The (lack of) limits of the atonement

source: historyswomen.com
source: historyswomen.com

Leviticus 16:30: For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins.

When we explore the theme of atonement, we would realise that the price that Jesus paid for the sin of the world is great indeed, and the intended result is grand. And the fullness of the possibility that atonement brings is yet to be seen.

Paul wrote that the whole creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God (Romans 8:19). That is a possibility that the atonement brings. Jesus describing his death, being the propitiation for our sins, said that it is like the grain of wheat which falls to the ground and thereafter bearing much fruits (John 12:23-24). Jesus as the seed of righteousness brings many men into glory (Hebrews 2:10).

The atonement brings the possibility of a new life in God. It is the basis of the gospel. It says: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes him will not perish by have everlasting life (John 3:16). Perishing was the portion of every human being except for the intervention of the sacrifice of Jesus.

Through the path of the atonement, Jesus made the way to God plain and he also released his life via his blood to cancel the death portion that we have from Adam.

The bible says that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin (Hebrews 9:18-23); in addition to that, sanctifying many things under the Old Testament has to do with blood. Therefore through the shed blood of Jesus, we are watched from our sins, and we are set apart as God’s (sanctified).

Sin (inherited from Adam) defiles and makes relationship with God virtually impossible. But you may ask what about God’s relationship with Noah, Enoch, Abraham etc? It was based on their individual personal righteousness, which God decided to tolerate because the righteousness of Jesus as a gift was not available to anyone then.

Those were isolated cases, having limited expression. There are also the prophets of the Old Testament also, who had special relationship with God. Note however, that the relationship of God with the nation of Israel (with some individuals there and generally) was predicated on the relationship of God with Abraham.

All these are not efficient, and also limited. Primarily, God did not indwell anyone of them by his Spirit, the way he made Adam (Genesis 2:7). They all still fell short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). That is why Jesus made it plain that though John the Baptist, a prophet, was the greatest of those born of a woman (Moses, Enoch, Abraham, David etc), the least person who is a Christian, who is in the kingdom of God, is greater than him (Matthew 11:11).

This is because we get the opportunity to be indwelled by the Holy Spirit. But one can say, did not the bible say that John was filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb (Luke 1:15)? But the fact that he did not have the opportunity to be born again (the basis of seeing the kingdom of God) means he did not have the Holy Spirit as a new spirit, and part of his person (John 3:1-16).

In short, he wasn’t spirit soul and body (1Thessalonians 5:23), he was soul and body (ditto all the great men of old). Therefore what the Holy Spirit filled in him was his soul. The opportunity to have a new spirit as part of who we are through being born again makes us greater than John the Baptist. There was no opportunity for John to be born again because he died before Jesus.

Also, the atonement provides the opportunity for us to be God’s mouthpieces. That was not a possibility that was available under the Old Testament. Because we can now commonly and not just for special purposes (e.g. for Kings, persist and prophets in the Old Testament) be filled with the Holy Spirit, we can all prophesy (1Corinthians 14:24).

In Christ God could achieve his ultimate plan of restoring humanity to the original pristine state. While impeccable perfection is not immediately achieved when we come to Christ, the possibility that the resurrection of Jesus brings, is exactly that. Though our body is still subject to decay, wear and tear, we can experience renewal by the Holy Spirit and we have the promise of a resurrected body.

Atonement says that old things have passed away behold all things have become new (1Corinthians 5:17). When the Passover Lamb (which died for them representatively, being a picture of the atonement) was sacrificed throughout the dwellings of the children of Israel, for the first time, they were in servitude in Egypt. But the day after, they became freed men (Exodus 11-13).

The atonement through Jesus provides freedom. It is a sign of the perpetual commitment of God to humanity, his love for us, just as the first Passover was a sign of God’s commitment to the nation of Israel.

After many years of being oppressed by the Egyptians, God answered them (the Israelites) by bringing them out with a mighty hand. Pharaoh was a most powerful king, his word was law, but God brought about another law to bear: the law of his power. The Lord is called the Might One (Psalm 50:1).

So with us, the devil thought that he had captured humanity in the vice of sin. His realm and reign had continued unhindered and largely unabated over millennia, but when Jesus came on the scene, he destroyed him who has the power of death- the devil (Hebrews 2:14).

How?

The bible says that the sting of death is sin; sin gives death legitimacy. But when Jesus took away sin through the atonement, death did not have anything to feast on, its certificate of occupancy in our lives expired; the chain of sin was broken off humanity, and those who believe experienced the benefit.

Jesus said that a strong man fully armed keeps his own house safe, but when a stronger than he pounces upon him and strips him of his armour wherein he trusted, his house is plundered (Luke 11:21-22). The strong man is the devil, the stronger than he is Jesus Christ.

There is something stronger than death (the devil has the power of death), it is life. When the judgment of death was on the sin of man, God released the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Romans 7:24-8:11) to cancel out the law of sin and death which defined the devil’s realm of operation.

The devil has the power of death, but with the release of the law of the Spirit of life through the blood of Jesus, the devil was dealt a deathly blow. His power over our lives was cancelled, through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This is because, Jesus swallowed up death in victory (1Corinthians 15:53-58), carried on himself the death judgment that was supposed to be put on us and He released a new life to us through his resurrection.

With that we have been taken from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13). (He could not be kept in the grave because he had no personal sin of his own; he was not personally under the judgment of death based on the son of Adam). When he fulfilled his contract to die for the sin of humanity, the devil could have to claim on him in Hades; instead Jesus showed him his colour and stripped him of his power- “the armour wherein he trusts,” which is to operate through the power of death based on sin.

He took his power away from him. Jesus therefore declared: all power in heaven and on earth is given to me (Matthew 28:18), nothing left for the devil. With life, he cancels out the power of death.

We were caged in the house of the devil, bound in a continuous loop of sin and death that we cannot break free from by ourselves. We are now free but from the law because the law is fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. We are not just freed from the law of sin and death but we are empowered to walk in the Spirit.

We have access to the Spirit in two ways. There is the resurrection experience of the Holy Spirit (when we experience Jesus as the saviour), who raised Jesus from the dead; it is part of our spiritual rebirth experience. It is something that has to do with being made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5), becoming born again.

But a new experience of the Holy Spirit awaits us after that, the experience of Jesus as the baptiser with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). That is the second way we access the Spirit. At this level, the spiritual functioning is activated in us, accompanied with the activation of the prayer language of speaking in new tongues (Acts 19:1-7).

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