A Modern Woman's Perspective On The Kingdom of God on Earth


Showing posts with label The Atonement. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Atonement. Show all posts

December 21, 2021

The Gift of the Atonement

 

This is the Christmas season ... the time when gifts are freely given and received. We don't do anything to earn them and for most of us, we do it because we want to please those we love. God gave us the gift of His Son, and His ultimate purpose was to atone for the sins of man to bring us back into relationship with our Heavenly Father. He did that by becoming the Lamb of God; the One whose sacrifice took away the sins of the world. His Atonement [for us] is the greatest act [and gift] in all of history, and a testament to the all-consuming love of God.

I know that sometimes we 21st Century Christians still struggle with believing we have to do something to earn God's love. In the materialistic, self-centered, narcissistic world we live in, even those of us who profess our faith in Jesus may find ourselves bargaining with God to make sure we are still in covenant with Him. It's like it's too difficult to believe that Jesus's death on the Cross -- the final Atonement -- is enough to secure our state of being "At One With God". We get hyper-focused on our needs and begin to question if there might be something else we could be doing to assure the promise of the Atonement. 

And what is that promise? How are we to understand the Atonement? The answer to that question is, at once, both a simple and deep one. The central message of the Atonement is that man's sin has separated him from the original relationship between man and God. God is a Holy God and He demands holiness, but there is nothing that sinful man can do to repair the breach. In other words, we can't be "holy enough". So God has provided a way for all men to come back into a harmonious relationship with our Creator. It is an act done by God because of His infinite and incalculable love for us. It was done by God for us and there is nothing we can do to add to it that makes us more worthy. 

But what about all the animal sacrifices that the Israelites did in following God's commandments? It is important that we understand that from the beginning of man's sin in the Garden, God inaugurated a blood sacrifice to "cover" the sin. God, Himself, sacrificed animals on behalf of Adam and Eve to provide garments to cover their nakedness. He also provided a ram as a sacrificial substitute for Isaac in response to Abraham's faith. And He ultimately sent His own Son as a final sacrifice for all sins [for all time] for those who have received faith in Jesus [by His Grace]. These sacrifices involved the spilling of blood, and this is at the heart of the Atonement ... Leviticus 17:11 makes the significance of blood quite clear in the sacrificial system: For the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you; to make you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible. "Making atonement for you" is what "making you right with the Lord" means. You are "at one" with Him; forgiven, reconciled and ransomed [rescued and redeemed from sin]. 

The sacrificial system in the Old Testament exemplified the need for a blood sacrifice, but it was only temporary. Each year, on the Day of Atonement,  the priests would carry the blood from the animal sacrifices into the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the people during the year. But it would have to be repeated each year because it was not enough to adequately make amends for the sins against God and His Holy Character. The atonement of the sacrificial system was not only temporary, it was insufficient and inadequate. But God had another plan... Jesus, Himself, the Son of God, "went once for all into the Holy Place [the Holy of Holies of Heaven, into the presence of God], and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, having obtained and secured eternal redemption [that is, the salvation of all who personally believe in Him as Savior]" Hebrews 9:12..

Go back and read the second paragraph again ... The Atonement is an act done by God! Yet somehow, we humans sometimes doubt that it is enough. And that, my friends, is called unbelief! We believe the lie of the Enemy that maybe we don't deserve the Atonement because we haven't done enough -- haven't prayed enough or in the right way; haven't served in the Church enough; haven't been perfect enough; haven't tithed enough; haven't been "Christian" enough! 

Even Abraham struggled with this notion. God's covenant with Abraham included the promises that are still affecting the world today... that God would show Abraham a land and make him a great nation and the father of many [the nation of Israel was the fulfillment]; that Abraham would receive personal blessings [a great name, and a son in his old age, both of which were fulfilled]; and in Abraham's "seed", all the families of the earth would be blessed [fulfilled through Jesus Christ, by whom we have been blessed with Salvation]. Yet, there were times Abraham struggled with waiting on the Lord and took matters into his own hands, thinking his own deeds might be enough of a subtle attempt to manipulate God into following through on His promises. Abraham was beginning to doubt God's promise of a son, so he listened to his wife's suggestion of arranging [themselves] for a son to be born to Abraham. And we know where that got them! 

The truth is, we often question God's promise of the Atonement for those who believe in faith in His Son. Shouldn't we be doing something to prove we are worthy of God saving us? Shouldn't we be trying harder to forgive everyone who has hurt us? Isn't there something else I need to confess and repent for? But we must discern when our "doing" becomes more about focusing on ourselves and our "works", rather than a genuine response of love towards the One who has done the sacrificial work of reconciliation.

