This article focuses on the beautiful way in which the righteousness of God and the love of God is so wonderfully balanced in the atoning work of God’s Son. It also seeks to highlight the importance of this work by outlining some of our own Christadelphian writings on the subject so that we can better appreciate the work of salvation that was achieved on our behalf.

In the Beginning

At the end of the creation week “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good”. So “he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made” (Gen 1:31; 2:2). Psalm 104:31 catches the sentiment of His thoughts at that time, where we read “Yahweh shall rejoice in his works”.

In Noah’s day we find a striking contrast: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart” (Gen 6:5-6). This was not the situation when God created man, but the very reverse, such that even the imagination that precedes the thoughts was bent to evil. This was God’s observation about the heart of man: only Noah and his family were of different persuasion (v 8-9).

This was expressed on page 12 of our Australian Unity Book in these terms: “He fell from his very good state, and suffered the consequences of sin – shame, a defiled conscience and mortality.”

The Corruption of Lust

It was not of God that sin entered the heart of man. Adam and his wife hearkened to the carnal thinking of the serpent and so sin entered the world. Its effects were passed on to following generations so that even after the flood the LORD described this inclination of the heart of man as “evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21), almost the same words as in Genesis 6:5, before the flood! God had “made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Ecc 7:29). The Apostle Peter’s comment is an excellent summary of the situation, namely, “the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet 1:4). Adam’s pride had breached the law of God, and the promised sentence of death came upon him and his progeny thereafter.

It was not of God that sin entered the heart of man

The words of Genesis 3:19, “dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”, are the obvious result of the breach of God’s law in Genesis 2:17 where God said that “in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”. This fact is a basic teaching throughout the word of God. The Apostle Paul says, “the wages of sin is death”; “through the offence of one many be dead”; “as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin”; “as in Adam all die” (Rom 6:23; 5:12,15; 1 Cor 15:22). The sense of the Hebrew in Genesis 2:17 is that of certainty and has no implication of a violent or abrupt death.

This was expressed on page 12 of our Australian Unity Book in these terms: “As his descendants, we partake of that mortality that came by sin, and inherit a nature prone to sin”.

Abraham Saw It

Before the covenant to Abraham was ratified, God asked that Isaac, his beloved and only son through Sarah, be offered as a burnt offering unto Yahweh. It was a long journey for the perplexed father to the land of Moriah, the chosen site for the offering. Abraham obeyed and God relented but the whole exercise showed that those who were to be saved by the faith of Abraham would comprehend and acknowledge that the “seed of the woman” (Gen 3:15) of the earlier covenant was going to be offered in like manner and in like place as God asked of Abraham. The return journey of the patriarch was surely dominated by his new conviction: “In the mount of Yahweh it shall be seen” (Gen 22:14). Jesus states that “Abraham rejoiced to see my day” (John 8:56): he saw that a very special man, an only son, a son of promise, was, by his offering unto death, to provide a way to life and that this son was not going to be of a human father – even though “the seed of a woman”.

The Day of Atonement

Moses called this day for the tenth day of the seventh month, to make “an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year” (Lev 16:34). The English “at-one-ment” has the proper sense of the event but the Hebrew word (raphika) has the more exact sense of covering. Yahweh was going to provide a covering for the sins of the nation: all of them; not by the virtue of their gifts and offerings to God but through His forgiveness of their sins by His mercy.

By what means then would He do this? By the offering of one kid of the goats whose blood was sprinkled upon the mercy seat? – and the releasing of a second goat into the far flung wilderness, bearing on its head the iniquities and transgressions and sins placed there by the hands of Aaron? This could never really be so (Heb 10:4).

