02 Apr Words of Grace – John Stott “An Atonement for Sin”
“For Christ died for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” 1 Peter 3:18
This is one of the great New Testament texts about the cross. It tells us the major reason why Christ died. Now we need to penetrate more deeply into the meaning and purpose of the cross.
Firstly, Christ died to bring us to God. Behind this statement lies the assumption that we are separated from God and need to be brought back to him. And this is so. All our sense of alienation and of homesickness can be traced ultimately to our estrangement from God, and our estrangement is due to our sin. As Isaiah put it, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you” (Isa. 59:2). What, then, did Christ do to remedy this situation?
Secondly, Christ died for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous. To understand this, we need to recall that sin and death are riveted to one another from the beginning to the end of the Bible as an offense and its just reward. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). But Jesus committed no sins for which atonement needed to be made. So if he died for sins, it must have been our sins, not his, for which he died. As Peter put it, “He died for sins . . . the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Pet. 3:18), the innocent for the guilty. It is this that justifies our conviction that Jesus’ death was substitutionary. That is, he died as our substitute. We deserved to die; he died instead. And because he took our place, bore our sin, and died our death, we may be freely forgiven.
Thirdly, Christ died for sins once for all. The adverb hapax (“once”) means not “once upon a time” but “once and for all.” It expresses the absolute finality of what Christ did on the cross. It is because he had paid the full penalty for our sins that he could cry out, “It is finished.” So what is there left for us to do? Nothing! We can contribute nothing to what Christ has done. All we can do is to thank him for what he has done and rest in his finished work.
For further reading: Hebrews 9:23-28
John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year: Daily Reflections from Genesis to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), p. 266.