The Language of Atonement
There are a variety of ways to express the action and results of the doctrine of atonement. For example, payment for the debt of sin equals atonement; satisfaction of God's justice equals atonement; sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf equals atonement.
There are many other expressions that explain the idea that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross satisfies God's justice and permits Him to express His love towards us by offering forgiveness and reconciliation. The atonement of Christ demonstrates that we could never satisfy God's justice and obtain forgiveness on our own, Jesus does this. We can, however, accept the forgiveness offered to us by God, now that Jesus has made restitution on our behalf.
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
It is important to understand that Jesus has made full restitution for all of our sins. We cannot add or contribute to His payment for sin in any way with good deeds, sincerity or personal sacrifice.
Many people are under the impression that repentance is our way to make restitution to God. They believe that we make restitution through our repentance, and whatever we cannot do, Jesus makes up for it on the cross. Salvation is not a twelve-step program for alcoholics where they try to go back and make things right with people they have harmed with their addiction. This may help mend relationships with people here on earth, but does not repair the separation from God on account of these failures.
The doctrine of atonement teaches that Jesus' sacrifice makes restitution to God for all of our sins.
Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.
- Acts 22:16
Note here that Saul, the persecutor of Christians is told to wash away all his sins. Why? Jesus made restitution to God for all the evil Saul had done. We have no record of Saul going back to apologize or make restitution to anyone.
Atonement is how God deals with the restitution due to Him for all of our sins, especially those that are sometimes impossible to fix, like adultery, abortion, etc. Jesus' restitution is the only way to have peace when guilty of unfixable sins.
This is what we mean when we say that we cannot contribute anything towards our salvation, towards paying the price or making restitution to God. Like the song says, "Jesus paid it all." Atonement is the doctrine that this song is talking about.
So someone will say, "What about repentance, what about baptism?" Of course these have a place in the process of reconciliation, but we do not exchange these for our sins. In other words, repentance and baptism are not acts that make restitution for our sins. The cross of Christ does this.
Reconciliation is possible because restitution has been made by Jesus on our behalf and is offered on the condition that God has always required from His people, faith.
Reconciliation and forgiveness are offered to us based on our faith, not our personal goodness, or sacrifice or our ability to make restitution for our sins. God offers reconciliation to us based on faith because Christ has made restitution for us with His atoning death on the cross. We have only faith to offer because we cannot give anything else. The consent of our wills is all we have.
This faith is expressed in the following way:
We are asked to believe who Jesus is and what God has done for us through Him.
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
Repentance is a conscious decision to do away with sin in our lives, to acknowledge it because of Christ.
Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- Acts 2:38
Our belief leads us to acknowledge Jesus as the Lord and the Christ. We do not confess our sins; God knows our sins; we confess our faith in Christ.
36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" 37 [And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."]
- Acts 8:36-37
Baptism is an immersion in water in the name of, or because of our faith in Christ. Baptism cleanses the conscience because it is done by faith in Jesus.
He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
- Mark 16:16
Christians are called to remain faithful to Christ until death.
You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.
- Matthew 10:22
Faith is the active ingredient that gives these expressions their power. Responding to God with a proper expression of faith is not a "work" or "legalism," it is faith obeying in love.
There are many ways to express one's faith in God. Religions in the world have created thousands of different actions, traditions, ceremonies, etc. that are expressions of faith in a supreme being.
However, the five things I have mentioned are the ways that Jesus has taught that men are to respond to Him. Faith in Him and faith to receive forgiveness require these expressions; all others are useless since they are not given by Jesus.
Man is helpless because he is a sinner and will ultimately be condemned by God for it. Even if he wanted to, he could not give to God the perfect life necessary to pay for his sins, let alone the divine life to pay for everyone's sins.
God solves this problem by sending Jesus to live a perfect life and offer it up in death as a payment for the sins of men (this is what the doctrine of atonement explains).
Because of this, God is now free to offer forgiveness to all men through Jesus Christ.
This faith is properly and effectively expressed through belief, repentance, confession, baptism and faithfulness.
When we combine the first three sub-doctrines of election, predestination and atonement in one sentence, we can say: "God always knew that those in Christ would be saved by His atonement."