It was powerfully obvious that this was a ceremony that pointed forward to much greater things. It was the final act in a series of laws that were enjoined upon Israel because of the failure of Aaron’s two older sons Nadab and Abihu. In fact the laws of uncleanness run from Leviticus chapters 11 to 15 The Atonement Day chapter opens with a reference to this very event. What was the principle that shone out on this sad day? It is solemnly expressed by Moses: “This is it that Yahweh spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Lev 10:3). Approach to God for atonement would require the solemn recognition of the righteousness of God! As the Lord Jesus put it, at the opening of his prayer, “Hallowed be Thy Name” (Matt 6:9; Luke 11:2). There was to be no careless, casual, self-willed approach to Yahweh but a sober and holy mind filled with reverence of the presence and glory of God.

There was to be no careless, casual, self-willed approach to Yahweh but a sober and holy mind filled with reverence of the presence and glory of God

It was as though this great principle was the dominant theme of the Day of Atonement. There would be mercy and forgiveness of sins but the nation must regard the holiness of the Almighty.

The Righteousness of God in the Psalms and Prophets

The same principle is taught in many of the Psalms:

“Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psa 85:9-10).

“Yahweh hath made known his salvation: his righteousness hath he openly showed in the sight of the heathen” (Psa 98:2).

Isaiah reinforces the power of these connections:

“….there is no God else beside Me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me” (Isa 45:21).

My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth … my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished” (Isa 51:5-6).

To those who strove unsuccessfully for righteous performance of the minutiae of the Law, these passages were a breath of fresh air. The emphasis was upon God’s righteousness rather than their own, His performance rather than their long list of meritorious works. The role of man in these quotations was to hearken to God’s gracious opportunity, to look to Him in faith and receive an imputed righteousness from Him.

The imputed righteousness was a gift of God Himself, given on the basis that the believer in Him looked to Him to be their Saviour. Abraham believed God and it was counted (imputed) to him for righteousness. There it was in the life of the father of the nation (Gen 15:6) and they had missed it! This must always have been God’s way and hence the comments in the Law, Psalms and the prophets: “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isa 45:22); “Surely, shall one say, in Yahweh have I righteousness and strength” (v24). So the Apostle expressed it this way: “But now the righteousness of God without the Law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets” (Rom 3:21).

Jesus, How did he See it?

His mind is clear in many verses but there is a series of passages which reveal just precisely what his mind was on these things. They all arose spontaneously and by them we can see exactly what his mind was in all his ministry, from beginning to end.

  1. We are by the waters of Jordan and John the Baptist is uncomfortable about Christ’s request for baptism. How could his baptism be relevant to his cousin, the sinless Son of God? But Jesus’ immediate response was, “suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). He and John had something in common, that though he was the sinless Son of God, it was as relevant to him as it was to John that the flesh profits nothing and that, as he opened his ministry in the wake of his baptism, he would explicitly uphold the righteousness of his Father. No wonder that God was “well pleased” with His beloved Son (Matt 3:17).
  2. Peter rebukes the Lord for his statement that he would be going to Jerusalem to die a shameful death (Matt 16:21-22). Peter said this in defence of his Lord: how could such a gruesome end be appropriate to his Lord? But Jesus’ reply was quite startling: “Get thee behind me, satan: thou art an offence (a stumbling block) unto me: for thou sa­vourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matt 16:23). The affinity of the Lord could not be clearer! He was living for the glory of God and ready to finish His work. Any diversion, even if offered in loyalty, was an offence.
  3. It is the same in his reply to the rich young lawyer, “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God” (Matt 19:17). The young man’s question implied that his salvation was achieved by the merit of some “good thing” he might perform (v16). His question left God out of the picture. Obviously Jesus was a “good” man but in the context of this conversation he refused the description. This young man had to learn that God alone was the source of salvation and it was by the granting of His righteousness that he would find life. Again we see the sharpness of our Lord’s mind when it came to the righteousness of God.
  4. “But I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how am I straitened (AV margin ‘pained’) till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). An off-the-cuff comment again, but it beautifully reveals the mind of the Lord. He was in a battle against sin, absolutely and he was in pain (Gk agonizomai) to conquer temptation and uphold the righteousness of God by renouncing the desires of the flesh.
  5. In Gethsemane the war against sin was dramatic and a forerunner to Golgotha, the climax of the battle. “Not my will but thine be done” is the historic summary in the Lord’s own words (Luke 22:42). He came to do His Father’s will and gave no quarter to the flesh: “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63); “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30). What wonderful words these are and they constrain us to adopt the same mind for ourselves and please our Father in all aspects of our lives. “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” says Paul (Gal 5:24) and these words are in exact accord with the mind of the Lord.

