Merrill Unger states, “…the atonement is the covering over of sin, the reconciliation between God and man, accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the special result of Christ’s sacrificial sufferings and death by virtue of which all who exercise proper penitence and faith receive forgiveness of their sins and obtain peace.”
Paul Enns writes, “The foundational meaning of the death of Christ is its substitutionary character. He died in place of sinners that He might purchase their freedom, reconcile them to God, and thereby satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God.”
In Scripture, we find other words that help us gain a better understanding of atonement, words that cast light upon its meaning. We will look at these words more closely in order to come to a better understanding of the meaning of His death.
Ezekiel 18:20 tells us that “The soul who sins shall die” (NKJV). This is the law of God, a law He cannot set aside, yet because of His indescribable love for mankind, a way was provided that would satisfy the righteous demands of God. God provided a substitute, One who would die in the place of sinners, in their stead. The Incarnate Word of God came to bear the punishment due sinners, their guilt was imputed to Him. He died in our place in order to satisfy the demands of the offended righteousness and holiness of God. Jesus died as the sinners substitute, in the sinners place (Isa. 53:4-6; Matt. ; Mark ; Luke 22:19, 20; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; 1 Tim. 2:6; 1 Pet. ; ).
The general idea for redemption from the words used in both the Old and New Testament is basically the same, the freedom that results from the payment of a price. The word redeem means to buy or buy back again, to purchase in the marketplace. In the New Testament, the words translated “redeemed,” “redemption,” and “bought” carry ideas that show progression.
(1) The first idea is the concept of the believer being bought by Christ (e.g., 2 Pet. 2:1). The purchase price of the believer was the blood of Christ (Rev. 5:9, 10). Because we have been bought, we now belong to Him; we have become slaves of Christ (1 Cor. , 20; , 23). Leon Morris states, “The redeemed are paradoxically slaves, the slaves of God, for they were bought with a price…Believers are not bought by Christ into a liberty of selfish ease. Rather, since they have been bought by God at terrible cost, they have become God’s slaves, to do His will.”
(2) The second idea is the concept of security. Paul stated that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Gal. ). Not only did Christ purchase us, but once purchased He removed us from the market never to be on sale again. The believer has been set free from bondage to the law and from the “curse of the law” or its condemnation.
(3) The third idea is the concept of freedom (1 Pet. ). The word “redeemed” here carries the idea that the one purchased has been set free, he has been ransomed. He is no longer a slave to sin and/or the devil, we were bought by the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. ) in order to “purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus2:14).
The righteous demands of God the Father were satisfied by the death of Christ. Man’s sin offended the holiness of God and all men have sinned (Rom. ). The only thing that would meet His righteous demands would be a sinless sacrifice. Christ provided that sinless sacrifice by providing Himself and shedding His blood in the place of sinful man. The death of Christ allows God to act in love toward sinners without violating His justice, righteousness, or holiness. Love was what motivated God to send Jesus as a propitiation for our sins (1 John ). First John 2:2 tells us that it was all-inclusive, “but also for the sins of the whole world.” Romans tells us that those who put their faith in Jesus find mercy for Christ has become our “mercy seat,” He is the place where Holy God can meet sinful man.
Enns writes, “Propitiation is related to several concepts. (1) The wrath of God. Because God is holy, His wrath is directed toward sin and must be assuaged to spare man from eternal destruction. (2) God provides the remedy. God provides the solution to sin by sending Christ as a satisfaction for sin. (3) Christ’s death assuages the wrath of God. The gift of Christ satisfied the holiness of God and averted His wrath.”
Ryrie writes, “To reconcile means to change. Reconciliation by the death of Christ means that man’s state of alienation from God is changed so that he is now able to be saved (2 Cor. 5:19). When a man believes, then his former state of alienation from God is changed into one of being a member of His family. The extent of reconciliation affects the entire world (2 Cor. 5:19) in the sense that trespasses are not imputed and God is able to offer man His love in Jesus Christ; but it affects believers in a saving sense so that when that gift of love is personally received we are saved (Rom. 5:11).”
The parable of the prodigal son helps to illustrate reconciliation. The relationship between father and son had been ruined by the son’s rebellion. When the son returns, the father celebrates his return because reconciliation has occurred: “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate” (Luke ). It illustrates reconciliation because as in the parable, our relationship with God was ruined because of sin which resulted in us becoming enemies of God (Rom. ). The death of Christ and our trusting Him as Lord and Savior fixed our broken relationship with God. Our sin was erased and the relationship was restored resulting in us now having peace with God (
Paul tells us that in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor. ), that Jesus’ death was the means of our reconciliation (Rom. ), and that Christ, the sinless One, was made to be sin for us (2 Cor. ). It was man who needed to be reconciled to God and God who initiated that reconciliation.
