77 Questions About the Atonement (Q&A) [complete]

Ronald L. Roper

What follows is a revision of my “77 Questions on Atonement (Q&A)”, a playfully catechetical exposition of a resurrectionary re-centering of Christian teaching about the Atonement.  The original version was written during the two weeks preceding Pentecost Sunday, May 2007.  The corrections, clarifications, and suggestions gleaned mainly during the few months following its dissemination as an e-mail attachment were incorporated in a second edition in preparation for Pentecost season, 2009.  Those intervening two years brought much elaboration of detail and many minor breakthroughs, but no fundamental alteration of approach.  This may have been due in no small part to an unhurried (indeed unsuspected) mounting of insights gathered over decades of study until a critical mass was reached.  I did not include Scripture references since I aimed to bring to the surface and quickly consolidate several exceedingly important, occasionally subtle, but seemingly forgotten connections among biblical contexts and concepts, yet without interrupting the flow of thought by features that might distract.  This also accounts for my routine use of long sentences, which, though irritating, I know, and hence regrettable, still seem to me the best vehicle for splicing back together what our traditions have strangely and even more regrettably separated, to our grievous loss.  Similarly, I readily confess to considerable repetition and over-qualifying of explanations.  Again, these seem the lesser of evils in an attempt at doctrinal restoration.  I hope I may be forgiven such stylistic barbarisms so long as I have conveyed a truer understanding of the faith once-for-all delivered.  But you must be the judge of that.

Since key elements of this configuration finally clicked together quite suddenly for me, effecting something of a personal paradigm switch, I fondly hope this question/answer format facilitates such clarification for you as well.  Perhaps this somewhat stylized repartee will reinforce Spirit-led intuitions that have come to you in your own study of the Bible, from time to time, on this subject.  Many a familiar Scripture passage will suggest itself as you proceed through the Q&A’s.  My vocabulary and phraseology, however, may seem unfamiliar; here I beg your patience as their inner logic unfolds.  I wish to thank Herb Schlossberg for his critical thoughts about these matters.  I have also tried to compensate for these difficulties by steering clear of technical theological terminology, where at all possible.

For reasons similar to the above, I have not quoted or cited other authors, although my debt is great to a host of them down the centuries, as may be evident to the alert reader.  [You may now refer to the nominal “blogroll” at the right for many of my valued mentors.]  I must take a moment to express special thanks for the scholarly critique of Peter H. Davids, who rendered courteous and valuable responses at dozens of places in the text, and also to my friend Ralph Vunderink for stimulating interaction and counter-thoughts from his own authoring of a recent chapter on the atonement for a Festschrift.  Ted Gossard kindly served as an intelligent sounding board over many a late-night coffeehouse discussion.  Several people urged me to add an introduction.  The wonderful staff of librarians at the Steelcase Library of Grand Valley State University (Pew Campus) have been endlessly helpful, accommodating, and patient with me as a guest user of their computer lab.  Finally, inexpressible thanks are due to Dean Luurtsema, without whose saintly indulgence the original version surely would not have been written.  Naturally, none of the above is to be held responsible for the errors that remain.  This piece is meant as a popular and edifying treatment in preparation for a thoroughly documented work where I hope to satisfy the normal reflex to check sources.  Your own comments, criticisms, and hesitations would likewise be most welcome.  Here’s nothing that can’t be improved!  Without further ado, as an esteemed former mentor of mine used to conclude his editorials, “Come, let us reason together.”

1.     Why did God become a human being? (“Cur Deus homo?”)

God’s personal Explanation of graciousness and truth (troth—covenantal loyalty, solemn pledge of fidelity, veracity of one’s promises, faithfulness to binding commitments) through which everything in the universe exists, was begotten after His kind before the ages of time.  In time he became a human being by emptying his entire divine contents, graciousness and troth, out of his glorious celestial form and letting God adapt to it the humble earthly form of a slave—a mortal body descended from Adam, Abraham, and King David, composed of deteriorating, craving flesh just like our own.  His divine Spirit and human flesh combined into a unique living soul, Jesus of Nazareth, so that in the power of the Holy Spirit, successively increased by virtue of his steady growth in graciousness through learning obedience and nobly resisting every temptation and attack of Satan, making no provision to consummate the covetousness or lusts of his mortal flesh, he could thereby become worthy of an incomparably great reward upon sacrificing it all, in the sight of his upright and observant Father, at the cruel hand of Satan, while committing his existence to the faithful Creator in expectancy of an unfailing display of His justice in return.  And he was not disappointed.  Thus not only could he teach the true way of life with real authority, but he could walk it confidently to its bitter end, our Example.  Hence, he was recompensed so abundantly that we too, as his fellow but fallen human beings, can share bountifully in his reward, even now.  Beyond that, we can have expectation of outliving our deaths and inheriting allotments in his promised Kingdom on the new earth.  Unless Jesus, though fully Deity as the only-born Son of God, had been anointed additionally with the Holy Spirit beyond the measure of his human peers, he would have been as powerless to become worthy of supreme exaltation as any other of Adam’s fated progeny.  Further, had he not been fully human as the son of mankind, the overcompensation for which he qualified could not have accrued to the rest of mankind but would be alien to our kind.  Yet in Scripture God promised Abraham a vast multitude of descendants and pledged to David a Son to reign on his throne for the ages.  Therefore, being uniquely begotten by God his Father through the Holy Spirit, and getting born into the world miraculously through the virgin Mary, Jesus, by means of his historic Crucifixion and Resurrection, became a “second Adam” and therefore head of a new humanity, winning prodigious benefits from God that could properly devolve on the collective body of all who trust in him and hence get born above as citizens of New Jerusalem, adopted as his siblings to become fellow heirs in the future new earth.

2.     Wasn’t Adam’s sin imputed to his descendants?

This is altogether contrary to sound teaching.  Rather, because of his sin, Adam suffered the penalty of losing access to the Tree of Life and therefore eventually died.  All his descendants automatically lost this right, too.  Thus death passed down to all mankind and reigned unchallenged over the whole race, whereupon, perforce, everyone became enslaved to sin, which in turn reigned in the resultant cravings and pervasive fear of death.  Sin became endemic and, but for divine intervention, all but inescapable—a raging tyrant.

3.     Isn’t Adam’s ‘original sin’ washed away at baptism?

Since Adam’s own sin was not in fact imputed to following generations, and only the penalty of that sin continued to reign, namely, death (through being deprived of the regenerating fruit), then that original sin, no less or more than any other, was dealt with by Christ’s achievement in the same way as everyone else’s.  Since that sin itself was not passed on to Adam’s descendants, naturally there is no need for any of us to get cleansed from it, by baptism or otherwise.

 4.     Weren’t our sins imputed to Christ at the Cross?

The Scriptures say nothing like this, and if they don’t teach it, we are not obliged to believe it.  They say that Jesus bore or carried our sins—a very different matter.  God surrendered him to the sins of his people to suffer their abuse and thereafter to receive an overcompensating reward for his heroism in this mortal combat that overturned Satan’s strategy in a sting operation on a cosmic scale.

5.     Aren’t Christ’s merits transferred to our account when we have faith in Him?

The Scriptures do not speak of merits at all, much less any transfer of them from the Lord to others, nor of any requisite penance or purgatorial atoning for wrongdoing.  This vocabulary is medieval in origin and an impediment to sound apostolic understanding.  The Lamb, indeed, is worthy, but his worthiness is never spoken of as divisible or legally transferrable as merit.

 6.     Isn’t Christ’s righteousness imputed to our account when we believe?

The Scriptures do not warrant such an idea.  Paul never so much as mentions “the righteousness of Christ” in so many words, much less in connection with its imputation to sinners who believe.  To be sure, God’s resurrectionary righteousness devolves on faith, but no imputation of Christ’s personal moral rectitude to anyone else is ever implied.  Rather, our own faith is imputed or accounted or reckoned as uprightness because it is not a work at all, so is perfectly compatible with the graciousness of God’s giving the indescribable gift flowing from His restorative justice to Jesus the Savior, namely, His Holy Spirit.  This New Covenant dispensation of righteousness comprises the transfer of gigantic loads of pure Spirit from His heart to ours, out of assertive love!  It is in this precise way that God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is “our righteousness.”

 7.     What is “the righteousness of God”, and how was it manifested at the Cross?

God’s righteousness is His just disposition that both penalizes the wrong and rewards the right.  In Paul’s letters, the expression almost exclusively refers to the latter, in particular, God’s rewarding Jesus by raising him from the dead and exalting him to His throne of glory.  The just award given to Christ by this upright judicial decision of God, the power of resurrection life, is in turn graciously bestowed as a free gift, via the Holy Spirit, on all who have faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord.  This is the justice that we enjoy by faith, not through human works of the Law of Moses.  Exclusively through the faithfulness of Jesus in perfectly fulfilling the Old Covenant by his faultless obedience to God’s desire, at great personal cost, he won the award that has the power to set us free from death, Satan, sin, and the Law of the Old Covenant.  God’s righteousness was in no sense manifested at the Cross, which is, by stark contrast, a standing tribute to the bitterly vicious envy, hatred, and fury of the Adversary and his reign of darkness in diabolical opposition to God, both Father and Son and all they stand for.  God’s integral justice in return for this savage event—both immediate reward and delayed retribution—was yet to make its advent in either aspect at that pregnant moment.

 8.     Doesn’t the atonement give us a new legal standing before God that makes us acceptable to Him in spite of our “sinning in thought, word, and deed every day”?

Don’t you believe it!  Jesus didn’t part with his lifeblood merely to change some postulated legal status in front of God up in heaven but to change the state of sinful hearts and consciences down here on earth.  He wants more children like Jesus right here and now!  Christ’s Resurrection acquits all who trust him so they get set free from bondage to sin and start bearing the fruit of personal wholesomeness and public rectitude for their new Master.  Our continuing in sin is not an acceptable option to God.  His goal is that we achieve mature obedience and resolute integrity as his purchased and adopted children and future heirs.  We have works to do!  Awards to win!

 9.     How are sinners justified in God’s sight?

Jesus was justified because of his faithfulness to God; in recompense God showered him with an array of rewards.  What he received in return for his faithfulness we can share in by our own faith.  Through the loyalty of the Son, the Father was enabled to unveil the incomparable worth of staunch faith in His promises!  Jesus’ faithfulness justified God Himself in the face of the world’s seemingly justified doubts about His justice and goodness.  By vindicating Christ’s faithfulness with glory, God was likewise endorsing and commending to the world the door of our faith as the only portal to safety.  When we believe God’s record concerning who Jesus really is, He is fully justified in counting that faith as our proper rectitude and, consequently, bestowing on us a share of the Messiah’s just reward, His Holy Spirit, which instantly cleanses our hearts from sin.  God alone is the Knower of human hearts so He alone can declare the facts by appropriate signs.  When He sees trust, He declares, “Just!” and commissions His Spirit to keep us that way.  And that’s that.  As we stay in God’s Explanation, its power sustains our faith, thus God continues to count us upright, not counting our offenses against us, and His Spirit continues to actually cleanse away our sins and make us wholesome—on the one hand energizing us to produce the fruits of uprightness and good deeds and on the other hand bestowing miraculous creation-restoring powers that testify in the present to the reality of God’s Kingdom that will fully arrive at the future Regeneration of all things.