I can explain it in these simple terms, as it applies to me. God has given me a gift to write. And I write for Him, just to please Him, with no expectation of fame, wealth, power, status or "extra points in Heaven". I know He gave me this gift and I use it in response to His love in giving it to me. That should be how we approach the Atonement of Jesus. Here is the heart of the matter: We can do nothing to enhance the gift His Atonement has brought us. Repentance, forgiveness, holiness and righteousness on our part can only be "done" [or accomplished] by the grace of God, which is HIS POWER IN US, to do what we can't do on our own! We can't do anything to add to what Jesus accomplished by His sacrificial death on the Cross! There is nothing we can do to add one iota to the all-sufficiency of the sacrifice He made to purify us from our sins. 

As we contemplate the birth of the Christ child this week, let us see the "big picture" of just what that gift of love has given us. God, Himself, came to redeem us in the form of an innocent baby to the backwaters of the Roman Empire. Yet, He was willing to pay the exorbitant price demanded by our Holy God to deliver us from eternal death into Eternal Life, and it cost Him dearly. He suffered a brutal death and shed His own blood so that we who believe in Him would not have to pay the price we owed. So, let us never doubt that what He paid was enough; let us never think that anything we can offer is needed or warranted. By His blood we are all healed of our sins! Let us praise Him because He is worthy of praise for His great love for us. The Atonement is the greatest gift we will ever receive!

Colossians 1:20      And by the blood of His cross, everything in heaven and earth is brought back to Himself—back to its original intent, restored to innocence again!

July 2, 2017

Ephesians 2:13

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off 
have been brought near by the blood of Christ.


     In reference to my previous post, whatever one might understand or believe about the Atonement of Christ, I think we can all agree that there is no atonement without the shedding of blood.  And from the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis, it is obvious that blood has great significance to God.
     In Scripture, Blood is associated with the mysterious sacredness which belongs to life, and God reserved it to Himself (as having great significance to Him) when He allowed man the dominion over, and the use of the lower animals for food.  We see how important Blood is, as a life force, when God exclaims to Cain (in Genesis) 4:10, "What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground".  And God gives clear instructions to Noah, after the Flood, "you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it" (Genesis 9:4). 
     Then God seals the deal, so to speak, in Leviticus 17:11, when He gives instructions to Moses for Aaron and the priests in regards to His sacrificial system, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement."  
     By now, we should understand just how important Blood is to the Father.  It was blood that was applied to the doorposts and lintels of the houses that saved the Israelites from the Angel of Death ... During the sacrifices in the Temple, the blood of animals was caught by the priest in a basin, and then sprinkled seven times on the altar ... At the giving of the Law, the blood of the sacrifices was sprinkled on the people, as well as on the altar, and thus the people were consecrated to God, or entered into covenant with Him. This consecration would amount to a blood covenant forevermore between God and His people.
      This blood covenant would include the forgiveness of sins, as Jesus states in Matthew 26:28, This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. But I would submit to you that it is much more!  The rite of circumcision in the Old Testament was a form of blood ceremony. Apart from the probable sanitary importance of the act is the deeper meaning in the establishment of a bond of friendship between the one upon whom the act is performed and Yahweh Himself. In order that Abraham might become "the friend of God", he was commanded that he should be circumcised as a token of the covenant between him and God (Genesis 17:10-11). In Abraham's covenant, his own blood has to be shed to establish this friendship, or relationship with God.  Later, animals would be substituted, and their blood covered the sins of the people, which in the simplest of interpretations, shows us that sin is the violation of that relationship or friendship with God -- a breaking of that pledge of eternal friendship between man and God.
     And these two concepts [1) that Blood needs to be offered for forgiveness of sin and 2) it represents our eternal friendship/relationship with God] is never made more clear than, here in Hebrews 10:29:  How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
     That's why I love this verse in Ephesians ... it beautifully illustrates that the blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was the final shedding of Blood that God required for the forgiveness of our sins; for our breach of the eternal friendship He desires with each of His created human beings. And it is the Mercy and Grace of the God we serve that after warning us (in Hebrews 10:29) of the punishment we deserve for trampling on that friendship, He gives us the exhortation and encouragement of Hebrews 13:20-21, Now may the God of peace [the source of serenity and spiritual well-being] who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood that sealed and ratified the eternal covenant, equip you with every good thing to carry out His will and strengthen you [making you complete and perfect as you ought to be], accomplishing in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 
     May we each carry deep within our hearts, the significance of the sacrifice and the love that God, our Father, holds for each of us.  He not only offered His Son, as the blood sacrifice He demands for the forgiveness of our sins, He offered a part of Himself. And it's all because it is His heart's desire to never abolish that loving friendship He wants with us, now and for eternity.  How blessed are we?
      