When a sinner trusts Jesus for his salvation and receives Him as his Lord and Savior, at that moment that sinner receives forgiveness for his sins. Since Christ has made atonement for those sins, the penalty due the repentant sinner is erased. Colossians teaches that our debt has been cancelled and we have been made alive in Christ. Our debt was nailed to the cross; the charge against us no longer stands, for Christ has already paid the debt by dying in our place. When God forgives us, He releases us from judgment. We are no longer indebted to God for our sins, for God has now judicially forgiven us all our sins (Acts ; Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13).
Positionally, God’s forgiveness extends to all sins; past, present, and future (Col. 2:13). Practically, in order for the believer to continually experience the joy of his salvation and uninterrupted fellowship with God, there must be daily cleansing (1 John 1:9).
Without a doubt, the doctrine of justification is one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith. In forgiveness something is taken away, in justification something is added to the believer.
Norman Geisler states, “Justification is the act of God by which we who are unrighteous in ourselves are nevertheless declared righteous before God. It is a judicial (legal) act of pronouncing one to be right in God’s sight.”
George E. Ladd declares that “The root idea in justification is the declaration of God, the righteous judge, that the man who believes in Christ, sinful though he may be, is righteous—is viewed a being righteous, because in Christ he has come into a righteous relationship with God.”
So, because of our position in Christ, God declares us righteous (Eph. ), for the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us (Rom. ; 2 Cor. ). It is not, as some often believe, God now seeing us as if we had never sinned, but rather as sinners to whom the righteousness of Christ has been added. In justifying us, God doesn’t pretend we are something we are not. His righteous demands were met in Christ, therefore He remains just while justifying us (Rom. -26). Our sins were imputed to Christ and Christ’s righteousness credited to our account.
It is imperative to note that the Bible is very clear in teaching that man is justified by grace alone (Rom. ; Eph. 2:8), through faith alone (Rom. , 28; 5:1; Gal. ), in Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts ; 1 Tim. 2:5-6).
The word adoption as used in the Pauline epistles is a declaration by God in which He accepts those who have been born-again, as sons who have the legal rights of inheritance in Christ. Geisler states, “Adoption means ‘placing as a son’; it signifies, literally, ‘a legal child’ (Ex. )…Theologically, adoption (Gal. 4:5) refers to the act of God that places a person as a son in God’s family. Adoption is a term of position whereby one becomes a son by the new birth (John 1:12-13), is redeemed from the bondage of the law (Gal. 4:1-5), and, although only a child, is by adoption made an adult son, which is fully manifested at the resurrection of the body (Rom. 8:23; cf. 1 John 3:2).”
The New Testament commentator William Barclay states that in the legal Roman ceremony of adoption, four things happened, “(a) the adopted person lost all rights in his old family, and gained all the rights of a fully legitimate son in his new family. (b) He became heir to his new father’s estate. (c) The old life of the adopted person was completely wiped out. For instance, legally all debts were cancelled; they are wiped out as if they had never been. (d) In the eyes of the law the adopted person was literally and absolutely the son of his new father.”
In his epistles, Paul describes the believer’s new status in Christ by using the Roman background.
The Christian shows evidence of sonship by his submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit (Rom. ), by his separation from the world (2 Cor. -18), by overcoming (Rev. 21:7), and by the Father’s discipline in his life (Heb. 12:6-8).
, Dictionary of Theological Terms, expanded third edition ( Cairns : Ambassador Emerald International,
2002), p. 44. Greenville
 Merrill F. Unger, The New Ungers Bible Dictionary, R. K. Harrison, ed. (Chicago: Moody, 1988), p. 123.
 Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody, 1989), p. 323.
 Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), p. 54.
 Enns, p. 325.
 Wendell G. Johnston, “Propitiation,” The Theological Wordbook, Charles R. Swindoll, ed., (
: Word, 2000), p. 282-283. Nashville
, p. 366. Cairns
 Charles C. Ryrie, Survey of Bible Doctrine (Chicago: Moody, 1972), p. 122.
 Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (
Bethany House, 2004), p. 227. Bloomington
 George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 437.
 Geisler, p. 226.
 William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew, 1957), pp. 110-111.