” In many evangelical churches today and among many evangelical Christians there is a defective view of the atonement. If the average Christian was asked to explain the purpose of the cross of Christ, many would likely say, ‘To provide salvation’, which is correct. And if asked what the cross achieved? Many would say, ‘forgiveness’, which is also correct. However, if the average Christian was asked whether or not the cross was historically necessary, I fear that many would agree with the 13th century theologian Duns Scotus who held that not only was the cross not historically necessary, but neither was the death of Christ. In other words, God could have provided salvation through any means. God could have allowed an animal to die in the place of sinners or could have just forgiven people of their sins without requiring a sacrifice of any kind. God provided salvation through Christ simply because He chose to do so. Let’s remember the words of Anselm: “All defective views of the atonement have this one thing in common—they have not yet considered how grievous a thing sin is.”
In this six-part series, I will show both the historical and Christocentric necessity of the cross, as well as all that scripture tells us was accomplished at the cross. This can be seen in the various languages of atonement, all the adjectives the Bible uses to describe what Christ accomplished at Calvary. These words are reconciliation, the language of relationship; redemption, the language of commerce; propitiation, the language of wrath; sacrifice, the language of the temple; justification, the language of the courtroom; and victory, the language of the battlefield.
The first to be explored is ‘reconciliation’, the language of relationships. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:6-11). Reconciliation is the language of relationship. It come from the Greek word katallasso, which is a compound word from the words “kata”: against or according to, and “hallasso”: to change or exchange according to. Thus, it carries the idea of changing something from one thing into another or, regarding relationships, to change a relationship from one state of existence into another.
When the Bible talks about reconciliation between God and man, it is talking about changing our relationship from one state of existence into another. Thus, before we can address what was needed for reconciliation to occur between God and man, we must first address where the relationship was prior to that and how it got there. The question we must start with is this: What was the ground of the estrangement between God and humanity? This is because it is the ground of estrangement that must be dealt with. In other words, in order for there to be genuine peace and reconciliation between two estranged parties, the grounds of estrangement or the issue that caused the estrangement must be dealt with and reparation made for it if possible. And what we find in the Scripture is that there are two issues that had to be dealt with in order for there to be peace between God and lost sinners: (1) the offense and (2) the results of the offense.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom. 5:12-14). Paul is telling us that Adam was our federal representative, and so because Adam sinned all of his posterity was imputed with his guilt and became transgressors of the law even before the law was given.
Paul goes on to say, “And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous” (vv.16-19). Paul is drawing a parallel between Adam and Christ that those whom Adam represented were imputed with death, condemnation, and sinfulness as a result of Adam’s disobedience. Those whom Christ represented were imputed with life, justification, and righteousness as a result of Christ’s obedience to the law. This enables us to see that the ground of estrangement (the offense) that had to be dealt with in order to reconcile us to God was the disobedience of Adam. The results of this offense were the imputation of death, condemnation, and sin to all whom Adam represented. Thus, Christ had to come as the second Adam and live a life of obedience to the Father, thus imputing life, justification, and righteousness to all whom he represented.
However, a second result of Adam’s offense has to do with the way in which it affected our disposition. Scripture tells us that “those who live according to the flesh [unbelievers] set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit [believers] set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Believers are those who walk according to the Spirit, not the flesh” (Rom. 8:7-8). Unbelievers are hostile toward God and will not and cannot submit to His laws. And John tells us that “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (3:36). Because of Adam’s sin, man’s hostility burns against God, and God’s wrath burns against man. This is the result of the offense that had to be dealt with, which brings me to the main point of this article. How was it dealt with?
We read in scripture, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col. 1:19-22). When Christ died on the cross, he satisfied the wrath of God toward all for whom he died. Furthermore, Christ’s death has a regenerating effect upon those for whom He died. In other words, when an elect person hears the gospel, the word of the cross, his hostility toward God is removed and replaced with love, and his heart of stone is replaced with a heart of flesh. Thus, the cross of Christ achieved reconciliation between God and man in that it satisfied the wrath of God toward the elect, and upon hearing the gospel is removes the heart of hostility from the elect, thus reconciling the two together. The death of Christ did not merely make reconciliation possible; it secured it.
What is the benefit of knowing and understanding this? Three applications. First, if you go back and look at all the passages in the Bible that deal with reconciliation between God and man (Rom 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:17-19; Col 1:19-22; Eph 2:11-18), what you see is that throughout all these passages God is the initiator. God is the one who takes the initiative to bring about reconciliation between himself and those who have sinned against him. Thus, we should be willing to do the same. Jesus tells us, “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (John 5:48). And Peter tells us that Christ left “you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” When we have been wronged, when we have been sinned against, as God’s children we must be the ones to take the initiative to reconcile the relationship. Yet so often this is not what happens. So often we think to ourselves, ‘I’m not the one who did anything wrong. They’re the one who sinned against me, so they should come to me to fix the relationship.’ Aren’t we glad God doesn’t think that way? Aren’t we glad that after Adam sinned against God, God didn’t say, ‘Well they’re the ones who sinned against me, so they should come to me.’ Instead, we read: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself” (2 Cor 5:18). Though we are the ones who sinned against God, though we are the ones who wronged God, it was God who reconciled us to himself. We should be willing to do likewise.
Second, just as God dealt with the ground of estrangement, we must also be willing to deal with the ground of estrangement between us and a someone else. Not just address or acknowledge the ground of estrangement but deal with it and correct it. If you have wronged someone else, don’t just apologize, don’t just ask for forgiveness, but be willing to go the extra mile to do whatever is necessary to mend the relationship. And if you’ve been wronged by someone and they’ve asked for forgiveness, don’t just forgive them, but then invite them to your home for dinner and let them know that you have truly forgiven them, and the relationship is just as it was.
Third, the price that was paid to bring about our reconciliation with God was costly. It required the total obedience of Christ, the sacrifice of His life, and the shedding of His precious blood. Understand, to reconcile an estranged relationship will be costly. It will cost you your pride and your arrogance. It will require you to go to that person in humility to admit to your sin, and to acknowledge your mistake. But if you truly love God and are truly grateful for what He has done for you, then you should have a genuine love for your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. If you truly love your family in Christ, then you should be willing to reconcile estranged relationships. God is greatly glorified when his Church is unified, when Christians have a genuine love for one another and are able to live and fellowship with one another in peace and harmony.
*This article series has been adapted from a sermon series delivered by Hexon J. Maldonado (2009).
*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
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