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Great Significance of the Atonement

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

All people are sinners upon whom the curse of the death penalty has been pronounced: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them. But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident… Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:10-14).

Violators of the law are sinners. God’s judgement of eternal death has been imposed upon all sinners, regardless of whether they committed the sins under the law or without the law: “For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin” (Rom. 3:9). They have all been sentenced to death as “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). This sentence also applies to the New Testament: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). “For there is no partiality with God. For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law” (Rom. 2:11-12).

On which grounds will the Gentiles, who never heard God’s law, be judged? “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things contained in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ” (Rom. 2:14-16). The Gentiles all have a God-given conscience which is a law to themselves. They know that it is wrong to kill, to steal, to curse, to lie, to commit adultery, etc.

It is important that we correctly understand the nature of the atonement so that, on the one hand, we do not forfeit the blessings of the Lord or, on the other hand, entertain wrong expectations. Because of the atonement worked out by Jesus Christ on the cross we have been acquitted of the death penalty, “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Rom. 3:24-25).

That is a spiritual reconciliation with God – the penalty for our sins has been paid, and in Christ we are recreated to become new persons. By virtue of Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead we can put on the new man. By virtue of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we can be endued with divine power to live victoriously and bear fruit for the kingdom of God. But we will only receive the full redemption of our bodies at the Second Coming of Christ, when we will get immortal resurrection bodies (Phil. 3:20-21).

At present we still have mortal bodies which are subject to ageing, disease and death. We can also be tempted and sin. We are living in an imperfect world which also suffers as a result of the Fall, and eagerly waits for the revealing of the children of God (Rom. 8:19-23) when we will have glorified bodies, live under ideal circumstances and rule with Christ. That will be a time of abundance and peace, when Satan will be bound.

This situation does not prevail yet since we have to fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12), enter the kingdom of G od through many tribulations (Acts 14:22), be prepared to be despised by the world (John 15:19) and to suffer for our faith (Phil. 1:29; Rom. 8:17). Diseases are one of the many reasons why believers also suffer. Some of them are healed and others not (2 Tim. 4:20). Even Paul suffered under disease and infirmities to keep him humble (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

Many healings occurred during the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus, and also during the ministry of the apostles in the early Christian church. These healings served a specific purpose to confirm the Messiahship of Jesus (Luke 7:20-23; cf. Isa. 61:1-2) and to prove to an agnostic Jewish nation and to the agnostic Gentiles that Jesus who was proclaimed by the apostles is truly the Christ, the Son of the living God (Acts 5:12; Rom. 15:18-19; 2 Cor. 12:12). After this testimony was given in a powerful and visible way, the emphasis shifted to a life of faith which is not based on signs and wonders. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

The Lord still heals people physically but we do not have a guarantee about this in the church dispensation. The human body is just as imperfect, battered and mortal as the natural creation. Together with the physical world we are eagerly awaiting the wholeness, perfection and immortality which the Lord has promised to us. “Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory… For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven” (2 Cor. 4:16-17; 5:2).

However, there are people who proclaim that the death of Jesus on the cross saves us in this dispensation from all possible curses, plagues and afflictions, including attacks by enemies, diseases and economic setbacks. All the curses mentioned in Deut. 28:15-68 are rightfully included in the curse which the Lord Jesus, according to Gal. 3:13, carried on our behalf on the cross, but the misleading assumption is made that all the blessings and prosperity are now to be enjoyed by us.

If that was the case, then curses such as pestilence among livestock, agricultural plagues, failure of crops, droughts, attacks by enemies, oppression by other nations, as well as diseases such consumption, inflammation, burning fever, tumours, scab, itching and blindness, should be completely averted from all believers (cf. Deut. 28). But that is not the case. Apart from the fact that these plagues and curses afflict unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, many believers among the nations also suffer heavily. In the case of believers, they are not cursed or punished by God but they suffer because they are living in a spiritually dark and sinful world which lies under the sway of the Wicked One (1 John 5:19). Many of them have died as martyrs for their faith, and for that reason they still wait for the wholeness and immortality which will be theirs when the Lord comes again to create all things new. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). The new earth, in more than primeval beauty, in greater than Edenic bliss, shall be the abode of everlasting joy.

The preachers who now promise to Christians problem-free, disease-free and disaster-free living conditions are out of touch with the Bible and with the nature of the present dispensation in which we are living. They do not only give false hope to people, but question and weaken the faith of those who have not obtained the healing or economic relief for which they have prayed.

We cannot now demand conditions which will only prevail during the coming kingdom dispensation, as that would amount to instituting the kingdom here and now. That cannot be done as we are still strangers and sojourners in an evil world. In this world we will be hated and have tribulation (John 16:33).

Live in the full salvation which is offered to you because of the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. The penalty for your sins has been paid and eternal life has been given to you as a gift of grace. But be ever mindful of the fact that Satan walks about like a roaring lion with the specific aim of attacking Christians. Put on the whole armour of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Thank the Lord for every blessing that you receive from His hand. But also learn to be content with every difficulty that may still prevail. God’s grace will be sufficient for you to cope with any trial or affliction. We are in the same situation as Paul, who was instructed by the Lord to stop praying about certain problems that he experienced. He had to learn from his trials not to exalt himself and to boast about his own excellence. He looked forward to his future hope in heaven. Although we have the knowledge and certainty of full salvation, we have not yet received every blessing that the Lord has promised to us. We still have to share in the blessing of the first resurrection (1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:16-18) when we will get imperishable resurrection bodies, as well as a heavenly home which the Lord Jesus is still preparing for us (John 14:1-3).

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