by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that the salvation of sinners is wholly of grace; through the mediatorial offices of the Son of God; who by the appointment of the Father, freely took upon him our nature, yet without sin; honored the divine law by his personal obedience, and by his death made a full atonement for our sins; that having risen from the dead he is now enthroned in heaven; and uniting in his wonderful person the tenderest sympathies with divine perfections, he is every way qualified to be a suitable, a compassionate, and an all-sufficient Savior.

The Incarnation

If Christ’s reconciliation for us is only given from afar, then Christ is afar. But, the incarnation says the opposite – that Christ is near. He is Immanuel – God with us. But do we add the, “so-to-speak” after saying this? Is God with us, so-to-speak? It cannot be that God is just with us in that he wants a certain end for us and will be thinking about us as we go about that end. It must be that God being with us is this – he has shared in our darkened lives and in them, seen the Father perfectly. This he did not just as a model, but he literally gives us his own vision of the Father through the Holy Spirit in our redemption. It is now the case that through Jesus Christ we can see the Father’s tender love that he has for us in his Son. This is only possible through Christ taking upon himself humanity. Calvin writes regarding Christ’s role as mediator, “Who could have done this had not the self-same Son of God become the Son of man, and had not so taken what was ours as to impart what was his to us, and to make what was his by nature, ours by grace?” (Institutes, Book 2 Ch 12 P2)

Stoics, Platonists, Greek Mythologies, and even God’s people, Israel, gawk and scoff at the idea that God could become man. Amidst these objections and others the council of Chalcedon (451 AD) thought it prudent to set forth a detailed definition of who Christ is (search for it and read it!). They affirmed that Christ was both consubstantial with the Father (fully God), and consubstantial with humanity (fully man). Christ’s two natures are “without change, division, confusion, or separation.” Within these four fences we live in the tradition and orthodoxy of the Christian church.

Gregory of Nazianzen wrote, “…that which he has not assumed he has not healed…” regarding the person of Christ. I put it here mainly to point out that the incarnation is vital to our understanding of the atonement. That Christ identified with us in our flesh and made atonement therein, means that he made atonement for us. However, it is easy to look at the incarnation as a means to an end – death. Did Christ come to die? Why did he live for 33 years until he submitted to death (he could easily have stayed in Israel and allowed Herod to kill him as a babe)? Is it possible, as Calvin writes above, that Christ was accomplishing not only atonement through his death by means of his spilt blood at the cross, but also accomplishes all the righteous requirements of the law which he imputes to us in order for us to be considered righteous?

The Atoning One

First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us.”

(Calvin, Institutes, Bk1 Ch1 P1)

Praise God that the atonement needed for final reconciliation was not left to humanity alone, but to the only divine-man who entered our flesh. By his blood and only his blood, our sin is covered and we are given eternal life. Atonement restores to us the marred and effaced relation we have to God into one of love and harmony. It must be pointed out that atonement however doesn’t come in pieces… Christ doesn’t give us atonement, he is atonement. As Calvin writes above, the benefits that Christ obtained here, namely through his death are only given to us in his person. We cannot abstract atonement from Jesus Christ and expect to have any idea what we are really talking about because atonement was accomplished in his flesh right before our eyes. It can be possible to talk about salvation and atonement as a thing that we get, rather than a person whom we receive. Christ did not say he will show us the way, truth, and the life…he said that he was in himself the only way to the Father, the only true Word, and the Life Everlasting.

This atonement is the outpouring of his loving-kindness upon us. Throughout the gospel accounts we encounter expressions of Christ’s self-bestowal, patience, and grace toward us. He gave hope to the adulterous woman at the well; he bore patience with Nicodemus; he stooped and met Thomas’ doubt; he called the greedy Zacchaeus to dinner; with all the effort Peter could muster, Jesus caught his hand as he sank into the sea. This is the Christ who sits in heaven. This Christ is where we find atonement. We, then, rest completely in the comfort and peace of his name.

Check out this quote from Augustine

Select Bibliography

The Person of Christ – Donald MaCleod

Atonement – T.F. Torrance

Calvin’s Institutes – Book 2.12/Book 3.1-12

One with Christ – Johnson