by Mike Ratliff
More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:11 ESV)
The very heart of Christianity is the doctrine of the Atonement. Is it no wonder that so many proclaiming a “new type of Christianity” also attempt to do away with this doctrine? Any attempts to redefine Christianity by modifying or eliminating this doctrine are marks of heresy. I have seen professing Christians argue and write off former brothers in the faith over aspects of our faith that are nowhere near as vital to orthodoxy as the doctrine of the Atonement. I have been cursed and called heretical because I have differed from those doing so on things like eschatology or on the Sovereignty of God. How can we do that to our brothers and sisters in Christ whose sins have been atoned for by Christ just as ours have? Emerging Christianity is a nebulously defined paradigm that sees doctrine as divisive and, therefore, unimportant. Its advocates want Christianity to be only about social and relational things and not about doctrine at all. To make that paradigm shift though requires a departure from Christian Orthodoxy because that also says that the Atonement of Christ is not something that should be what defines what real Christianity is or is not.
Also, to declare doctrine unimportant requires a departure from Sola Scriptura. Why? Sola Scriptura says that God’s Word defines our doctrines as given to the Church by God Himself. Our doctrines are not man-made. They are Biblical and so are binding on God’s people. Therefore, we will attempt to define the doctrine of the Atonement of Christ biblically.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV)
The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ includes a sinless and a bodily-resurrected Christ. Notice also the centrality of the biblical fact that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. No matter who attempts to detract from this, the Word of God is clear; the Death of Jesus Christ was sacrificial and necessary for Man’s redemption. I placed Romans 5:11 at the top of this post. Here it is in Greek: ου μονον δε αλλα και καυχωμενοι εν τω θεω δια του κυριου ημων ιησου χριστου δι ου νυν την καταλλαγην ελαβομεν (Romans 5:11 WHNU)
Not (ου) alone (μονον) but (δε) but (αλλα) also (και) boasting (καυχωμενοι) in (εν) the (τω) God (θεω) through (δια) the (του) Lord (κυριου) of us (ημων) Jesus (ιησου) Christ (χριστου) through (δι) whom (ου) now (νυν) the (την) atonement (καταλλαγην) we received (ελαβομεν). (Romans 5:11 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)
Combine this passage with 1 Corinthians 15:3,4 and it is difficult to see how anyone who claims adherence to Sola Scriptura could possibly deny the veracity of the doctrine of the Atonement of Christ. The ESV renders καταλλαγην as “reconciliation.” Καταλλαγην defines a change of condition in which relationship and/or standing is restored from one of separation to one of unity. Who has been reconciled to whom and how was it accomplished? These are important considerations. Paul states in Romans 5:11 that ελαβομεν this καταλλαγην. Ελαβομεν refers the action of receiving something presented, but the one doing the action is not necessarily the one “receiving” what is given. Ελαβομεν in this passage is aorist tense, indicative mood, and active voice. The means of believers “receiving” the καταλλαγην is given to us through the Lord Jesus. It is a gift. We see the means of its reality in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4 and Ephesians 2:8,9).
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)
The καταλλαγην was appropriated by God through Christ dying for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. This καταλλαγην, this atonment, is the means of making amends. All people are born in sin. All people are dead in their trespasses and sins. Those who are declared righteous by God are those on whose behalf the καταλλαγην was made. Never forget my brethren, God’s wrath burns against all sin. John 3:36 tells us that the wrath of God abides on the sinner, however, our Lord Jesus has made the atoning sacrifice acceptable to the Father for the sins of His people. Also, this atoning sacrifice is complete and eternal.
The merits of our great Redeemer are as sweet savour to the Most High. Whether we speak of the active or passive righteousness of Christ, there is an equal fragrance. There was a sweet savour in His active life by which He honoured the law of God, and made every precept to glitter like a precious jewel in the pure setting of His own person. Such, too, was His passive obedience, when He endured with unmurmuring submission, hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness, and at length sweat great drops of blood in Gethsemane, gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked out the hair, and was fastened to the cruel wood, that He might suffer the wrath of God in our behalf. These two things are sweet before the Most High; and for the sake of His doing and His dying, His substitutionary sufferings and His vicarious obedience, the Lord our God accepts us. What a preciousness must there be in Him to overcome our want of preciousness! What a sweet savour to put away our ill savour! What a cleansing power in His blood to take away sin such as ours! and what glory in His righteousness to make such unacceptable creatures to be accepted in the Beloved! Mark, believer, how sure and unchanging must be our acceptance, since it is in Him! Take care that you never doubt your acceptance in Jesus. You cannot be accepted without Christ; but, when you have received His merit, you cannot be unaccepted. Notwithstanding all your doubts, and fears, and sins, Jehovah’s gracious eye never looks upon you in anger; though He sees sin in you, in yourself, yet when He looks at you through Christ, He sees no sin. You are always accepted in Christ, are always blessed and dear to the Father’s heart. Therefore lift up a song, and as you see the smoking incense of the merit of the Saviour coming up, this evening, before the sapphire throne, let the incense of your praise go up also. – C.H. Spurgeon from Spurgeon’s Evening by Evening for March 28.
This short study does not do justice to such an important subject as the doctrine of the Atonement of Christ. We have barely scratched the surface. However, let us not forget that it through the Atonement of Christ we are reconciled to God, not the doctrine of the Atonement of Christ. It is vital that we adhere to God’s Truth not that of men. Truth is truth regardless of whether it is popular or believed. This is why true Christianity is made up of what must be believed by faith not sight. When man insists on his own way of Christianity it will be of the works of the flesh and devil and will not be focused on God’s Truth because those who do such a thing do not possess saving faith.
Soli Deo Gloria!