God's Nature: The Basis
of Atonement Lesson 1 October 4, 2008
God's Nature: The Basis of Atonement
October 4, 2008
The Doctrine of Atonement
“Atonement” is a theological word that scares some people; it’s not used in ordinary day-to-day conversation. It means “reconciliation.”
But “reconciliation” is also a rather long word for day-to-day conversation. To be “at one” is the idea; but it means to be “at one” after there has been separation of heart due to ill feeling.
In our case, the ill feeling is totally ours; God has never ceased to be “at one” with us in heart. The Father “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son ... ,” and ever since then He has been “at one” with us.
You will say, “But we are sinful, in thought, in word, and in act! How could God be ‘at one’ with us before we become ‘at one’ with Him through conversion?”
The answer: because the divine Son of God has taken all our sin upon Himself, and borne the pain of the guilt of the whole world (“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” says John the Baptist; John 1:29).
Let’s explore what John says:
The Son of God has done something for the world that is far beyond merely making an offer to the world (“I’ll do this or that IF you first do something ... !”). No; the Son of God has taken upon Himself the sin of the entire world and has already borne its total guilt, which killed Him. What He did He did solely from His own initiative.
There is no way that we can make sense of that except to realize that Christ has given, not merely offered, every sinner what the Bible says is a “judicial verdict of acquittal” from sin. Paul tells the story in Romans so clearly that it’s like a shaft of sunlight in a dark room:
“All alike have sinned, and are deprived of the divine glory; and all are justified by God’s free grace alone, through His act of liberation in the person of Christ Jesus. For God designed Him to be the means of expiating sin by His death, effective through faith. ...
“God’s act of grace is out of all proportion to Adam’s wrongdoing. For if the wrongdoing of that one man brought death upon so many, its effect is vastly exceeded by the grace of God and the gift that came to so many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ. And again, the gift of God [not His mere offer!] is not to be compared in its effect with that one man’s sin; for the judicial action, following on the one offence [of Adam] resulted in a verdict of condemnation, but the act of grace, following on so many misdeeds, resulted in a verdict of acquittal. ...
“It follows, then, that as the result of one misdeed was condemnation for all people, so the result of one righteous act is acquittal and life for all” (5:15-21, REB).
[Note: since the world began, there has been only one “righteous act,” the self-giving sacrifice of Jesus!]
But a question bothers many: if we believe what Paul says, that Christ has given every man that “judicial verdict of acquittal,” won’t sinners take advantage of it and go on sinning all the more? Isn’t fear of hell a healthy method of getting people to stop sinning?
It may seem so; but only because the Old Covenant plays on the fear motivation. People who try to keep God’s commandments because they are motivated by fear are what the Bible calls “under the law,” but not “under grace.” The fear motivation may produce a temporary change of reformation of life-practice; but this fear-Old-Covenant motivation can never prepare a people to be ready for translation at the second coming of Jesus, when “the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God [when] the dead in Christ shall rise first [and] we which are alive shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). A better motivation than fear must be found!
And what is the “constraint” of the love (agape) of Christ which makes it impossible for the one who appreciates that love and what it cost the Son of God to save him, to go on living for himself? Why is he “henceforth” “constrained” or motivated to live unto the One who died for him and rose again (see the passage in 2 Cor 5:14, 15)?
It’s not a “burden” to serve the Lord Jesus! No sacrifice for Him is “grievous” (see 1 John 5:3).
The “present truth” Good News? (see 2 Peter 1:12, for that expression).
Around the world in every nation and culture of people, the Holy Spirit is now preparing a “remnant” who have overcome the old egocentric motivation of self-righteousness, and received in their hearts joyfully the new motivation of grace.
Who are they? They are the people symbolized by the story of the “144,000” who by the grace of God are “without guile,” who “follow the Lamb [the crucified Christ] whithersoever He goeth” (see Rev. 14:1-5).
Is there room among them for you and me?
Yes, by this matchless grace of our Savior, Jesus Christ! Let’s be thankful that probation has not yet closed.
—Robert J. Wieland
(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)
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