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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Atonement: Is It Payment of Debt or Substitution

The Gospel of Salvation: Part 3

It is toward the end of the Church service.  The piano and organ are playing while the choir and some of the congregation are singing “Just As I Am”.  The preacher or pastor proclaims, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and give your heart to Him.  Come down to the altar and profess your faith in Jesus”.

Is salvation really that simple?  Exactly what is the criteria for believing in Jesus?  Exactly what part of Jesus is someone supposed to profess their faith in?  Difficult questions with generally simple answers offered by some pastors and denominations.  As noted in Part 1, the primary message of Jesus’ teachings was (and is) “repent and follow me” (into the Kingdom of God or Heaven) because “the Kingdom of God is at hand”.

The majority of the teachings, including the parables, of Jesus involved gaining entry or becoming a subject of the Kingdom of God (or Heaven in the Gospel of Matthew).  The teachings of Jesus are very important because they inform us of the protocol for following Him.  However, first, we must repent of our sins (transgressions or disobedience to the laws of God) and then attempt not to repeat them.

Jesus’ first two commands (proclaimed throughout the Gospels) clearly articulate the early church view of the Gospel; that is, repent and follow me! The Gospel according to Jesus is turn from your sins and follow Him. Turn from the world, the kingdom of darkness, sin, selfishness, hatred, and submit to the lordship of Christ, the Kingdom of God, righteousness, holiness, obedience, and love. This is the true Gospel.  Marc Carrier:  The Gospel According to Jesus

The Atonement of God through Jesus
The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus is extremely important but it is not the only aspect of His life that believers should be concerned with.  As noted in Part 1 sin and disobedience was brought into the world of humankind by the deception of Adam and Eve through the wiles of the Nachash.  The first couple lost their possibly glorified bodies and became typical humans such as all their descendants since that incident.  They were removed from the Edenic garden and placed on real-time earth to make ends meet at the best of their abilities.  They were now under the unwritten but understood “law of sin and death”.  The death of something innocent was required to expiate their sins.  A sheep was first killed as a means to clothe them and they were later apparently taught a type of sacrificial system.  Noah and his family were familiar with the sacrificial system.  Later, Moses and the Israelites (Hebrews) were given a more complete sacrifice and offering structure.  However, the animal sacrifices were all temporary expiations of sin.  Repentance, trusting God, and following the laws of God generally referred to as “faith in God” were required to become a “child of God”.

The Nachash (or Satan, devil, deceiver, accuser, or whatever his actual name happens to be) became the “god of this world” and everyone is his subject and under his authority.  God began to construct His own nation through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s 12 sons who were to be an example to the world of the worship of the one, true, God.  Although it did not proceed as might be expected, the world obtained the written instruction of God (the Bible), and the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God.  Those placing their faith and trust in the one true God were shown mercy from God until the New Covenant pronounced by Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the Son of God, was the innocent Lamb of God, sacrificed for the remission of sins for all people.  Salvation is not as simple as believing that fact – one must repent and follow Jesus: His life and His commandments.

But we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God's grace He would experience death on behalf of everyone……to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. ……Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death…….. so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.  (Hebrews 2:9-17 NET)

DEFINITION OF ATONEMENT:  Amends or reparation made for an injury or wrong; expiation.  The reconciliation of God and humans brought about by the redemptive life and death of Jesus Christ.

Because of disobedience to the laws of God the Creator, all people with the knowledge of good and evil and thus considered law breakers are to die as told to Adam and Eve.  Yes, we will all die a physical death until the return of Jesus but the spirit of a person, given by God, continues to live in the abyss, in some type of sleep state.  Through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, an atonement was given to us.  He was the ultimate sacrificial Lamb; the spilled blood for the remission of sins; a ransom to God the Father for the sin and death of all.  Those in bondage (to Satan) now have their freedom purchased, if they are willing to follow the King of the Kingdom.

Through selective scripture choosing, it is possible to make the atonement through Jesus a simple thing with no side effects.  Just believe that Jesus died for your sins and continue with business as usual.  Some teach and preach a doctrine related to the Anselm (a Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, around 1100 AD) “satisfaction” model wherein the crucifixion sacrifice was a once and for all debt payment to God and everything is finished – just believe Christ died as your debt payment to God and anything else appears to be optional (although optional is not necessarily taught just thought).

God did not simply send Jesus to suffer and die so as to satisfy His own justice. Christ was not merely a substitute for our own just punishment for errant behavior, and He did not simply come to earth to take away the penalty of our sin. If this were true, why then did Jesus teach at all? Why did He show us how to live if the atonement was simply a legal transaction?  Marc Carrier:  The Gospel According to Jesus

Since he had committed no sin and had been 100% obedient to the will of God, he was not under the death sentence as the rest of humanity. His death was not required for justice, it was a substitution or a sacrifice for our sin nature.  His blood was not a debt payment but actually cleanses us from sin:  frees us from the law of sin and death; a ransom.

But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  (1 John 1:7 NET)

The King and His Slaves
"For this reason, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. As he began settling his accounts, a man who owed ten thousand talents was brought to him. Because he was not able to repay it, the lord ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, children, and whatever he possessed, and repayment to be made. Then the slave threw himself to the ground before him, saying, 'Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything.' The lord had compassion on that slave and released him, and forgave him the debt. After he went out, that same slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him one hundred silver coins. So he grabbed him by the throat and started to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe me!' Then his fellow slave threw himself down and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will repay you.' But he refused. Instead, he went out and threw him in prison until he repaid the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were very upset and went and told their lord everything that had taken place. Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, 'Evil slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me! Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?' And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed. So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart."   (Matthew 18:23-35 NET)

The Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a King (or God) desiring to settle accounts with His slaves (or subjects).  One is brought before Him with many trespasses but he throws himself to the ground and repents of his sins and promises to follow the King and not repeat his trespasses.  The King had compassion on the slave and forgives him of his debt.  The slave, however, does not keep his word, and has a fellow slave thrown into prison for debts owed.  The King then retracts His compassion and demands the slave repay his debt.

False repentance and a lack of forgiveness does not include one in the Kingdom of God.  The acts and decrees of the King must be followed with repentance at each misstep. 

Closing Statements
The death of Jesus Christ has had many interpretations and doctrines declared through the ages.  These various shades of understanding are most likely the product of the expositor’s desires and expectations.  Jesus is scripturally called the “Lamb of God”, therefore it was a sacrifice for sin.  Since Jesus did not sin, it must have been a substitute for His followers.  It is my opinion His sacrifice ended the sacrificial system for all time.  It is believed the Judeans will rebuild a temple (possibly in the near future) and restart the daily sacrifices but it will not be recognized or honored by God.  The death and resurrection of Jesus also demonstrated that all the spirits of the dead will be resurrected at the return of Christ (and afterward) some for eternal life and others for eternal death in the lake of fire.

During the three days that Jesus was in the tomb, some expositors have speculated that he went to the abyss (bottomless pit) in the section designated as Abraham’s bosom and preached the Kingdom of God (or Heaven) to the spirits that have been residing there since the time of Adam and Eve.  The truth of that is unknown, but it is a thoughtful assessment.

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