Last week someone asked me for a brief statement of my view of atonement. “Sure,” I said, “How about one word—Jesus.” Of course, I was being slightly cheeky, but in the end I was also dead serious. Jesus is atonement. While I knew the man wanted a little more, just not a whole tome, I expanded a little. For me, atonement is not so much a thing that Jesus did as it is Jesus himself. For Jesus Christ is the Father’s eternal Son incarnate, and the One anointed in the Holy Spirit, and the One in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are sustained. Through his incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension he has brought his Father, the Holy Spirit and all creation together in real relationship. This real relationship is atonement, and it is inseparable from Jesus. So for me atonement, adoption, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, reconciliation, the kingdom, eternal life, new covenant and salvation are all of a piece. They are all different ways of describing who Jesus is and what has happened to the Triune God, the human race and all creation in his very incarnate existence.
Adoption speaks to the fact that we have been included in Jesus’ own relationship with his Father. The baptism of the Spirit speaks to the way he has included us in his own anointing in the Holy Spirit. Salvation speaks to the fact that in his life, death and resurrection our sin was overcome and we were placed in a new relationship (covenant) with the Father. Eternal life speaks to our inclusion in Jesus’ own knowledge and communion and fellowship with his Father. And the kingdom of God speaks to the fact that Jesus has included us in his relationship with his Father, and in his relationship with the Holy Spirit, and in his relationship with the whole human race, and in his relationship with all creation. When we pray for ‘the kingdom to come’ we are asking for Jesus’ own life in this four-fold relationship to come to personal and abiding, corporate and international, environmental and cosmic expression in and through us.
The ideas of atonement and reconciliation speak to the way Jesus, in his own experience as the incarnate Son, through life and relationship, through death at our hands and resurrection in the power of the Spirit, brought everything in the cosmos together. Whatever else we say about the nature and means of atonement, it must never be separated from Jesus himself, and must never lose sight of the stunning fact that right now and forever the incarnate, crucified and resurrected Son of the Father sits at his right hand—as a human being. Our great hope is the fact that he has us with him and the Holy Spirit is determined that the breathtaking at-oneness established in Jesus would come to real and personal expression in us, and in our relationship with Jesus’ Father, with one another and with all creation.
In Jesus Christ a new cosmic order of real togetherness has been established forever. We all included, and we all stand called to a radical change of mind, called to rethink everything we thought we knew about God, about ourselves and others, about our planet, our future and life itself. Because of Jesus and of what he has made of the cosmos, we are all called to give ourselves to participate in his world. We are called to let his Father love us. We are called to walk in his Spirit. We are called to love one another with his love for each person. And we are called to participate in his relationship with all creation. And we are promised abounding life in the process. We are free, in a manner of speaking, to live in our own worlds, and free to try to impose them upon Jesus and his world, but such will only produce ever increasing pain. For it is a violation of atonement, of the way things really are in Jesus, of the togetherness that he has established between the Triune God, the human race, and all creation in himself. And such violation necessarily hurts like hell.
In an age when the idea of truth seems anachronistic, the togetherness and at-onement that Jesus Christ made real in himself is and remains the truth—reality—God’s reality, our reality, cosmic reality, reality that sets us free for life in his world.