10.     Shouldn’t sinners plead for God’s mercy instead of His justice?

Tell that to the Psalmists!  For sure, if the only justice of God were penal, then mercy would seem like the preferential alternative.  But actually God’s restorative (or ‘premial’) justice is far more celebrated and sought in the Psalms than the penal sort (which tends to get invoked against enemies), in fact even more than mercy!  You cry for mercy when you’ve sinned and feel (or are!) convicted for it.  But what about when you’ve done right and get bludgeoned for it?  What then?  Is it mercy you crave?  We need to get comfortable with a justice that rewards the righteous, and learn to cry out for it.

11.     Didn’t the Cross satisfy God’s justice and holiness?

The Cross of Jesus was not a satisfaction in any sense; to the contrary, it was a crime that itself demanded satisfaction.  God kindly obliged and executed justice by bringing Jesus back from the dead on the third day after the Cross and then exalting him with spectacular honor, splendor, and wealth beyond the reach of all opposition in earth and heaven.  Wholesomeness (‘holiness’—a priestly term) does not require satisfaction (a legal term); this exercise in mixed metaphors has confusing consequences.  Jesus, as High Priest, did not ‘satisfy’ God’s holiness; he magnified it before a skeptical audience!

12.     Wasn’t God’s love balanced by His holiness at the Cross?

God’s love and holiness are neither at odds nor in tension.  His self-sacrificial love is made possible by His unflagging holiness.  His vigorous holiness gets expressed by acts of love, self-sacrificial giving, and miraculous outbursts of creational healing.  The holiness of God’s Son was powerfully and indisputably apparent in his conciliatory behavior throughout his trial and crucifixion.  His self-restraint and undiminished kindness and respectfulness in the face of incomparable sin against his person, honor, and authority awesomely displayed how genuine divine holiness behaves toward vicious sinners when push comes to shove.  Thus even a battle-hardened Roman centurion was compelled to exclaim that day, “Truly this person was a son of a god!”  High tribute, from a pagan!  The Father’s own holiness, however, became supremely visible at the Resurrection of Jesus where He erupted into this deteriorating created order with uncreated, agelong life.  They later sent Their Spirit of holiness, now augmented many fold (in accord with the surplus entailed by just restitution), into our desperate corruption in order to renew the face of the earth.

13.     Didn’t the Cross prove the seriousness of sin and God’s holy hatred of it?

The crucifying of Jesus demonstrated the horrors of which rebels against God’s desire are capable.  But in no way did it demonstrate God’s hatred of sin.  In fact, it looked as if God was simply going to wink at this most defiling bloodshed that Israel ever perpetrated, for on that day He did absolutely nothing to stop it.  God’s hatred and indignation toward sin is repeatedly exhibited down through history in those cases where it gets hoarded up by the stubbornly unrepentant and finally breaks forth in frightful calamities.  The paramount exhibit within Israel’s history concerning God’s hatred of sin was in A.D. 70, when unspeakable atrocities overtook the city of Jerusalem (mainly an inside job!) in repayment for persecuting the ancient prophets and ultimately for crucifying their own Messiah, not to add filling up their cup of sins and treasuring up divine wrath by oppressing and chasing down those committed to following him.  By not allowing the Messiah to bear their sin, they bore it themselves.  His blood was on their hands and heads instead of their hearts, where it could do some good.  Thus they died, needlessly doomed, embraced by the sins they clutched.

 14.     Doesn’t God’s holiness demand that He punish every sin?

Of course not.  God’s holiness is the exhaustless wellspring of His agelong life.  Holiness is to life as decay is to death.  Thus a better word for this concept might be ‘wholesomeness’—the healthful purity that characterizes everything that is vigorously alive and life-giving.  God’s love impels Him to share His vitalizing wholesomeness with those who are deteriorating and dying.  Love found a way to do it that was right and faithful to God’s ancient covenantal promises, in spite of humanly impossible odds.  The viciously shed blood of His blameless Son evoked God’s rightful super-compensation, which included the sending of vast new quantities of His life-making Spirit of wholesomeness to actually clean away sin by reversing the corruption at our motivational core.  This is the real function of God’s holiness or wholesomeness.  If people become resistant to exposure of their failings, then God gets tough and sends punishments in fatherly measure to humble and correct them.  God cannot personally be threatened by human unwholesomeness or corruption, but he knows that the creatures He dearly loves are placed at risk by it, hence his get-tough policy under the Old Covenant.  Still, He need not demand the last ounce of pitiful human flesh.  God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and with much kindness and covenantal troth, preserving kindness to thousands, bearing with depravity, transgression, and sin, although not summarily rendering sinners innocent, but holding out for repentance, for He wants our hearts.  He is bound to behave like this; it’s His nature.  He overlooks many sins in His leniency so that sinners may repent.  He loves all His creatures and hates none of them or He would not have made them.  Sins He can pass over, for He knows we are mortal, ephemeral.  Now, good deeds, on the other hand…

 15.     Didn’t Jesus suffer vicarious punishment from God in our place, as our substitute?

Where is that Written?  The Just One, the Favored One, the Anointed of the Father, could never suffer divine punishment without contradicting the Proclamation of God’s Kingdom and championing the absurd.  Much rather, Christ’s rectitude called down Satanic afflictions, as prophesied.  He was crucified out of envy.  In obedience to his Father’s wish, he subjected himself to the vengeful and punitive cruelties of sinful human beings, but their spirit was the diabolical opposite of God’s own.  In this way God struck the Shepherd and scattered the sheep, but for a moment, only to regather the persevering if bewildered flock under His wings of safety.  Nor was there a whiff of smoldering wrath in this stroke, any more than when an angel struck Peter to wake him and walk him out of prison a free man.  The appointed animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant were substitutes for Jesus.  Now that he has sacrificed himself, we should accept no substitutes.  They are, one and all, obsolete shadows, faded metaphors, now that the true Light has come.  The Truth walks among us, why resort to wraiths?  When we scrutinize the mechanics of this punitive twist on substitution, it’s all smoke and mirrors.  The Wholesome Spirit has not attested its value by explicit inclusion in Wholesome Scripture; accordingly, we should abandon it in this connection so that the wholesome truth stands out starkly clear and radiant.  Jesus was sent as God’s precious ransom price surrendered or paid over to Death in exchange for the lives of the whole human race.  All the abuse the Savior suffered was for the sake of, and on behalf of, and for the benefit of, mankind.  But the wrath was from Satan, not from God.  God, in an astonishing upset play, instead graciously rewarded Jesus to atone for the ultimate sin of his crucifixion.  All who accept this just reward of agelong life given to Jesus and extended by him to the rest of humanity can enjoy its priceless benefit for free, on the condition of faith.  Accordingly, our own faith must survive whatever similar trials may come our way.  For the record, God’s goal is to get as many daughters and sons through the program as successfully as possible, not to permit temptations too great to overcome.

 16.     Didn’t God punish Jesus so that we wouldn’t need to be punished?

God never lifted a finger to punish Jesus, much less as our substitute!  To punish an innocent person with the penalty of others’ sins is utterly contrary to God’s justice and is immeasurably degrading to His reputation.  Worse, it virtually nullifies the Father’s proper role and response relative to the abuse and execution of His Anointed Son.  To be sure, his fellow countrymen and Jewish leaders, with Roman cooperation, penalized him, but God was not implicated in that malign motive.  In compliance with his Father’s desire, Jesus, with divine authority and determination, surrendered himself voluntarily to his enemies, despite their twisted intentions, yet nobody was in the dark about what would inevitably happen next.  God neither desired nor took pleasure in the appalling treatment of Jesus that ensued, but He was enormously pleased with His Son’s heroic and noble endurance of the savage indignities, borne so poignantly, to such an extremity, and so undeserved.  In the eyes of earthly observers, he seemed to be afflicted, beaten, and humiliated by God’s own hand.  Yet, notwithstanding all the afflictions Jesus suffered, God’s adopted sons and daughters routinely get disciplined anyway when they fall into sin.  Besides that, His enemies still get punished and destroyed under His wrath if they don’t prudently make a timely turnabout, become conciliated, and start obeying.  So the answer is ‘no’.

17.     Didn’t Jesus suffer so that we don’t have to?

Quite the opposite.  We are privileged to suffer abusiveness from a hateful culture for the sake of his name and character so that we might also share everlasting life together with him in his future Kingdom on a renewed earth.  He never promised us a rose garden, only thorns and thistles in this age.  We’ll win garlands for enduring this!  Our willingness, even determination, to suffer whatever abuses must necessarily come when we remain staunch in our obedience of faith, even to the extent of not loving our present existence to the point of death, is the essence of our conquest over Satan and his hordes and can help bring protection as well as salvation to others, too.

18.     Didn’t Jesus descend into Hell to suffer its pains for our sins?

After his death, the Lord did not go to Hell (Gehenna) at all, much less to suffer flaming torment, but to the unseen (Hades), where he proclaimed to those in Paradise his combat and victory over Satan by the Cross.  He raided the spiritual underworld and triumphed in his Resurrection that followed, leading captivity itself captive, opening graves, and giving wondrous and lavish gifts to mankind wholesale at Pentecost and in perpetuity.

 19.     Wasn’t God satisfied and appeased by the suffering of His Son?

Good grief.  Just the opposite!  This vicious manhandling of His Son, the royal heir and Prince of Peace, pained the Father’s heart profoundly; so when 40 years more of undeserved graciousness had gone the way of diminishing returns, the score was reluctantly evened.  He simply surrendered that bellicose generation to their own vindictive devices; internecine bloodshed and carnage finished the job.  But God was well pleased by His Son’s deportment in the face of barbaric brutality.  Jesus’ faithful obedience to all his Father’s directives, even to the bitter end, profoundly satisfied God.  The fact that our Master stayed resolutely in character, gracious and true to his agelong pledge, was all that his Father could have hoped for.

 20.     Was God indulging in ‘cosmic child abuse’?

That’s freaky!  God never laid a hand on His Son at the Cross.  Nor was He pleased or desirous in the least that he should be tormented.  However, so that we could live in solid expectation of salvation, it was God’s intention to let Jesus be crushed by the forces of darkness as a foil to permit Him to magnify the full measure of His saving justice in front of the world by astonishingly undoing the sentence of death even after it was publicly and viciously carried out before a multitude of eyewitnesses.  That was the winning play!