Romans Chapter 3

It is with deep thankfulness that we perceive that these principles of atonement run consistently through both Testaments. Jesus had to be of the same stuff as those he came to save. To know the battle against sin he had to be made of “the flesh of sin” and uphold the commandments of his Father to the very end of the battle. Thus sin was defeated and the flesh shown to be rightly related to death.

In the great third chapter of Romans the Apostle brings the whole matter to its exciting climax. What does he say was the kernel of God’s way of atonement? That in the victorious death of the Lord Jesus the righteousness of God was elevated as the basis upon which atonement and forgiveness of sin may be found. He repeats the phrase in verse 26, “To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness”!

Wasn’t that the theme of the Mosaic Day of Atonement? Wasn’t that the mind of the Lord Jesus when we looked into his own words? And here in the Apostle’s epistle we find the same remarkable teaching. We take hold of this Scriptural teaching with great thankfulness and great wonder. Every part of Scripture is flowing with this same theme.

What is it in Romans 3 that our Father asks of us? To have “faith in his blood” (v25). This doesn’t mean that we worship the physical substance of his blood; his shed blood is precious because it represents the principles of his death. To have “faith in his blood” means that we agree with Jesus in his acceptance of the path God made out for him and express our readiness to follow in his steps. That path was to honour the law of his Father, to show His righteousness and refuse the way of our nature.

On that basis, the believer is justified when God passes over our deficiencies and our sins in His great mercy: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:32).

This was expressed on page 12 of our Australian Unity Book in these terms: “Forgiveness and reconciliation God has provided by the offering of His son; though Son of God he partook of the same nature – the same flesh and blood – as all of us, but did no sin. In his death he voluntarily declared God’s righteousness; God was honoured and the flesh shown to be by divine appointment rightly related to death. To share in God’s forgiveness we must be united with Christ by baptism into his death, rising from baptism dead to the past to walk in newness of life. The form of baptism is a token of burial and of resurrection and in submitting to it we identify ourselves with the principles established in the death of Jesus “who died unto sin,” recognising that God is righteous in decreeing that the wages of sin is death; and that as members of the race we are rightly related to a dispensation of death.”

Our Thankfulness

This understanding satisfies the enquiring mind. It is the Truth. We may wonder at the depth of God’s mercy but we are in no doubt as to the Truth of the Atonement.

To know the battle against sin he had to be made of “the flesh of sin” and uphold the commandments of his Father to the very end of the battle

Those who believe in a triune godhead can never find this path. They have “God” as their sacrifice so there cannot be death of Christ and no place for his resurrection. There cannot be temptation because “God cannot be tempted” (James 1:13). The Saviour would never have been tempted in the manner of his disciples and therefore not suitable as Mediator and Priest (Heb 2:17-18; 4:14-15).

Nor does Scripture teach that we bear the need for expiation because of the sins of our original parents. Nor does Scripture teach that every human child is born with the wrath of God upon them because they have human nature. Nor do we find support for a violent death falling upon Adam and subsequently passing upon all men. The doctrine of ‘Original Sin’ is a Catholic teaching from the time of Augustine in the 5th century AD These strange theological legalities lack the main planks of the Lord’s teaching and that of his apostles.

It is essential that we seek to impress the atoning wisdom and mercy of God upon our young people lest they lose what our fathers have left for us. It is a priceless jewel, for which we have a great responsibility to uphold as the custodians of God’s ways.