8.1 The Principles Of The Atonement
Transcript of a Debate With Ruth Sisson
As debated in:
Christadelphian Tidings and
Megiddo Message magazines
Motion for discussion: “The Bible conditions our salvation and
eternal rewards upon our individual obedience and virtue, and not upon
any merits deriving from the literal death or blood of Jesus Christ.”
For the above motion: Pastor Ruth Sisson (Megiddo Mission)
Against the above motion: Mr. Duncan Heaster
8-1-1 The Conditions Of Salvation
Motion for discussion: “The Bible conditions our salvation
and eternal rewards upon our individual obedience and virtue, and
not upon any merits deriving from the literal death or blood of
Opening Statement By Duncan Heaster
If our own righteousness and human endeavor will save us, then why is there the need for salvation through Jesus? Why was Jesus the Son of God, and not just an ordinary man who lived without sinning? The flesh (body) and blood of Jesus are associated in John 6:53; Heb. 10:19,20; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:27. To say that the blood of Jesus is not a precondition for our salvation is to say that his body and person was also unnecessary: i.e. Jesus was not essential; we can do it all ourselves, we don't need him. By saying this, we are not suggesting that Christ's example is unimportant; this debate is about the significance of his death.
" There is none righteous, not one" (Rom. 3:10). " It is not in man that walketh to (spiritually) direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23). " All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Paul had a sinful tendency within his life which in practice stopped him being totally obedient to God; when he would do good, this " evil" was present with him (Rom. 7:15-25).
The Megiddo Church correctly understands that the " devil" refers to this principle of evil within us. But their understanding remains at an abstract, academic level. In reality, this principle means that it is impossible by our own endeavor and virtue to completely conquer the flesh.
It should be evident from these passages, as well as from our own experience, that we cannot achieve salvation by ourselves. We cry with Paul: " O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ" (Rom. 7:25). Although we cannot save ourselves, God will not do it all for us. We must come to the correct balance between these two extremes.
The Need For Imputation Of Righteousness
" God imputeth righteousness...the righteousness of God" (Rom. 4:6; 2 Cor. 5:21). We can only be reckoned righteous by being in Christ, not having our own righteousness, but that which is imputed to us by God's system of justification (Phil. 3:9). Trying to establish our own righteousness is effectively rebelling against God's righteousness (Rom. 10:3 cp. Job 35:2; Ezk. 33:13; Deut. 9:4,5). Our righteousness in God's sight is by reason of our association with Christ, " the Lord our righteousness" (Jer. 23:6; 1 Cor. 1:30).
Imputation means that God looks on us as if we are perfect, even though we are not of ourselves. Why is there such Biblical emphasis upon this idea of justification and imputed righteousness, if our salvation depends upon our own virtue/righteousness? (See Romans. 2-4; 3:21; 4:3-6; Heb. 11:7; Deut. 24:13; Psa. 24:5). It is because of the imputation of righteousness that Jesus could say, " Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father...is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). We are surely being presumptuous to think that we have ever lived on God's level of moral perfection even for a day.
The believer will be presented " faultless" before the judgment seat (Jude 24), " without blame before him" because " he hath made us accepted (by being) in the beloved" (Eph. 1:4,6)- by baptism into him. Christ cleanses us, that he might present us to himself (he does it, not us) " a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Eph. 5:26,27), as Jesus was " without spot" (Heb. 9:14). All these statements become meaningful within the context of righteousness being imputed.
The Place Of Forgiveness
Megiddo members must admit that they are not faultless. Yet they say that only the faultless will be accepted. No matter how hard we try from now on to be faultless, we still need forgiveness. Megiddo must have a strange concept of forgiveness, if salvation is by human effort, with no reference to the sacrifice of Jesus. Surely Megiddo members try hard not to sin. But when they do, they must have a terrible conscience, because they know no way to put themselves straight with God afterwards (cp. Heb. 9:14). Am I correct?
We need something more than our own " obedience and virtue;" forgiveness and the imputation of righteousness is made possible by the death of Christ.
The Need For Christ's Death
The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Because of this, God has ordained a life must be poured out (i.e. death) as a basis for the forgiveness of sins. Seeing that " the life is in the blood," it follows that blood must be poured out for sins to be forgiven. Just " trying harder next time" isn't the means for forgiveness. " Without shedding of blood is no remission" (Heb. 9:22; 10:11-12).
The consistent teaching of scripture is that we cannot atone for our own sins. The pouring out of our blood (or life) to the death would not get us forgiveness. Because we have sinned, and therefore deserve to die, it would be our receiving the wages due our sins, i.e. death. This is where the unique place of Jesus is so vital. He was of our nature, of our " flesh and blood," a suitable representative of us (Heb. 2:14-18). That blood was shed, a perfect life was poured out, with which we can be associated, and then finally share in the immortality which followed.
