The Atonement – Romans 4-5 on Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Romans 4 elaborates on how it is faith that saves us. Without the cross being something truly efficacious in which to have saving faith, I can’t see how that can be true. The cross has done something — it is no mere demonstration!

Romans 5 begins with “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” A touchstone of our view of the atonement is this — is it merely our enmity against God that is talked about here (i.e. we can now put away our anger at God) or is it that God has put away His anger towards us? Of course, both things are true! The whole of Romans builds a picture that makes this plain — not only are we God’s enemies, He, too, has righteous anger, and if you like, enmity towards us.

Romans 5 continues in such a way that I simply can’t see how there is any way we can interpret the cross but as substitution:

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:6-19)

There is very little that needs to be said about those words. We see clearly and repeatedly that Christ died “for” us. What can that possibly mean if it doesn’t mean “in place of” or “because of” or “for the good of”? Also, it is implied that the Christian is no longer a sinner — what could possibly occur to change that? How can we be changed unless our sins are taken away and dealt with on our behalf? How precisely can blood justify us unless the death itself did something to and for us? And — get this — we are saved by Jesus from God’s wrath. God’s wrath is the problem. I have yet to see an alternative view of the atonement explain that adequately. How does Jesus save us from God’s wrath if it is not by bearing the full brunt of it and thereby turning it away from us? We are reconciled by death and saved by life — what more do we want?

It is interesting to note here, as often elsewhere, that the resurrection is also seen as part of Christ’s substitutionary work for us — He doesn’t just die for us, He is also raised for us! It is also stretching the grounds of plausibility to suggest that the reconciliation language here is one-way and only involves us. No, the alienation caused by sin is a problem on God’s side of our relationship also — He is right to be angry with us, and reconciliation comes only through Jesus’ death.

We are also given clear language about representation — what happens to us is similar to what happened to us when Adam sinned. This notion of corporate responsibility is not one we often think about, but it’s there. The point is clear — just as Adam’s sin was imputed to us, so Jesus’ righteousness is also imputed to us!

I cannot but end this post with “Hallelujah, What a Savior!”

Continues with “The Atonement – Romans 6-7 and Penal Substitutionary Atonement”

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