The Bible presents the atonement as a diamond, having many different facets to its glory. On this Good Friday, we would do well to spend time meditating on some of these.
1) Penal Substitution – I believe this is the heart of gospel and the one aspect of the atonement on which all others are built. When Christ died on the cross, he died in our place and the death was necessary because the judgment he took upon himself was the judgment of a holy God against our sin (i.e. penal). He took our sin and its penalty upon himself. God cannot overlook sin. Either we pay for our own sin, or He provides a substitution.
Gen. 22:1-14, Levi. 4-7, Isaiah 53:4-10, Mk. 10:45, Matt. 20:28, John 10:11-15, Gal. 3:13, Heb. 2:9, Rom. 5:6, 8, 8:32, 2 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 2:20, Eph. 5:2, 25, 1 Tim. 2:6, Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 3:18, Heb. 7:26-27, 1 Pet. 2:24, 1 John 2:2
2) Sacrifice – This is included in the very notion of substitution. Christ gives himself as a sacrifice for our sin. Leviticus established a system of blood sacrifice for sin. Yet not just any lamb would do. The lamb had to be blameless, pointing to the sinlessness of Christ. Yet we see that the blood of bulls does not take away sin (Heb. 10:4), so how is it that God forgave sin in the OT? The OT sacrifices are legally tied to the future coming of Christ, apart from which the sacrifices are of no avail. If the blood of bull of goats will do, then why send a savior. Therefore, they are efficacious only in being tied to a future payment, which is in itself fully efficacious.
A helpful example I have heard is buying with a credit card. When we “buy” with credit, we don’t actually pay any money, but we sign a legal agreement to a future payment that is so binding because we pledge ourselves to a future payment. Yet, apart from that future payment, the signing means nothing. All the value is in the future payment. Similarly, God forgives sin only on the basis of the future sacrifice that He knows is coming. The wages of sin is death and we owe death for our sin. Animal sacrifices are not adequate. So how is God just in forgiving OT sin? Only in the cross of Christ.
Heb. 9:22, 26, Eph. 1:7, Titus 2:14, 1 Pet. 1:17-20, 2:21-24, 3:18, 1 John 3:5, John 1:29
3) Redemption – Christ’s giving his life as the payment price needed to secure our release from the bondage and guilt of sin. Christ is the one who redeemed you, purchased you. To be a Christian is to belong to one who has bought you and owns you. It is important that we realize that this purchase is made to God. The ransom payment is not to Satan. This would wrongly imply Satan’s autonomous authority. Rather, God’s payment was to God. God’s mercy and love devised a means by which He could pay what God’s justice and holiness demanded.
Heb. 9:14-15, 1 Cor. 6:20, Gal. 3:13, 2 Pet. 2:1, Rev. 5:9, Luke 24:21, Titus 2:14, 1 Pet. 1:18-19
4) Propitiation – This is the appeasement or satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin because of Christ’s payment for our sin and guilt by his death on the cross. So propitiation has implicit substitution. The bad news of the Bible is as bad as it gets: God is wrathful towards us as guilty sinners. The good news of the Bible is as good as it can be: God’s wrath is propitiated, satisfied in the death of another on our behalf.
Rom. 3:25, Heb. 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 4:10
5) Expiation – This is the removal from us sinners of the liability or necessity to suffer sin’s penalty. This is accomplished by the death of Christ. Yet this is only appropriated, efficacious by faith.
2 Cor. 5:17-21, Col. 2:13-14
6) Reconciliation – Through the atonement, there is a change of relationship where alienation and enmity are replaced by peace and acceptance. Before the cross, we were haters toward God (unreasonably so) and He is wrathful towards us (righteously so). So there was needed some kind of intervention to deal with our alienation. So who intervenes? God, the offended party! God sent His Son to remove the enmity between us and God. And now our relationship with God is marked by peace and acceptance.
Yet we see that reconciliation through the cross happens not only horizontally but vertically (Eph. 2:16). The power of the gospel is demonstrated in reconciling those who were at enmity w/ God and those who were at enmity with each other. Therefore, social reconciliation is part and parcel with the gospel. Church planting that never gets out of homogenous church growth is one that doesn’t get the gospel. Horizontal and vertical reconciliation goes together.
Rom. 5:10, 2 Cor. 5:17-20, Eph. 2:16, Col. 1:20-22
7) Christus Victor – Through the cross, Christ is the victor over the powers of darkness, sin, Satan. He reigns over all his (and our) enemies as the victor by his death on the cross.
John 12:28-32, 1 Cor. 15:22-28, Eph. 1:19-23, Col. 2:13-15, Heb. 2:14-15, Rev. 19, 20
8) Moral and Spiritual Example – The death of Christ serves as the greatest example of love for us to follow. Some evangelicals have given this up because this is the liberals’ main view of the atonement. They turn this into all of the cross. Yet, we must not forget that this is a biblical point, just not all there is!
Phil. 2:5ff, 1 Pet. 2:21ff