These ideas of shedding or pouring out of blood are concepts based on priestly acts, of killing the sacrifice. With regard to Christ, they speak of his literal death: " thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood" (Rev. 5:9). The shedding of his blood (his death) is the basis of remission of sins. One of the values of his death is in providing a suitable basis for our forgiveness. Without this basis no forgiveness is possible, " if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves..." (1 John 1:8).
The Need For Christ's Blood
In contrast with Megiddo's rejection of the importance of Christ's blood, scripture emphasizes that our reconciliation with God is on account of Christ's blood: " The Father...having made peace through the blood of (Christ's) cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself" (Col. 1:19,20). We were " redeemed...with the precious blood of Christ' (1 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 5:9). Those " in" Jesus " have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:14; Eph. 1:7). Our redemption is paralleled here with our forgiveness. In Christ, and only in him, our sins are not held against us; we will not receive eternal death as the wages of sin; in God's grace, we can be given immortal nature, salvation from our sin-stricken condition.
" Christ died for us...being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him" (Rom. 5:8,9). Thus Jesus " washed us from our sins in his own blood" (Rev. 1:5; notice how Jesus does this to us, rather than we achieving it for ourselves). " The blood of Christ (can) purge your conscience" (Heb. 9:14). In this way, Christ " purchased (us) with his own blood" (Acts 20:28).
" His own blood" highlights the very personal relationship which we have to Jesus, once his blood covers us. We cannot have this if we seek reconciliation by our own virtue. We are " justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood" (Rom. 3:24,25). If the blood of Jesus is irrelevant to our salvation, how are we justified through faith in his blood? Surely these passages invite us to focus our mind upon the blood (i.e. literal death) of Jesus?
If the blood of Jesus is not one of the preconditions for salvation, then it must mean that the life and death of Jesus are not necessary for it either. If we were to analyze the literal blood of Christ with no regard for the saving work which he did for us, then it would not be meaningful. It is not some kind of talisman in itself, as Catholicism teaches. But we cannot analyze Christ's sacrifice by supposing that, for the sake of argument, he did not die for us. The fact is that he was born and he died, " for us." This was his very reason of being. We cannot analyze his work apart from the purpose for which it was done: i.e. our salvation. It is as a result of such separation of Christ from his work that the conclusion has been reached that the literal blood of Christ is insignificant.
The Teaching Of The Mosaic Law
Under the Mosaic Law, the Israelite found atonement with God by placing his hand on the head of an animal, which then represented him. This animal was killed, and the blood poured out. This was because " the blood...I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul" (Lev. 17:11). But we must compare this with Hebrews 10:1-10: " it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins," and therefore the sacrifice of the body of Jesus was needed.
But according to Leviticus 17:11, the animal blood did make atonement for sin. It was not the literal blood which did so on its own; that blood made atonement because it pointed forward to " the blood" of Jesus. With this blood as well as that of Jesus, it is not the blood as literal blood that is effective, but its relation to something of which the blood-shedding points forward.
Megiddo must have difficulty accepting that the blood of the animal sacrifices points forward to that of Jesus. If his blood is irrelevant, then why did the Mosaic system of reconciliation with God achieve this through blood, which pointed forward to that of Jesus? We must remember that the body and blood of Jesus was the actual fulfillment of the Mosaic types. Those types did not just point forward to Jesus as our example. The New Testament says that Jesus was typified by the altar, the high priest, the mercy seat and the blood on it; all the elements of the Mosaic Law pointed forward to him (Heb. 9).
Furthermore, Jesus was the equivalent of the Passover lamb. " Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us...(Jesus) the lamb of God that taketh (" beareth" ) away the sin of the world...sprinkling of the blood of Jesus...the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Cor. 5:7; John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:2,19). These are all obvious allusions to the Passover lamb as that lamb had to be without spot, having its blood sprinkled around the lintels of the door. Did the blood of the Passover lamb point forward to that of Jesus or not? If the answer is " No," then why do Megiddo still keep a " Passover" feast on 14th of Nisan? But if " Yes," then as the lamb's blood brought salvation for Israel, so must the blood of Jesus bring salvation for the new Israel (1 Cor. 10:1,2).
Our Association With Christ's Death And Blood By Baptism
By associating ourselves with his death, God looks on us as if we are sinless. Jesus died for us (1 Cor. 15:1,2), so that we too might share his death and therefore his resurrection. The divinely appointed means for making this association is immersion (water baptism) (Rom. 6:3-6; Phil. 3:21; 2 Cor. 4:10). Because Megiddo fails to understand the need to associate ourselves personally with Christ's death and resurrection in this way, they have rejected the doctrine of water baptism.
Many verses in the Bible speak of baptism as a one-time act. Why is this so, if baptism is only symbolic of some inner spiritual process? How can we be baptized into the death and body of Jesus by this? (Rom. 6:3-5; 1 Cor. 12:13). Water baptism beautifully symbolizes dying with Jesus, and then rising to new life with him.
