This is a subject of the greatest importance. All of the doctrines that have been and will be discussed in this study are of eternal weight, but the doctrines of atonement and justification are the foundation upon which the Gospel rests. They are the foundational truths of the saving work of Christ Jesus at Calvary. In light of this it is important to note that this message seeks only to cover the basics of these doctrines.
The word “atonement” (a noun) means “agreement; concord; reconciliation, after enmity or controversy. It is an expiation; satisfaction or reparation made by giving an equivalent for an injury, or by doing or suffering that which is received in satisfaction for an offense or injury.” (Definitions from Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828.) The verb “atone” is “supposed to be compounded of at and one.” It is “to agree; to be in accordance; to accord. To stand as an equivalent; to make reparation, amends or satisfaction for an offense or a crime, by which reconciliation is procured between the offended and the offending parties.” It is very much synonymous with “expiation.” Expiation is “the act of atoning for a crime; the act of making satisfaction for an offense, by which the guilt is done away, the obligation of the offended person to punish the crime is cancelled.”
God is the offended party and man the offender. The penalty is very severe but completely justified in light of the crimes of men toward God. The only way to secure forgiveness is to make a payment of such value as to fully answer the punishment demanded by God. Man stands helpless here, as he has nothing to pay. The only hope is to find someone rich enough in that commodity which is valued by God (righteousness) and fully willing to take upon himself our expense. (Jesus Christ)
The Atonement is for Man’s sin.
Atonement is dealt with in the Scriptures immediately. Genesis chapter three records man’s fall into sin and then God’s teaching on atonement begins with the slaying of the animal to make a covering of skins for Adam and Eve. There are other examples of atoning sacrifices in Genesis but with the exodus of Israel from Egypt and the setting up of the Levitical priesthood we see atonement dealt with in detail. Atonement, remember, is a satisfaction “made by giving an equivalent for an injury.” The Bible is clear that between man and God man has caused the injury and the atonement is to be made for man’s injury. We find that the Scriptures speak of atonement in such ways as: “Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.” (Ex.32:30) “The priest shall make an atonement for them, and it shall be forgiven them.” (Le.4:20) “The priest shall make an atonement for him as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him.” (Le.4:26) These verses make it clear that atonement is to be made for man’s sin.
The Atonement is necessary for forgiveness of sin.
The book of Leviticus uses the word “atonement” 43 of the 70 times it is used in the entire Bible. Leviticus goes into the finest detail on the Biblical teaching of atonement. We can learn that in addition to atonement being for man’s sin, that it is an equivalent to make reparation for man’s sin, it is also the only means of obtaining the forgiveness of sin. Regarding the peace offering it is written that “the priest shall make an atonement for his sin that he hath committed, and it shall be forgiven him.” (Le.4:35) In Leviticus fourteen it says that “the priest shall offer the sin offering, and make an atonement for him that is to be cleansed from his uncleanness; and afterward he shall kill the burnt offering.” (Le.14:19) When the priest offered the ceremonial offering for a person it is stated that “he shall be clean.” (Le.14:20) God taught the nation Israel, through the Levitical sacrifices that for the sins of men an atoning sacrifice had to be made to secure forgiveness of sin.
The Atonement is to be a substitution of equal value to the offence.
It is obvious that atonement carries with it the idea of substitution. It is the offering of that which is of equal value to that which is required by the offended party. We read in Leviticus that “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” (Le.17:11) In the fourth chapter of Genesis Cain and Able both bring offerings to the Lord God. Cain brought the fruit of the ground—fruits and vegetables. Able brought a lamb. Cain’s bloodless and lifeless fruits were rejected and Abel’s bloody and slain lamb was accepted. The Scriptures are clear that “almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” (He.9:22) It is the life-blood that must be poured out in death in order to expiate for man’s sin.
The Atonement is made to God.
There is a great heresy that abounds in the popular word-faith movement, driven by men like Kenneth Copland, teaching that Jesus Christ had to pay a ransom to Satan and not to God to free men from sin. Such men are anti-Christs. The word of the Lord is clear that atonement is made to God for the offences of men, for He alone is the offended party. Israel and the Levitical priests were taught that the sacrifices were “to make atonement for them before the LORD?” (Le.10:17) The priests were to “offer it [the sacrifice] before the LORD, and make an atonement.” (Le.12:7) To offer it before the Lord was to offer the bloody sacrifice in front of God for His acceptance and approval. God demonstrated this fact to Israel in Leviticus chapter nine. Aaron, the high priest had made a number of offerings to God on the Brazen Alter. God showed His acceptance of them by consuming them with fire. We read, “and there came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat.” (Le.9:24)
Christ for us atonement made.