 21.     Did God the Father suffer along with His Son?

Jesus alone suffered the bodily abuse of his Cross, though only by virtue of God’s empowering Spirit, which he received in superior measure at his baptism.  Nevertheless, the Father in heaven was in profound sympathy with His beloved Son’s agonizing plight on earth, which begins to explain the exuberant measure of the ensuing reward.  Yet their roles and offices were discrete, although locked together as One in mortal combat with their Adversary.  To be sure, God was with Jesus and, indeed, he himself was God with us—Immanuel.  However, the most captivating token of the Father’s true love is seen precisely in what He could accomplish historically for His Son from an external vantage point—His throne—hence the culminating Resurrection!  Furthermore, the Father, in Spirit, was in the Son on the Cross, suffering human rejection right along with His Loved One, turning the other cheek, going the second mile, forbearing to lash out, accepting humbly the loss of His own honor by the outrage that was dishonoring His Son, never demanding repayment for the Sin[-offering!] of His Son’s crucifixion, not imputing this culminating crime to them, but instead announcing clemency and a generation-long reprieve in His kindness, forbearance, patience, and mercy so that they would change their minds, be conciliated, and be saved from the wrath brewing against the stubborn holdouts that at last erupted disastrously in 70 A.D.

22.     Doesn’t God manifest His wrath from heaven against sin?

Absolutely.  God’s wrath smolders against all stiff-necked, hard-hearted, callused, stubborn wrongdoers.  And especially now that the light of Christ has appeared, refusal to believe the truth of His Proclamation of divine graciousness as demonstrated in the invaluable self-sacrifice of His innocent Son makes conscious rejection the more culpable.  Yet God’s dominant love and graciousness wait patiently with many tokens of kindness and mercy to induce people to change their minds and respond favorably to His graciousness so that He doesn’t have to destroy them after all, along with the sins they foolishly cherish.  Accordingly, when after much patience due change of heart was not more generally forthcoming, at length God unveiled His indignation against the worst sin His chosen people Israel ever committed—the lynching of His own precious Son, the only qualified Messiah—by the terrifying desolation of Jerusalem and the razing of its boasted temple to the ground before that wayward generation could all die off by natural deaths.  Thus they forfeited the ultimate ‘Promised Land’ the prophets foretold.

 23.      Don’t sins always incur God’s wrath?

Sins, as such, do not automatically provoke God’s wrath, because He is mercifully slow to get angry.  It is those wrongs that we realize we’re doing but refuse to confess and get cleaned out, especially after He patiently tries to correct us—now those make Him angry!  Beware.  He’s an accomplished disciplinarian, not to add, an avenger.

 24.       Weren’t the Levitical sacrifices intended to avert God’s wrath toward sin?

Not per se.  They were divinely appointed as prophetic shadows prefiguring God’s way of cleaning sin out of human hearts, because cumulating sins are what actually provoke his mounting anger.  Not the averting of divine wrath, but the more essential cleansing of human hearts from sin is what the mainstay of the sacrificial system depicts in shadowy detail.

 25.     Didn’t the wrath of God fall on Christ at the Cross?

Never happened.  Scripture is completely silent concerning the notion of the Cross being an event that reveals God’s anger against sin.  Much rather, it exposed the rage of Satan—the wrath of the Dragon—against God’s Son and ironically tricked him into daring to fatally assault God’s chosen and Anointed One to deprive him of his rightful due as Israel’s true king.  For sure, Jesus tasted the bitter cup of that affliction for our sakes, but his lips never touched the cup of God’s wrath.  God never for one moment harbored anything but fatherly favor and graciousness toward His beloved Son.  He no more felt or expressed wrath against Jesus than He did against Noah or Abraham, Joseph or Job, Jeremiah or Daniel.  In spite of getting grievously abused, Messiah was in the gracious hands of God, start to finish.  Get a grip!  Hold that thought.

26.     Didn’t Jesus propitiate God’s wrath by the Cross?

Nothing could be further from the truth.  God’s wrath against the stubborn and stiff-necked cannot be placated, appeased, or propitiated, either by the Cross or any other means.  Jesus never played that card for it would have meant trumping his Father’s unalterable, indeed, entirely incorruptible, character.  Inconceivable!  For holiness is by definition everlasting and unquenchable.  Jesus came to be a protective covering or indemnity concerning sin, that is, to open a shelter where humanity could experience God’s exuberant graciousness, not to fend off His alleged wrath against every last human misdeed to satisfy a postulated ‘eternal moral order’.  Our Savior could do this precisely because he was perfectly wrath-proof!  He was even crucified—get a grip on this—in the graciousness of God, not His anger.  The proof is that our Lord bounced back to life even before the dust of death had settled, to mock the vengeful ‘penal substitution’ of a self-aggrandizing Jewish priesthood and to aggrandize instead the non-vindictive graciousness of his Father’s authentic judgment from heaven.  In a cosmic turning of the tables, God propitiated or appeased His embittered enemies by allowing them to sacrifice His chosen Messiah without countering with immediate punitive consequences!  Imagine that!

 27.     Didn’t Jesus experience the judgment of God at the Cross?

Far from it.  God took no hand in his condemnation whatever.  At the Cross, God was unmasking Satan’s true colors in public and unreeling enough rope for him to hang himself on a world stage.  By springing Satan’s divine-human prey, God made a spectacle of the folly of the allied spiritual forces of viciousness.  God’s own authentic judgments, both to reward the Victim with sweet victory, and to duly revenge the victimizers with extermination if they should stubbornly remain unconciliated, were still future at this juncture.

28.     Didn’t Christ become a curse for us?

The Jewish leaders maneuvered the Roman governor to impale Jesus on a wooden stake or timber—the customary Roman penalty for treason against the empire—hence deliberately, though ironically, placing him under the only curse of the Mosaic Law not necessarily conditional upon actual personal sin.  Thus by a loophole the Jewish leaders managed to engineer a condemnation of Jesus (if possible) even by God Himself!  By manhandling God’s wholesome Law to Moses and wickedly misusing its power to curse in order to condemn the Innocent One, they sealed the doom of that Law itself and thereby rendered it a lame duck as an ethical rule for God’s people; nevertheless, it does still retain a measure of utility with respect to the lawless.  In the meantime, Father & Son, Inc. simply forged ahead, working their plan regardless, and practiced what they preached:  “Bless those who curse you”, and so fulfilled their Contract under deadline.  However, the agent of the curses was Satan, originally an angelic servant submitting to God’s control.  His eventual foreseen rebellion did not divest him of his authority to activate them, however, and within his discretionary authority he misused the curse power God gave him.  The Cross mightily deactivated all such curse decrees, whose hostility was there aimed at the Son of God himself—the Father in effect erasing that  handwriting, nailing it to the Cross, stripping off those governing sovereignties and authorities, conspicuously making an example of them, and triumphantly dragging them in tow!  The contest was unequal; the curses lost.  Yay Jesus!  In this epic sting operation, Satan took the bait and played the Joker, as foreknown.  But his evil was transmuted by God into resplendent good as the chrysalis of curse burst open to release the soaring blessing of Abraham, now taking wing to every family, tongue, land, and nation dwelling in darkness.  Who could have guessed!

 29.     Didn’t Jesus become sin on the Cross?

Jesus became a sin-offering, not sin, per se.  The term for sin is translated ‘sin-offering’ scores of times in Levitical contexts, even side by side with its usual translation, to designate a certain kind of burnt offering requiring a flawless sacrificial victim.  This special offering was literally called a “sin” because it pointed forward to the greatest sin Israel would ever commit—the gratuitous abuse and bloody slaughter of their own divinely validated Messiah, the truly sinless ‘Lamb’ of God.  Yet by this enigmatic means God’s saving justice got magnified in a manner impossible by less violent means, for His transcendent graciousness welled up from it like a gusher.  To God be the credit!

30.     How did the sin-offering take away sin?

The murderous crime against God’s only-born Son took away sin by immediately evoking the Father’s righteous judgment to reverse the unjust sentence even after its lethal execution.  God himself condemned the sins Christ bore, which wrongly condemned him, by raising him from the dead, immortal and glorified, and by exalting him to heaven’s throne, thus making his avenging completely pointless with respect to those who forthwith repented and believed the News.  The Law of Moses had demanded nominal overcompensation by offenders on behalf of their victims.  But the enormity of a capital crime was far too great for such restitution, so the death of the offender was taken in its place.  Yet this makeshift obviously could not truly rectify such a tragic loss.  However, when God finally got in the act, a new dynamic emerged.  He requited His Son with a superabundant overcompensation in response to his collective murder (this is what the collective laying of hands on the sacrificial animal denoted), which included a wonderfully indescribable present:  the Holy Spirit.  Ever after, all believers receive the Spirit as a pure gift that actually (objectively) cleans us internally (subjectively) from our sins.  By giving us this pledge of everlasting life in our hearts, God enables us to rule over the decadent cravings of our mortal flesh so they don’t break forth inordinately in thought, word, or deed.  That’s not everything we get, but it’s a flying start!

 31.     Weren’t the sacrifices of the Old Testament payments for sin?

No, such discourse is foreign to Scripture.  It could easily have stated that, but it simply never did.  The Law of Moses did not specify sacrifices as payments for sins.  That’s adding words without knowledge.  These sacrifices, though often costly, to be sure, foreshadow the priceless self-sacrifice of Jesus’ existence on the Cross as a ransom to Death in exchange for Life to all mankind—now greatly enhanced and powerfully augmented!—a recompense that God Himself undertook to repay His Son.  That deadwood Christ got hung on, bearing sins, hereby rejuvenated into the veritable Tree of Life, bearing prolific good fruit for the life of the nations.

 32.     What is the meaning of the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement?

The scapegoat ritual on Yom Kippur in the ancient Jewish festival cycle prefigured the release of Israel’s sins by their transportation into a wasteland of oblivion.  In other words, it revealed half the meaning of atonement—forgiveness.  The ritual with an identical goat, that was sacrificed, whose blood was poured out, collected, and spattered around the most holy/wholesome area in the sacred precincts, represented the other half—the dispersal of the payback from God Himself for the future wrongful slaying of the sinless existence of His Son, specifically, the greatly increased pouring out of the Holy Spirit of immortal life via an eminently justified, honest-to-goodness Resurrection!  This dual procedure prefigured the single sacrifice of Christ in both its aspects—something only a resurrected sacrifice could actually fulfill in toto.

