Scriptures

Atonement And Faith

Introduction

God’s grace does not come to man because of any special obligation God has toward man. Lost humanity cannot make any claim on God’s grace.

The Greek word ‘charis’ is usually translated as ‘grace’ but it’s root meaning is something given freely without any compensation expected. From it we get the English word ‘charity.’ Charity is benevolence that expects no repayment. In other words, it is a gift with no strings attached.

Any attempt to combine human effort with divine effort robs grace of its meaning.

‘And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.’ Romans 11:6

Paul is simply saying that if we try to introduce works into the equation of justification, then we must take grace out because we have violated its meaning.

‘(We) are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’ Romans 3:24

The word ‘freely’ stresses the aspect of an unconditional gift. When we speak of free grace we are referring only of the cost to the recipient and not the giver. There is no such thing as a free lunch. A guest may enjoy a free meal but somebody has paid for it.

In the case of our salvation grace came at a very high price. The total cost was paid by our Saviour on a Roman cross. Man had absolutely nothing to do with the price that was paid. A tremendous problem existed between God and mankind. This was man’s sin. Man’s sin created such a gulf between him and his Creator that fellowship was impossible. Paul reminds of this fact.

‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ Romans 3:23

‘Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you.’ Isaiah 59:2

With fellowship broken, God had to devise a plan that would allow Him to justify man and yet at the same time He would not compromise His own perfect justice. That plan was the atonement. Atonement is the central doctrine of grace.

However, the English word ‘atonement’ does not properly express the scriptural teaching on this subject. If you look at it closely you will see it is simply a compound word, ‘AT-ONEMENT’, which expresses the idea of a reconciliation between God and man.

They are brought together to become one, thus the idea of restoring fellowship between the two of them. This is really the idea of reconciliation and not what is intended by the word atonement.

In the Old Testament the Hebrew word ‘Kaphar’ which means ‘to cover’ occurs more than one hundred times in connection with the idea of atonement. However, in the New Testament no single Greek word occurs which means atonement.

The word ‘atonement’ does occur in Romans 5:11 but is a mistranslation of the Greek word ‘katalange’ which means reconciliation. The doctrine of atonement however is clearly taught in such passages as John 1:29 and Hebrews, chapters 9 and 10.

Because of God’s perfect and absolute holiness, the sins of man had to be covered. Man could not stand in God’s holy presence and have fellowship with him without his sins being covered or separated from him. In the shedding of his blood our sins were covered and thus God was propitiated, appeased thus satisfied. The word ‘propitiation’ is probably the most accurate word that expresses the idea of atonement.

The point is that God was satisfied that sin had been covered. Now the door to reconciliation between man and God was open. This is a critical point. Everything now depends upon man’s response to God’s offer to cover his sins. Man’s response to God’s grace determines whether or not reconciliation between the two becomes effective.

There is a double aspect to atonement. It can be seen in the two goats used in the annual ritual of the atonement found in Leviticus 16. This ritual was typical of the real atonement that would take place later with Christ. One goat was sacrificed and his blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat in the Most Holy Place. The other goat, called the scapegoat had all the sins of the people put onto its head and was then carried away into the wilderness.

Likewise, Jesus carried our sin away when He died on the cross, 1 Peter 2:24, but he also carried His blood ‘within the veil’ to sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, Hebrews 9:11-12.

At this point we must be careful not to leave a wrong impression. Some men believe that God’s grace applies generally to mankind without any conditions. In order for reconciliation to take place it requires man’s participation.

To illustrate, a man might be left a very large sum of money by a deceased relative. The money is in the bank and is potentially his. However, he will not enjoy the benefits of it until it effectively becomes his and this will not happen until he has complied with the requirements of the will.

Fellowship with God becomes effective only when we have claimed it for our own by complying with the terms of Christ’s will. These terms require a symbolic re-enactment of Christ’s atoning death. This involves baptism. Romans 6 shows that it is at this point we come into contact with the blood of Christ.

‘Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’ Romans 6:3-4

When the Roman soldier thrust the spear into the side of the body of Jesus there came forth both blood and water. When we re-enact Christ’s atoning death in baptism we come into contact with the blood of Christ.

