Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A thumbnail sketch of the atonement in the Bible

1 John 2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Today I want to lay down a basic outline of one of the greatest and most central teachings of sacred scripture - the atonement. This post is not meant to be exhaustive nor comprehensive, but rather represents a thumbnail sketch of the atonement's main features.

A helpful definition of this term can be seen in the word itself: At - One - Ment. When we talk about the meaning of the term "atonement", it refers to God's saving work whereby He provides the grounds for the sinner to be At-One with Him. Other meanings of this word include the ideas of removal of God's wrath (called by Bible teachers "propitiation") and removal of the sinner's guilt before God (called "expiation"). 

For now we will restrict ourselves to the term "atonement", since it covers so much ground and is a summary word for all that was accomplished and effected by Christ's life and work on the cross (chiefly His crucifixion, but made possible by His resurrection). 


A Basic outline of the key thoughts making up the Atonement in the Bible
In the Old Testament, the idea of cleansing away of sinful guilt was of chief importance in the minds of the Old Testament writers. One text for example illustrates perfectly the biblical picture of the atonement: Job 37:21-22 “Now men do not see the light which is bright in the skies; But the wind has passed and cleared them. “Out of the north comes golden splendor; Around God is awesome majesty."

Notice how we see the key Biblical themes of atonement and the Gospel in this passage:

1. Lost in darkness. 
Picture men who are in darkness, unable to see the light. Ephesians 2:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 4:1-4 characterizes unbelieving man like the men here in Job 37:21.

2. Light of God's Glory
The light is in the sky, but inaccessible. The clouds of judgment veil the face of God. Unbelieving man faces judgment due to His rejection of Holy God. (Romans 1:18-31; John 3:17-19)

3. The Cleansing away of darkness. 
This is what takes place when the atonement achieved by Christ on the cross is applied to the believer by grace through faith. The darkness of judgment is swept away by the blood, and behold the sinner is declared a saint and can now walk under an open heaven with God. (1 John 1:6-9)

Two major themes of "achievement" and "application" dominate any discussion on the subject of atonement.  Christ achieved the atoning work in the events of the cross/resurrection and the Spirit applies such at saving faith.

4. The Glory of God
This is what the sinner had fallen short of, but now the glory of God is central. What was formerly frightening is now delightful. Atonement reconciles us to the majesty of God. The blood of Jesus cleanses, reconciles and restores. 

May you dear reader be blessed as you contemplate the atoning work of Christ.


  1. My favorite subject.

    My childhood was very convoluted, and in many instances, horrifying. All of my life I have struggled with depression and sometimes worse symptoms. Most of the time I could survive by staying as close to Jesus, and the church, as I possibly could. But I still had trouble with depression.

    About 4 years ago I was at a point of extreme crisis. The emotional and physical pain was almost debilitating. (I had sought help through secular counseling and sometimes medication for 20+ years because that is what my insurance would cover.)

    I reached out to a Pastor in my area. At first we conversed by email, but he decided it would be better to meet. At my first meeting with him he gave me a two-page sheet of Bible verses. The first verse was about Justification. He told me we were going to meet until we had this "thing" figured out. I told him I didn't think that was possible, but he said "Oh yes it is."

    In between our meetings I decided to do "homework" on the individual passages that he gave me. At home I was doing a lot of journaling. I would write down quotes from all kinds of sources from Christian things I either read or listened to. (I'm an online sermon junkie.) I would take a verse and compile some of these quotes along with it. (It indeed is messy to anyone else but me.)

    Also, since this Pastor was giving me the time, I decided to read the whole NT straight through. I got this idea from a Bible study leader. We were studying the life of David and he had us get a chronological Bible. He told us to read the story of David as if we were reading a novel. Just read it straight through. So that is what I did with the NT. I didn't stop to do much underlining or highlighting as I normally do.

    At the end I was astounded. The light went on in my head. I understood the big words: propitiation, atonement, expiation, imputation, grace -- seemingly for the first time. (I knew all these before in a disjointed kind of way, but the impact that I received from reading the NT was amazingly clear this time.)

    My depression lifted so much -- and it has not come back to the extent that I had it before.

    I am not against secular counseling. It kept my head above water and helped me to keep going many times. But it could never give me the sorely needed forgiveness as that which comes from Christ. There is a place for talk therapy and medication for sure. But I truly realized -- deep within me -- the greater value of this Christ centered counseling and prayers and absolution that I received from the Pastor and ultimately from Christ Himself. Tim Keller calls this "going deeper." I am convinced that we as Christians -- even lifelong committed Christians -- don't yet have a full understanding of "it is finished." And how deep Grace really is.

    I may not have expressed this very well. When I left the Pastor, I gave him a notebook of my "story" and all the work I had done through our time together. We only met seven times for about 2 hrs each meeting, the notebook ended up being about 200 pgs/double side. God and I did most of the work in between my meetings with the Pastor. But the Pastor's guidance was truly needed. Because it gave me someone to work with and talk to and ask questions of.

    I truly wish I could communicate Grace better to other people. I try. But I realize that people are at all different places in their lives, and at different levels of learning and hearing. So I just say what I can to the best of my ability.

    God bless you, Pastor. Never give up. People are hearing more than you could ever know.


  2. To Abby:

    Thank you for sharing that testimony. Thanks for the encouragements. Praise be to Jesus!

    Pastor Mahlon