We should avoid claiming to understand all the ramifications of the substitutionary atonement. The bodily death of Jesus Christ on a cross may be impacting a multitude of issues far beyond our understanding. But what do we know for sure?
At some point in time, God entrusted Satan and other powerful angels with the stewardship of all creation (Luke 4:5-7). They betrayed God’s trust and began to turn what God created as good into an inherently violent and terrifying system dominated by decay, destruction, disease, suffering and death. Although God could have simply restored and repossessed His corrupted creation, His purity of wisdom, holiness, justice and truth demanded a punishment for every crime, every evil and every sin. Only one punishment, the substitutionary atonement, was great enough to redeem all creation from the bondage of evil and redeem all mankind from the bondage of sin.
One of the core beliefs of Christianity can be stated as follows
Each person who responds to God’s grace and the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ by confession of sin, remorse, repentance, faith and obedience receives the great gift of salvation. Each person who resists God’s grace is condemned to everlasting punishment.
- Each person who responds to God’s grace and the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ by
- confession of sin (Ps 32:3-5; 1 John 1:8-10),
- remorse (Ps 66:18; Luke 18:13),
- repentance (Mat 3:8; Rom 12:2, 13:14; Eph 4:23-24; Rev 2:5, 16, 3:3, 19),
- faith (John 6:29, 3:16-17; Acts 16:31; Eph 2:8-10) and
- obedience (Mat 28:20; Luke 11:28; John 14:15; Rom 1:5, 6:16; Heb 5:9)
- receives the great gift of salvation (Acts 4:12; Rom 1:16; 2 Cor 7:10; 1 Thes 5:9; Heb 5:9; 1 Pet 1:9, 18-19).
- Each person who resists God’s grace is condemned to everlasting punishment (Mat 25:46; 2 Thes 1:8-9).
The salvation of man, which comes by the substitutionary atonement, has many facets including but not limited to:
- Redemption (Rom 3:24; 8:23) - You are freed from the bondage of sin for the first time in your life.
- Forgiveness (Mat 6:9-15; 1 John 1:8-10) – You are forgiven your sins by God.
- Justification (Rom 3:21-26) – You are declared righteous by God; this legal declaration is valid because Christ died to pay the penalty for your sin and lived a life of perfect righteousness that can in turn be imputed to you.
- Adoption (Rom 3:23; Gal 3:26; 1 John 3:2) – You are a joint heir with Jesus to the Kingdom of God.
- Regeneration (John 3:1-21) - The Holy Spirit makes known to you the will of God and helps you discern truth from lie. He occupies and purifies all the rooms of your heart into which He is invited. For the first time in your life you are not a prisoner of sin. You are free to pursue the path of righteousness. This is the first day of your Christian life and you are a new creature in Christ. This is the mechanism of your redemption.
- Sanctification (Heb 6:1; 1 Pet 1:13-16) - You are led by the Holy Spirit along the path toward holiness; this is a lifetime journey.
- Reconciliation (Eph 2:11-22) - You are reconciled with all other believers.
- Unification (Eph 3:1-11) – You are united with all believers in the Church of Jesus Christ.
- Glorification (Rom 8:30) – You will complete the journey along the path of sanctification when your mission in this life is done.
At the instant of your salvation, you are redeemed or bought-back or set free from the bondage of sin. Salvation causes us to be regenerated or born again from the death grip of sin to a life of pursuing righteousness. We can, thereby, stand beside Jesus as He battles to purge evil from His creation. However, salvation may set us free from the bondage of sin but it does not set us free from the influence of sin itself. Satan knows that our concupiscence, bad judgement, inconsistent will and weariness can ensnare us in the vice-grip of evil even after salvation. But for the first time in our lives, we can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, say “no” to Satan and to our own sin nature. We can be set free from the bondage of sin but not, in this life, from its influence.
Redemption from the bondage of sin is aimed at your soul. But another aspect of redemption is aimed at God’s physical creation, the universe including planet earth and all that lies within. By the substitutionary atonement, God redeemed or bought-back all creation from the evil bondage of Satan, who now no longer owns it (Luke 4:5-7). But Satan was not a willing seller and will never acknowledge the legitimacy of the sale. He believes his property was stolen from him by a phony purchase. He is battling God to retain possession. Creation may be legally free from the bondage of evil but it is not free from the influence of evil itself through Satan and his minions who will never relinquish possession without a fight. Satan, who holds the power of death (Heb 2:14) and is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30-31; 16:8-11), exercises a pervasive, structural and diabolical influence which caused all creation to be engulfed by the bondage of evil. That which God created as good began to exhibit a pain-ridden, bloodthirsty, sinister and hostile demeanor. “Mother Nature,” became an inherently violent and terrifying system dominated by disease, suffering and death – a system red in tooth and claw. Not wanting free will to be an illusion, God is permitting, for a time and within limits, certain consequences of rebellion and corruption caused by both fallen angels and the humans who join them. When restoration and repossession are complete, nature will be violent no more.
Some say the earth and Mother Nature need no redemption. They are operating just like God intended. Some insist that God is pleased and glorified by the unending violence of predator and prey, the aging and decay of all things living, the pervasive influence of disease and the eyes of innocence that dimly close in the depths of Mother Nature’s cruel torture. If so, why will Mother Nature be completely changed when Jesus Christ restores and repossesses His creation (Isa 11:6-9, 65:17-25; Rom 8:20-22; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1-4)?
Some say the substitutionary atonement offers redemption from the bondage of sin to all persons but it does not redeem the earth and Mother Nature from the bondage of evil. It is true that modern theologians seem to minimize or omit this aspect of the atonement. But let’s go back 1800 years and examine the words of Athanasius.
“He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men. We will begin then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.”
The human body is part of God’s physical creation and was, long ago, imprisoned in corruption by the architect of evil who administers decay, violence, disease, suffering and death. Your body has been redeemed from the bondage of evil but not from the influence of evil itself – set free from bondage but not from influence. This influence can only be overcome by prayer (healing).
These are some things set in motion by the substitutionary atonement. Others may be hidden in realms beyond our comprehension.