When we ask the question, “Why is forgiveness so hard for God?” what we are really asking is, “What does it take to be in a right relationship with God?” In other words, we are struggling to understand the meaning of the atonement. The generic meaning of “atonement” is “the reparation for an offense or injury.”
The idea of the atonement is found in so many Scripture passages. For example: 1 John 2.2, Colossians 1.19-23, Romans 5.9-10, Romans 3.21-26, and most briefly in Ephesians 2 where the apostle Paul writes,
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Jesus (Ephesians 2.13).
Atonement: the bringing near to God those who once were far away. But as we think deeply about this idea, we are forced to wrestle with some serious theological implications.
For instance, If God is very holy, righteous and demanding, then humans will not be able to satisfy God easily and something will have to be done on their behalf. But, if God is indulgent and permissive, then it might be sufficient to give humans a little encouragement and instruction.
If mankind is basically spiritual intact, he or she can, with a bit of effort, probably fulfill what God wants of him or her. In that case, a little instruction, inspiration, and motivation may be the essence of the atonement. But, if mankind is totally depraved and unable to do what is right not matter how much she or he wishes or tries, then a more radical work will have to be done on his or her behalf.
The questions are: (1) what is the real problem, and (2) what steps must be done to correct the problem?
There have been five major theories of the atonement that have been advocated within the Christian church. I will share two with you today and three tomorrow.
1. Atonement as Example: This theory rejects any idea of vicarious suffering (the idea that Christ suffered on our behalf). Instead, the death of Christ effected universal forgiveness. More importantly, the death of Jesus provided a perfect example which epitomizes this type of dedication which we are to practice. The primary verse for this theory is 1 Peter 2.21-22, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.” According to this theory, all that was needed for God and mankind to have fellowship is that mankind have faith in and love for God. For God to have required something more would have been contrary to His nature. God and mankind are restored to their intended relationships by our personal adoption of both the teachings of Jesus and the example he set in life and especially in death. In this theory, mankind is morally capable of doing God’s will, and God’s wrath towards sin has been easily satisfied.
2. Moral Influence Theory: In this theory, Jesus did not make some sort of sacrificial payment to the Father to satisfy His wrath. Instead, Jesus demonstrated to mankind the full extent of the love of God for humanity.The real problem to be solved was mankind’s fear and ignorance of God. Christ’s death enabled mankind to be open to the love of God, to respond to that love by drawing near to Him, and to be inspired by that love to live in a trusting, obedient relationship with God.
As we evaluate these theories, and consider the three theories tomorrow, the primary question to ask is “to whom did the work of Christ on the cross effect, God or mankind?”
What do you think about these two theories? Do they adequate explain what happened on the cross in light of Hebrews 9.22, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness”?