A New Perspective on Atonement

The term atonement is an Old Testament term, kaphar, which literally means to cover, as with pitch (or, tar). It is a direct reference to the blood covering the Mercy Seat (and similar, such as the altar, and even the sprinkling of blood on the people). It is a picture of covering the sin (or sinner) with the blood of the sacrificial substitute — the interposition of the penalized substitute between the sinner and God. This interposition is God’s response to both the sinner’s faith and the sacrifice of the victim. Unless the sinner has faith, there is no atonement. Faith is just as integral to atonement as the sacrifice. When a qualified victim is sacrificed in behalf of a believer, God is propitiated and justice is seen as satisfied. Atonement is the satisfaction of justice by means of a substitutionary sacrifice.

There is not one case in the Old Testament where atonement was made for a sinner who did not have faith. Atonement is not synonymous with sacrifice, but it is the satisfaction of justice through a substitutionary sacrifice. However, God does not atone for the sin of a faithless sinner. It was by faith that Abel offered a better sacrifice. Only by faith does God choose to allow the penalized victim to be interposed between God and the sinner. Christ’s death was not an ipso facto atonement. It was a substitutionary sacrifice which can atone for the sins of anyone putting faith in that Savior and that sacrifice.

It is precisely because Christ’s sacrifice is not simultaneous with forgiveness that proves that atonement is not provided until one puts faith in Him. Forgiveness is only withheld where God has not yet been propitiated. Until a man is saved, he remains under the wrath of God. Such wrath is inconsistent with atonement. Until a man is saved, he is not yet reconciled. Such lack of reconciliation is inconsistent with atonement. Until a man is saved, he is not yet redeemed. Such a lack of redemption is inconsistent with atonement. Until a man is saved, the penalty for his sin hangs over his head and he remains under the condemnation of God. Such a state of condemnation is inconsistent with atonement. Does the blood of the sacrifice cover the sins of the rebellious, God-hating sinner? Does the suffering and death of the Sacrifice stand between the God-hating unbeliever and the Holy God? Atonement is not the mere shedding of the blood of the Sacrifice. Atonement is what happens when the blood is applied to the sin(ner).

In and of itself, the shedding of the blood of the Sacrifice does nothing to satisfy the claims of justice upon the individual sinner. There must be a connection established between the Sacrifice and the sinner if the former is to affect the latter. While sovereignty is free from the exigencies of substantial reality, justice has no such license. God may sovereignly declare that a mere nominal connection between the Sacrifice and sinner is sufficient to free him from wrath, but He cannot justly do so. There are two ways in which justice must be satisfied: 1) justice must be satisfied that the penalty has been fully suffered within substantial reality; and 2) justice must be satisfied that the Sacrifice and sinner are so joined as to become one within substantial reality. Neither of these two can be mere choices within God’s mind to view them as if they were true (in contradiction to substantial reality). The reason is that justice demands more than that the sin be punished — justice demands that the one who sinned be punished.

The union of believers with Christ is spiritual, and not merely legal or “federal.” While the interposition of the sacrificial victim between God and the sinner was something that occurred only within God’s mind in the Old Testament, God has provided union with Christ in the New Testament. This union happens within substantial reality, and does not exist only within the mind of God. Rom. 6:3, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” and, 1 Cor. 6:17, “But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” It is not speaking of water baptism, but baptism into the Spirit, which happens at the point of saving faith. To be spiritually baptized into Christ is to be joined to Him so that the new believer and Christ are one spirit, and the result of this is that the new believer is joined to (or, baptized into) His death. As the spirit is the core of a man, it is the core of a man’s identity. When the Holy Spirit indwells the man, He creates a new man by joining the spirit of the man to the Spirit of Christ. They are not joined to the extent that either is lost in the other, but they are joined to the extent that the man’s new identity is in Christ and his old identity is no longer valid in the eyes of justice. In fact, the believer is so identified with Christ that he is considered to have been crucified with Him. Gal. 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” To be immersed into the Spirit of Christ is to be plunged into that flood of sufficiency that all His human experiences provide. To be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into His death.

To understand atonement from this new perspective is to render the age-old debate between limited and universal atonement obsolete. The applicability of the cross of Christ is universal in scope, but only those who put faith in Him have their sins atoned for by His sacrificial death.

Ken Hamrick

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21 Responses to A New Perspective on Atonement

  1. parsonsmike says:

    Ken,
    You ended with,
    “To understand atonement from this new perspective is to render the age-old debate between limited and universal atonement obsolete. The applicability of the cross of Christ is universal in scope, but only those who put faith in Him have their sins atoned for by His sacrificial death.”

    This conclusion does not follow from the body of your post.
    The extent of the atonement can be defined as the intention of God in whom He seeks to reconcile. Thus unlimited atonement people see God’s intention as atoning everyone without exception so that any one could come if they were so willing. The limited atonement or particular atonement people see God’s intention as in saving only the elect chosen from before the foundation of the world.