33.     What did the blood of the sacrifices signify, and how did it atone for sin?

The blood of flawless sacrificed animals (souls) prophetically represented the sinless soul of the Lamb of God, slain and risen from the dead by the covenant-fulfilling righteousness of God, through the power of the regenerating Spirit that gives everlasting life and hence can heal, make wholesome, and cleanse from sin as well.  That’s why the Levitical priesthood had so many ritual uses for sacrificial blood—to dedicate places, consecrate objects, sanctify people, heal lepers, cleanse from sin, etc.  But these uses were all based on the truly innocent blood (that is, sinless life, soul, or existence) of Jesus, which, when it was brutally shed, called forth God’s overcompensating justice to award him damages of cosmic magnitude, of which the Wholesome Spirit of life is pre-eminent.  When Christ’s blood is said to be sprinkled on our heart because we trust his Proclamation, it provokes God’s just restitution to send us the same Spirit of power that raised him from the dead, along with special signs following as visible phenomena attesting outwardly the new creation God has inwardly initiated in the core of our personality.  God graciously gives these extraordinary manifestations as official testimonies to endorse His message of inner release from the addictive grip of sin.  Jesus bore with aggravated sins, and by those lashes others get healed by virtue of the generous compensation that God’s justice dictates.  In brief:  sacrificial blood always depicts resurrection life, along with its extraordinary saving powers; it is the Old Testament symbol of The Resurrection from the dead!  Get it?

 34.     Weren’t we bought with the price of Christ’s blood?

Precisely!  In effect (these are powerful figures), Jesus paid us his precious lifeblood to liberate us from slavery.  We no longer need to slave for sin and Satan, thank you very much.  With a fortune like this, we’re scot-free!  But you don’t put this payment in your pocket or deposit it in your bank; you take it into your heart, the core of your existence.  Unless we “drink” his blood so that it reaches our heart, we don’t have his resurrection life in us, so death still reigns there, and sin in death.  This internal element of the atonement is vital to understand and practice.

 35.     Didn’t the blood of Jesus pay the penalty for our sin?

No.  Properly speaking it cleanses us from our sins.  Since God’s heart of wholesome love and compassion did not need to be changed toward enslaved, impoverished, and oppressed mankind, He needed no payment or satisfaction whatever to forgive our sins, make peace, be conciliated, or make things right in the books of heaven.  Instead, only human beings need to change their minds, admit their sins, and be conciliated to God.  The blood of Jesus, shed by sinful mortals and avenged by a righteous God in a twofold way, first, by rewarding Jesus with profuse favors and, secondly, after a 40 year reprieve of open invitation and patient waiting, by paying back Jerusalem with unparalleled wrath and devastation—I repeat, this blood was given to cleanse, erase, purify, and make wholesome from sin, in reality, thereby rescuing sin’s victims from sin’s tragic consequences.

36.     Didn’t Jesus pay the penalty for our sins so that we wouldn’t have to pay it?

That misses the point.  He died and rose again to take away sin itself, along with the mortal decay and fear of death that fuel it.  He died so that we might be raised from the grave to bodily immortality and corresponding wholesomeness, just like him.  If we are raised together with him by baptism—“the first resurrection”—we won’t experience “the second death”—the Lake of Fire.  To be sure, he bore far more than sin’s ultimate consequence, death; he was hideously disfigured, abused beyond recognition, taunted, defamed, you name it.  Yet regardless of all that, all who die are ipso facto still bearing that penalty for their sins.  Touché.

37.     Didn’t Christ pay for all our sins at the Cross?

Not one Scripture asserts that Christ paid for sin(s), or that his crucifixion was a payment, or that sacrifices were payments, or that they depicted a payment, or even that sin can be paid for in principle.  Where Scripture is silent, we would be wise to follow suit.  Much rather, Jesus acquired a people, bought and paid for by his invaluable blood.  This is the uniform and repeated teaching of apostolic Scripture.  The exchange was elegantly simple.  He, the perfectly Just One, volunteered to undertake the fateful hardships of this suicide mission in order to win the prize, i.e., God’s graciously vast overpayment to him for all his trouble, so that he in turn could graciously give it away to the needy and broken—us.  It was for us!  And our salvation.  Now he has a family, siblings, descendants, and heirs together with him to inherit parcels in Kingdom come.  Big group hug!  This is God’s answer to evil.  Could there even be such an ultimate overcompensating settlement against evil, in God’s justifying wisdom, unless evil existed in the first place?  And in a universe where evils are necessary in order to bring about greater goods, there must be a clear proof of this calculus so we can take heart and keep battling evil and grow to proper maturity.  The historic Cross was the lightning rod to trigger the awe-inspiring discharge of God’s immense reservoir of graciousness via electrifying Resurrection power.  Without it He could not have gotten our attention—we were that far gone.

38.     Didn’t Jesus pay our debt of sin to God?

No Scripture anywhere speaks like this.  Jesus is never said to pay our debts, rather, he teaches us to forgive or release such debts for the simple reason that his Father in heaven (Whom he taught us to call our Father!) likewise freely releases people from such burdens if they ask Him.  We are to imitate His example, pure and simple.  His favor is on permanent exhibit in such gracious relinquishment, a virtue He’s trying to tutor us in!  Problem is, through ignorance of God’s true character people simply don’t ask and thus simultaneously dishonor God and blithely keep right on sinning until it takes them down.  Any demand that we pay Him restitution for our sins as a condition for His forgiving them is economically (not to say logically and ethically) incoherent.  Likewise, if Christ fully paid our debt of sin to God, then what’s left for God to forgive out of His own proper graciousness?  No, when God forgives our sins it means He graciously ‘pays the cost’ of what we owe; He absorbs the loss as a gesture of love.   And this is the divine behavior Jesus taught us to emulate.  One who loves another will silently cover their personal offenses.  God was “in Christ” on the Cross, Himself absorbing the cost that released the world from debt, not accounting their debts to them.  Christ wasn’t ‘paying’ God to do it; he was demonstrating God doing it!

 39.     What on earth did Christ pay for?

For Heaven’s sake he paid for us!

40.     Was Jesus a ransom paid to Satan or to God?

Jesus strategically gave up to the Adversary his earthly existence and future career possibilities as the heir apparent to David’s throne over Israel in exchange for the whole human race (little did Satan suspect!).  The Adversary, for his part, paid Jesus torment and death.  God, in answer, repaid Jesus agelong life, indeed, rendered him a vivifying Spirit!  Naturally, it then follows that He “has the Devil to pay”, and so He will…with generous agelong torment!  By this complex event Jesus was virtually paying his invaluable existence to the whole world to ransom us from slavery to the fear of death and its addictive entanglements.  This was no economic exchange or barter for goods and services rendered…unless evils and disservices can qualify!  And there was certainly no transaction; God cut no deal with the Devil.  To be sure, Satan indeed took the Lord’s life—predictably took the bait!—but God abundantly repaid Christ with a vast surplus of life, power, wealth, and glory that he has the right to give away free to all who trust.  So this sweet redemptive exchange was in no sense a penal substitution under divine wrath but a noble and heroic intervention by an intrepid Champion in the face of diabolical fury, at the critical climax in a momentous battle for the peoples of planet earth.

41.     Was the work of the Cross exclusively Godward?

The Cross of Jesus ‘influenced’ God by demonstrating the Master’s own loyal obedience to Him, in the face of towering injustices, thus provoking God’s speedy reversal of the crime and His vindication of Jesus as Messiah and Lord with overcompensating glory and blessings.  It ‘influenced’ mankind by showing the lengths to which God—both Father and Son—was willing to go to prove his love, without any show of vengeance or hostility toward our sinful race in the bargain, thus prompting a conciliatory attitude in alienated sinners and supplying us with the Holy Spirit for free, by faith, to erase our wrongdoings and empower a new life of good activities worthy of praise and reward.  Additionally, and crucially, the Cross ‘influenced’ Satan too, for it drew out all his cowardly rage and, in a triumphant irony, thereby only increased the amount of God’s reparative damages to Jesus (and of penal retribution to Satan, in the final Lake of Fire) when Jesus steadfastly proved undeviating in faithful obedience.  The physical body of Jesus was the final battlefield of the agelong war raging between the kingdoms of Light and Darkness for possession of earth’s human and natural resources.  The fact that Jesus held out to the last breath without breaking down and calling either angel or Deity to save himself was a decisive Satanward thrust, the finishing stroke that forever pulled the stinger of the Enemy power—Death and the Law (curses and all)—for God Himself could now intervene to justify Jesus with a superabounding degree of life-making Spirit to inaugurate and fully fund the renewal of creation!  The Cross accordingly possesses a threefold vector of influence.

42.     Does the atonement have a primarily Godward or manward focus?

The Levitical sin-offerings foreshadowed the terminating atrocity of the ancient nation of Israel, namely, the slaughter of the flawless, blameless Lamb of God.  This episode rightly evoked God’s virtually immediate response from heaven, i.e., restitution for the divine Victim with life immortal and surpassing honors.  Moreover, this cosmic overpayment, in truest fulfillment of the Mosaic Law concerning compensation to victims of offenses (miraculously extending its stipulation, for the occasion, even into the sphere of capital crime!), freely benefits all who merely accept it by faith.  This is how the cleansing that’s necessary to forestall God’s indignation gets accomplished in tangible terms.  But what would that be worth in practical terms unless, upon hearing the Proclamation of God’s graciousness in Christ, people are moved by the intrinsic potency of its Storyline to change their minds (repentance) and attitudes (conciliation) toward God, make a turnabout from their sins, and then get baptized to receive his gratuitous gift of Holy Spirit to wash them all away, down the drain of cosmic forgetfulness?  That’s the humanward trajectory of the Message of the Cross/Resurrection.  Yet how could either of these have been emergent without the genuinely menacing role of the Adversary’s forces plying their black arts against the Light?  Still, they were no match for the martial art of the Cross.  So the atonement was not narrowly focused but radiated shock waves in all directions.

43.     Is the atonement objective or subjective?

The atonement occurred as objective temporal reality in heaven when Jesus offered his living soul (which his blood had symbolized all along), in front of his Father and joyfully got glorified and awarded the Spirit of wholesomeness in such a way as to become a life-giving Spiritual body.  This more than made up for his losses, with surpluses to spare and spread around to all who would follow in his steps, as a pledge of the full inheritance to come.  The atonement occurs in subjective actuality when we trust him and thereby get declared innocent by the Father’s judicial accounting, get his Spirit from heaven to cleanse us from our individual sins, and get made wholesome by the same Dynamic that raised the Lord from the dead.  Thus Christ’s Resurrection was not only his justification, but the cause of our own instantaneous royal justification and equally instantaneous priestly sanctification.  Thereafter it becomes our privilege as noble offspring to walk accordingly, progressively bearing the fruits of uprightness and wholesomeness even against daunting opposition.

