Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The nature of atonement and justification as it relates to universalism

In my Romans class, we spent much of the month of November discussing the nature of the atonement, and the nature of justification.

Yesterday, I read a letter from someone involved in ministry that called into question the orthodox view of justification as well as the penal substitution view of the atonement. He questioned the value and truth of statements that indicate that man is separated from God. At one point in the letter, he quotes four different texts in Romans to provide argumentation for his point, and then indicates that the orthodox view of understanding the nature of the cross is in fact an "egregious expository error." If he's correct, then as a teacher I have committed this expositional error.

The "egregious expository error" was that people have used a universal scope in their understanding of mankind as sinful, but didn't use the same universal scope in applying it to the salvation of all people. In other words, his view of what took place on the cross was that Jesus saved every individual, and this is not dependent upon what kind of response each individual has to the cross.

So is it an "egregious expository error" to state that all are sinners, but only some are saved? No. A bigger error would be to miss the entire point of the book of Romans, namely, that "the just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17). To miss the two key words of this text is to miss the theme and heart of Paul's writings.

1. "Just" or "Righteous" is a legal term. It carries with it the idea that those who have right standing before God, or who are "just" before Him. In other words, there is something that makes us "right before God." Those who are uncomfortable with the legal language as it relates to God are uncomfortable with Scripture. This is not just the language of Paul, but also of Jesus Himself (see Luke 18:14).

2. The second part of the phrase is, "shall live by faith," which is the answer to how a person gains right standing before God. Did God accomplish the work of atonement on the cross? Absolutely! The way this is appropriated to individuals is through the God-ordained means of faith...which is also a gift of God (see Acts 11:18; 16:14; Ephesians 2:8-9). Its not humanistic to repeat God's Word, "because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom. 10:9).

There are many who are moving away from the biblical view of the nature of the atonement & the nature of justification. As an exhortation from Paul:
"By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:14).