Sin and Atonement

Before we proceed further in this series of papers, we must deal briefly with the question of sin. It was to solve this awful problem that the Son of God came into the world.

It need hardly be said that sin lies at the root of all the misery and suffering in the world, and death came upon mankind as the penalty of sin.

The Bible defines the nature of sin in a three-word sentence: “Sin is lawlessness”. This is the correct translation of 1 John 3. 4, see r.v. This statement describes the true character of sin: the unrestrained will of the creature acting independently of God.

The universe is governed in all its parts by laws, framed by divine wisdom. From the mighty stars to the tiny atoms all is regulated by these unchanging laws. Life in all its forms is controlled by law. Everything that is good and beautiful is the product of God’s perfect ordering. When creation was finished “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good”, Gen. 1. 31. We know that the earth and the planets are held in their orbits around the sun by the force of gravitation balanced by their momentum. Were these laws suspended for a moment the result would be chaos.

A diseased body is a disordered body; lawlessness has invaded it. The terrible disease of cancer results from a cell, or group of cells which have ceased to obey the normal laws of growth and repair in the body tissues. They are lawless cells, and unless destroyed, they will destroy the body. This is a striking illustration of our text: “Sin is lawlessness”.

All that is painful, unpleasant, ugly in nature and in life can be traced to departure from the divine order, and such is lawlessness.

God instituted marriage. It is a lovely thing when entered into and maintained according to God’s will. What wretched-ness and misery when the divine order is ignored and the relationship denied or broken. How happy the home where the divine order prevails, where a godly husband and wife bring up their family in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord”; where the husband loves his wife and the wife respects her husband, and the children honour their father and mother. How unhappy the lawless home, where husband and wife fail in their duty and children disobey their parents.

Sin came into the world through Adam’s disobedience. He flouted the only command God gave him. The head of the race fell, and man became a lawless creature. Sin like an evil root has brought forth an appalling fruit of evil. It has been producing its awful crop all down the ages. It is all around us, and we recoil from it in its worst manifestations: crime, drunkenness, fornication, strife and war, but the Bible says all unrighteousness is sin. It is sin even to covet, and the Lord said that the lustful look was adultery in the heart.

Sin is not only treated lightly in the world, it is relished and enjoyed. It provides a large part of the mental food on which the world feeds. Crime and violence, lust, unfaithfulness and immorality fill the pages of modern literature, and are por-trayed on stage, cinema, and television for the entertainment of young and old.

We have thought of sin in relation to man and its effect on him. It is still more important to consider it from God’s standpoint. Sin is a challenge to God’s authority, an affront to His glory, an outrage on His holiness.

How does God feel as He sees the creature He made in His image marred and spoiled by sin; the man He made for fellowship with Himself, for His glory and pleasure, far from Him, alienated in heart and mind, lost, ruined, and under the power of the Devil?

Atonement. The means by which God has settled the awful problem of man’s sin we describe as the atonement, and we use the expression here in its widest sense as covering propitiation, justification, redemption, and reconciliation. God’s dealing with the sin problem had to be in a way which was consistent with His glory, His righteousness, and His holy nature. If man was to be saved, it must be in such a way that no question could be possibly raised.

First of all let us consider God’s side of the matter. “Behold” cries the Baptist, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”, John 1. 29. The title Lamb shows that it is the sacrificial aspect of the removal of sin that is in view. Sin is taken away – removed from God’s sight – in the cross of Christ. Again in Hebrews 9.26 we read that Christ appeared once in the end of the age “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself”. Sin is put away. He “is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world”, 1 John 2. 2 r.v. Propitiation means a sacrifice has been presented to God which fully meets the demands of His righteousness and holiness. His claims have been fully met. Propitiation is, in a certain sense, God’s side of the matter. Scripture presents another aspect of Christ’s work – substitu-tion. On the cross Christ endured the judgment, bore the penalty on the sinner’s behalf, died in his stead. Propitiation sets God free to receive and bless, substitution sets the sinner free from a guilty conscience; his sins have been borne by Christ. As Peter says: He Himself “bare our sins in his own body on the tree”. This is sometimes erroneously rendered “to the tree”, which is false doctrine. Sin bearing took place in the three hours of darkness when Christ who knew no sin was made sin for us, 2 Cor. 5. 21. The work was completed when He cried “It is finished".

In Leviticus chapter 16 we have a wonderful illustration of these two aspects of the work of Christ: propitiation (Godward) and substitution (manward).

The first aspect, propitiation, is represented both in the bullock for the sin offering (for Aaron and his house) and the one of the two goats on which God’s lot fell. Both are killed and their blood is placed upon the mercy seat in the holiest, under the eye, so to speak, of the cherubim – the typical guardians of the divine glory. In virtue of that blood the high priest as representative of the people enters with the burning censer in which incense has been placed. As he passes through the veil and approaches the Shekinah glory above the mercy seat it is with the cloud of incense speaking of the fragrance of Christ. God’s eye rests on the blood – propitiation is made.

Over the head of the other goat all the sins of God’s people are confessed, and with them upon him he goes away into the distance never to be seen again, see vv. 20-22.

The fulfilment of this type is in the substitutionary aspect of Christ’s death. He has borne our sins and carried them away, so God can say of forgiven sinners: “their sins and iniquities will I remember no more”, Heb. 10. 17.

Space leaves room for a brief reference to justification; see Rom. 3. 24, 26. There is a link in verse 25 with the mercy seat for the word “propitiation” here might be translated mercy seat. Paul doubtless has in mind the type just referred to. In view of Christ’s propitiatary sacrifice, then future, God could righteously remit the sins of saints who lived prior to the cross, and at the present time He can justify those who believe in Jesus. Justification means more than forgiveness; it means the believer is freed from guilt and reckoned right with God, Rom. 4. 3, 7-8. It is connected in chapter 4. 25 with Christ’s resurrection. As risen with Him our past is gone for ever. We become the righteousness of God in Him, 2 Cor. 5. 21.


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