What is the practical significance of grasping and believing in the biblical
doctrine of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement on behalf of his people? In
what ways should a good understanding of the redemptive work of Jesus impact
the daily life of God’s people? I want to look briefly at two particular areas where
an understanding of the substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement can bear
fruit in the church. First, this post will briefly look at how the atonement Christ
made for his people provides ground for their assurance of faith. In a future post,
we’ll see how his atonement helps us trust in the God who is just and righteous.
The atonement the Lord Jesus made for our sins should continually be the
ground of our assurance as Christians. Many of us are tempted to tether the
assurance of our salvation to something we do, something we experience,
something we know. These are all good things. The Bible does call the people of
God to walk in obedience, to experience communion and fellowship with God in
prayer, worship, and the Word, and to grow in our knowledge and understanding
of God and his wondrous works. But the Christian is not meant to pin all their
hopes or to completely anchor their assurance of salvation in these areas.
Obedience, spiritual disciplines, and knowledge of God fluctuate
throughout the Christian life. These areas in the life of a believer are prone to
swing over the years and decades. There may be seasons when these areas are
particularly fruitful and others marked by drought. But Christian assurance is
fundamentally rooted in the finished work of Christ on our behalf. So when
failure comes in the area of obedience, when I realize I haven’t read my Bible or
prayed in over a week, or when I don’t sense growth in my knowledge of the Lord,
my salvation is not automatically called into question.
But when the Lord’s people understand that Christ, as the Great High
Priest, has already offered the sacrifice by which believers have eternal
redemption (Heb 9:12), they can rest assured in the crucified and risen Savior
who accomplished redemption for them.
On the contrary, when Christ’s death on the cross is viewed as a moral
influence on his people in order to bring about their salvation, assurance is lost.
Why? Because one can never know if they’ve been transformed enough or if
they’ve obeyed enough to “ascend the hill of the LORD” (Ps 15). And if one hasn’t
kept God’s law perfectly and perptually, then they haven’t done enough to dwell
in the house of the LORD forever.
But Christ has kept the law perfectly and has made atonement through his
precious blood. By his wounds we are healed. By his sacrifice as the spotless and pure Lamb of God, Christ has accomplished the redemption of his people, a redemption that is applied to all of God’s elect in the time appointed by the Father. As the Righteous One, the exalted Lord Jesus Christ dwells in the house of the LORD forever. And when he appears again, he will bring to glory those
united to him by faith (Col 3:1-4).
This is the ground of the assurance of salvation for God’s people. Christ has
secured their eternal redemption through his atoning blood.
Scott Muilenburg is the pastor at First Christian Reformed Church in Edgerton, MN. He is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and is happily married to his wife, Becca. They have three young children.
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