The Atonement: Q&A

In my previous post, “Tackling the Atonement,” I told a story about Jesus becoming man, entering into and sharing our slavery and bondage, then undoing all the things Adam put on us as humans because he obeyed rather than disobeying like Adam did.

I told how Jesus obeyed all the way to death, to the thrill of the devil, but the devil was not so thrilled to find out that death could not hold him. Jesus, by undoing what Adam did and by overthrowing death and the devil, freed us from sin, death, and the devil. I even listed out some early Christian quotes teaching the same thing.

That story was the product of my being asked questions about the atonement as I see it. With the above idea as a basis, I would like to go on to other questions I was asked.

Are atonement, redemption, and propitiation the same thing?

Atonement and propitiation (which may not be a good translation of hilasmos) are virtually the same thing. Atonement is a word that was formed from at-one-ment. It is two people coming together. Propitiation is the removal of what hinders that at-one-ment.

Redemption is a completely different thought. Redemption is a purchase. In the case of Scripture, Jesus’ purchased us out of slavery to sin, death, and the devil. The price Jesus paid was himself. His rescue, his redemption, was many-faceted, but Scripture does make some clear statements about it.

  • The forgiveness of sins is called redemption. (Eph. 1:7).
  • We are redeemed out from under the Law of Moses. (Gal. 4:5)
  • We are redeemed from the curse of the Law. (Gal. 3:13)
  • Our bodies will be redeemed at the resurrection. (Rom. 8:23)
  • We are redeemed from iniquity so that we are zealous for good works. (Tit. 2:13-14)
  • We are redeemed, in the sense of purchased, so that we are owned by God. (Eph. 1:14; Rev. 5:9)

If redemption is a purchase, to whom was the purchase price paid?

This we addressed yesterday. We were slaves. Redemption and ransom prices for slaves are paid to the former slave owner. This would suggest that Jesus paid a price to the devil, our slave owner. The price was himself, an exchange of himself for us, but the devil could not hold onto his new slave. He tried to wrap Jesus in death, but Jesus bound him, overthrew both him and death, then plundered his house.

It’s not a good idea to take into captivity someone more powerful than you. Jesus was more powerful than the devil, and as a result, he “took captivity captive.”

Does the blood of Jesus act like an antidote?

Yes. Just as Adam sinned and, as a result, death reigned over all his descendants, so Jesus obeyed, bringing righteousness and life to his descendants. Jesus’ descendants are his descendants through believing the Gospel, not lineage or biological descent (Rom. 5:17-19).

I think the best picture of this is Paul’s response to Romans 7. He describes Romans 7, the law of sin and death, and then at the start of chapter 8 he tells us that not only are we freed from condemnation, but we are freed from the law of sin and death itself.

How did that happen? Paul does not explain, at least not in any way I understand, but he goes on to say that “what the Law could not do, God did” (Rom. 8:3). He then tells us that the way God freed us from the law of sin and death was by sending his Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” and “as an offering for sin.”

What’s terrible, for me at least, is he explains no further. He does tell us the result of that freedom, which is that the righteousnes of the Law will be fulfilled in us if we walk by the Spirit.

Jesus became like us, taking on sinful flesh and purging us, by obedience, from the disease that is in our flesh: sin. His whole life was an offering for sin, culminating in the final offering, all the way to death.

Thus, when we surrender ourselves to King Jesus, the Son of the living God, we receive the antidote to our old disease of sin and death. “The Law of the Spirit of Life in King Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death.”

Is the blood of Jesus a necessary sacrifice for the blood to be poured out for us to receive life?

Yes! The bondage that took us because of Adam’s disobedience was not just sin, but death. More than anything, we needed deliverance from death so that we could live. Jesus, then, had to take on flesh and die, so that through death he could conquer the one who had the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14-15).

Early Christians Again

I hope I have been showing you as we go that this is in the Scriptures, but is this kind of teaching really what the apostles handed on to the churches they left behind?

Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ and see how precious that blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world. Let us turn to every age that has passed and learn that, from generation to generation, the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all who would be converted to him. (1 Clement 7. AD 95-96)

We evangelicals usually believe that Jesus’ death was to “pay a penalty,” that is to receive our punishment in our place so that we could go free just because no more penalty is due.

Notice, though, that when Clement tells us to look to the blood of the King, he tells us that it brought “the grace of repentance” before the whole world. Jesus vanquished sin so that we who were in bondage to it could be free from it. Being freed from sin, then the possibility of repentance is set before us.

This is not just an early Christian thought. It is in the Scriptures. Acts 11:18 tells us that what was given to the Gentiles when Peter preached to Cornelius was “repentance leading to life.” Paul described his whole message as “repent and do works suitable for repentance” in Acts 26:20.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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6 Responses to The Atonement: Q&A

  1. Paul Pavao says:

    Thank you, KatieAnn

  2. Paul Pavao says:

    Hi KatieAnn. Good question. Let’s be clear on one thing at the start. God is far more interested in repentance and obedience than in sacrifice. “To obey is better than sacrifice” is just a beginning on all the Scriptures that say this. Evangelicals tend to think the problem with Cain’s sacrifice is that it was bloodless, but 1 John 3:12 indicates it was because he was wicked. In the same way, in Genesis 4:7 God tells Cain that he will be accepted if he does good.

    In Psalm 51, David says that God did not want sacrifice, but a broken heart and contrite spirit. In Isaiah 1, God expresses his revulsion at the Israelites’ rituals and sacrifice, then tells them that he wants obedience. In Jeremiah, God startles us by saying that he never asked for sacrifices when he brought the Israelites out of Egypt. Instead he wanted them to follow his instructions.

    With that all said, I have to agree with you on the general sense of your comment. I am writing this in 2019. I wrote this post in 2015, and I have been discussing and working on writing about the atonement for years and years. It is a really difficult thing to put into words. Let’s just say what you wrote is true, but let’s not say that God *requires* sacrifice to forgive sin. God forgives sin based on repentance. Again Psalm 51:16-17 and Jeremiah 7:20-22 indicate this. We, however, needed a sacrifice to release us from captivity to sin. It does not do much good to receive forgiveness from God after repenting only to go on sinning. We can live a righteous life by the power of grace (Rom. 6:14; Tit. 2:11-15). Thus, our repentance can be an ongoing life or repentance and holiness so that our state of forgiveness remains permanent (Rom. 4:8; 1 Jn. 1:7-2:4).

    I’m not sure how good an answer that is. It’s the best I can do right now.

    • KatieAnn says:

      Thank you, Paul. I found your answer more than satisfying. Yes, repentance is required on our part for sure. I also believe Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was also required…but only “once for all.” He even said so Himself in Luke 24: 25-27, “Then He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
      And I agree with you that we must continue to live a life of repentance and strive every day to be holy. I think this is achievable only by the power of the Holy Spirit Who is our constant teacher. But I think you said as much above. It is a mystery. I could go on and on. But I never tire of speaking and thinking about these things.
      I appreciate your posts very much, Paul. I consider you my brother in Christ. God bless you and you family.

      • Paul Pavao says:

        Thank you! Do I already know you? Have we met?

        • KatieAnn says:

          Hi Paul! No, we’ve never met. I was fortunate enough to find you online while searching for answers to certain theological questions. I posted a question about evolution to you on this blog several weeks ago. In that sense, we have corresponded. I read your posts and I often search your sites when pondering certain questions about the faith, so I’m sure I’ll be in touch again! Your comments and posts are very thoughtful and thought-provoking. God Bless!

  3. KatieAnn says:

    The atonement. I still don’t understand it very well. Considering the first Christians were Jews, for whom the whole sacrificial system was a daily reality, wouldn’t it make sense that Jesus also somehow cleansed us to reconcile us to God (as opposed to paying a ransom to the devil)? He was, after all the, the sacrificial lamb, perfect and without blemish. The sacrifices of the Jews were done in order to receive forgiveness from God. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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