    In addition to the latter, I see the work of God in the cross of Christ as a very personal act of love in His reconciling of His lost sheep, His chosen elect.
    Furthermore, Romans 8 tells us:
    What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died —more than that, who was raised to life —is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

    For those God is for, He also gave up His Son for them. And He also gives them, along with His Son, all things.
    Likewise for those God is not for, He does not give up His Son for them, nor does He give them, along with His Son, all things.

    For those He is for. he gives up His Son and along with that greater gift, also gives them lesser gifts.
    But for those He is not for, He does not give them the greater gift nor does He give them the lesser gifts.
    For why would God give them the greater gift, but not the grace they NEED to receive it [the lesser gifts]?

  2. Ken Hamrick says:

    Hi, Mike!

    I disagree that the scope can be defined by the intentions, since intentions alone do not atone. I’m out of time for now, but will try to get back here in the morning to reply more substantively.

    Ken

  3. Ken Hamrick says:

    Good Morning, Mike!

    You stated:
    You ended with,

    “To understand atonement from this new perspective is to render the age-old debate between limited and universal atonement obsolete. The applicability of the cross of Christ is universal in scope, but only those who put faith in Him have their sins atoned for by His sacrificial death.”

    This conclusion does not follow from the body of your post. The extent of the atonement can be defined as the intention of God in whom He seeks to reconcile. Thus unlimited atonement people see God’s intention as atoning everyone without exception so that any one could come if they were so willing. The limited atonement or particular atonement people see God’s intention as in saving only the elect chosen from before the foundation of the world.

    That’s not quite right. The extent of atonement speaks of the range or number of people for whom there is not merely an intended effect but an actual effect upon God regarding their sins. But if you’ll look again, you can see that I was not speaking of extent of atonement of extent of applicability. Since no one is atoned for until the cross is applied to them, then it’s not really extent of atonement. The intentions of God to certainly apply the atoning cross to the elect does not preclude His intent to both provide a universally applicable sacrifice and command the universal preaching of the gospel (as a “well-meant offer”).

    Ken

  4. twiliter59 says:

    However, God does not atone for the sin of a faithless sinner. It was by faith that Abel offered a better sacrifice. Only by faith does God choose to allow the penalized victim to be interposed between God and the sinner. Christ’s death was not an ipso facto atonement. It was a substitutionary sacrifice which can atone for the sins of anyone putting faith in that Savior and that sacrifice.””

    Now I’m confused when I read your other posts Ken. Are you saying that when a child dies in infancy they are saved and not condemned, and because they have not committed an act of sin, there is no need for atonement?

  5. parsonsmike says:

    Ken,

    The Gospel is not a well meant offer. The Gospel is a proclamation of truth about Jesus Christ as the crucified risen Lord of all and that only through Him can a person escape their earned fate and be reconciled with God. If a person believes that proclamation, as shown by first their confession and also by their deeds, we declare them to be of Christ. They are saved.

    The Gospel isn’t a well meant offer whereas we should be putting God in the position as supplicant to sinful man. Rather as we declare man as sinful and condemned, we also declare that Jesus suffered and died for sins so that all who put their trust in Him can escape the fires of Hell.

    The Gospel is an authoritative edict to the world that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords and that all power and authority over heaven and earth resides in Him. And that those who do not submit to Him will be punished, destroyed and completely undone.

    The Gospel is NOT a well meant offer.
    Please show me the Scriptures you use to conclude that it is.

  6. Ken Hamrick says:

    Mike,

    You say that it is not a well-meant offer. I say that it is. Our differences are systemic and not textual—it’s about how we read Scripture and cannot be solved by a prooftext battle, so I will not engage in that at this time. As I understand it, the gospel is not merely informative, as if to say, “Some of you will be regenerated and believe;” but rather, the gospel is implorative, pleading with men, “We implore you—Be reconciled to God!”

  7. Ken Hamrick says:

    Rick,

    Atonement is propitiation. Where there is no wrath, there need be no propitiation. Where there is no guilt, there need be no atonement. However, where there is no righteousness, justification is needed, and that only comes through Christ. And where there is no spiritual life (union with God), the regeneration of union with Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit is needed.

  8. parsonsmike says:

    Ken,
    Atonement is not propitiation.
    Propitiation is what Jesus did on the cross.
    Atonement is the result when we come by faith.

  9. parsonsmike says:

    Ken,
    To address this:
    “To understand atonement from this new perspective is to render the age-old debate between limited and universal atonement obsolete. The applicability of the cross of Christ is universal in scope, but only those who put faith in Him have their sins atoned for by His sacrificial death.”

    The applicability of the cross is not universal in scope. If you mean from our perspective, that we know not who will come, so that we preach to all [universal], then yes, we should preach to all. But God already knows who will come, yes? Thus he already knows that not all will come, yes? Thus since not all will come, the cross can not be applied to those who do not come and will never come. In other words, the applicability of the cross is LIMITED to those who come.

    Now who will come? Will everyone come? No. Thus the applicability of the cross is limited.