44.     Didn’t the atonement occur at the Cross?

Protective shelter concerning sin was accomplished when the rescued and glorified Jesus, the Lamb of God slain at the Cross, ascended to heaven and offered his more-than-restored existence alive from the dead in the sanctuary made without hands, before the very face of his Father—the most wholesome place in the universe—and sat down on the throne with Him to intercede forgivingly on behalf of all mankind for their safekeeping and flourishing.  He thereupon sent in the promised Holy Spirit to do the honors of passing out the presents that constitute our startup capital to invest in order to increase our Savior’s credit for all he’s done for us so that he receives a manifold return on his passionate investment in such often unpromising material.  Thus he can view with deep satisfaction his reward for suffering wrongful abuse:  the inheritance of a people as his very own, molded by his own Spirit—us! All of this was ritually depicted under the Old Covenant on the Day of Atonement by the chief priest when entering the Holy of Holies and spattering the blood on the protective cover over the Ark of the Covenant and all its contents.  Thus the Son now actually presides over all that was only symbolically contained in the Ark—God’s miraculously delivered directives for abundant life, His miraculous sustenance, and His miraculous rod of power for rescue, provision, healing, and more.  Stripped of his mortal flesh, along with its genetic corruption, in the “circumcision” of the Cross, and now glorified with a vivifying Spiritual body, he therewith made a cleansing of all things in heaven, having displaced sin by the same anti-decay power that raised him from the dead, before assuming the throne with his Father.  That cleanup proceeds on earth as people believe God’s News and exert the recreative power of His Kingdom in their surroundings.  Thus atonement continues so long as Christ intercedes for, and supplies the flow of his power to those in communion with him by faith.

45.     Wasn’t reconciliation of the whole world objectively accomplished at the Cross?

Certainly not.  The new era of wide scale conciliation to God had not even commenced at the historic moment of the Jewish Messiah’s crucifixion.  That was an out-and-out victory for his enemies, short lived though it proved.  That was the triumph of darkness.  Be that as it may, the event of his Cross, properly viewed from the revolutionary perspective of his Resurrection, can and does bring about the conciliation of hosts of estranged people.  Yet nobody was conciliated the day Jesus died except a single criminal crucified along with him.  And that, it so happens, is the proper pattern.  We are conciliated to God one by one as we accept the old, old Story about how Israel’s Messiah, in the power of God’s Spirit, graciously behaved in the face of unprovoked assaults from a few sinners like us, even though he had done nothing but good at great personal cost throughout his life and possessed full authority to destroy them on the spot if he had desired.  The Resurrection was proof positive from God Himself that Jesus was indeed His only-born Son and true Messiah and therefore could indeed have used his judicial powers to condemn his enemies if that were his intention.  These are the grounds for our authoritative appeals for people to change their minds about God and be conciliated to Him instead of staying alienated from their only hope of lasting life.

46.     Wasn’t God reconciled to mankind by the Cross?

God has never been an enemy of mankind but only desires our best.  That’s why He warned Adam and Eve about the fatal danger of eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  After their trespass, enfeebled minds became incrementally darkened and came to imagine that God hated them instead of their fateful wrongs.  That’s also why conciliation is entirely a unilateral invitation for human beings to return to their Maker and become obedient to His desire.  It’s grounded in the solid historic demonstration of God non-violently appeasing and pacifying humanity at awesome personal expense.  May God be blessed for His extravagantly costly peacemaking!

47.     How did the Cross of Christ make peace?

By surrendering to the authority of his malicious foes and allowing them to abuse him and deprive him of his rightful due as the heir to David’s throne over Israel, in fact by absorbing their every blow instead of retaliating, reviling, or exercising his Messianic rights and divine authority to fight them and avenge himself, Jesus resolutely gave up his prerogative to condemn his enemies and without complaint permitted them to exhaust their hatred on him.  In strategic reinforcement of that disposition, God Himself, for His part, likewise refused to retaliate for what was being done to His dearest Loved One.  This grand historic exhibit of longsuffering showed just how far the Son and the Father alike were willing to go in order to reclaim sinners and bitter foes, even though They would have been fully within Their rights to consign them to Gehenna.  By thus laying to rest Their own rights not to be sinned against (all sin is ultimately against God), Father and Son in perfect alliance made peace, brought shalom—a state of prosperity where there are negligible outstanding grievances or unmet obligations to incite hostilities…or where they have been pardoned outright!  In effect, Father and Son jointly pacified and propitiated mankind in a strategic coup, overturning infernally inspired and ingrained myths about Deity.  They extended mercy to the perpetrators by not demanding their punishment forthwith.  This gave force and credibility to apostolic appeals for conciliation with God since He had dramatically intervened in an unmistakably superhuman and totally unexpected manner on his own behalf.  This certified, as nothing else possibly could, that if they accepted his terms of unconditional surrender, nonstop refreshment from on high would be their legacy from that moment on; having melted under the warmth of God’s graciousness, they need never burn under the heat of His wrathfulness.  They could now enjoy not merely mercy, not only peace, but also graciousness in Christ!  For having been conciliated through the very death they caused him while being his enemies, much rather, as friends now, they will all the more be saved from the coming judgment through the overflowing life God paid him back, now operating graciously in them, too, by His Spirit.

48.     Didn’t the Cross render God gracious toward sinners?

Not exactly.  The Cross provoked God’s swift reversal in stupendous resurrectionary power, simultaneously demonstrating His rescuing justice toward this perfectly innocent Victim as well as giving him, as part of his rightful award, the Gift stemming from that fair judicial decision and proceeding from the Father—an unprecedented degree of the very Spirit of graciousness for him to extend graciously to whomever he wishes.  Besides that, we observe a further historic display of graciousness precisely in His not breaking out in well-deserved penal justice toward His treasonous people.  Of course God had all along been merciful, kind, patient, and tolerant toward sinners, but this new superabundance of graciousness went over the top because it stemmed from well-deserved restorative justice to the wrongly Crucified One.  A new age had dawned!

49.     Weren’t our sins forgiven at the Cross?

By no means.  Our sins are released as we trust the Savior—officially appointed so by Resurrection from the dead—and declare him Lord.  The Cross, in connection with its resurrectionary sequel, proves to humanity God’s willingness to pardon even our most heinous wrongs, and to lay aside punishment, provided we change our minds and turn back to Him in order to be legitimated as His daughters and sons.  Without learning about this Cross-Resurrection-Pentecost history, we would scarcely have the courage to approach the Almighty for the heartfelt forgiveness He has perennially been so eager to extend us.  We had not because we asked not, in our dark ignorance of the Most High.

50.     Wasn’t the Cross necessary so God could forgive sins?

Only indirectly.  The problem lay in our own hard-hearted estrangement from God, so that we neither recognize our fatal sins nor change our minds and turn back to Him, much less beg for pardon!  Yet notwithstanding, no amount of divine forgiveness would pre-empt our destruction, which would result anyway as the fruit of our sins.  By itself, such forgiveness would be little better than tokenism.  In upright forbearance, God often passes over the penalties due to human sin, but regardless He still seeks to woo us back to Himself so He can lavish His Spirit on us with continuous fresh waves of life and love.  The refusal of people to turn back to Him and stay in His regenerative Explanation provokes His indignation and, sadly, can lead to premature and even final destruction.  The real problem requiring an efficacious atonement, therefore, is not how to get God to forgive our sins but rather how we can possibly outlive death in spite of His kind remission, since we all pay the same penalty for our sins that Adam did for his and die regardless of every temporal pardon.  Or hadn’t you noticed?  That conundrum necessitates that we get drawn back to our Maker to acquire some elixir of life yet more potent than daily release from our accumulating debt of offenses, dwindling though they should be.  God unseated Sin by dethroning Death, not the other way around.  Only a Sinless One could conquer Death, of course, according to the equity of God’s justice.  Consequently, the ‘sin problem’ had already been solved (mostly) in Christ’s own person before he ever took up his ultimate weapon—the Cross.  Yet had he not stayed sinless through this greatest of all Satan’s fiery trials and temptations to revile his tormentors, blaspheme God, and fend for himself, all would have been lost.  There could have been no display of God’s righteousness in raising him from the dead.  Absence of Resurrection = absence of Holy Spirit = absence of the life-giving power of the Lord “Our Righteousness” for us = the presence of Sin in us = the continuing reign of Death over us = no hope for us.

51.     Didn’t Jesus bear the guilt of our sins?

He bore the sins themselves, according to Scripture.  He was never guilty of sin, nor did God transfer any guilt from us to him.  Guilt as a concept to be distinguished (much less separated) from sin or conscience has a dubious legacy.  As such, it has no place in the vocabulary of the New Covenant.  God didn’t distill guilt from sin and somehow process it separately.  Nor did He dissociate the penalty of sin from the sin itself and make Jesus bear only the penalty.  In reality, Jesus endured the actual sins being inflicted on him, but not their penalty!  The perpetrators themselves would tragically bear the penalty for those sins, when God’s patience wore thin, if they refused to change their minds and accept their King’s bearing of their sins.  His bearing their sin was equivalent to his forgiving them their sin, which in turn was identical to not accounting their sin to them—different images all coming down to exactly the same thing.  The only question remaining was whether they would accept this release or repudiate it and bear their own sins, only to expire by degrees in their coiled stranglehold.  Our desperate need is for an atonement that can handle more than ‘guilt’, more than ‘penalty’, in fact nothing less than actual sin, including the harm it inflicts on other creatures.  What God has put together let no theologian separate!

52.     What does it mean that Christ “bore our sins in his body on the tree”?

This expression means that Jesus carried up or absorbed in his own embodied existence the full weight of the deadly offenses assaulting him from all the sinners surrounding him, not excluding even his own disciples, instead of avenging himself by punishing or destroying them.  Out of love, he descended from above to save people from their sins and to illuminate the only way of sustainable life beyond the gaping grave.  For them to bear their own sins would mean, tragically, they get sucked into that black hole without remedy.

53.      Didn’t God predestine the crucifixion of His Son?

Jesus was surrendered in God’s specific plan and foreknowledge of what would follow, so much so that the event was pre-recorded in prophetic Scripture.  But it didn’t take a prophet to predict the outcome.  It was the religious and political leaders along with the fickle complicity of the bloodthirsty mob that murdered him, not God.  God merely set the stage to allow sinners in thrall to Satan to strut their vaunted powers against the fullest revelation of mature human love, integrity, and innocence ever shown.  The bloody outcome of this encounter was inevitable given the hatred, envy, and murder well entrenched in their history, their culture, their very bosoms.  But the denouement that resulted fully justified this divine playing into the vicious hands of mortal enemies, for it primed the unveiling of God’s triumphant rectitude, graciousness, wisdom, wholesomeness, goodness, and love as nothing else possibly could.  God engineered circumstances to permit the people to fill full the cup of their viciousness as a backdrop to dramatize, at the perfect historic moment, His own virtuous power to liberate them from their delusive enchantment of Satanic captivity.  Good gracious!