Baptism puts us into his death where he shed his blood. When we have done this, our sins are expiated or atoned for by his precious blood. Our offences against God’s righteousness are propitiated and we are redeemed from the guilt and condemnation of sin. Reconciliation is then affected between God and man.

‘But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.’ Romans 6:17-18

Paul is simply saying that Christ’s atonement becomes effective in our lives when an obedient act of faith, (baptism) takes place in our lives. Atonement is the expression of God’s grace and mercy, and no other means of reconciliation has ever been revealed to man.

God has provided the means unlimited grace, to save our entire world yet we know that most of the world is not saved. This there must be some other factor in the equation of salvation besides the grace of God. That factor is the response of man, and that response is faith. Grace can only reach us through faith.

‘For by grace have you been saved through faith.’ Ephesians 1:8

Most communities have a common water supply that is available to all who live there. The source is usually a river, lake or well. But the source does not run through you house. The water reaches each individual’s household through a channel or pipe. In the same way God’s grace reaches us when our hearts accept it through the channel of faith.

Salvation is God’s wondrous gift to mankind, grounded in God’s mercy and love and channelled through man’s faith. Millions of people believe intellectually that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but they do not change their direction in life nor their relationship to God in any way.

If you were to ask the average person in the Western world if he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, he probably would say yes. However, he does not mean by his answer that he is interested in becoming a Christian. He is simply indicating that he believes the evidence favours the fact that a historical person named Jesus lived and was called the Son of God.

While intellectual faith is a beginning point, unless it progresses beyond this stage, nothing will ever be changed about this person’s relationship with God. It must become a personal emotional belief. This is where the matter becomes personal and the believer relates the information to himself.

Am I ready to meet God? What does the crucifixion mean to me a sinner? Am I willing to change my life?

At this point, one is aware of his sinfulness and does not desire to continue in sin. This is repentance. At the same time, he recognises the need to have his sins removed. The sinner’s faith is strong enough that he resolves in his heart: I will accept and obey God’s terms of pardon and receive his gracious forgiveness. He then proceeds to acknowledge his faith in Christ and be baptized. Baptism is an expression of faith in Christ’ death, burial and
resurrection.

Oh, the wisdom of our God. To think that he could take a cruel Roman cross and bring about the atonement for all our sins is truly wonderful.

‘Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?’ ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?’ For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.’ Romans 11:33-36

QUESTIONS

1. Why is it important that we understand the relationship between grace and faith?

Because the only way grace can come to us is through faith. Paul says, ‘For by grace have you been saved through faith.’ This indicates there are certain terms or conditions attached to our receiving God’s grace. In order to receive an inheritance provided us in a will we must comply with the terms of that will.

Only when we have complied with the terms of Christ’s will can God’s grace be effective in our lives.

2. Can one separate works from genuine faith?

No. Genuine faith acts upon what it believes in. Faith must be more than just intellectual or it will not act. God expects and active obedient faith.

3. In what way do works compliment grace?

Works are done out of gratitude for what God has done for us. Gratitude is a result of love. God knows that we love him when we serve him out of gratitude.

4. Is grace an enabler?

Yes. The love of God was expressed to man by Jesus’ death on the cross and thus grace becomes the great motivation in our lives. John says, ‘We love him because he first loved us.’

5. What did grace enable Paul to do?

He turned from being a persecutor to become one a great if not the greatest Christian that ever lived. He endured great hardships and persecutions but this did not stop him. He went on to evangelise many countries. Even while in prison his work did not cease as he received many people into his own hired house and taught them.

Also, people in Caesar’s household were converted during Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome. He wrote 13 of the New Testament letters with seven of these being written while in prison. He could look back on his life as a persecutor and compare it with his present life and say, ‘By the grace of God, I am what I am.’

6. In the overall picture, is our salvation based partially upon grace, partially upon faith, and partially upon works?

By seeing grace and faith in their proper relationship we can credit God alone with our salvation without in any way diminishing men’s responsibility in accepting or rejecting that salvation.

God’s plan for saving men is not divided into separate compartments and made up of distinct and different elements, but is, in fact, an integrated whole.

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."

1 John 3:16

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