Unifying Boundaries of Atonement

There are certain boundaries in the idea of atonement on which all Southern Baptists can find agreement.

1. The cross of Christ is able to save any and all men if they would only believe.

There is no hypothetical situation possible where Christ’s atoning death could be exhausted or be unable to save any sinner who comes.

2. The cross of Christ was a vicarious satisfaction of God’s justice and appeasement of His wrath that was against our sin.

Christ bore the penalty that our sins deserved. It was our penalty. It was every man’s penalty. One sin makes a man a complete sinner, completely guilty, and under the complete wrath of God. Christ endured the complete wrath of God against sin and satisfied God’s justice in principle.

3. The cross of Christ was a substitutionary payment for a criminal debt, but not a financial debt.

The Biblical figures of Christ’s death as a payment of debt or the payment of ransom are metaphors, but they are not intended to convey the idea of money. We are not redeemed with silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ. The debt and ransom require nothing short of His very life, because the debt in actuality is a criminal debt and capital offense. Therefore, the total of what Christ paid on the cross would be required merely to save a single sinner—every individual owes the entirety of Christ’s suffering and death. Since the whole of the cross is applied to each sinner as he believes, then Christ’s death was not parcelled out by assignment, as to whose sins it would be applied to, at the time that He died. Rather, it is a sacrifice fit to save any single sinner who comes to faith, which the Judge in the case requires before He will accept that sacrifice as being in behalf of any sinner.

4. Sinners are under God’s wrath for their sin, and under God’s just sentence of eternal destruction, which can only be escaped through belief in Christ in this life.

Although God’s justice has been satisfied in principle by Christ on the cross, that satisfaction is not applied in particularity to my sins until I believe in Christ. The sinner who has not yet believed in Christ remains under God’s wrath against his particular sins.

5. The One Man’s suffering of the penalty for sin cannot save any other man unless the two can be joined together so completely as to become one man in the eyes of justice; and this is accomplished by spiritual union with Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

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 immersed 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. 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.”

Ken Hamrick, 2013

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