By The Breaking Of Bread
Because forgiveness and the hope of salvation is only available through Christ's own death, we need to associate ourselves with him. " Except ye eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you" (John 6:53); we must intensely associate ourselves with the sacrifice of Jesus. Without regularly breaking bread, are we really associating ourselves with Christ's saving work? The early church broke bread very often (Acts. 20:7; 2:42,46). Megiddo's failure to frequently do this is explicable by their lack of appreciation of the value of Christ's sacrifice. One mistake has led to another.
Jesus: Our Sin-Bearer
Jesus " his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree" (1 Pet. 2:24). How can Jesus be a sin bearer if salvation is just conditioned on our own virtue? How do Megiddo understand Christ being our sin bearer (Isa. 53)? " We are sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus" (Heb. 10:10); we are " reconciled in the body of his flesh through death" (Col. 1:21,22).
Also note that Jesus has brought about our salvation " because he hath poured out his soul unto death" (Isa. 53:12). Our salvation is obtainable because of the fact that Jesus offered himself ‑ his life, his blood, his body, his very soul. The parallel between Christ's body and blood and himself is because the giving of Christ's life involved the giving of his complete self; including his literal blood. Separating the body and blood from the whole self of Christ is not a valid biblical distinction. Accordingly, if the blood and body of Jesus are not necessary conditions for our salvation, then neither was Jesus.
If Jesus was only our example, then he was useful but not essential. Megiddo must assume that the Bible records of many other men, e.g. Joseph and other types of Christ, could be our ideal example. Yet the Bible stresses that salvation is through the literal death, not just the example of Christ.
Jesus Redeemed By His Sacrifice
As one of the human race, Jesus' sacrifice was partly for his own benefit, seeing He was one of us; he was redeemed by his own blood in that he totally represents us, who are also redeemed by his blood (Heb. 5:3; 7:27; 9:7,12; 13:20). It was “for himself that it might be for us”. Because Jesus was of our nature, he destroyed " the devil...(and) abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (Heb. 2:14; 2 Tim. 1:10). Megiddo teaches that Jesus benefited from his own sacrifice; if he benefited by his own blood, and he was of our nature (which Megiddo also believe), then surely we too must benefit from his blood?
Baptism Into The Body Of Christ
By being truly baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are counted by God as being part of Jesus, and therefore our bodies will also be glorified at Christ's return. The reconciliation made available through the offering of Christ's body is only available to those who continue faithful in him (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). By baptism into Jesus, we are baptized into the body of Jesus, we become part of his body (Eph. 1:23; 4:16; Col. 1:18; 1 Cor. 12:13,27). At Christ's return, he will " change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Phil. 3:21). " The life also of Jesus (i.e. the eternal life given through his resurrection) (will) be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor. 4:10).
Jesus was perfect by character; yet in order to represent us who have to die, he " died for us." Because he had done no sin, he was raised again to immortal life. By being baptized into Jesus, he represents us, and therefore if we faithfully remain " in him," we will also share in his immortalization. Thus our salvation is on account of Christ's death.
Megiddo teaches that a person must develop perfection to be saved. Until they reach that point, they are without hope. The scripture position is that we are considered part of the eternal grace of God now, unless we fall away from it: " Even when we were dead in sins, (God) hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:5-6).
Although this salvation will not be physically manifested until the return of Christ, we are spoken of as having received it in prospect. Having received this great gift, our works should be motivated by gratitude for God's " unspeakable gift," rather than provoked by a feeling that our obedience will bring our salvation. In prospect, we have been saved.
The Place Of Good Works
Our ultimate acceptance will be on account of our living faith in God's grace, not our works: " For by grace are ye saved through faith...not of works, lest any man should boast...And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise works is no more work" (Eph. 2:8,9; Rom. 11:6). If we really believe that we are acceptable to God, then we will show our faith by " works" of obedience (James 2:14-26).
" Works" do not just refer to the actions prescribed by the Mosaic Law, as Megiddo have claimed. James 2:14-26 says " works" include giving food and clothing to needy Christians. Romans 4:2-5 speaks of " works" being done before the Mosaic Law was given. The argument of Romans 2-7 which negates relying on the works of the Mosaic Law for salvation, also negates relying on obedience to any legal code as a means of justifying ourselves before God. The real work of God is to believe in the work of Christ (John 6:69).
Christ's cleansing our conscience by his sacrifice means that therefore with works we " serve the living God" (Heb. 9:14; Tit. 2:14). We can never have this kind of clear conscience if our relationship with God depends solely upon our own obedience.
While the Lord Jesus set an example of perfect obedience, his literal death, the shedding of his blood, is critical to our salvation. We all need forgiveness of sins which God only grants upon our association with the death of Christ. The necessity of death as the basis of the forgiveness of sins is set forth in the Mosaic Law, the vocabulary of which is applied to Jesus Christ. By association with Christ through baptism, God imputes righteousness to us; He counts our faith for righteousness. Our good works must spring out of our rejection of sin which is implicit in our faith in and association with the death and resurrection of Christ.
Duncan Heaster, July, 1992