54.     Couldn’t God have saved sinners by some means other than the Cross?

Who knows?  But for sure God’s wisdom did devise a way to make crystal clear the authentic nature of His good old-fashioned, old-covenant judicial rescuing powers as One who primarily rewards the faithful and obedient while only secondarily, if sorrowfully, punishing the distrustful and disobedient—and that after many a merciful, though prudently unpredictable, stay of execution.  Evidently we have completely (and I mean completely) missed the rationale behind the Father & Son, Inc. Rescue Team and their acclaimed Operation Rescue!  The Cross of Jesus made joyously apparent that nothing whatever can separate us from God’s benign intention to reward those who endure in trust and obedience to His directions and heart’s desire.  Only by an unjust, shameful, cursed, and publicly corroborated death of such magnitude could the correspondingly mammoth love and graciousness of the Son (true to his covenantal promises to the Father) be communicated to us in addition to the Father’s magnificent, if even more surprising, trumping of His Son’s love and graciousness with an inconceivable nullification of the atrocity by way of Resurrection and further glorification in heaven, in full compliance with His own love and graciousness (true to His reciprocal covenanted promises to the Son).  What a God!

55.     Didn’t our salvation occur at the Cross?

Hardly!  Every eyewitness of that event recognized it for what it was—Jesus’ destruction, not salvation!  He saved others during his miraculous career, but now he was left alone to suffer grinding abuse without so much as a nod from God.  Therefore, if even Jesus himself was not saved by his own Cross, how could anyone else possibly be saved by it?  If he had dared turn the occasion into an angelic rescue scene on his own behalf, things would have gotten… messy.  This is not to say that anyone can be saved apart from the Cross.  For a salvation of such gargantuan proportions as he debuted indisputably did come through the Cross and showed up big time at his Resurrection, for all who have eyes to see.  At his world premiere, just when the whole audience knew it was curtains for him, God turned it into an unbidden but uproarious curtain call!

56.     Didn’t the Resurrection prove that our salvation was completed at the Cross?

Far from it!  Rather Christ’s Resurrection itself constituted his salvation from the death of the Cross, and that rescue embraces our salvation as well.  What was finished at the Cross was the Lord’s covenantal obedience to God’s express desire and faithfulness to his promises in accord with the Scriptures, in other words, the Son of Mankind’s nonpareil revelation to the world of his invisible Father’s supreme desire for human conduct—graciousness and truth/troth!  It was this flawless perfection that made him worthy of a mighty Resurrection and subsequent enthronement with his Father, plus his inheritance of the created universe.  So in addition to everything else, he remains our perpetual Model and Exemplar, whereas his Spirit abides as our personal Life Coach.

57.     “What did the Cross achieve?”

If Jesus had not died on the Cross, God could not have shown the magnitude of His own justice and graciousness by more than reversing such a degrading death and thereby bequeathing him such a superabundant reward that even we could share in the booty!  The Cross was necessary so that God could burst forth beyond all historic precedent in a demonstration of overwhelming graciousness to His abused Son as the rightful and just award in recompense for his putting up so patiently with those who destroyed him.  The Cross pulled out all the stops, although the organ of God’s graciousness had been playing many a lovely prelude all along.  Through Jesus the award reaches us too!  He is the prototype of human maturity, perfectly following the lead of the Holy Spirit, free from the prosthetic of Moses’ Law, bounding exuberantly, amenably, toward mastery of all the works of his Father’s hands.  God’s superabundantly overcompensating graciousness, visible in the historic Resurrection, was His exquisite counterpoint to His Son’s own graciousness throughout his entire childhood, youth, manhood, ministry, and suffering of highhanded abuse.  Furthermore, ever since Pentecost this favor is generously passed along to all who believe, so that their misdeeds are both rightfully and graciously wiped away.  These actions historically demonstrated the Father’s graciousness in answer to, and supreme endorsement of, His Son’s own manifest graciousness throughout his lifetime, thereby strikingly revealing an ethically united front that winsomely invites our emulation everywhere and in everything.  “Grace in exchange for grace”!

58.     Why was Christ’s Resurrection necessary, and what did it achieve?

God raised Jesus from among the dead in order to publicly acquit him of any wrongdoing and to vindicate his flawless obedience and faithfulness to Israel’s covenant, thus confirming him as Messiah of Israel and now, further, as Lord over all nations, worthy to receive sovereignty, authority, power, credit, honor, blessing, and more.  From this stupendous ensuing wealth we are designedly privileged to draw even current sustenance, by God’s generosity, through the exercise of the mere faith that regards this Announcement as true.  In turn, such faith is regarded as uprightness by God and is awarded with an infusion of His Spirit that disposes us to submit to His directions, which we therefore count it a privilege to learn and keep diligently as the true way to life, peace, and full human maturity.  Scripture is full of repeated promises that God will judge the cause of the humbled and oppressed who trust Him and in due time raise them up out of menacing dangers.  If the Father had not responded to the vicious assault on His dearly loved Son at his public humiliation on the Cross, His good reputation as Rescuer would have been irretrievably impugned by dereliction of duty, even judicial misbehavior.  Lacking the Lord’s Resurrection, the jugular of the sacrifice has been cut to no effect, for we could hardly endure our own difficulties, tragedies, and hateful opposition for pursuing the path of honesty and integrity in a vicious world without hopes of a similar resurrection.  We need a verified expectation of God’s own appropriate avenging of our enemies (for we must not do so) and His restoration of all that the prophets promised (for that, too, is ours!)—new heavens and a new earth, sporting uprightness, peace, and joy overflowing.  So up from the grave he arose!

59.     What is “the Word of the Cross”?

By this expression the apostle Paul meant nothing less or other than God’s Explanation for the Cross.  In a nutshell:   God justified the crucified Jesus from unjust condemnation by wicked authorities under the influence of Satan, by means of raising him from the dead to be Messiah and Lord in order progressively to conquer all evil and usher in His everlasting Kingdom, which we can share in too, if we trust and follow him.  In sum, “the Word of the Cross” is the Explanation about Jesus’ Resurrection from a death of the Cross, with all this implies.  Without the Resurrection, the Cross means exactly zip.  The Cross emphasizes “dead” in the phrase, “Resurrection from the dead”.  If God hasn’t raised Christ from a death that serious and certain, we’re still in our sins, and any other “word of the Cross” is empty, our faith, futile!  This means:  No Atonement without Resurrection!  The Explanation of the Cross = The Resurrection of the Dead.  That’s the clincher.

60.      Isn’t the atonement an impenetrable mystery?

Where’s the mystery?  The Secret is out!  God’s way of atonement is no impenetrable mystery but was kept secret until the right time; in the proclamation of God’s kingdom concerning Jesus the Messiah the secret is fully divulged and should now be heralded clearly to the entire human family for their salvation.  The reason for keeping the true nature of the atonement a secret for long ages was to prevent Satan, the sinister and powerful enemy of God and humanity, from knowing the means of his overthrow before the plan could be consummated. The atonement was necessary in order to reclaim God’s creation from total loss at the hand of Satan and his kingdom of malice and vice.  The only mystery is why it should any longer remain a mystery to anyone!  Its resurrectionary rationale was perfectly clear in every Gospel, in every epistle, to every apostle.  Honing ever closer to their pattern of sound explanations provides the key to unlock this Mystery as its interwoven sub-plots—human, diabolical, and Divine—all unravel to the stunning climax:  Jesus of Nazareth, once for all slain, now raised to life forevermore, thereby gets declared Messiah of Israel and Lord of all nations, for human salvation, cosmic conciliation, and the resounding credit of Jehovah, the one and only, true and living God.  Mystery solved.

61.     How did the Gentiles come to acquire salvation, too?

By virtue of God’s overwhelming justice to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, as his reward for submitting to the humiliation of death and ignominious rejection by his own nation, God bequeathed him all the nations of earth as a fair trade, plus all authority in earth and heaven, in the bargain.  So all the rest of us get to share in his reward, too!  Now there’s real justice for you!  Strange but true:  the graciousness of God stems from the public righteousness, i.e., justice of God.

62.     “Why should I gain from His reward?”

Jesus had an ancient right as prophesied Messiah of Israel to have royal heirs to enjoy his inheritance along with him.  However, because he was viciously deprived of it by his horrible, premature death, God found it graciously fitting to do something extra special in order to show His power to overcome what was otherwise an impossible plight and thereby give us expectancy that He will fulfill His promises to us as well.  Jesus’ right to have a family and heirs is our ticket to sonship so that he gets to see descendants and lengthen his days to enjoy his allotment from God along with us.  Because of his right to have children, we have a right to become daughters and sons on any condition he lays down, and he chose the unpretentious condition of simple faith.  When we trust God’s Proclamation of His Kingdom, we get born above as citizens of the New Jerusalem, where our names have gotten written in the Scroll of Life from the disruption of the world, for God knows His kids.  The Lord Jesus is making many abodes ready there as shares of his inheritance for family members in the Kingdom his Father covenanted with him.  Regarding persons from every family, tongue, land, and nation on earth, it shall be said, “This one was born (again!) there.”  Our deadly plight was transmuted by the ‘Crossurrection’ into our divine right!  Got it?

63.     Once a person gets saved aren’t they always saved?

All who keep trusting God and keep walking in His Spirit are safe in His trothfulness and graciousness, by which they are kept wholesome and free from sin (and, incidentally, stay safe from any buildup of God’s indignation).  By remaining in the Lord’s energetic Explanation of graciousness and truth, and by regularly enjoying his Supper, featuring His very Spirit (“in flesh and blood”!), our trust gets nourished so that we stay strong and whole in God’s sight, in spite of pressures from within and without.  Nothing in the created order can separate us from His secure love.

64.     Doesn’t God predestine some people to be saved and others to be lost?

Good heavens, no!  God desires everyone to change their minds about Him and start trusting His Son Jesus.  He destines that all who acquiesce in faith and keep trusting the abundant testimonies and proofs He furnishes in Scripture and personal experience will ineluctably end up as adopted sons and daughters, hence heirs of allotments in His impending Kingdom.  That’s His intended destiny for all who keep believing; that’s where the train’s goin’.  If anyone decides to pry open a safety door and jump from the train of His amazing deeds, rumbling down the track toward His Kingdom, coupled to the thundering locomotive of His superabundant graciousness, fueled by the Cross-Resurrection-Pentecost events, it’s most certainly not God’s intention!  He offers free passage, all expenses paid; we’re just along for the ride…if we care to stay.  This is just too good to be false!

