We may define the atonement as follows: The atonement is the work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation. This definition indicates that we are using the word atonement in a broader sense than it is sometimes used. Sometimes it is used to refer only to Jesus’ dying and paying for our sins on the cross. But, as will be seen below, since saving benefits also come to us from Christ’s life, we have included that in our definition as well.
The Cause of the Atonement: What was the ultimate cause that led Christ’s coming to earth and dying for our sins? To find this we must trace the question back to something in the character of God himself. And here Scripture points to two things. And here Scripture points to two things: the love and justice of God.
The love of God as a cause of the atonement is seen in the most familiar passage in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). But the justice of God also required that God find a way that the penalty due to us for our sins would be paid (for he could not accept us into fellowship with himself unless the penalty was paid). Paul explains that this was why God sent Christ to be a “propitiation” (Rom. 3:25 NASB) (that is, a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath so that God becomes “propitious” or favorably disposed toward us): it was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Rom. 3:25). Here Paul says that God had been forgiving sins in the Old Testament but no penalty had been paid–a fact that would make people wonder whether God was indeed just and ask how he could forgive sins without a penalty. No God who was truly just could do that, could he? Yet when God sent Christ to die and pay the penalty for our sins, “it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).
Therefore both the love and the justice of God were the ultimate cause of the atonement. It is not helpful for us to ask which is more important, however, because without the love of God, he would never have taken any steps to redeem us, yet without the justice of God, the specific requirement that Christ should earn our salvation by dying for our sins would not have been met. Both the love and the justice of God were equally important.
The Necessity of the Atonement. Was there any other way for God to save human beings than by sending his Son to die in our place?
Before answering this question, it is important to realize that it was not necessary for God to save any people at all. When we appreciate that “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until judgement (2 Peter 2:4), then we realize that God could also have chosen with perfect justice to have left us in our sins awaiting judgment: he could have chosen to save no one, just as he did with the sinful angels. So in this sense the atonement was not absolutely necessary.
But once God, is his love, decided to save some human beings, then several passages in Scripture indicate that there was not other way for God to do this than through the death of his Son. Therefore, the atonement was not absolutely necessary, but, as a “consequence” of God’s decision to save some human beings, the atonement was absolutely necessary. This is sometimes called the “consequent absolute necessity” view of the atonement.
In the Garden of Gethsemene Jesus prays, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). We may be confident that Jesus always prayed according to the will of the Father, and that he always prayed with fullness of faith. Thus it seems that this prayer, which Matthew takes pains to record for us, shows that it was not possible for Jesus to avoid the death on the cross which was soon to come to him (the “cup” of suffering that he had said would be his). If he was going to accomplish the work that the Father sent him to do, and if people were going to be redeemed for God, then it was necessary for him to die on the cross.
He said something similar after his resurrction, when he was talking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were sad that Jesus had died, but his response was, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Jesus understood that God’s plan of redemption (which he explained for the disciples from many Old Testament Scriptures, Luke 24:27) made it necessary for the Messiah to die for the sins of his people.
As we saw above, Paul in Romans 3 also shows that if God were to be righteous, and still save people, he had to send Christ to pay the penalty for sins. “It was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). The epistle to the Hebrews emphasizes that Christ had to suffer for our sins: “He had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation [lit. ‘propitiation’] for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). The author of Hebrews aslo argues that since “it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins (Hebrews 10:4), a better sacrifice is required (Hebrews 9:23). Only the blood of Christ, that is, his death, would be able really to take away sins (Hebrews 9:25-26). There was no other way for God to save us than for Christ to die in our place.
Dr. Wayne Grudem, research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, received his A.B. from Harvard University, M.Div. from Westminster Seminary, and a Ph.D in New Testament from the University of Cambridge. He is a board member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society, and the author of more than a dozen books -including his magnum opus “Systematic Theology”, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009 – from which this article is excerpted from chapter 27.
First of all – *Dr. James Montgomery Boice (He could have easily been a theologian – with degrees from Harvard and Basel – but chose to be the senior pastor at the Historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA) was a theologian/pastor extraordinaire. All his writings are worth reading for their clarity, depth of theological insight and precision, cogent exposition of the Scriptures, and exaltation of Christ. I have read everything Dr. Boice has written and I can’t recommend him highly enough. Heaven’s gain was certainly our loss (he died of cancer in 2000) – but at least we can still benefit from his many books on theology and various books of the Bible that have been left behind.
This “Systematic Theology” was originally released as four distinct books on: 1) The Sovereignty of God; 2) God the Redeemer; 3) Awakening to God; and 4) God and History. Dr. Boice was a tremendous gift to the Body of Christ. He was one of the few Biblical Expositors and Scholars that had the ability to build bridges among the Dispensational and Reformed camps and do so with scholarly and pastoral integrity. There is virtually no discussion of angels, demons, or Satan in this book. The weakest part of this book is in the area of eschatology – but I think his intent was merely to focus on the Sovereignty of God in salvation and history with the emphasis on being primarily on God’s redemptive plan for mankind. I hope that IVP or some other publishing company reprints this book – its simply too good to miss – it’s God-centered; practical; concise; clear and elevates and exalts Jesus Christ like few theologies today. I can’t recommend Boice’s theology highly enough. I have included below all that Dr. Boice covers in these four books in one place, so you can see what a big bang for your buck you are getting.
BOOK 1: THE SOVEREIGN GOD
PART I – The Knowledge of God
Chapter 1 – On Knowing God
Chapter 2 – The Unknown God
PART II: The Word of God
Chapter 3 – The Bible
Chapter 4 – The Authority of the Scriptures
Chapter 5 – The Proof of the Scriptures
Chapter 6 – How True is the Bible?
