The Atonement, A Fresh Perspective

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16 August 2017 by romanin

A few months back, I attended the Honor and Shame conference.  A gathering of wonderful minds focused on understanding and theologizing through the lense of an honor and shame based worlview.  It was a wonderful conference, and one of the things that it tickled my brain and heart about is the atonement.  It added so much color to the work of Christ that I had never noticed before!  I’d like to share a bit of what I think I have learned.  Please feel free to comment.

Atonement refers to how Christ has made us “at one” again with the father, or how he repaired our relationship with God.  In the garden of Eden, where sin entered mankind through Adam, I see in Genesis 3 and 4 three types of ways that Sin begins to separate us from God and draw our attention elsewhere.

First is the voice of the liar.  Satan, in the serpent, tells Eve a string of lies regarding the forbidden fruit and God’s intentions toward man.  The voice of the father of lies creates in us doubt that begins to pull our hearts away from God.  Second, Adam joins in Eve’s sin.  The bible says that Adam was with her and he took the fruit and ate.  Adam knew what God’s command was, but he desired to please his wife over pleasing God.  This is the temptation that comes from the world: to seek the glory that comes from men rather than the glory that comes from God, especially if it is coming from someone very dear to us.  This is reflected also in God’s curse for the woman in Gen 3:16b: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”  Third, in chapter 4, Cain is severely tempted by jealousy because of God’s pleasure with Abel.  Here Cain is falling prey to the flesh, and his fleshly desire to compare himself with his brother in an unhealthy way.  In giving Cain a warning, God says in Gen 4:6-7:  “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

The result of the sins that result from temptations of Satan, the world, or the flesh is a separation from God.  This happens in three facets: Guilt, shame, and fear.  Firstly, in the simple act of disobeying God’s command, Adam and Eve became guilty; they transgressed the one law that God had given them.  There is no doubt about that.  And so the consequence, death, physical and spiritual, awaited them.  Secondly, the emotion that the bible describes them feeling immediately after they transgressed the law is shame.  Adam and Eve had dishonored their relationship with God and they felt shame.  At the end of Chapter 2, they were naked and unashamed, but by verse 7 in chapter 3, they tried to cover themselves with leaves.  Shame also separated them from God, for they were made to reflect God’s glory.  Finally, fear separated them from God.  When God came into the garden in verse 8, we are told Adam and Eve hid themselves from God, and Adam in verse 10 says that it was because of fear.  This was now to be sinful man’s new normal: guilt, shame, and fear.

In verse 21 in Genesis, after God lists a litany of curses that the man and woman will have to endure until the end of the age, God does something unexpected.  He sacrifices and animal and clothes Adam and Eve with the skin.  In this single act (now this is a shadow of Christ), God punished the animal for their sin, covered their shame, and comforted their fear by foreshadowing that there will be a salvation for them.

Jesus is that salvation.  Jesus came to be a man so that he could identify with us and be one of us.  It is critical to know that Jesus was 100% man.  He endured all of the temptations of Satan, the world, and the flesh, and yet was without sin (Heb 4:15).  He was God’s son and God was pleased with him (Luke 3:22), he was proclaimed by God to be the fulfillment of the law and the prophets (Luke 9:35), and he willingly gave up his life (John 12:27-28).  He was the perfect sacrificial lamb that was foreshadowed by the passover.  He was the first high priest to make one sacrifice and then be done (Heb 1:3)!  And of course, he is the last high priest.

Jesus’ death and resurrection provided atonement by propitiating God’s wrath (Rom 3:25).  In this way Jesus paid the penalty for our guilt, because we are all guilty.  He takes away our guilt so that we are no longer under the wrath of God, but justified by faith in him.  Jesus also clothes us in righteousness and gives us honor again so that we can reflect his glory (Is 6:10, John 12:26).  In this way he takes away our shame and covers it with his blood.  Finally, Jesus sits in intercession on our behalf (Romans 8:34).  In this way he takes away our fear so that we can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Heb 4:16).

Jesus’ death atones for us, makes us “at one” with God, by acting as a substitutionary sacrifice for our transgressions and thus alleviating our guilt and giving us righteousness, by satisfying God’s wrath and Honor, and adopting us into the family of the house of God and thus alleviating our shame and giving us honor, and by interceding on our behalf, inviting us to draw near to God once again, and thus alleviating our fear, and replacing it with a confidence in the power of God for our good.  Jesus reverses all of the effects of sin that came upon the human race in the garden so that we can live redeemed in the Kingdom of God here on earth and live also with a wonderful hope that we will live with God in the Kingdom of God in heaven.

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