65.     Doesn’t God choose only some people to believe?

No again.  He chooses whoever believes His Announcement and accepts His graciousness at full value, because faith takes Him at His Word and thus truly honors Him as nothing else can.  His gifts are unregretted to all His creatures, and that goes for many a squandered deposit of high-potency Spirit.  He can afford it; who are we to counsel God about gift-giving!

66.     Isn’t our faith disqualified as the condition of salvation because then it would be a work, which would put God in our debt?

Actually, no.  God chose the ‘simplemindedness’ of faith precisely because it is not a work at all.  It’s merely the open hand that receives His salvation, the open heart that accepts the seed of God’s penetrating Explanation about it.  Exercising faith in God, according to Scripture, is a non-work—a Sabbath work stoppage.  The function of faith is a faculty of our God-created and God-imaging makeup, so by design has been placed under our own limited and mortal but genuine sovereignty, authority, and control.  Oh yeah, and faith also comports perfectly with God’s graciousness in providing a salvation of such generosity.

67.     Isn’t faith something from ourselves, so doesn’t God have to reject it as being tainted by depravity?

Not a problem.  Merely hearing the powerful Explanation of God about Jesus, along with all its intrinsic corroboration, generates faith; therefore that Explanation itself is God’s real dynamo for our salvation.  Faith must be based on evidence and proof or it’s misplaced and will make a person ashamed for exerting it without proper foundation.  That’s why the phenomenon of faith in God’s Proclamation actually gives credit to that Explanation for generating the faith in the first place.  Sweet!  And besides that, the faculty of believing is part of human nature, so is structurally good, not depraved.  What it attaches to makes all the difference.

68.     Isn’t human nature sinful, evil, or ‘totally depraved’?

Not according to the Bible.  Our human nature, or structure, including such faculties as the psychical, aesthetic, lingual, logical, social, economic, juridical, and ethical, as well as the fiducial (faith), was created good, but our decadent flesh wrongly covets, craves, or lusts.  Our nature and conscience align with God’s law to jointly testify against our misuse and abuse of our own bodily and other created structures.  Because mankind lacks access to the Tree of Life due to Adam’s sin, we suffer deficiencies of meaning and power; consequently we all crave something, anything, to fill that yawning void.  This is what pushes us to sidestep the limits of wholesome laws and to stray away from the true path to life pointed out by God’s good and right directives.  This constitutional deficiency is the source of corruption in civilization, luring and seducing us to conceive irreverent and decadent thoughts and consummate our gratifications in wrongdoing and defilement, ending sometimes in premature death and permanent loss.  The disposition of our dying flesh is only alienation toward God.  Thus, little ultimate good is accomplished by ‘laying down the law’ since this only incites the decadent flesh to act out yet worse exhibits.  The provision of Holy Spirit from God through the heroic labors of the Lord Jesus is the solution—the Spirit’s law of life-in-Christ-Jesus.  We are structurally good, but directionally evil, so we need this marvelous provision of the New Covenant—rich endowments of life-making Spirit in divine response to Messiah’s shed blood.  Hereby God imparts and inscribes and sheds abroad His own law of love in the core of our being, setting us truly free from sin as we walk accordingly, crucifying the flesh along with its addictive passions and bearing fresh fruit of messianic virtues.  Through our new Master, Jesus, we can now actually consider ourselves dead to our offenses and wrongdoings in which we once walked, and can regard ourselves as living to God, enslaved to right-doing.  Therefore we can be confident that God is perfectly pleased when we exert our faith in His Explanation of Life, published by His Holy Spirit of Life.  Speak of a Lifestyle!

69.     How are atonement and baptism connected?

Our baptism in water, accompanied by our declaration that Jesus is the one rightful Master and Lord (Jehovah) and coupled with our faith that God raised him from the dead, bring us His awesome, gift-wrapped present of the Holy Spirit to expunge our past sins and lead us along the path of life toward a destiny of sonship so that we inherit property in God’s future Kingdom on the new earth.  The Spirit is the Father’s security deposit to us concerning that eventual complete possession if we endure in trust and don’t fall out of His favor back into a career of selfishness, covetousness, and misdeeds, which would render us useless to His high purpose and royal destiny for us.

70.     What is the relation between the atonement and the Lord’s Supper?

The Lord’s Supper of bread and wine is our partaking of the ensuing nourishment of the future age by spiritually eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the life-making Spiritual body of the risen Lord Jesus, that is, by recollecting in faith the death of his mortal body, which he gave in exchange for us to make us members of his new body.  By this means we share even now in his divine reward of regenerated life.  This is a membership privilege of the new humanity, the assembly of his wholesome people gathered from every ethnic group, language group, territory, and nation as parts of his resurrected body, to become participants of his divine nature, the Holy Spirit, which animates our corporate unfolding of God’s own personality traits in every sphere of earthly endeavor.  In this way we become joined together to contribute our diverse specialties as indispensable body parts of the Second Adam, the spiritual Progenitor of this new peoplehood in which God’s image, likeness, and character are getting replicated as we learn to follow his directions and shine the Light of Life into our nations and cultures, even under tough conditions like oppression, persecution, and abuse, on behalf of his reputation.

71.     How is the atonement linked to Pentecost?

The coming of fresh quantities of the Holy Spirit to the assembly of believers seven weeks after the Lord’s Resurrection constituted the prophesied anointing and cleansing of the sanctuary on earth.  This early harvest amounts to the firstfruits of all the spoils won by Jesus through his resurrectionary triumph over death, Satan, sin, and the Law of the Old Covenant, now fulfilled.  This is our down payment of all the promised blessings of the New Covenant, sealed by our Master’s shed blood.  Miracle-working outbreaks are to be expected repeatedly throughout this vicious age in gracious divine response to the periodic abuses suffered by God’s wholesome children as they give testimony to His Kingdom and refuse to prize even their own existences facing death, in comparison with attaining the prize of their high calling as daughters and sons of God—the inheritance of resurrection life with Christ the Lord, for the ages of the ages.  This is the historic pattern inaugurated by our Forerunner, Jesus, during the Passover-Pentecost events of 30 A.D. and repeated with variations on that theme ever since.

72.     Why couldn’t the Holy Spirit come until Jesus was glorified?

The manifold increase of Holy Spirit available to mankind after Jesus’ ascension and glorification blossomed out of the climax of the Covenant, when the wrongful shedding of his innocent blood was answered by God’s rightful multiplication of surpassing favors to him and his.  It’s God’s backlash of benevolence…philanthropy!

73.     “Is healing in the atonement?”

And how!  Inasmuch as God atoned for the miserable death and shed blood of Jesus by raising him from the grave through the wholesome power and glory of the Spirit exalting him to Lordship over all nations, consequently every spiritual favor of the Spirit springs from that atonement in rich profusion, including expulsion of demons, miraculous healing of human ills, and other startling precursors of the future thorough housecleaning of the cosmos.  Christ Jesus suffered with the illnesses of others and was burdened with their pains.  He was wounded by their transgressions and crushed by their depravities.  He learned obedience through this pedagogic discipline and experienced our human plight in depth.  So in exchange for his willingness to share our misery, caused by our own aggregate depravity, and hence being perpetually afflicted by human vice at every turn his whole life long, without complaint or vengefulness, he was bequeathed by God the highest estate in the created universe, complete with fresh resources of creation-renewing power.  It is in this manner that by his welts there can be healing for us.  Only in this way are we equipped for our assigned task to renew the face of the earth as a testimony to what Christ has rendered… inevitable!

74.     How is atonement related to sanctification?

The strenuous labors of Jesus to remain faithful to his Father’s desire even under humiliating and painful attacks and pitiful demise as an executed traitor to Rome, rendered him perfect in human wholesomeness and evoked God’s justice to display his complete acquittal by raising him miraculously to life again, right out of the dank tomb.  By way of further restitution, God poured forth for the sake of Jesus’ reputation a greater magnitude of His Spirit than ever possible under less extreme circumstances.  In turn, He gives portions of that indescribable Present to all who trust him as Master, energizing them to keep the directives he conveyed from his Father so they develop into mature sons in preparation for assuming appropriate ruling functions in the new creation that’s ahead.  Hence our Master’s teaching is essential to our becoming mature in wholesomeness like the Father’s own personality, which he ideally modeled for us.  Our participation in the Spirit of holiness that enabled him to rise above abuse successfully also leads us along the way his directions point—that same true path of wholesome love and thriving vigor despite daily troubles and difficulty.  Our sanctification is instantaneous the moment we trust the Proclamation and get baptized, entitling us to be called “saints”!  But then, of course, we have to practice the art!  Practice makes perfect.  So it’s parallel to justification, which also has both instantaneous and progressive aspects.  Our wholesomeness and uprightness alike turn on the axis of faith in the Proclamation that God exalted Jesus by “Crossurrection”, and both stay activated only by the energy of Christ’s own resurrected life dwelling in us by his Spirit.

75.     What is the connection between the atonement and ethics?

The inner logic of the Proclamation of God’s Kingdom, strikingly visible in the divinely engineered events of Cross-Resurrection-Pentecost, concerns the sequential roles of the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit in that unfolding Story.  The Lord Jesus’ resplendent exaltation from a humiliating, excruciating death on a Roman cross reveals as transparently as historically conceivable, the ethics of that Divine Team.  In this celestial conception, the mutual setup and magnificent interplay for the sake of human salvation almost defies description.  Yet this divine exhibit is the taproot of redeemed human behavior in every sphere.  A fresh impulse for human action on the largest scale will flow from rehabilitating the true significance of saving righteousness, that is, “premial” (the reverse of penal) justice—the bright side of God’s juridical behavior.  For lack of honoring this rescuing or rectifying facet, oriented to restoring victims of injustice, we’re building with only half a toolbox—the penal half, oriented to the perpetrators of wrongdoing.  This is a grim and hapless limitation because penal justice is only destructive, and can save us only if it happens to fall on our assailants!  However, rewarding, restorative, or premial justice alone can drop-ship positive salvation direct to us!  A second prominent factor in the atonement is the principle of super-compensation, and it is indispensable.  This simply means that God’s saving justice repays loss by rightful overcompensation, not by mere equivalent restitution.  The upshot of the foregoing for human interaction on a panoramic scale lies in recognition of the absolutely identical impulse unifying the behavior of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as unveiled at the Cross, the Resurrection and Pentecost.  The atonement and its resultant salvation throb at the heart of all these revealing events aggregately and define their unity of purpose.  The whole marvelous spectacle is one of mutual divine gift exchange in a kind of amplifying circuit!  Not simply a new ethic, but a new jurisprudence, a new politics, a new economics, a new counseling, a new schooling, a new child rearing and much more are implied, as well.  Yet most primally, a new devotion, a refreshed worship, and a revitalized mission surely must spring forth as joyous firstfruits of seeing all this with new eyes.  This Relationship has style, visible from every angle!  Its universal proliferation is the harbinger of the Kingdom of God.  This is the ultimate model of authentic behavior for Christian emulation to ramify throughout global civilization.  It has redemptive potential for transforming every enterprise and is truly sustainable, in sync with the deep structure of our created environment:  the exalted Master and Messiah, Jesus, who alone mediates between the Creator and the entire creation.

