Atonement: Our Only Hope

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

- 1 Corinthians 15:17

We have been covering John’s account of the death of Christ, focusing on the personalities and events associated with the crucifixion. As important as these things are, we cannot afford to miss the theological meaning of the cross. Why was the cross necessary? What did it actually accomplish? So that we might have a better understanding of what the work of Christ on the cross secured for His people, we will now take a break from our study of John’s gospel in order to consider Jesus’ atoning work more carefully. Dr. R.C. Sproul will guide our study as we turn to his series The Cross of Christ.

Theologically speaking, we refer to Christ’s death on the cross as offering atonement for the sins of God’s people. Jesus died in order to pay the penalty for our wickedness and to make it possible for us to have blessed fellowship with our Creator. This work on the cross was absolutely necessary for our salvation. We have no Christianity without the cross, for the gospel is a message that proclaims that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1–4). The need for the Messiah’s atoning death is not up for debate when it comes to biblical teaching. If Christ has not been raised, we are still in our sins (v. 17), and there is no resurrection for our justification unless Jesus was a propitiation—a wrath-averting sacrifice—for our sins on the cross (Rom. 3:21–26; 4:23–25).

The fact that the atonement is our only hope for peace with God is taught throughout Scripture (Rom. 5:1; Heb. 9:22). However, in many churches today, the need for the cross is downplayed. In the wider culture, a kind of universalism prevails that basically says that everyone goes to heaven as long as they did not act too wickedly in life. These realities reflect a failure to understand the absolute necessity of the atonement. God is perfectly holy and righteous, and this aspect of His character means that He cannot overlook our sin. If we are to be restored to fellowship with Him, atonement must be made, for every sin is an act of cosmic treason, a betrayal of the Holy One who made us and who rules over all. God had to condemn sin in the flesh of His Son because to accept us without atoning for our sin would be to compromise His own character (Rom. 3:21–26; 8:3).

Coram Deo

The need for an atonement is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. The religions of the world have practices that purport to atone for sin. Even atheists and agnostics try to offer some kind of atonement when they have wronged someone else, trying to make it up to the wronged person. But only Christianity offers a true and perfect atonement. We can rest in God’s grace because Christ fully atoned for all the sin of His people.

Passages for Further Study

Mark 8:31–38
2 Corinthians 10:17; 13:4
Galatians 6:14

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.