In his letter to the Romans, Paul teaches us that all have sinned, then he reveals the wages of sin — death! Death for sin — isn’t that a little harsh? We don’t like to think about such things. Maybe there is something we can do to appease God? Can sinners atone for their own sins, or do we need someone else to atone for our sins in order for us to be reconciled to God? Can we save ourselves from death or do we need someone to save us?
In answering these questions, Dr. W. G. T. Shedd provides some helpful comparisons to help us understand that only Christ could atone for our sins. For our first comparison, we look at the provider of the Atonement. While the offending party provides personal atonement, the offended party is the provider of vicarious (substitutionary) atonement. Sinners, the offenders, are the ones who provide atonement in the first instance, personal atonement. God, the offended party, provides atonement in the second case, vicarious atonement. God the Father appointed Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, to be our Vicar (John 3:16). In Christ’s vicarious atonement for sinners, He became our substitute by enduring the wrath of God against the sins of the elect.
The second comparison looks at the idea of mercy. Personal atonement excludes the concept of mercy. In this model, justice is served as offenders pay the price for their own sins. No need for mercy here! In stark contrast, we see in vicarious atonement the very essence of mercy. God does something for us that is not required by justice. God reveals His love for His children in this wonderful act of mercy. This is a good thing to remember.
Reconciliation and redemption are the themes of the third comparison. Remember that the wages of sin is death. As a result, personal atonement would require an eternity of punishment for sinners. We could never be redeemed to God if our atonement were left to us. Contrast personal atonement with the vicarious atonement of Christ. This work of Christ on behalf of sinners brings life! Through His atonement, we are reconciled to God. Sinners add nothing to His finished work.
God is holy. We are sinful. As sinners by nature, we were exposed to the wrath of God, but Christ’s sacrifice has provided a covering, an atonement for our sins. He has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. Thanks be to God!