76.     What is the extent of the atonement?

Here’s the perennial dilemma in barebones:  if the atonement paid for all sins, yet anyone remains unsaved, then such a payment must not have sufficient power to save everyone; but if the atonement paid only for the sins of a chosen few, and they alone are irresistibly saved while all others are lost, then the payment must not have sufficient universality to save everyone.  Unhappy options, both.  God comes off looking inept either way.  (Nor do attempts at mediating positions seem to “satisfy” much better.)  However, according to Scripture, contrary to the common assumption about atonement underlying both these alternatives alike, the Lord did not pay for sins at all; he paid his human existence to Death itself on behalf of all mankind, and God in judicial answer repaid him via just overcompensation with life superabundant and absolutely free for all comers!  So the Savior paid for life!  Bye, bye dilemma.  Whoever hears this jubilant Proclamation and thirsts for such a grand salvation can come and take.  God proposed Jesus an indemnification concerning the wrongdoing of the whole world.  Accordingly, Jesus is drawing everyone to himself via that mighty chain of linked events (with plenty of reinforcing testimony)—Cross-Resurrection-Pentecost—by which God exalted him to heaven and then sent His Spirit to earth.  In this manner He patently provided the magnetic field absolutely necessary to draw, though not sufficient to coerce, Adam’s descendants back to Himself.  The invitation is both universal and fully efficacious by virtue of the native power the Holy Spirit invested in it.  Yet sinners can still resist its draw by resorting to their God-given but waning energies, if they so choose.  (Not smart.)  However, this does not derogate in the least from God’s capabilities to carry out the plan of His intention, for this is His intention, to choose all who risk trusting the Message He narrated through the apostles’ written testimonies.  God, in His wisdom, has chosen that vulnerability as a key selective factor.  The atonement in heaven opened the valve of celestial power that flows back to earth in order to fuel and mobilize God’s restoration of even more than was lost by the disruption of the world in Eden.  However, the fire hose is only at a trickle—enough for an ample taste to prove the reality of what’s promised so as to draw hearers, but not enough to overpower their faith and violate their human right to decide.  God is committed to educate and nurture voluntary, enthusiastic loyalty to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  In conclusion, the efficacy of the atonement extends “as far as the curse is found”.  If you’re mortal, you’re eligible!  But you won’t be arm-twisted to accept your invitation.  Many are invited, but few step out in faith and come.  Those who take the risk and stay plugged into the power of God’s resurrectionary Explanation of the Cross to the very end are chosen.  Your move.

77.     Isn’t grace ‘sovereign’?

Where does that language appear in Scripture?  The qualifier, ‘sovereign’, seriously alters the non-coercive character and whittles down the inclusive dimensions of God’s outrageous graciousness in Christ Jesus.  “Sovereign grace” is an unwarranted narrowing and hardening of God’s calling, through His powerful Proclamation, for everyone who hears and believes its testimony about His restorative justice that catapulted Jesus from death to Resurrection and beyond.  The royal munificence of graciousness ushered in by Christ has no limits of application or efficacy to any of the human race.  Behold with awe “the wastefulness of grace”!  The graciousness of the sovereign Lord Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Living One, testifies, “Let the one thirsting come; let the one desiring take the water of life freely!”  So come!  Amen.


Ascension Day-Pentecost-Memorial Day—May 15-28, 2007.

Revised, Pentecost-Memorial Day-Father’s Day—June 2009.

Second Revision, Pentecost-Memorial Day-Labor Day—May 27-Sept. 1, 2012.

© 2007, 2009, 2012, Ronald Lee Roper

8 responses to “77 Questions About the Atonement (Q&A) [complete]

  1. Tim Walsh

    Why do you call Jesus “God’s personal Explanation of graciousness and truth (troth—covenantal loyalty, solemn pledge of fidelity, veracity of one’s promises, faithfulness to binding commitments) through which everything in the universe exists, was begotten after His kind before the ages of time.” Also when you said”His divine Spirit and human flesh” did you mean that Jesus has a human only body and a divine only spirit? Looking forward to your reply

    • Tim,
      First let me apologize profusely for my extremely belated reply! Your questions deserve thoughtful answers. I used the term “personal” to denote Jesus’ as God’s manifestation with a human “face” (whence “persona”) or form–what makes him far superior to any of God’s self-revelations in previous eras. The apostle John was fond of writing about the Logos, which I prefer to translate as “Explanation,” because it highlights the original sense (the most common one in the NT) of a complete thought, not simply a word or term. “Graciousness” gets closer to the real meaning of “grace,” which is virtually a missing category in popular discourse. The parenthetical expansion seemed important to elaborate on the Hebrew background of the term “truth.” I thought it was important to do that right at the outset, because “truth” in today’s commom parlance can be so abstract. I learned this especially from a former mentor (now retired) at the Institute for Christian Studies, in Toronto, Senior Member James H. Olthuis. When I studied there, he had just written an excellent popular book, I Pledge You My Troth”, on the ethics of love and marriage. The faithfulness of the Lord Jesus Christ is the explanation for the regularities of the universe; through him all things cohere (Colossians 1). We know from Hebrews 1 and Ephesians 3 that God makes the ages of time and their purpose through His Son, and an early creed declares that the Son was begotten before all ages. We may fairly conclude that time began when the Son began; God architected the ages of time and all that has been created therein, through the Son of His beloved Son. (The Bible has no word for “eternity”; that’s a theological monkey wrench.) To understand what it means for the Son be be begotten of God, we need go no farther than Genesis 1. All living entities beget and give birth “after their own kind.” And that must ipso facto go for God, their originator. Jesus was as much deity, being Son of God, as he was human, being son of humankind. That leads to your last question. The soul of Jesus was absolutely unique–the combination (however that works!) of the Spirit of God’s Explanation and the flesh of the virgin Mary. Go figure. It’s surely no coincidence that the first chapters of so many books of Scripture provide pivotal language to articulate these primal teachings we need for understanding God, the created universe, and our own worth and salvation. (Genesis 1, Matthew 1, John 1, Romans 1, Ephesians 1, Colossians 1, Titus 1, Hebrews 1, I Peter 1, II Peter 1, I John 1, Revelation 1, plus Proverbs 8) I hope this helps, at least for starters!


  2. Peter Bengtsson

    Hi, I’m very new to the “ransom theory”. In many ways it has given me a new way to understand the bible. But what I would like to get a clearer understanding of is: How do I know when I’m saved? And how do I know if I have lost salvation? Do I have to have a totally clean heart to be saved?

    Blessings, Peter

    • Hi, Peter!
      I can’t speak for the “ransom theory,” but the premial explanation of the New Testament that I argue for in this blog site touches on the questions you raise especially in #9-10, #54, and #60-70 of my “77 Questions About the Atonement (Q&A) [complete],” which you were looking at. If you still have questions after reading those Q&A’s, you’re welcome to post more questions. I’ll do my best to elaborate as I understand thus far. Happy studying!

  3. Peter Bengtsson

    Thanks Ronald for your quick reply! What are the main differences between the “ransom theory” and “premial explanation”?

    Blessings, Peter

    • Before I answer that excellent question pointblank, you might want to look over my last document at the top of this site, “Advantages of the Premial Atonement,” which lists 31 points of comparison with many traditional and popular beliefs about the Atonement (not only the so-called “ransom theory”). Then we can springboard from there wherever you want. Enjoy!


  4. Was the Messiah a human sacrifice?
    Lord Yahweh, through all his interactions detests human sacrifices.
    Therefore, the messiah was not a human sacrifice in the sense of a physically killed sacrifice to satisfy the anger of his God. He is an example of the true or real sacrifice – one of obedience even unto death.
    “You shall not do so to Yahweh your God; for every abomination to Yahweh, which he hates, they have done to their gods; for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” Deu 12:31

    • Linus,
      I’m curious to know which of my 77 questions you may be responding to, since I don’t recall mentioning human sacrifice there.
      That said, thanks for your question! I notice you assume that since God detests human sacrifice, then Messiah could not have been a human sacrifice. You conclusion does not logically follow. Israel perpetually did things that God detested. That doesn’t mean they never happened. Same with Messiah. And although I do not believe that the wicked sacrifice of the Messiah functioned to satisfy the anger of God, the penal substitution theory does teach that. I invite you to read through, slowly and soberly, the many, many stanzas I have collected in the piece at the top of my blog site entitled, “‘Penal Satisfaction/Substitution’ in English Hymns,” where that kind of language is used repeatedly, boldly, unmistakably. My own argument is that the injustice of Messiah’s crucifixion, in view of precisely his faithful obedience to the Father’s will even unto death, provoked God’s justice to raise him from the dead and exalt him to glory and sovereignty over all creation. That covenantal inheritance included a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which he, in turn, redistributed to the new humanity in Messiah. The fact that God Himself stepped in to more than reverse Israel’s abomination by reversing the lethal effects of their greatest national sin instead of making them bear its destructive consequences themselves–that is the very definition of MERCY! Every one of the ancient Levitical sacrifices for sin and guilt, including the Day of Atonement and Passover were animal sacrifices that amounted to prophecies of a great future sacrifice of the Son of mankind–a human being.

      Now just imagine if Christopher Columbus (whose name means “Christ-bearing Dove”!) had somehow turned the periodic human sacrifice of the Aztecs into an evangelistic opportunity by proclaiming the Story of how the Creator Himself had fulfilled their human sacrifices by sending His own Son to die for their sins! There might have been mass evangelism rather than massacre. But Columbus was out for fools’ gold instead of the real article. Catholic Columbus no more understood the nature and meaning of Messiah’s sacrifice than did the Protestant Reformers who emerged a quarter century later. And although he fancied himself in the role of one who was extending God’s kingdom, he suffered under the Constantinian illusions of a thousand years’ entrenching, plus Augustinian doctrines of war. Later Catholic missionaries were often horrified by the practices of the conquistadors and wrote huge volumes documenting their wickedness and vast genocides. Had those generations grasped the PREMIAL JUSTICE of God so evident in the Cross/Resurrection events, such tragedies would never have occurred to stain the reputation of Yahweh and the Christian church. But that’s another story, yet to be written properly.

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