God's Method of Reconciliation

The Sub-Doctrine of Atonement - Part 1

This lesson will review how Christ's sacrifice (atonement) satisfies the requirements of God's perfect justice and love.
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The fifth biblical doctrine, reconciliation, says that God is restoring man to Himself through Jesus Christ. The following sub-doctrines explain the process of this reconciliation.

The sub-doctrine of Election explains how God chose Jesus Christ as the instrument through whom He would offer salvation to all men.

The sub-doctrine of Predestination describes the fact that God knew in advance that those who would be united to Christ by faith would be reconciled to Him.

In other words, when we put these two doctrines together we could say, "God always knew that those in Christ would be saved." I also mentioned that the value of the Restoration Movement is that this is where these biblical doctrines were rediscovered and taught to the masses.

In this chapter we will study the sub-doctrine of atonement. This sub-doctrine explains the method that God used to accomplish reconciliation. The word atonement comes from a Greek word which means to reconcile or to cause a change or an exchange. It is a change on the part of one party induced by the action on the part of another.

In the Bible the doctrine of atonement refers to the death of Jesus Christ as the means by which God and man became one and were restored to a state of friendly relationship. God changed His attitude towards man because of what Jesus did. God chose Jesus to accomplish atonement.

Here is how atonement works:

The Problem

1 Behold, the Lord's hand is not so short
That it cannot save;
Nor is His ear so dull
That it cannot hear.
2 But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
- Isaiah 59:1-2

Sin produces estrangement between God and man, like a wall that separates a couple if there is the sin of adultery. Man has betrayed God through sin.

The Extent

Sin is a universal phenomenon.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
- Romans 3:23
12Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
- Romans 5:12-14

The Result

The end result of sin is estrangement. It is a comprehensive separation that includes man and nature (environment disrupted), mankind itself (wars), as well as man and God (guilt, fear). The final result of this estrangement is death (separation of the soul from the body, and separation of the soul from God).

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 6:23

The Solution

Reconciliation with God.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
- Romans 5:6

There needs to be reconciliation with God in order to avoid spiritual death and permit some reconciliation between all of the other elements of the creation.

The death on the cross by Jesus is the action that brought about the change in God's relationship with sinful man. In other words, what Jesus did changed what God felt or how He viewed man.

  • Key question: Why not just forgive or destroy everybody? God is sovereign, who would dare question Him?
  • Answer: The problem with either of these solutions is found in God's character. He is perfect and perfectly balanced.

His perfect sense and execution of justice require that His laws be obeyed and the natural consequences of disobeying His laws be allowed to happen. His core law, revealed in the garden, said that disobedience leads to separation from Him (death).

16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die."
- Genesis 2:16-17

This is a core law and if God simply changed the law or suspended its consequences, He would not be perfect in justice. The fact that no one obeys perfectly is not a reason to change or suspend the law.

Another part of God's character is His perfect love. It was love that moved God to create the world, and it was this same love that moved Him to save the world He lovingly created.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
- John 3:16

The problem here can be stated in the following way: how can God express His perfect love in reconciling sinful man to Himself without violating His perfect sense of justice which demands satisfaction for breaking the law of God?

A further complication is that even with the knowledge of his disobedience and willingness to be reconciled to God, man is unable to make up for his disobedience and remove his own guilt and condemnation. God cannot violate the terms of His justice and let man go free, so what is needed is a solution that will satisfy, at the same time, both justice and mercy.

And so, the doctrine of atonement is the teaching that explains how God resolved this dilemma.

The Method = Atonement

and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
- I Peter 2:24

In this short verse Peter summarizes the doctrine of atonement. Jesus offers Himself up as a sinless sacrifice to pay the moral debt of all men. Let us break this idea down.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 6:23

Jesus' sacrifice satisfies God's perfect justice because the payment for all sin is made. The law that requires a price to be paid for disobedience has been satisfied once for all time. Disobedience causes death, and a death has been offered.

9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
- I John 4:9-10

God's perfect love is also satisfied in that He offers His own Son as sacrifice in order to rescue us from condemnation and death. In the cross of Christ, we see the perfect balance of God's justice and mercy working harmoniously in order to bring about reconciliation. The death of Jesus on the cross, this is the action which satisfies God's justice/debt for sin and changes His attitude from one of condemnation to one of forgiveness towards sinners. Unless the debt/justice is satisfied, there can be no forgiveness, and Jesus pays that debt. He makes atonement.

Personal Atonement

Many people think that they are fairly good, moral, decent people and are consequently right with God. We need to realize that no matter how good or moral we are, we could never atone for our own sins with our own lives, even if that life had many good and sincere deeds.

God's justice requires a sinless life to be offered, not just a pretty good life. The reason for this goes back to Adam. He was sinless when he was created and through sin he forfeited that sinless life. Everyone born after Adam is less than he was because the sin that began with him has spread to us. A sinless life needs to be offered up for the perfect life that was given to and forfeited by him. This is only just. One sinless life offered for one sinless life lost due to sin.

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.
- Romans 5:12, 18

No one, therefore, could live a perfect life and have such a life to offer as atonement, no matter how nice and moral they were. Even if a person wanted to offer their life, it would not be good enough to satisfy God's demand of a perfect life. This is why Jesus had to come in order to first, live a human life without sin, and then offer it to God through death as a payment for the life Adam forfeited through sin.

In addition to the perfection of His life, Jesus was also divine in nature so the value of His life was without measure (i.e. it is an issue of purchasing power: one pound of gold has greater purchasing power than one pound of copper). The perfect nature of Jesus' life made His sacrifice acceptable. The divine nature of His life made His sacrifice valuable to the extent that it atoned not only for Adam's sin, but for every sin committed for all time by all men.

There have been many people who have lived good lives and have even sacrificed their lives to save the lives of others, but only Jesus has both a perfect and divine life to offer God in exchange for the souls of all men.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you define "reconciliation" from a biblical perspective?
  2. What are the elements of God's method of reconciliation?
  3. What is atonement?
  4. What is meant by personal atonement (Romans 5:12; 18)?
  5. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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