atonement

This week’s word is a theological term, soteriology. It means the doctrine of salvation.

Previous posts on atonement, redemption, regeneration, election, and justification address various aspects of the doctrine of salvation. Future posts will unpack more specific aspects of the doctrine.

As a panoramic view of the mountains contains multifaceted views, colors, shadows, and wonder so the doctrine of soteriology is dynamic and beautiful. The aim of this post is to remind us of the wonder, grandeur, and multifaceted glory of the doctrine of soteriology.

We often think of the Bible as a book about salvation. And it is. But the Bible is about more than salvation for us, the Bible is a book about God and his glory. In God’s greatness and glory, he sent his only Son, Jesus Christ to earth. Jesus came to earth to reveal God (John 1:14), to show us God’s love (John 3:16), to set us free through the truth (John 8:32), and to offer us eternal life by knowing him (John 17:3). In truth, Jesus is the storyline of Scripture.

As regards humanity, Jesus came to earth to be our Savior and our Lord.

Why do we need this doctrine? Why do we need salvation?

The doctrine of soteriology connects with the doctrines of humanity (who we are), sin (why we need salvation), and Christ (the One who saves). We need salvation from Jesus Christ because we have been made in God’s image (Genesis 1:28). We need salvation from Jesus Christ because we are sinners who have broken God’s laws (Genesis 3; Romans 3:23). We need salvation because unless God saves, we are hopeless to save ourselves.

The various aspects of soteriology teach us glorious truths about our salvation.

  • In election we learn that God planned our salvation from eternity.
  • In regeneration we learn that God made us alive from our condition of being spiritually dead.
  • In atonement we learn that Jesus became our substitute so that our sin could be paid for.
  • In redemption we learn that God bought us out of our slavery to sin and freed us.
  • In justification we learn that God declares us righteous through Christ.
  • In sanctification we learn that God made us holy and is working in us to make us more like Christ.
  • In adoption we learn that God chose us to be in his family and has made us his heirs.
  • In union with Christ we learn that God has given us a unique personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • In glorification we learn that God will give us eternal, glorious bodies like that of the risen Christ.

And there are more aspects to salvation than just these.

We often ask, “Are you saved?” And that’s an appropriate question. But it is multifaceted and more glorious than we can possibly imagine.

The doctrine of soteriology puts us in our appropriate place in the universe. The glories, depths, and wonders of our salvation far exceed our own personal experiences in being saved. God’s work in salvation is eternal in its scope (from before creation until after consummation), universal in its extent (available for the entire world), costly in its accomplishment (Jesus gave his life), personal in its invitation (for you and for me), and glorious in its result (God’s redemption of us through Christ reveals his glory).

What do we do with this doctrine?

First, receive it. If you have not yet repented of your sin and trusted in Christ alone, then do so now. Admit you are a sinner. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. Commit your life to Jesus as Lord.

Second, worship from it. If you have received Jesus as Lord and Savior, then worship the God who did so much to bring you salvation. He is worthy. Let your salvation drive your worship of the Lord who loves you.

Third, learn about it. Don’t just be content that you are saved. Read Scripture, learn about God, go to church, listen in a small group, read good theological books. Our salvation is deeper and more glorious than we can ever fathom, and yet God gives us the privilege to know him and know his saving work in our lives.

Fourth, share it with others. Be thankful that God loves you, and sent Jesus to save you. But God does not just want to save you only. He sent Jesus to save the world. Be a witness to God’s saving work for someone else.

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