Friday, February 6, 2009

Adultered and Killed, then Born Again:
The Relationship of the Atonement

In our exploration of the Person and Work of Christ, we have come to the pinnacle work of Christ: the Atonement. Last week we looked in depth at the religious aspects of the atonement—the sacrificial and substitutionary aspects—while this week we discuss the relationship aspects. The relationship of God to Man is most commonly paralleled to the marriage covenant (or vise versa, technically speaking). So, how does the atonement, Christ's death on the cross, fit into our marriage with God?

In Jeremiah 31:32, God delivers a shocking verdict: "they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them." This is the picture of an adulterous wife, forsaking her husband for the sinful pleasures of another man. That is Israel, and that was even us who now make up the Church. But God makes an amazing promise in Jeremiah 31. He will establish a new covenant with them. He will remarry an adulterous wife!

As if the mercy of this new covenant offer were not amazing enough, the mystery deepens as we investigate further just what adultery meant in the Law. The punishment for adultery was death (Lev. 20:10). Another option, however, presents itself later in Deuteronomy 24, divorce, which is later cited by the pharisees in Matthew 19:7. When we read the parameters from Deuteronomy 24:4, we learn that even after divorce the Law forbids a husband to remarry the adulterous wife. In the case of God, it would be as though He sent us away to serve other gods for a time, only to change His mind and bring us back to Him. It cannot be so. We are defiled, unholy, and unable to enter into covenant relationship with God.

So then, we are left with one conclusion. With regard to our status, "What a wretched man I am!" and with regard to our sentence, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). God deals with our adultery according to Leviticus 20, not Deuteronomy 24. He pronounces the sentence of death, not divorce. He chooses to propitiate His wrath in the death of His Son rather than divorce us and seal our fate in everlasting covenant with our idols and with satan.

It is here, in the choosing of a death sentence rather than divorce, that we see the providence of God in stunning ways. Dead with Christ, we are now dead to the Law (Romans 6-7). Given new birth, we are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5). As new creatures with the lawful wrath satisfied, we can finally see how God is both just and the one who justifies. He could not re-marry us if we did not first die, but we have indeed died with Christ and are given new life through His resurrection (1 Peter 1:3; Romans 6:4).

"Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" -- Romans 7:25

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