crucifixion

Eternal Judgment: 4 – Atonement Is Not Universally Applied


Suggested Pre-Reading: Eternal Judgment: 3


Upon hearing that righteousness before God is granted apart from the law, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, one might be inclined to think that everyone will therefore be counted as righteous on the Day of Judgment. After all, if salvation is not the result of human effort, but an effect of Jesus’ atoning death, what would prevent all humans from being saved? Indeed, this is a fair question to ask. To answer it, we must go to Scripture. As we do so, we see unequivocally that only some people get saved; only some are counted as righteous before God.

If this sounds shocking, that a loving God only grants righteousness to some people, consider the only other options in regards to salvation and righteousness:

  • God saves none
  • God saves all

If either of these options were true, there would be no need for the Bible and the teachings of God. If the point of Scripture is to teach the way of salvation, then such a teaching is pointless if God does not save. Conversely, if God has determined to save everyone, then there is no need to know the way of salvation taught in Scripture, for salvation will be granted no matter what one believes.

So the idea that the Bible teaches only some will be saved stands up under logical scrutiny. Furthermore, the New Testament is replete with references to righteousness being granted to those who have heard about the sacrifice of Christ and believed the message they were told.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe…(Romans 3: 21 – 22)

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4: 5)

…with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform…for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4: 20 – 25 segments)

…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10: 9 – 10)

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10: 14 – 17)

These passages make it clear that it is not simply the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that saves. The sacrifice of Christ must be coupled with the faith of an individual, in order to be efficacious in regards to righteousness. We see in the Old Testament this idea of coupling faith with a God-ordained sacrifice. The prophet Isaiah rebuked the people of Israel for faithlessly participating in God-ordained temple sacrifices.

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah. “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me…” (Isaiah 1: 10 – 13)

The people did not have faith in God. Yet they brought before God sacrifices in accordance with the law. Because they lacked faith, the sacrifices they brought were not received by God. Likewise, if someone does not believe in Jesus Christ, the sacrifice of Christ is of no value to them, although the fact remains He did indeed die for them, just as the bulls and goats did indeed die on behalf of faithless Israel in the days of Isaiah.

We see another precedent in the Passover. Although the invitation to slaughter the Passover lamb and smear the blood was given to all, only those who actually believed God, and killed the lamb and smeared the blood, were passed over by the destroying angel. Similarly, the invitation to believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is extended to all people through the preaching of the gospel. Yet only those who believe the preached message will be declared righteous on Judgment Day. Spiritually speaking, the atoning work of Jesus Christ must be applied to the individual human soul, just as the atoning blood of the Passover Lamb had to be applied to the doorposts. If the lamb was slaughtered and the blood was shed, but the blood was unapplied, the house would have lost its firstborn that night.

Let us end with a hypothetical.

There are two people sitting next to each other at church on a Sunday morning. Both claim to be Christians. Both, on the Friday night before church, went out on the town and committed grievous sins against God – drunkenness and sexual immorality. While the pastor is preaching the gospel message of Jesus Christ, the first person is delighted with joy, for they know that not only the sins they committed on Friday, but the sum work of their entire life, will lead to a judgment of “guilty” by God. But they do not fear this judgment, for in faith they believe in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and they know their righteousness is because of Christ and not because of their own piety. The other person, knowing that they sinned against God on Friday night, made a point to show up to church on Sunday, hoping to make up for the sins they committed by attendance and by putting a little extra in the offering plate. This person in their own mind is generally a moral person pleasing to God, but every once in a while slips up and needs to make amends to get right with God.

Only the first person has true faith in Jesus Christ. They will be counted as righteous on Judgment Day. The other person has a false faith. They believe in themselves, and that they can atone for their own sins through religious service. They will be guilty on the Day of Judgment and judged as an unbeliever.

Righteousness before God is real. It is not given to all, but only to some. And it cannot be faked, for God is not deceived. Those with true faith, a faith that is itself a gift from God, are the righteous ones. Those with a contrived faith, a faith that comes not from God but from within, are lawless and do not know Christ.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7: 21 – 23)
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Eternal Judgment: 3 – Atonement Is The Answer


Suggested Pre-Reading: Eternal Judgment: 2


Atonement is the answer to the question, “How are sinners made righteous outside of the law?”

But what is atonement?

It is the means by which sins are forgiven by God. As we seek to understand this, we do well to turn to the Old Testament and its description of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Aaron shall enter the holy place with this: with a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen tunic, and the linen undergarments shall be next to his body, and he shall be girded with the linen sash and attired with the linen turban (these are holy garments). Then he shall bathe his body in water and put them on. He shall take from the congregation of the sons of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering. Then Aaron shall offer the bull for the sin offering which is for himself, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household. He shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the doorway of the tent of meeting. Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat. (Leviticus 16: 3 – 10)

This description of Yom Kippur can be summarized as follows:

Element Purpose
Bull Sin Offering For the High Priest
Goat 1 Sin Offering For the People
Goat 2 Bears the sins of the people and is released to the wilderness

Note how God did not ask the sinners to sacrifice themselves or to bear their own sins for atonement. Rather, God prescribed the bull and goats to deal with the sins of the people. This is the heart of Biblical atonement – it occurs by means of a substitute. Substitutionary atonement is what keeps the forgiveness of sins distinct from law-keeping. You can never atone for your own sins by obeying God’s law, because God requires a substitute for atonement.

Moving from the Old Testament to the New, the author of Hebrews explains how Jesus is the ultimate substitute.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9: 11 – 14)

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Hebrews 9: 24 – 26)

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10: 1 – 4)

In order to prove Christ’s atonement as greater than even Yom Kippur, the author of Hebrews makes an a fortiori argument. He agrees with the established fact that in the days of Moses God ordained atonement through sinful priests and animals. He then proceeds to argue that if atonement could come through weak vessels, such as a sinful high priest and mere animals, how much more so could God ordain atonement through the sinless and spotless Messiah, as part of the New Covenant.

This idea of the Messiah as an atoning substitute is not unique to the book of Hebrews, or even the New Testament. It was prophesied hundreds of years in advance by the prophet Isaiah.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…

But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering…

My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities…

Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors

(excerpts from Isaiah 53)

Note how the prophet says Messiah will “justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities”. When atonement happens, the sinner is made righteous in God’s sight. The person who was once separated from God is now reconciled and brought near to God. Theologians call this the Great Exchange – Jesus takes our sins and He gives us His right-standing before God.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5: 21)

This law-gospel binary is essential for all to understand. The law is not the gospel and the gospel is not the law. Our righteousness before God comes not through our own ability to keep God’s law and make up for sins committed, but by having our sins placed on the ordained substitute for atonement. In the days of Moses, it was animals – bulls and goats. In our day, the appointed substitute is Jesus of Nazareth. He went to the cross and shed His blood so that our sins could be atoned for and forgiven once-for-all.

Atonement is why righteousness is outside of the law, and why the gospel is actually good news. There is nothing we can do to pay for our sins, because Jesus has paid it all.