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The Doctrine of the Atonement (part 1) - God's Plan for Salvation

When God created Adam and Eve, they were created in His "image," i.e. they had God's spiritual life and could have fellowship with Him. When they sinned, they became spiritually dead and also prone to physical death. We, the human race, inherited Adam's sinful nature and are thus spiritually dead and incapable of fellowship with God. From Genesis to Revelation, the central theme of the Bible is God's eternal, perfect plan for the salvation of mankind.

In order to gain an overview of this vast subject, I have divided it into six sections:


1. The necessity for the atonement

1.1 God's holiness
1.2 Man's sinfulness
1.3 God's wrath
1.4 God's justice and love

2. Atonement in the Old Testament

2.1 Definition of the term
2.2 The sacrificial system
2.3 The day of atonement
2.4 The passover

3. Atonement in the New Testament

3.1 A revelation of God's love
3.2 Representation
3.3 Substitution
3.4 Identification or union

4. Atonement: the work of Christ

4.1 Christ's obedience
4.2 Christ as the ultimate sacrifice
4.3 Christ as the mediator of the new covenant
4.4 Christ as the eternal high priest

5. The purpose and effects of the atonement

5.1 The Godward aspects

5.1.1 Propitiation
5.1.2 Vindication of the lawgiver
5.1.3 Remission of sins
5.1.4 Reconciliation

5.2 The manward aspects

5.2.1 Reconciliation
5.2.2 Justification
5.2.3 Redemption
5.2.4 Adoption

1. The necessity for the atonement - the need for salvation

"God's holiness (i) reacts against man's sinfulness (ii)and produces wrath, (iii) which is averted by the atonement." (iv) [1]

1.1 God's holiness

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory." [2] God's holiness is expressed in His own moral character [3] or righteousness. [4] Because God is holy, He expects His people to be holy. [5] When He gave Israel His moral law through Moses, He set before them "life and death, blessings and curses." [6] Perfect obedience to God's laws would therefore constitute perfect righteousness in man, and would make possible a relationship with God. But sin, as lawlessness, disrupts such a relationship and results in death, [7] i.e. eternal separation from God.


1.2 Man's sinfulness

The Scriptures testify that sin is universal: "There is no one who does not sin;" [8] "There is not a righteous man on earth;" [9] "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." [10]

God's hatred for sin expresses the seriousness of the sinner's position. His eyes are "too pure to look on evil," and He "cannot tolerate wrong." [11] Sin brings separation from God, [12] and unrepentant sinners can expect nothing but judgement. [13] However, the seriousness of sin is best demonstrated by the fact that the only remedy for man's sin was the crucifixion of God the Son in the person of the man Jesus.

Man is unable to deal with his sinfulness, for he cannot hide his sin [14] nor keep himself pure. [15] Since the fall, human nature itself has been sinful and has predisposed man to sin. [16] Even if he were able to observe the law, that would not justify him in God's sight. [17] Therefore man remains guilty before God [18] and his guilt "overwhelms " him "like a burden to heavy to bear." [19]

1.3 God's wrath

By consciously and intentionally sinning, man demonstrates that he prefers his own will to God's will. God sees such actions as attacks on His holiness and honour, and His response is the destruction of the rebellious. [20] God's "wrath rose against Israel ... He unleashed against them His hot anger, His wrath, indignation and hostility." [21] "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men." [22] "God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient." [23]

However, God usually postpones judgement, in the hope that His kindness and patience will lead sinners to repentance. [24] In his pride, man misunderstands the divine delays, [25] but judgement will eventually come for "God is not mocked ..." [26]

1.4 God's justice and love demonstrated in the atonement

Two of God's outstanding attributes, His justice [27] and love [28] seem to be in conflict with each other, yet God is at the same time both completely just and completely loving. Those who emphasize God's justice believe that the atonement is impossible, because man must "reap what he sows." [29] Those who emphasize God's love believe that the atonement is unnecessary, because God forgives all sins. [30].

However, the atonement is the ultimate expression of both aspects of God's character: His justice demanded the punishment of the sinner, but His love provided an escape in the substitutionary death of Christ. Scripture affirms that sinners are justified "by His grace ... to demonstrate His justice." [31] Because God is love, He provided a plan for the redemption of man; [32] because He is just, this plan had to meet the demands of the law so that He could "be just and the one who justifies ..." [33]


1. Pearlman, p.50
2. Isaiah 6:3; Ezekiel 39:7; Revelation 4:8
3. Leviticus 19
4. Isaiah 5:16
5. Leviticus 19:2; Hebrews 12:14
6. Deuteronomy 30:19
7. Ezekiel 18:20; Romans 6:28
8. ! Kings 8:46
9. Ecclesiastics 7:20
10. Romans 3:23
11. Habakkuk 1:13
12. Isaiah 59:2
13. Hebrews 10:27
14. Numbers 32:23
15. Proverbs 20:9
16. Romans 7
17. Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16
18. Leviticus 5:17
19. Psalms 38:4
20. Leviticus 10:1-3
21. Psalms 78:21,49
22. Romans 1:18
23. Ephesians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:16
24. Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9
25. Ecclesiastics 8:11; 2 Peter 3:3-4
26. Galations 6:7
27. Psalms 89:14
28. 1 John 4:8
29. Galations 6:7
30. Psalms 103:3; 1 John 1:9
31. Romans 3:24-25
32. John 3:16
33. Romans 3:26


1. Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology, Michigan, U.S.A.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1941

2. Berkouwer, G.C. The Work of Christ, Michigan, U.S.A.: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965

3. Calvin, J. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Philadelphia, U.S.A.: Westminster Press, 1960

4. Deist, F. A Concise Dictionary of Theological Terms, Johannesburg, R.S.A.: Van Schaik, 1984

5. Douglas, J. (ed.) New Bible Dictionary, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1962

6. Goodrick, E.W. The NIV Complete Concordance, Michiga, U.S.A.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981

7. Hammond, T.C. In Understanding Be Men, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1968

8. Packer, J.I. Knowing God, London, England: Hodder & Stoughton, 1975

9. Pearlman, M. Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible, Roodepoort, R.S.A.: Gospel Publishing House, 1937

10. Richards, L.O. Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Michigan, U.S.A.: Regency Reference Library, 1985

11. Stott, J.R.W. The Letters of John, Leichester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988

12. Thompson, F.C. The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Michigan, U.S.A.: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1983

13. Vine, W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words, Massachusetts, U.S.A.: Hendrickson Publishers, ?

14. Webster, ? Webster's 7th Collegiate Dictionary, Massachusetts, U.S.A.: G & C Merriam Co., 1965

15. Wuest, K.S. Word Studies: Romans in the Greek NT, Michigan, U.S.A.: Eerdman's Publishing Co., 1955


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Posted in: Bible by on September 13, 2010 @ 9:53 pm

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