Forgiven? How Do We Know?

My academic teaching and writing require me to consider all aspects of Christian teaching and theology. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the atonement, that is, the meaning of Christian confession that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). In the past year I’ve read thousands of pages looking for insight into this great theme. In the semester just completed my students and I spent five weeks reading and discussing N.T. Wright’s book The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. What events led the first believers to view Jesus’s death as a saving event? What do Paul and other New Testament writers mean when they say that Jesus died for us? How does his death deal with our sin? These questions and many more have been on my mind for months.

In a chapter for a book I am currently writing I briefly discuss seven theories of the atonement: (1) The Ransom Theory, which says that Jesus offered his soul to the devil in exchange for all human souls; (2) The Christus Victor Theory which says that by dying Jesus defeating the evil forces that hold us in the miserable condition of slavery, weakness, deception, corruption and death; (3) The Recapitulation Theory, which says that by living through all stages of human life, including death and resurrection, and getting it right Jesus undoes Adam’s wretched history and gives humanity a new start; (4) The Deification Theory, which argues that the Son of God by living a full human life, dying and rising, makes his divine life available to all who become united to him; (5) Satisfaction Theory in which Jesus’s death in our place pays the debt we incurred by offending God’s dignity and honor in our disobedience; (6) The Penal Substitution Theory in which Jesus voluntarily endures the just punishment merited by human violation of God’s eternal law; and (7) The Moral Influence Theory in which God’s love demonstrated on the cross provokes our repentance and evokes our love in return.

While meditating on this subject day and night for a year, something dawned on me. I asked myself this question: why do I believe I am forgiven? Why do I believe God loves me and extends me grace? Why do I believe I am free from the power of sin, death and the devil? Why do I believe God gives me a new beginning every day…that I do not need to carry a burden of guilt? What is the bottom line my assurance?

It’s not because I deserve it! If we could deserve it, we wouldn’t need forgiveness in the first place. Also—and here is the main point—it’s not because one or more of these seven theories of the atonement makes everything clear to me. In my view, each of them points toward a truth, but each is also troublingly obscure in some way. So, here is my bottom line: I believe that God’s loves me, that I am forgiven, and that God is my Father because Jesus said so. And I believe Jesus told the truth in all sincerity because he sealed his word with his blood. And I believe Jesus knew the truth of the matter because God raised him from the dead and placed his own seal on the new covenant.

Perhaps there are more reasons, more profound explanations of the atonement, more nuanced treatments of the justice and mercy of God…but this is my bottom line. When my best reasoning fails to bring peace to my heart, I cling to Jesus’s words: “Do not be afraid; you (Ron…and Susan and James) are worth more than many sparrows!” (Luke 12:7).



6 thoughts on “Forgiven? How Do We Know?

  1. rich constant

    For me the Gospel has become (shorthand form) the loss of life with God, in the garden which was within his temple the Very Good Creation, and God over time (God) showing mankind’s his utter failure to love and do his good to his neighbor, so becoming so evil as to not accept his WORD made flesh. especially by his chosen people Israel (as psalms 2 comes into focus) Then the Father restores the Temple through the Messiah, The new creation, also giving Life to all that believe, making all that believe partakers of the new Life through the Spirit of life given to them allowing Them Grace because of His unfaltering Faithful Love for His Very Good Creation. in other words for me it is not about missing the mark of righteousness (SIN) as it is that I was “Dead” separated from God. SO it is That By the Fathers Love and the Sons Love for the Father and his Friends (Law of Love), that, all that believe Have life through the Spirit of Life that is given to the world by promise, to bring glory to the Father Because of the Son’s obedient faithfulness ( “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” 1 Cor. 15:3). The Servant phil. 2:1-11
    more Ron 🙂 Atonement to me, must center on Love, from the perspective of the Trinity. Don’t ya think?


  2. ifaqtheology Post author

    Thanks, Rich! I read 3,000 pages of NT Wright last year. I think I finally understand the “faith (faithfulness) of Christ issue. “Now that school is out I am back at writing. rh


    1. rich constant

      And the croud stood up and yelled, YEA!!!


      1. rich constant

        I came up with this question in 2006, now that you understand faithfulness this is seems to e a contradiction on the surface. It’s not though. Although this should be an easy one. Yes…
        Is Messiah righteous under law?
        If so,
        how is the Father righteous to curse his Son? Who is without Sin? Gal.3:10-13
        that takes into consideration this does not concern the word fulfillment and not to be confused with that. Jesus was born under the constrains of Tora law. and without Sin. gal 4.3-4
        Messiah was cursed and was in hades, Gal.3:10-13 acts 2:23-32
        took away the power of him that had control by overcoming death….How ?
        blessings Ron


  3. rich constant

    P.S. this question has more to do with God’s(the Trinity’s) Loving Skeem of redempshion, (and forces an anser of a loving A God (Trinity)for His family Eph 1:1-10 than a Penal Substitution Theory.
    this is where I’m at today’ one of the reasons i needed to speak with brother wright So bad. even if the cost was what I got…missed you last week. oh well deep subject for a shallow mind…



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