The Atonement Made Easy, Part 1


The Atonement is a great big theological doctrine that encompasses the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. It’s also a doctrine that involves some very practical aspects of Christianity you may not be aware of. So let’s take a look at how the Atonement impacts six areas of our faith.

The Atonement makes fellowship possible, 1 John 1:7

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7 TNIV)

You may not be aware of it, but when you hear preachers going on about “the blood of Jesus,” chances are good they are referring to the Atonement. But we need to look at this use of phrase in context, so let’s add verse 6 into the mix:

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:6, 7 TNIV)

In these opening verses of John’s first letter, he introduces three tests of authentic Christian faith. Christians need these tests because there are so many false believers and false teachers floating around. This was true in his day and it’s certainly true today. How can you distinguish between true and false teachers or genuine and false believers? Well, it boils down to the Atonement.

In verse 3, John wrote about fellowship, and here in verse 6 he mentions it again. In the Church, “fellowship” has to do with a number of things. There’s the fellowship within the Trinity, and then there is the fellowship Christians have with God, and don’t forget the fellowship that exists within the Body of Christ between believers. The problem John saw in his day is the problem that plagues the Church today. There are people who claim to be in fellowship with God but still walk in darkness. That’s a big theme in John’s writings, and here John says those who remain worldly and who lie and don’t live out the truth are not in God’s light but in the darkness of sin.

Anybody can claim to be in fellowship with God; anybody can lie and join a local church but if they’re not “walking in the light,” that is, if they aren’t living in obedience to God’s Word and will, then they aren’t walking in the light at all. They’re still in the darkness. For John, the test of truth has nothing to do with belief – although that’s part of it – but with action; with how a person lives in his world. You can tell if a person really is a Christian by how they act, including how they speak – do they speak truthfully or not.

Truth is self-evident – your life will reflect it. If you possess the truth, then you will walk in the light. You just will. If you possess the truth, your life has been cleansed from sin and you have been brought into fellowship with God and with His people. Sin alienates man from God and from his fellow man. Sin corrupts every person it touches. It confuses people. Where there is sin, there is discord, not harmony; there is disorder, not fellowship. But when people are in fellowship with Christ and with each other, they experience the grace of Christ dispelling the darkness and filling them with the light of God’s presence. No wonder Christians love fellowship! And no wonder non-Christians want to experience that. But, according to John, all this fellowship – between God and the believer and between believers – is possible ONLY because of the blood of Jesus – the Atonement.

Through the work of Jesus on the Cross; through His shed blood, the sins of believers have been completely washed away. Our hearts are clean. Our consciences clear. Now we are able to have open fellowship with God and with our fellow believers. Part of the Atonement is this purification of sin. But, it gets better. John writes that Jesus’ blood purifies us from all sin. That’s written in the present tense. His blood is still washing away our sins to this very day! Stott wrote:

What is clear is that if we walk in the light, God has made provision to cleans us from whatever sin would otherwise mar our fellowship with Him or each other.

He’s right. The Atonement changed everything and continues to work in our lives making fellowship possible.

The Atonement makes the new life possible, Galatians 2:20

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 TNIV)

Because of the Atonement, we have a new life in Christ. In fact, it’s no longer US, but Christ in us.

This new life under God frees us from the burdens of the law. That’s the big theme of Galatians, and it should be a big deal to you. Where it not for the Atonement, Christians would be living like the ancient Hebrews did – according to a list of do’s and don’t mile long. You can thank Jesus Christ for the Atonement because through it, you have been completely set free from sin and legalism; from the stress of a guilty conscience
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 TNIV)

All believers have been “crucified with Christ.” This is a highly significant concept. When a person becomes a Christian, he dies with Christ. He dies with Christ and is therefore dead to sin. By faith, a sinner makes Christ’s death His own – as surely as Christ died to the world around Him, the sinner dies to the sin around him. The future result is that that person will never, ever face eternal death for his sins because they are gone. The present result is that sin has no hold over a corpse, which is what you are to sin.

Yet you’re not some eerie zombie husk walking around – Christ is living in you. It’s now His life empowering you; He moves you; He propels you. Your old self is gone, He is now in you, giving you a new life. It’s a difficult concept to understand, but essential. Paul also wrote this:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21 TNIV)

That phrase, “to live is Christ,” means literally “the living is Christ.” For Paul, “the living is Christ” is not his opinion, it’s the absolute, final commitment of his life. Christ – living for Christ – had now become the goal of the apostles’ life. If you read Philippians 1:21 in context, it becomes clear what Paul is getting at. For him – as it should be with all of us – Christ would be magnified in his body; in how he lived and even in how he died. Not only that, Paul was on to something else. He realized the permanence of the abiding presence of Christ; that upon his death, he wouldn’t lose Christ, but he would gain even more.

So, you can thank Jesus for the Atonement, because through it, you have His presence in your life forever. He has given you new purpose and a power to see you through this life and into the next.

The Atonement made you holy, Hebrews 13:12

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. (Hebrews 13:12 TNIV)

This powerful verse occurs in a discussion of “the way of faith.” How should a Christian live? What Paul wrote to the Philippians was all well and good, but how are we supposed to live like Christ is living in us? The writer of this letter to some Hebrew believers comes to the rescue. In chapter 13, he writes about loving fellow believers. And being kind toward strangers. He writes eloquently about having compassion for those suffering. And he cautions about the importance of maintaining high moral standards and living independent from financial concerns.

Then the author gets to a heady theological concept about Jesus.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8 TNIV)

That’s a stunning declaration. After all the practical ways a Christian can live the good life, the author makes this statement. True Christian holiness must always be Christ-centered, not rule centered. Why? Because rules change all the time. From generation to generation, from culture to culture, from sex to sex, “rules for holy living” change. Only Christ remains the same. Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. What Jesus was yesterday in the days of His flesh and what He is today at the Father’s right hand, He will be for all eternity. He is the final Word in God’s revelation to man – He will never be superseded or supplemented. You may be thinking, “Well, tell me something I don’t know.” Here’s the point. The Christian, even the very best, most spiritually mature, blue haired saint in the congregation is continually tempted to turn from the pure teachings of the Word in favor of false teachings – in favor of a list of man-made do’s and don’ts.

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by the eating of ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who observe such rituals. (Hebrews 13:9 TNIV)

The Hebrews who read this letter were always being tempted to fall back into a form of Judaism Jesus Christ took the place of. But we Christians are no different. Instead of enjoying the freedom of serving Christ – a freedom made possible by the Atonement – we do the same thing. Your heart is strengthened by God’s grace, not by what you drink or what you wear or what don’t watch on TV. You are made holy by the shed blood of Jesus Christ – the Atonement – not by what you do or don’t do. Your sanctification is an accomplished fact because Jesus Christ suffered and bled for you. Don’t belittle His work by thinking you can make yourself holy simply by the clothes you wear or the music you listen to.
Like the animal sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, our Lord suffered and gave His blood to remove your sins from your person. Your sins are forever separated from you. You can’t do that for yourself. Only Jesus’ blood could accomplish that.

…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22b TNIV)

This wonderful doctrine, the Atonement, makes it possible for Christians to enjoy free access to God the Father and Jesus the Son through the Holy Spirit. Nobody can hope to catch God’s attention apart from the work of Jesus. The Atonement makes your new life possible. Your new life is empowered by Jesus, and lived for Him. And the Atonement sets us all free from burdensome laws that serve only to make you feel guilty because you can’t measure up. By the Atonement, you do measure up! You measure up to God’s standard because Jesus puts you there.

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