Lesson 10 of the Bible Study Guide, “Atonement at the Cross,” has been splendidly done. I confess that perhaps too often I have viewed the Bible Study Guide with regret, but on this occasion I gratefully hail its value.
Most readers around the world will not know that what this lesson is teaching is quite contrary to what has been taught for generations at one of our educational centers. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of our physicians have been given “another gospel, which is not another” (Gal. 1:69).
Those church leaders responsible for this calamitous deviation I do not expect to see in the Kingdom of God. They will be too near the throne. Theological error does not cancel us from the heart of God or none of us could be the recipient of the divine love. What God looks for is a wholehearted love toward himself and our fellow men and I know that the teachers to whom I refer ever and always manifested this love.
This lesson teaches clearly that Christ’s death was an atoning sacrifice, and that he suffered from the infliction of the wrath of God against sin. So says Ephesians 5:2; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13 and many verses in Hebrews chapters nine and ten. The lesson happily does not make the common mistake of separating the Father from the Son but repeatedly and accurately sets forth the Father as also enduring the agony of Calvary.
Neither does the lesson make the error common to proponents of the Moral Influence Theory of the atonement that the law is an entity separate from God. How important it is to understand the law, which is codified love is not God’s creature but God’s nature.
A basic reason for joyously acknowledging the theological accuracy of this lesson is that the acknowledgement of Christ’s death as sacrificial atonement endorses the Reformation understanding of the forensic nature of justification. I quote the lesson:
The plan of salvation, kept secret for ages, was now fully revealed to the universe in the obedient death of the Son of God on the cross. God had provided the sacrifice, and now its atoning power was available to every human being who will look to the Cross as the exclusive way of salvation. (85)
This statement is based on the most important lines ever written: Romans 3:2126. There the atonement is described and explained as part of Paul’s elucidation of the forensic nature of justification.
Not long ago, I spoke in the Campus Hill Church at Loma Linda. As the contemporary speaker for the Richard Hammill Memorial Lectures, I was assigned the topic of “The Forensic Theory of Justification.” No doubt this title was fixed upon because of its controversial nature in that geographical setting. Following my talk, I interacted with theologians and others on the issues under discussion. All this is available now on DVD through Adventist Today.
Appropriately, the writer of this lesson in the Bible Study Guide has focused on what happened at Gethsemane. Anyone who reads what he has written will have the essence of the biblical teaching on the atonement. Calvary apart from Gethsemane is incomprehensible. The weight of the sin of the world began in the garden of the olive press to deprive our Lord of life. Thus, it is impossible to believe that Gethsemane and Calvary were merely gestures of the love of God for sinners. They were that but they were also incalculably more, and the writer of this lesson has made that very clear and should be richly commended. He has correctly invoked “the second death” as the penalty for sin, and Christ experienced that penalty. The cross magnified the law and satisfied justice as well as providing atonement and expiation.
On page 84, the issue is raised about the connection between Christ’s atoning death and the natural immortality of the Godhead. Again, our writer sets forth the issue deftly. Deity cannot sink and die. God the Son died derivatively through his human nature. He is one person with two natures and whatever is done in either nature has the worth of the person. As in the womb, so in the tomb deity was quiescent, not dead.
With joy and gratitude, I salute the writer of this Bible Study Guide lesson and I pray every reader will gather all the riches encapsulated in this lesson.
Desmond Ford, the founder of Good News Unlimited, writes from Australia.