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Psalm 85:10

“Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”

Grasping the meaning of the atonement is essential for salvation (Gal. 3:10–14), but to understand Christ’s work, we must know the Lord’s attitude toward sin. Scripture describes three main ways our transgressions affect our relationship with God: First, the Bible explains that we have incurred a debt to God on account of our sin. The Lord has the right to impose obligations on us, for He is the Creator and sovereign King of the universe. In Eden, God demanded that Adam render perfect obedience to one stipulation—the command not to eat from the forbidden tree (Gen. 2:15–17). Since Adam was our federal representative, his actions had consequences for all his naturally conceived descendants. We disobeyed when Adam disobeyed, and in Adam we owe an infinite debt against our infinite Lord (Rom. 3:23; 5:12–21; 1 Cor. 15:22). We cannot repay this debt ourselves, for the one sin in Adam demands infinite satisfaction, not to mention our many individual sins. Thanks be to God, Jesus pays our debt. The infinitely worthy Son of God united Himself to a human nature so that His atoning death on the cross could become the infinite payment our Father requires. Second, sin puts us at enmity with God. Having offended the Lord, our relationship with Him is broken (Hos. 1:2; Rom. 3:23). God is the injured party in this relationship, not in that He is driven to depression by our sin but in that we have wronged Him. This is a serious rupture, so we need Christ the Mediator to fix this broken relationship. Our sin has provoked God to righteous anger, but in love He predestined His people for adoption through Jesus His Son, who stands between the Lord and His people to restore our fellowship with the Father (John 3:16; Eph. 1:3–6). Finally, sin means that we have committed a crime against God. Humanly speaking, we do not punish theft merely by requiring the thief to repay what He has stolen. Rather, we also impose prison time and other legal penalties. A judge is not bound to dismiss these other penalties even if the thief gives back what he took. God, however, reestablishes His relationship with His people based on grace, ordaining Christ both to repay the debt of those who trust in Him and to endure the legal penalty of hell in our stead (Rom. 3:21–26). The Father cursed Christ on the cross for us, exacting the punishment we deserve and showing mercy to us at the same time.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Today’s passage contains the beautiful imagery of justice and peace (or mercy, as other translations put it) kissing each other. Our Father graciously restores peace between Himself and us in Christ Jesus. This peace is permanent, for it is not based on ignoring our sins and faults but on God’s sure willingness to accept the perfect payment of Jesus in our behalf. And since the Lord has accepted this payment, this peace must be eternal, for otherwise He would have let His Son die in vain.

For Further Study
  • 2 Samuel 22
  • Psalm 119:137–144
  • Matthew 5:7; 12:15–21;
  • 20:1–16

The Need for Atonement

When God is Not Enough

Keep Reading Defining Personhood

From the April 2013 Issue
Apr 2013 Issue