Atonement: In what sense did Christ atone for our sins?
The apostle Paul speaks of this in his writings.
11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now receivedthe atonement. [Emphasis added]
What is this? Of what significance is it? Even though I use and love the King James Version [KJV] translation of the Bible, this is one place of many passages where we need help to understand it. Some words and their meaning can change in just one generation, but here we’re talking about a situation where over 400 years have passed. In our time, we’d use words like reparation, restitution, or payment. The word atonement involves an act where something is done to satisfy the just demands of the one offended so that peace and harmony between the two can be restored. Other words that could be used would be expiation or propitiation. Whatever term is used, it involves the act of satisfying the just demands of the party that was offended. In this case, we’re talking about God being offended by our sins.
In Israel of old, there was what is often referred to as The Day of Atonement. This was the day the high priest of Israel offered [at his own expense] a bullock for a sin offering; and he also offered [at public expense] for himself and his priestly family two goats and a ram for a burnt offering. These served as an offering for the people of Israel. The one goat “for Jehovah” was sacrificed as a sin offering and its blood sprinkled on [that is, in front of] the mercy seat [as with the bullock]. The other goat was “for Azazel,” the scapegoat. On his head the high priest laid his hands, confessing the sins of the people. Then this goat was led by a chosen man into the wilderness and let loose. These goats have been held to typify the complete payment for man’s sins that Christ made on the cross.
II Corinthians 5:21
21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added]
We are actually made the righteousness of God when we accept Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as the sole basis for our salvation.
I Peter 2:24
24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. [Emphasis added]
This work of “atonement” was not done just for some, but for all mankind.
29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. [Emphasis added]
I John 2:2
2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.[Emphasis added]
The passage of Romans 5:1 where the word atonement is used is one of many in our English translation of the Scriptures where it is necessary to consult the original language to ensure we have the proper understanding of what the apostle was seeking to convey. When we do so, we find that the Greek word KATALLAGE or “reconciliation” is used. It is understandable that the KJV translators used the term atonement because in their day the term meant “agreement, concord, or reconciliation after enmity or controversy.” [In all three of the other passages where this same word is found, the KJV translates it reconciliation (Romans 11:15; II Corinthians 5:18,19)]
For the sake of clarification, in contemporary language, the word atonement obscures the meaning of the passage. The emphasis of Paul’s special revelation here is on reconciliation, not atonement, as confirmed by the Greek text. The Hebrew word kaphar, translated “atonement” in the Old Testament meant “to cover.” Hence, the blood of bulls and goats merely covered the sins of those in Old Testament times; it didn’t have the efficacy to remove or forgive them.
11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: [Emphasis added]
Through the forbearance of God those sins that were atoned for in times past are now removed on the basis of the shed blood of Christ.
25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
The apostle Paul teaches that forgiveness comes by way of the blood of Christ and salvation comes when we accept by faith what Christ did for us. It is at that point that we are credited with the righteousness of God providing justification. It is because of this that we are able to escape the wrath of God.
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.[Emphasis added]
What joy and what peace of mind comes to us when we realize we are no longer the objects of God’s wrath.
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: [Emphasis added]
God did a work of providing for and extending reconciliation to us, but when we accept it by faith in Christ’s work, complete reconciliation and salvation become ours forever. Even though Christ performed a complete work of reconciliation on the cross, man must accept or receive that work for salvation to occur. That’s why all mankind has be given a command to be reconciled unto God. Obviously full or complete reconciliation between man and God has not been provided or there would be no need to command for it to occur.
II Corinthians 5:20
20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
It is faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ that must be expressed for this full and complete reconciliation between the two parties to occur. Until then man remains the enemy to God. That’s why all of us as believers need to see ourselves as having a valuable message to present to the world. Having this message puts us all in this “ministry of reconciliation.” Any unbeliever you know can be reconciled to God, but until they put their faith in Christ they remain as an enemy to God.
14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us [Jews and Gentiles];
15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man [the body of Christ], so making peace;
16 And that he might reconcile both unto God [faith in Christ must be expressed] in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
In times past, only Israel had a blessed relationship with God. Today, through the work of Christ, both Jew and Gentile can be brought to God for complete reconciliation.
II Corinthians 5:18
18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; [Emphasis added]
Yes, we should all see ourselves as ones in “the ministry.” We have a wonderful message to serve up to others. There’s no greater joy than what is found in letting others know about the free salvation God extends to all through simply believing in what He has provided through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. It is this reconciliation that is the subject-matter of Romans 5:11, not atonement. At the cross Christ didn’t just cover mankind’s sin debt for a time, He canceled it!
11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received [by faith in Christ] the atonement [reconciliation]. [Emphasis added]
Instead of being concerned that we must do something about our sins to gain salvation, we can now find peace of mind by knowing how Jesus Christ resolved that problem for us once and for all at the cross. Salvation becomes ours forever by simply receiving or accepting by faith what He did for us.
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