Why The Atonement Matters For Church Planters (2)

Why The Atonement Matters For Church Planters (2)

Atonement’ edited by Gabriel Fluhrer (P&R Publishing 2010)

This is a series of lectures about ‘blood’ according to the book’s sleeve and is a compilation of 8 essays on the topic by 7 evangelical theologians and pastors. Such is the importance of this subject for every Christian, whoever they are and whatever they do, I have decided to give a brief summary over the coming weeks of some of the essays and how I think it could apply to inner city planters (although the application is really universal). This week we have John De Witt.

John De Witt – The Nature of Atonement: Reconciliation

John uses 2 Corinthians 5:21 as the text for his particular essay. We see that a legal exchange is in Paul’s mind as he talks of Christ becoming sin for sinners, so that we may become the righteousness of God. For De Witt, our understanding of this great transaction must be governed by the underlying basis that a problem exists between God and sinful humanity. There is a breach and it will not just go away of its own accord. In the words of Isaiah 59:1-2: ‘Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.’

The point is that sin has opened up such a serious breach that it affects every part of our relationship with God at every level. We cannot go to him in prayer, ask for his help or expect any kind of peace from him until some sort of reconciliation has taken place. Note: this is fundamentally important because there has been a move in Edinburgh recently where groups of churches have been encouraging unbelievers to ‘try praying’ as a sort of ‘pre-evangelistic’ outreach method. It smacks of poor theology and offers people hope without any theological or biblical warrant, particularly when we consider the doctrine of the necessity of the atonement.

There is a feeling in certain circles today that the need for reconciliation is only on the part of the sinner. God is like the earthly father from the prodigal son who stands and waits for us with open arms. But we must be careful here. We are not only alienated from God but He from us. His settled wrath is against the sinner. If Christ’s death was needed to absorb that wrath then it is not logical (or biblical) to assume that God’s attitude toward repentant sinners is not changed by the atonement. The cross does not only move us in love toward God but Him in love toward us. That would seem to be the point Paul was making in Romans 5:9-11. We must be reconciled to God and he to us.

The majesty of the gospel comes into full force with the following truth. Not only is reconciliation needed on both sides, it is only possible by a work of God on our behalf. We cannot bring it about. God has opened the way for us. God has made all the necessary arrangements to receive us back into His family as adopted sons. The grandness of this sacrifice is summed up by De Witt as follows: ‘God gave His Son to himself as a propitiatory sacrifice to assuage his divine wrath. This is absolutely astonishing.’ (p26)

The cross is so much more than a symbol of God’s divine love for us. Christ became sin FOR us. The breach has been bridged and, even better than that, we are now God’s righteousness in Him to all eternity. Good stuff!