What did the sacrifice of Christ do, if not atone for sin?
Question: I’m still a bit confused regarding what exactly the sacrifice of Christ did, if not atone the judgement of sin.
Response: God’s wrath is directed against unrighteousness. When you are angry at your kids you are angry at their unrighteousness…until it becomes righteousness. At the cross, Christ’s righteousness was imputed to us. But the imputation was not simply some objective, disconnected accounting done on some ledger some place. It is an existential, personal, and subjective imputation, such that Christ truly is my righteousness. Any righteousness in me is literally Jesus rising from the dead in me…or born in me. The Cross is quite literally HOW I am made in the image of God. The work of the cross stands at the edge of space-time and eternity. So the cross is at work long before a person acknowledges it. In Galatians 1:16 (read it in a transliteration–not “to me” but “in me”), Paul talks about his conversion as the day God revealed “his son” in Paul, so that Paul could preach the Gospel. Jesus had been at work in Paul, his whole life, but from behind the curtain in the depths of Paul’s soul. On the road to Damascus, Jesus came out from behind that torn curtain and “destroyed” the old Saul, and revealed not only himself but the New Paul, as he began to flood the temple that is Paul, from within Paul. He saved Paul from the wrath of God revealed against the arrogant Saul in which Paul (and Jesus) were imprisoned.
I guess I’m saying that Paul’s conversion was the day that God revealed to Paul that all of his righteousness was, and always had been, the presence of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit in Paul. Through his arrogance as a Pharisee – his self-righteousness – Paul had been crucifying his own righteousness, which is actually God’s righteousness, which is Christ. Repentance is agreeing with God that your righteousness is 100% grace. All righteousness is imputed righteousness. On the road to Damascus Paul began to submit to the righteousness that is Christ, the righteousness he had tried to take, which was now the righteousness that he received. In other words, he began to stop justifying himself through works of the law, and he began to believe (and this is a gift) that he had been justified through grace. IN OTHER WORDS, he began to stop taking from the tree of the knowledge of Good and evil (the law) to justify himself, and he began to receive the life (body broken and blood shed), offered on the tree of life. I think it’s all one tree, which is the cross. At his conversion he stopped approaching the tree as a Pharisee and came to the tree as a worshipper. At that point he stopped drinking condemnation upon himself and began participating in the Life of Christ.
Jesus saves us from God’s wrath, for his wrath is against our self-righteous arrogant flesh – our unrighteousness. And he himself is our righteousness imputed to us on the tree (Knowledge of the Good that isn’t death but Life). The moment I become arrogant – assuming the Life is my own creation – I crucify Christ, my righteousness. But the moment I give thanks – that righteousness rises from the dead in me, and the wrath of God is abated.
If you think about it, it’s just like the wrath you experience against your kids. Their change of heart and gratitude appeases your wrath. And if it’s really gratitude, they’re not proud, just glad to be reconciled with you. God is a good Dad. The Gospel is not less true than the fact that the Son of God died and rose again in a garden in Palestine; it’s more true. The Son of God dies and rises in the Sanctuary of every person made in the image of God. God’s wrath is against our desecration. And God’s Mercy is our consecration. God’s wrath is against the Void. And God’s Grace is his Word through whom all things are created.