With the resurgence of lay movements within the Church, it is increasingly important that we who are laymen have a clear understanding of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. Christ founded his church with laymen, and they should remain the strength and stay of every department of his work.

I want us to think about a word that carries deep spiritual significance, one whose concept is absolutely essential to the Christian faith. That word is atonement.

At the level of our worldly experience, atonement means a satisfactory reparation for an offense or injury. Unjust as some awards may be, payment for injury to persons and property resulting from an automobile accident, for instance, carries with it the idea of an atonement to the one injured.

In the realm of the spirit and of theological usage the Atonement means “at-one-ment” between God and man, made possible by Christ’s death on the cross for our sins and all that is implied thereby.

We must frankly admit that no one definition of the Atonement can possibly cover all the marvelous facets of this sublime truth. What is very clear in biblical teaching, however, is that Christ died for our sins, taking upon himself the penalty rightly belonging to us, so that, through faith in him, we are freed from our penalty and guilt.

There are immediate as well as eternal results of the atonement that transcend many other doctrines of Christianity. In fact, many other doctrines revolve around the central truth that Christ, God’s Son, came into this world to make atonement for our sins.

Man’s need for the Atonement goes back to the basic problem of sin.

Sin is a universal disease; it affects all men everywhere. Our news media daily recount multiplied acts of overt sin against God and man, and if we are honest we will face the dismal fact that we ourselves daily sin against God in thought, word, and deed. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

And sin has its effect: its wages are death—separation from God. Man’s need for the Atonement can be understood only in the light of God’s holiness. Because of that holiness, fellowship is impossible, for between unregenerate man and this holy God there is a gulf of separation across which no man can pass.

The atonement of Christ, designed in the councils of eternity and carried out on the Cross of Calvary, is God’s marvelous way of combining in one glorious act his holiness, righteousness, and justice with his love, mercy, and forgiveness. It is the bridging of the chasm.

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On the Cross we have the eternal Son of God, also the perfect Son of man—the only person who ever lived who could take on himself the guilt, the penalty, and all the implications of sin and make it possible for the believer to be completely transformed into a new person, righteous in God’s sight.

These are not my ideas but the clear teachings of the Bible. To evade them requires rejection of words capable of no other honest interpretation.

But some quickly object: Does this not make God a vengeful being, full of hate that can be only requited by the sacrifice of his Son? Just the opposite is the case. It is because of his great love for mankind that God provided atonement through his own Son, whose death alone would suffice.

Perhaps man’s greatest stumbling block is his unwillingness to admit either the awfulness of sin, with its rebellion against God, or the holiness of God, into whose presence nothing unclean or rebellious can come. Recognize these two truths and all other implications of the atonement fall into a glorious picture of God’s love and grace.

Humanists and others may reject the truth of the substitutionary atonement, saying that it makes God a bloody tyrant, willing to forgive only on the basis of the sufferings and death of a sacrificial victim. These people speak of the blood atonement as a “slaughterhouse religion.”

But if God loved us enough to send his Son to redeem us, there must have been a valid reason. Certainly it was not a matter of tyranny, but rather of the magnitude of sin’s offense and the necessity for the greatest possible sacrifice—the death of God’s own Son.

What is man that he should argue with his Creator? Who is he that he should question his Redeemer? How can he rightly question the God-designed method whereby he may be freed from the guilt and penalty of sin? Surely God is neither arbitrary nor unreasonable in laying down the terms of his own free gift.

In the Atonement the Lord Jesus Christ has done something for us that no one can do for himself. Salvation is a matter of believing, not achieving; of accepting God’s gracious gift by faith and in no other way.

The great marvel of the Atonement is its end result for mankind. Through our faith in Christ our sins and guilt are imputed to him—he has become sin in our stead—and his righteousness is imputed to us so that we, redeemed sinners, become righteous in God’s sight. Impossible? We have God’s word that it is true. Unbelievable? Not when viewed in the light of God’s love. Unacceptable? Only to those who willfully reject it—and who are therefore lost.

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The Apostle Peter writes, “And he personally bore our sins on the Cross, so that we might be dead to sin and alive to all that is good. It was the suffering that he bore that has healed you” (1 Pet. 2:24, Phillips).

The Apostle Paul is equally explicit about the Atonement: “For I passed on to you Corinthians first of all the message I had myself received—that Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures said he would; that he was buried and rose again on the third day, again as the Scriptures foretold” (1 Cor. 15:3, 4, Phillips).

Christ’s atonement for our sins was foreshadowed in the Old Testament sacrifices: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11).

How serious it is if we reject God’s offer! The writer of Hebrews warns, “If we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who violated the law of Moses died without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:26–29).

Those confronted by an epidemic (cholera, for instance) may gain immunity from the disease by receiving an injection of vaccine. Men, all of whom are confronted by the fact of sin and its consequences, may receive forgiveness and eternal life by receiving into their hearts Jesus Christ and his atonement for them.

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