Chapter 7 – Modern Biblical Criticism
Chapter 8 – How To Interpret the Bible
PART III: The Attributes of God
Chapter 9 – The True God
Chapter 10 – God in Three Persons
Chapter 11 – Our Sovereign God
Chapter 12 – Holy, Holy, Holy
Chapter 13 – The God Who Knows
Chapter 14 – God Who Changes Not
PART IV: God’s Creation
Chapter 15 – The Creation of Man
Chapter 16 – Nature
Chapter 17 – The Spirit World
Chapter 18 – God’s Providence
BOOK 2: GOD THE REDEEMER
PART I – The Fall of the Race
Chapter 1 – The Fall
Chapter 2 – The Results of the Fall
Chapter 3 – The Bondage of the Will
PART II – Law And Grace
Chapter 4 – The Purpose of God’s Law
Chapter 5 – The Ten Commandments: Love of God
Chapter 6 – The Ten Commandments: Love of Others
Chapter 7 – The Wrath of God
Chapter 8 – Salvation in the Old Testament
PART III – The Person of Christ
Chapter 9 – The Deity of Jesus Christ
Chapter 10 – The Humanity of Jesus Christ
Chapter 11 – Why Christ Became Man
PART IV – The Work of Christ
Chapter 12 – Prophet, Priest, and King
Chapter 13 – Quenching God’s Wrath
Chapter 14 – Paid In Full
Chapter 15 – The Greatness of God’s Love
Chapter 16 – The Pivotal Doctrine: Resurrection
Chapter 17 – Verifying The Resurrection
Chapter 18 – He Ascended Into Heaven
BOOK 3: AWAKENING TO GOD
PART I – The Spirit of God
Chapter 1 – Personal Christianity
Chapter 2 – The Work of the Holy Spirit
Chapter 3 – Union With Christ
PART II – How God Saves Sinners
Chapter 4 – The New Birth
Chapter 5 – Faith And Repentance
Chapter 6 – Justification By Faith: The Hinge of Salvation
Chapter 7 – Justification By Faith: The Place of Works
Chapter 8 – The Tests of Faith
Chapter 9 – A New Family
Chapter 10 – The Upward Way
PART III – The Life of the Christian
Chapter 11 – Embrace The Negative
Chapter 12 – Freedom, Freedom
Chapter 13 – Knowing The Will of God
Chapter 14 – Talking To God
Chapter 15 – God Talking To Us
Chapter 16 – Serving
PART IV: The Work of God
Chapter 17 – Called By God
Chapter 18 – The Keeping Power of God
BOOK 4: GOD AND HISTORY
PART I – Time And History
Chapter 1 – What’s Wrong With Me?
Chapter 2 – The March Of Time
Chapter 3 – Christ, The Focal Point of History
PART II: The Church of God
Chapter 4 – Christ’s Church
Chapter 5 – The Marks Of The Church
Chapter 6 – How To Worship God
Chapter 7 – Salvation’s Signs And Seals
Chapter 8 – Spiritual Gifts
Chapter 9 – Equipping The Saints
Chapter 10 – Church Government
Chapter 11 – Body Life
Chapter 12 – The Great Commission
PART III: A Tale Of Two Cities
Chapter 13 – The Secular City
Chapter 14 – The Secular Church
Chapter 15 – God’s City
Chapter 16 – Church And State
PART IV: The End of History
Chapter 17 – How Will It End
Chapter 18 – Home At Last
*Dr. James Montgomery Boice, just 8 weeks after being diagnosed with a fatal liver cancer, died in his sleep on June 15, 2000. The senior pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, he was a world-famous Bible teacher, author, and statesman for Reformed theology. He informed his congregation of 32 years of his condition on May 7, proclaiming his complete confidence in God’s sovereignty and goodness.
In the past 72 years, historic Tenth Presbyterian Church has had two senior pastors, Donald Grey Barnhouse and James Montgomery Boice. Founded in 1828, the church itself predates their tenure by another hundred years. Tenth Presbyterian Church lies in the very heart of the city and today has about 1,200 members.
James Montgomery Boice accepted the position as senior pastor in 1968, and was the teacher of the Bible Study Hour since 1969 and the more recent God’s Word Today broadcast as well. Dr. Boice held degrees from Harvard, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the University of Basel, Switzerland. He had written or contributed to nearly 50 books, including Foundations of the Christian Faith, Living by the Book, and exegetical commentaries on Genesis, Psalms, Acts, and Romans.
He was no less involved in the preserving of the fundamentals of the faith than his predecessor, Dr. Barnhouse. In 1985, Boice assumed the presidency of Evangelical Ministries, Inc., the parent organization of the Bible Study Hour, Bible Study Seminars, Bible Studies magazine, and other teaching ministries. In 1997, Evangelical Ministries merged with Christians United for Reformation and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, taking the latter as the new organization’s name, and Dr. Boice assumed the presidency. In 1997, he was a founding member of, and chaired, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.
Of particular concern to Boice was the matter of the church and her relationship to and engagement of society. His recent book, Two Cities, Two Loves, maintains that Christians are citizens of the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven and that they have responsibilities in each. He urged Christians to “participate in secular life rather than merely shoot from the sidelines at secular people.”
Dr. Boice is survived by his wife, Linda, and three daughters. Characteristic of his ministry was his pushing Christians to commit themselves to staying in one place. He lived what he preached, committing to the church and his downtown neighborhood for 30 years. A gifted pastor and leader, he turned down many attractive opportunities in order to build a sense of permanence and belonging. And he urged his parishioners to do the same.