June 29, 2017

How Do You Define "The Atonement" of Jesus Christ?

     All one has to do is read the various Christian-based blogs, or listen to different podcasts, and we see the differing opinions on diverse doctrines.  One of the "hot topics" of today is The Atonement, and specifically, "is healing included in the Atonement"?  And what saddens me is the ease with which proponents on either side of that debate are willing to label their counterparts as false prophets, or declare that they are teaching false doctrine.  Why can't we respect each other's exegesis instead of resorting to name calling?  Knowing that my own opinion will not please everyone, I'm still going to throw my hat in the ring because I think it is an important concept to understand. So, here goes...
     As I began my research on this subject I was surprised to find that the word atonement appears 80 times in the Old Testament (primarily in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers) in conjunction with the sacrificial rituals instituted by God as a means for the Israelites to make amends for their sins.  Atonement only appears once in the New Testament, and only in the King James version. Romans 5:11 reads "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement".  All other versions of the Bible read "we have now received reconciliation".
     But what was even more surprising to me is that there are multiple "theories" of what the Atonement is within the bounds of Christianity.  There is the Ransom theory, which originated in the early Church, particularly in the work of Origen. The theory teaches that the death of Christ was a ransom sacrifice, usually said to have been paid to Satan or to death itself, (in some views paid to God the Father), in satisfaction for the bondage and debt on the souls of humanity as a result of inherited sin.
     There is the Satisfaction theory, a theory in Christian theology that Jesus Christ suffered crucifixion as a substitute for human sin, satisfying God's just wrath against man's transgression due to Christ's infinite merit. This theory draws primarily from the works of Anselm of Canterbury. It has been traditionally taught in the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed traditions of Western Christianity.
     Then there is the Moral Influence or Example theory, which teaches that the purpose and work of Jesus Christ was to bring positive moral change to humanity. This moral change came through the teachings and example of Jesus, the Christian movement he founded, and the inspiring effect of his martyrdom and resurrection. It is one of the oldest views of the atonement in Christian theology and a prevalent view for most of Christian history.
     There is also the Recapitulation theory, wherein Christ is seen as the new Adam who succeeds where Adam failed. Christ undoes the wrong that Adam did and, because of His union with humanity, leads humankind on to eternal life (including moral perfection).  And finally, there is the Scapegoat theory, in which a person (Jesus) or animal takes on the sins of others, or is unfairly blamed for problems. The concept originally comes from Leviticus, in which a goat is designated to be cast into the desert with the sins of the community.
     Wow!  With all these various theological theories, no wonder there is much haranguing among the Brethren!  But as always, when confronted with a question such as whether healing is included in the Atonement of Christ, I go back to Scripture and try to determine the original meanings of the words, rather than listen to 21st Century man explain their own reasonings.  So, let's consider the word atonement, as it is used in the Old Testament.  It is the Hebrew word k√Ęphar, which means "to cover; cancel; propitiate (placate); ransom; to pardon; to purge sin".  It is the technical term used in the sacrificial rituals in ancient Israel, and at its most basic level means "a material transaction to ransom, or to buy the freedom of".
     During the sacrificial ritual, the priests would lay their hands on an animal (bull) to transfer the sins of the people to the animal.  Then it was sacrificed and its blood smeared on the altar during the Sin Offering to God. Throughout the Old Testament, the blood sacrifices provide atonement, or a "covering over" of sin; the purpose of the atonement in the Old Testament was to hide the sin from God's eyes until the crucifixion of Christ, who as the sacrificial Lamb, takes away the sins of the world.
     There are many examples of ransom (payment) made for the covering of the Israelites' sins, but here are just two of them:  In Numbers 25, Phineas makes atonement for the Children of Israel by spearing an Israelite man in the midst of orgiastic Baal worship with a Midianite woman.  The result: the plagues that had killed 24,000 Israelites stopped.  In 2 Samuel 21, atonement was needed for the sins of Saul who broke his oath to spare the Gibeonites, so King David asked what they would require as payment, and the price was the death of seven of Saul's sons.  David paid the ransom, and then buried Saul and his sons in the tomb of Kish.  God ended the famine upon the land.
     We see the clearest picture of the Old Testament concept of atonement in Leviticus, Chapter 16, where Aaron is instructed on the rituals of the Day of Atonement, celebrated only one time a year.  Only on this day, could the high priest enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple on behalf of the people of Israel to make atonement for them (for the cleansing of their sins).
