Atonement, Jesus, and You

1 Peter 1:18 (ESV)
knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,

The doctrine of atonement is crucial to Christian theology. It marks a shift from previous doctrines such as the doctrine of the Trinity, Christ, sin, etc. These doctrines involve knowledge about God. But the doctrine of atonement speaks to what God does. Specifically, what He does for you. So the doctrine of atonement is intensely personal.

When we talk about the Atonement of Christ we are talking about what exactly took place when Jesus hung on the cross and what it means for you. Obviously MUCH more was going on than simply a man being executed.

Theories of Atonement

  1. The Ransom Theory of Atonement. 1 Peter 1:18 speaks about you and I being ransomed by Christ. This theory explains that sin has held us all captive. We are slaves. We are hostages. The wages of our sin is death. The ransom note requires blood. Jesus Christ came and he paid the ransom so that you and I can be set free.
  2. The Socinian Theory: Atonement as Example. This theory came from Faustus and Laelius Socinus in the 16th century. This theory explains that the death of Jesus serves as an “example” of the way we should live our lives, as unselfish, willing to give of ourselves for others. This theory is wrought with numerous theological flaws. It denies that sin needs to be dealt with. It denies that God is a God of justice. It denies that Jesus is anything other than human. In short, it reduces the death of Jesus to an example of mere inspiration for the rest of us.
  3. The Moral Influence Theory of Atonement. First put forth by Peter Abelard in response to Anselm (who viewed our sin as an offense against God), this theory focuses on the death of Jesus on the cross as a supreme act of love. God loved us so much, He was willing to die for us via His son Jesus. This theory focuses on the divinity of Christ, however, it denies that God requires satisfaction for sin. Instead, the atonement of Christ is once again an example. We should love one another because God has loved us in such an extreme way.
  4. The Governmental Theory of Atonement. This theory came about as a response to the Socinians. It was believed that their view was too human-centered. Heavily supported by Hugo Grotius, a lawyer and pastor, this theory focuses on the order and justice of God. God must have satisfaction for the offense to Him and His creation. Thus Christ died in our place to preserve and protect the integrity of God’s character.
  5. The Satisfaction Theory of Atonement. This theory came about as response to the ransom theory. It was believed by some that the atonement was not about paying some debt to Satan who holds us captive. In this way it was seen that Satan somehow “wins” just as a kidnapper would benefit should his ransom demand be met. The Satisfaction Theory, instead, focuses on the satisfaction that God requires in order for Him to forgive sin and let us enter into His holy presence and heaven. This theory strikes a balance between God’s requirements and Man’s helpless condition.
  6. Penal Substitution Theory of Atonement. This theory attempts to define the death of Jesus on the cross as involving: sacrifice, propitiation, substitution, and reconciliation to God. Sin brings with it a penalty. Death. Jesus has stepped in as our substitute. God is satisfied, we are forgiven, death is defeated, and relationship to God is restored.

Does it matter?

Does your doctrine of atonement matter? Yes! Recently, our worship pastor ran across a great new worship song called, Jesus Dropped the Charges. Man, it is a fun, exciting and kickin’ worship song. Perfect for our church. But it has one major problem. It is theologically wrong. It pushes a theory of atonement that Jesus dropped the charges that had been filed against us by God. But that is NOT what happened when Jesus died on the cross. He didn’t drop the charges, he PAID the penalty for the guilty verdict that came from the charges. And yes, there is a big difference, and yes theology matters.

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One response to “Atonement, Jesus, and You”

  1. Mars Hill says :

    Hi Jeffrey,My name is David. I was actually trying to locate an old friend of mine tonight using Google (whose name also happens to be Jeffrey Crawford, but he's not you). When I came across your blog I just started scrolling down and looking at some of your posts. This one caught my eye.There is another theory of the atonement that you may or may not be aware of.The orthodox doctrine of the atonement is based on a legal theory of God's "justice". The theory goes that God's "law" has been transgressed by humanity, and therefore God must punish the transgressors by sending them to Hell for eternity. This is the "just" punishment, according to the theory, for the transgression of God's law(s). The "gift" of salvation, then, is that God is willing to forgive the sins of men, by having transferred the "just" punishment of death on his son, who lived the perfect life from a legal point of view (i.e. Jesus never broke any part of God's law).The problem with the orthodox view, in my opinion, is that it completely ingores the plain meaning of "forgiveness" (which is the cancellation of an UNPAID debt) and also makes God the most legalistic person of all. God, in this instance, cannot forgive sins at all unless He is paid in blood to do it.Far from making God to be "holy" (set apart) from the gods of the other nations,the legal theory of the atonement makes God just like the pagan gods, who also demanded blood sacrifices IN ORDER to show favor to their worshippers. (Granted, these were false "gods" in the first place, since they were merely idols made by human hands).The legal theory of the atonement ignores the fact that God FORGIVES sins BECAUSE He is "just", that is to say, because He is FAITHFUL and righteous.1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous (i.e. "just" – same Greek word) TO FORGIVE us our sins . . ."God's promise to Abraham to bless all nations in his seed, the coming Messiah, was to NOT count our sins against us. To forgive our sins.Moreover, the legal theory places God's law over God's love. God's judgment over God's mercy.But, to the contrary:1 Corinthians 13:5 "(Love). . . does not take into account a wrong suffered."Which is to say, that God is comfortable to forgive our sins. Jesus death and resurrection effects a change in US (not God). God didn't need for Jesus to die IN ORDER to forgive us where otherwise He could not. Rather, WE needed Jesus to die and to be raised from the dead by God IN ORDER TO BELIEVE, that is, to have faith, in God's promise of forgiveness.I realize this is a very, VERY short explanation and that much more can be said, but I just wanted to offer it to you as an alternative to consider.Grace and peace,David

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