‘The Message’ – Plain and simple!
- Plain and simple!
Any action that makes amends for past misdeeds and in so doing makes reconciliation possible is an act of ‘atonement’.
In terms of man’s relationship with God, sin has brought separation. Mankind needs to be restored – made ‘at-one’ with Him. However, there is a problem. On our own, we are incapable of offering the atonement required to make our reconciliation with God possible. Why? – Because God is holy, and no matter how much man might seek to make amends for past misdeeds, his sinfulness remains. We need a Saviour. We cannot ‘buy’ atonement with God. We have to respond to the call of Christ and act in union with Him for His offering on our behalf for our atonement to be accounted for us.
In the Middle-Ages, it was believed that by making large ‘indulgences’ to the then Catholic Church, or by enduring some act of self-flagellation, one might gain divine favour. Not so. Such acts are worthless. Simony is condemned by Peter (Acts 8:18-20) and Jesus calls us to repentance, not to self-punishment. Gifts of charity and acts of self-sacrifice, in themselves, make no impression on the Almighty. God looks upon the heart – and values the humble widow’s mite and the quiet witness far above any ostentatious display of piety. Moreover, punishment, if not remedial and corrective of one’s behaviour and attitude can never provide atonement for the offender – even though it might indeed serve justice for past offences. What God requires from us is a change of heart and a new spirit (Ezek.18:30-32). For, if we do not suffer ourselves to be corrected, we cannot have atonement – we cannot partake of the holiness of God:
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, we can read: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him, for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives’ (Heb.12:5-6, NKJ). Such punishment is profitable that we might be ‘partakers of His holiness’ (v10).
It is commonly taught that we can atone for our crimes by accepting just punishment. A criminal is said to pay for crimes by suffering a period of imprisonment. Society accepts the offender back into its community at the end of the prisoner’s time behind bars, regardless of whether or not there was rehabilitation or repentance for the crimes committed. However, we should not confuse the atonement accepted by society with the atonement acceptable to God. Even though we confess, repent and seek to make amends for all our offences – complete atonement and our restoration with God is not possible if we are not changed within. We need salvation, and without it we are without hope.
Atonement for past offences alone will not suffice, if we are to enter into God’s fellowship. The Israelites were given a sacrificial system to allow for the ‘atonement’ (or ‘covering’) of past offences once per year, on the Day of Atonement. Symbolically, as we now understand from Scripture, these looked forward to the atonement of Christ, yet served as an annual reminder of Israel’s continual sinfulness. Israel, as a nation, was restored in its relationship with God by correct observance of these sacrificial laws, but it was a relationship that was remote – distant, and involved human intermediaries working as priests, serving between man and God. The sacrifices, of course, foreshadowed the true atonement of Christ – whose one sacrifice alone tore open the curtain of division and opened the way for man to enter into the presence of God in a new and personal way, through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, received through faith in God’s Son.
Our atonement is only made possible through Christ, or more precisely, in Christ. As Paul wrote: ‘…we shall be saved by His life’ (Rom.5:10, NKJ). For it is His life offered up for us that makes possible our atonement. It was the prayer of Jesus that we might be made ‘one’ in God:
‘I do not pray for these alone, but for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You have given Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me’ (John 17:20-23, NKJ).
How is this possible? From the above, it is clear that we must believe in Him through the word of His apostles and witnesses: the words of the New Testament, especially those of the Gospels. By their word we come to believe. We learn of His life and sacrifice. In some measure, we come to know what He is like as a Person, through all the testimony concerning Him. – We must know this if we are to follow Him. We need to know what He taught, if we are to obey Him. The Gospels record that He was the living testimony of God’s Word. In all respects, He fulfilled all that was written of Him in the Scriptures. However, knowing facts concerning Him is one thing, knowing Him personally is another.
If we do not seek to obey His commands, we cannot claim to know Him: ‘He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him’ (1 John 2:4, NKJ). Knowing Him as Lord in a personal relationship is what matters. For to know God in truth, through His Son, is eternal life, as Jesus said: ‘And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent’ (John 17:3, NKJ). After hearing and believing, we must then repent, as Peter declared on the Day of Pentecost, after the coming of the Holy Spirit: ‘Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:38, NKJ).
Jesus had said: ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it’ (Mark 8:34-35, NKJ). Baptism into Christ symbolizes the crucifying and burying of the old self and the raising up of the new, lived unto God: ‘Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life …knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin’ (Rom.6:4-6, NKJ). The cost to God for our salvation was the cross of Christ. The cost to us is the life of this world which we must ‘crucify’ in our walk with God: ‘…those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires’ (Gal.5:24, NKJ). Jesus said: ‘Count the cost’ (Luke 14:28, NKJ).
The promise for all who believe and repent is the gift of the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit of God we are raised to new life in Christ: ‘…by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father”’ (Rom.5:15, NKJ). John wrote: ‘…as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’ (John 1:12-13, NKJ). This is what Jesus prayed for. By the Holy Spirit, received through faith in Christ, we have oneness with God. Our desire is to live according to the Spirit: ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God’ (Rom.8:14, NKJ).
Our atonement, therefore, is achieved for us through our being raised up in Christ, who gave Himself for us that we might know God through Him and the power of the resurrection. His one perfect offering is accepted for us, who are forgiven and follow Him in faith. In Christ, His righteousness avails as a covering for sin for all who now walk in the Spirit. Paul declared: ‘There is, therefore, no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:1, NKJ). His death brought to fulfillment and completion His whole offering to save us from our sins. The cross was the climax of His witness in the flesh for us that we might repent and be crucified in Him to the world, but live unto God. From the witness of His glorious resurrection, we look back to the cross and are drawn near, realizing that in Him is life, where death has no power, nor sin any place. We see that He came despising the shame and in perfect love cast out all fear.
In laying down His life in the flesh for us, He calls for us to be clothed with His righteousness that we also should have no fear of death. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have this assurance of faith. We are changed, renewed and appointed to everlasting life and peace in the presence of the Eternal God. Certainly He suffered for us, on our behalf. He endured, suffering wrongfully, leaving us example, but to the One who judges righteously He submitted His life. The glory of the resurrection was the heavenly response.
Now, in Christ, we have atonement with God. He is our peace and salvation. Let all who call Him Lord proclaim the good news!
‘I do not pray for these alone,
but for those who will believe in Me through their word;
that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You,
that they also may be one in Us,
that the world may believe
that You sent Me.’
John 17:20-21, NKJ