Word of the Week: Atonement

On more occasions than I can count I have uttered the sentence, “Jesus died for our sins.” That Jesus died for our sins is the crux of the gospel. The glory of that sentence, “Jesus died for our sins” is even more meaningful than we often imagine. Jesus’ death atoned for our sins.

The atonement is a theological term meaning the satisfaction of divine justice in Jesus’ act of obedience on the cross.

Theological liberalism is embarrassed by the concept of divine wrath against sin and has avoided a theologically robust definition of the atonement. As Christians, we must grasp the truth of the atonement to better understand the glory of our salvation.

The Bible teaches the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. Don’t be intimidated by these terms. Penal means that we are sinful, and that our sins deserve punishment. Substitutionary means that Jesus took our place when he atoned for our sins by taking the punishment we deserve.

In his excellent book, The Cross of Christ, John Stott underscored the importance of this doctrine.

All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and humanity. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge that we are, namely “hell-deserving sinners,” then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we are astonished we never saw it before.

Stott, Cross, 111

The biblical doctrine of the atonement reminds us of three staggering truths that are deeper than we will ever fully grasp this side of eternity.

  1. God is more holy than we imagine.
  2. We are more sinful than we think.
  3. Jesus loves us more deeply than we deserve.

The atonement emphasizes God’s wrath against sin. The Bible is full of divine judgment against sin. From Adam and Eve being kicked out of the Garden, to the flood, to the plagues on Egypt, to the 40 years of wilderness wanderings, to the judgments and exiles upon Israel, to the cross, and through to the judgments described in the book of Revelation, the Bible is a book that declares judgment. Why does God judge so often? Well, God is supremely holy. He is more holy than we can imagine, and his standard for humanity is absolute perfection and holiness.

The other reason the Bible describes God’s judgments so often is that we are sinful. We are more sinful than we’d like to admit. Our motivations, desires, and longings are sinful. Our actions and dreams and words and ways are sinful. We are sinful.

Our sin deserves judgment. Thus, the cross and the penal substitutionary atonement. Jesus took our place, received in his body the punishment for our sins, and satisfied God’s wrath against sin (penal substitutionary atonement). Jesus’ death on the cross shouts loudly the staggering love of God for sinners.

At the cross in holy love God through Christ paid the full penalty of our disobedience himself. He bore the judgment we deserve in order to bring us the forgiveness we do not deserve. On the cross divine mercy and justice were equally expressed and eternally reconciled. God’s holy love was ‘satisfied.

Stott, Cross, 91.

What do we do with this glorious theological truth?

  • Meditate on the holiness of God.
  • Thank God for sending Jesus to take your place.
  • Worship God for the depth of his love.
  • Love God because he so loved you.
  • Follow Christ with your life because this is the only appropriate response to the atonement.

Photo by Luis Vidal on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Word of the Week: Atonement

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