    If the sales ad says, “Everyone come to the dealership and get a new car.”
    Does it mean they can have a new car if they no money and cannot get financing? Nope.

    Now all that aside for a second.
    I agree with your article, i am just saying that your conclusion has nothing to do with the article. It simply doesn’t follow.
    To make that conclusion, you need to show that everyone, and not just those that hear the Gospel, knows it to be true.
    Your article did nothing of the kind.

  10. parsonsmike says:

    Ken,
    In response to you…
    “You say that it is not a well-meant offer. I say that it is. Our differences are systemic and not textual—it’s about how we read Scripture and cannot be solved by a prooftext battle, so I will not engage in that at this time. As I understand it, the gospel is not merely informative, as if to say, “Some of you will be regenerated and believe;” but rather, the gospel is implorative, pleading with men, “We implore you—Be reconciled to God!””

    Certainly we should implore men to believe. But no one ‘just’ believes. So just because we are imploring everyone does not mean everyone could believe. What they can do is ACT. They act negatively to our imploring by turning away. Why do they turn away, because they don’t believe. They act positively to our imploring by repenting and confession Jesus as Lord, ACTS of faith, acts of believing. One cannot be believing without acting as well, for when we believe in our heart we will confess with our mouth.

    The question, which is not addressed in the OP, is how does one believe, or how does one come into belief. This is the condition for the application of the cross to their life so as for them to be atoned. It can not be universal, since all do not even hear the Gospel message. Thus it is limited in at LEAST that way.

  11. twiliter59 says:

    I find that I am in agreement with Mike on this issue of well meant offer. To put it another way,The whole idea of a well-meant offer of the gospel, expressing God’s sincere desire that all be saved, is not in harmony with the doctrine of limited atonement; the argument being, “How could God desire the salvation of those whom He did not give to Christ in eternal election and for whom, Christ did not die? In other words, if something which is offered is not available, evidently it can’t be a genuine (well-meant)offer. I refer you to an excellent article on this view:
    http://www.prca.org/prtj/apr2004.htm#The%20Canons%20and%20Common%20Grace

  12. parsonsmike says:

    The offer is conditional on submission to the King. The question boils down to this: CAN faith be willed or MUST it be a result of God?
    No one submits to Jesus UNLESS they have faith in Him. their submission is their believing into action, or an act of belief. Can they will their faith into being or MUST God intervene in their lives to bring about faith in Him.

    Ken [and correct me if I get you wrong on this] believes that every person can, by their will believe and submit to God, BUT that they WON’T unless God moves in their life. That would make the offer open to all but contingent on their willingness, of which by the grace of God, only the elect will so submit.

    I don’t see believing as a choice unless faith is first present. Thus those who reject the Gospel can not submit to its claims for they believe not its veracity, that Jesus is indeed the crucified risen Lord of all and personally, Lord of them. But to whom God opens the eyes to see Jesus [as he did Paul on the road], people then desire Him and willingly submit to Him… why? because they now have faith and do believe.

  13. Ken Hamrick says:

    @8 Mike,

    You cannot make a case from Scripture that propitiation and atonement are distinct. At the cross, atonement in principle was accomplished by satisfying God’s wrath against sin in principle. I say in principle as opposed to in particularity, or, with the sins of particular people in view. Atonement in particularity is accomplished for the individual sinner when he comes to Christ in faith and is joined by the Holy Spirit to Christ Himself, the two becoming one, and the believer gains a title to the righteous life and atoning death of Christ. Then, and only then, can the God of justice look upon that man and be propitiated regarding his sin.

  14. Theodore A. Jones says:

    “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13
    The fellow who has it right in regard to atonement unlike the above.

  15. Rick says:

    So Theo — (1) Can we obey the Law perfectly?; (2) Is Paul suggesting that we can? And that this is what makes us righteous?

  16. Theodore A. Jones says:

    The written code? Even if you do obey it perfectly you will not be declared righteous by God. The word law in Rom. 2:13 is not a ref. to the written code, but to one that’s been added. “The law was added so that the trespass might increase.” Rom. 5:20 This is the law that has been put into effect by angles. See Acts 7:53 & Gal. 3:19.
    “For it is not those who hear the law, that was put into effect by angles, who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law that was put into effect by angles who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13 Understand?

  17. twiliter59 says:

    Thanks for the reply Theo. First, there is no such thing as “even if you could keep it perfectly.” No one can ever keep it perfectly, otherwise they would not need a savior, and that’s the point of the law — to show us the depth of our depravity and our need for Christ. So there is no righteousness in law keeping, only in faith keeping. The law that was added was the 10 commandments — as most theologians agree, to show us how sinful we are.

  18. Theodore A. Jones says:

    [Banned by Open Forum Admin]

  19. Nope. I’m done. Thanks.

  20. parsonsmike says:

    Gosh teddy, do you study God?
    No? Than why are you commenting?
    Yes? Than why should we listen to a fool?

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