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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.