It should go without saying that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (He.10:4) God never intended that the life-blood of animals poured out would atone for the sinful lives of men. Man is a much greater creature than the animals. Our offensiveness before the holy God is too great and God demands the life of man to satisfy His just wrath. Therefore, with great joy we read, “the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Ma.20:28) It was while we “were enemies, [that] we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Ro.5:10,11) In the atonement for man’s sin we find God making the move toward men by sending His only begotten Son. It is God “who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ…God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. (2Co.5:18,19)
From the very lips of our Saviour we read, “for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Ma.26:28) Jesus Christ made the atonement for man’s sin in his own blood, as the Lord Supper signifies. Christ Jesus had no sin of his own in nature or deed, but gave himself a ransom. Christ’s sacrificial bloody death was for the purpose of securing forgiveness of the sins of others—yours and mine. There are many personages and things that vie for your devotion and service in this world. They would have you serve them. Christ Jesus would have you serve Him. All these others, the world, Satan, and self have given you nothing and only seek to take from you and leave you poor and destitute. Only Christ Jesus has given all for your devotion. Hence the Scriptures speak of Him “in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” (Co.1:14) “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1Jn.1:7)
Forgiveness has been secured for the simple fact that God has been reconciled to us by Christ Jesus. It is Christ alone that has “made peace through the blood of his cross” and the Heavenly Father put forth His Son to die under the curse of the Law that “by him [God might] reconcile all things unto himself.” (Co.1:20) Both John and Paul use the precious word “propitiation” to speak of Christ and the atonement that He made. Propitiation is that which satisfies an offence. Of the Lord Jesus we read that “he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1Jn.2:2) It is Christ Jesus that “God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” (Ro.3:25) It is God that was offended by man’s sin and it is God that demands the punishment of the offenders. It is also God that sent His only begotten Son to die in man’s place and be, to God, the only acceptable and pleasing substitute for men’s personal punishment. Let us not fall into the heresy of some cultists/charlatans that the ransom for sin was paid to Satan. God owes Satan nothing. Man owes Satan nothing. Man owes God everything. God owes nobody! Therefore, of our dear Lord Jesus Christ it is said that He “through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God.” (He.9:14)
Justification by Imputed Righteousness
On both the subjects of atonement and justification we are into truths of great magnitude. Do not think that this message encompasses the entirety of these truths. We have barely scratched the surface. Our discussion of justification by imputed righteousness will proceed on two main pillars. First of all, it is evident from the Scriptures that men are justified from the curse of the Law (death) while sinners in themselves. Secondly, and extending the first proposition, the Scriptures teach that men are justified from the curse of the Law while sinner in themselves by no other righteousness than that performed by and residing in Christ Jesus.
Of the first part, men being justified from the curse of the Law while sinners in themselves we take note of the following. Men are sinners, “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” (Ecc.7:20) The previous messages in this series have amply shown the truth of man’s depravity. From the truth of man’s personal depravity it becomes evident that men cannot make themselves clean/righteous before the Holy God of Heaven and Earth. The Bible is clear that “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Is.64:6) The reason that your actions are filthy rags before God is because they are performed by a depraved sinner—an unclean heart and mind and body. It should be evident that that which is filthy cannot bring forth purity. No good housekeeper would was her families clothes in muddy water. They would not come clean. It is equally irrational to expect purity to come from the heart of men. Jesus explains, “That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mk.7:20-23) The question is asked, “And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?” (Lk.12:25) An orchid never grows from fungus and righteousness never proceeds from natural men. You cannot work yourself into a clean condition. As a result of the state of men and their inability to make themselves on inch the better it is evident that men are justified from the curse of the Law while sinners in themselves.
It is the command of God to all men that they bring nothing for their salvation. Jeremiah preached, “Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the LORD thy God.” (Jer.3:13) The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Galatians to defend this point, arguing that men can do nothing of or in themselves to merit salvation and that those who try to enter the kingdom of God this way are doomed to failure. Galatians is clear that “a man is not justified by the works of the law.” (Ga.2:16) This makes it obvious that men then must be justified from the curse of the Law while yet sinners in themselves.