     But as I am beginning to see with more frequency, the modern Church does not make a distinction between how a concept is presented in the Old Testament and how it is understood in the New Testament.  Such is the case with "the Atonement".  As I said, in the New Testament, the only time the word atonement is used is in the King James version of Romans 5:11.  Here the Greek word for atonement is katallag√™, meaning "restoration to divine favor; or reconciliation".  It goes beyond just being covered, or making a ransom payment for sins; here, atonement signifies that sinners are actually made "at one" with God.  And as New Testament Believers, we receive so much more than just forgiveness of our sins.
     In fact, I have read a 1990 sermon by Graham Maxwell, in which he stated that in the 13th Century Oxford English Dictionary, the word "atonement" was being used to mean "Being at one; being in harmony" ... in other words, to restore in unity and harmony; a position of "at one-ness", if I may.  There is a verse in the Bible that I think expresses the New Testament concept of Atonement better than I can, and I like the Amplified version because it gives us the best picture of what is being revealed: For it pleased the Father for all the fullness [of His deity—the sum total of His essence, all His perfection, powers, and attributes] to dwell [permanently] in Him (the Son), and through [the intervention of] the Son to reconcile all things to Himself, making peace [with believers] through the blood of His cross; through Him, [I say,] whether things on earth or things in heaven (Colossians 1:19-20).
     Once again, I think when it comes to the question of what is included in the Atonement of Christ, we need to see it in New Testament terms, and not limit it to its meaning in the Old Testament.   Everything about Christ is the fullness of His Father ... and this includes His Atonement.  What He did for us on the Cross brings us into full unity and one-ness with the Father. So the Atonement at the Cross -- His shed blood for us -- gives us so much more than just a covering for [and forgiveness of] our sins. We receive reconciliation (mending, bringing into harmony) in all things ... on earth as it is in heaven.  If the Atonement through Jesus's blood on the Cross brings us into the fullness of God -- the sum total of His essence [or Nature], His perfection, His powers and attributes -- then it means everything of God is available to us in the Atonement, and that includes healing as well as forgiveness.  The empty tomb is a picture of ultimate healing. All sins are forgiven in Heaven, and there is no sickness in Heaven.  That is unity between earth and heaven.
     I have seen the arguments of those who try to use Old Testament examples of God inflicting illness on people (2 Samuel 12:15; Exodus 9:8-9; 1 Samuel 5:11-12; Exodus 4:11) as their explanation that healing is not included in the New Testament atonement.  But that is part of the Old Covenant and I think we can all agree that God dealt differently with sin in the Old Covenant than He does in the New -- Jesus is evidence of that. And to use Romans 9:21 (Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?) to say that "dishonor" represents God causing sickness, is distorting Scripture, to me.
     And to say that examples of sickness in the New Testament (Epaphraditus, Trophimus, and Tabitha) prove that healing is not in the Atonement is like saying that once we accept Jesus as our Savior, we should never sin again... we are still in these fleshly bodies on earth, where sickness is a weapon of the Enemy to discourage our reconciliation with God. Our Father provided a way for us to live sinless lives through the righteousness of Christ -- but we still sin. Likewise, perfect health (and healing) are available in the Atonement -- which brings us into harmony with God in Heaven -- we just have to walk out the example Jesus gave us, and look to the Father for His perfection and power to achieve it.
     I realize that my words will likely not convince someone who has staked a claim in his or her particular atonement theory.  But I'd like to leave you with this final thought ... I find it ironic that in the Old Testament, the priests laid hands on an animal to transfer the people's sin to the animal (Leviticus 16:20-22).  Yet, in the New Testament, Jesus laid His hands on the people to transfer His Father's power to heal, while they were yet sinners.  That to me, is a picture of the Atonement of Jesus Christ; restoration to divine favor.  And I believe it is always God's heart that we be whole and restored as we are in Heaven.  So, why in the world, would we try to limit God and what He has to offer us in the Atonement of His Son? Isn't that diminishing the power of His Grace? I prefer to receive ALL He has meant for me through the atoning sacrifice of His Son!

Isaiah 53:4    Surely our sicknesses He Himself bore, And our pains He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Struck down by God, and afflicted.

Matthew 8:16-17     That evening they brought to Him many who were oppressed by demons, and He cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”