That thief that hung on one of the two crosses flanking the Lord Jesus who said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” received salvation immediately. “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Lk.23:43) This man had no opportunity to amend his life. This thief had just moments before been railing on the Lord Jesus in hatred and bitterness. He certainly did not become righteous before God there on the cross. Coming to God empty handed, which shows our first proposition, is also seen in the parable of the Prodigal Son. This young fellow had wasted his life and fortune with riotous living and was feeding swine and eating garbage to stay alive. When he came to himself and realized his wretched state he did not seek and better job, clean himself up, or try to earn back what he had wasted. This man did not try to restore himself. The Scripture records that “the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” (Lk.15:21) Men are justified from the curse of the Law while yet sinners in themselves!
Here arises a most dangerous lie that lost folks will be given to follow. Many that hear the Law of God feel their guilt very acutely. Seeking to rid themselves of this guilt they take up religious performances by way of taking it upon themselves to work the works of the Law. This is the essence of the thinking of the religious lost. The Pharisees had fallen into this trap of faulty human reasoning. They clung to the truth that God spoke unto Moses—“We know that God spake unto Moses.” (Jn. 9:29) Their problem was that they misappropriated what Moses said and never followed it to its proper conclusion. Jesus rebuked them for this, saying, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (Jn.5:45-47) Those that claim to believe Moses and receive not Christ Jesus and His righteousness while they are sinners are accused by Moses, not justified. It is said of Israel, who did not receive their Messiah, “But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone.” (Ro.9:31,32) Israel had achieved a very high level of works righteousness and was not justified before God.
The second proposition follows. Men are justified from the curse of the Law while sinners in themselves by no other righteousness than that performed and residing in Christ Jesus, the Son of God. The righteousness needed to justify a man before God is a perfect righteousness worked by obedience to the Law of God. This truth is stated in Romans 5:18, 19 “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” It was Christ’s obedience to God’s holy Law, not just in His earthly life but in submitting to the curse of the Law in sinful men’s place. “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Ph.2:8) It is Christ Jesus alone that possessed a righteousness worked by perfect obedience to the Law, even the penalty that He deserved not. So it is written that when “he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;” (He.1:3)
By the singular offering of Christ men are separated unto God—“For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (He.10:14) Men can only be justified before God by the righteousness performed and residing in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, and that while they are yet sinners in themselves.
The method of justification is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone and His righteousness worked by the shedding of His blood at Calvary. We hear from the Apostle Paul, “that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” (Ga.3:11) We know that “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (He.11:6) God has chosen to impute the gift of Christ personal righteousness to sinful men upon belief in Him. Paul asks, “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.” Abraham, the fleshly father of the Jewish nation, was not justified before God by works. If Abraham had worked for acceptance before God he certainly would have had something to glory in, but he would not have had anything to glory in before God. God does not accept the works of men’s hands to justify them from the curse of the Law. How was Abraham justified from the curse of the Law then? Paul continues, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Believing the truth is as unmeritorious as you can get. Duty and reasonableness demand belief of the truth. You cannot be commended for believing the truth. You will earn no righteousness with God for believing that God is and that He is the rewarder of those that seek Him diligently. That is why salvation is by grace. Upon belief on the Lord Jesus Christ God gives an undeserved gift. “Now,” Paul states, “to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (Ro.4:1-8) These verses speak for themselves. There is one final observation that we do not want to miss from these verses. Notice how the imputation of Christ’s righteousness coincides with the withholding of imputation of sin. The imputation of our personal sin and corruption is certainly deserved. Christ Jesus has taken our sin upon Him and now God is “just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” (Ro.3:26) Therefore, when God imputes Christ’s righteousness to the sinner He also withhold imputation of their personal sin from them drawing from the satisfaction of the Law made by Christ Jesus at Calvary.
Salvation (including justification, sanctification, redemption, adoption, new birth, etc.) is of the Lord. Salvation is not an offer that you take; it is a gift that God gives. Yes, a person can reject the gift, but they can only receive it when God stands there to personally give it. The mindset is different when we think of salvation as an offer or a gift. An offer leaves it up to us and demands cooperation. A gift is from and of the Lord. I know that this sounds like a splitting of hairs to no profit, but consider that faith, repentance, illumination of the Holy Ghost, and justification (etc.) are all worked by God in the life of a sinner. This is a gift. A gift is “voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.” An offer allows for compensation. Salvation is completely one sided in its work and conference. The sinner only believes and repents, of which ability God has worked in his life.