HOW TO INHALE THE ATONEMENT
Christians get upset with me sometimes when I tell them the Kingship of Jesus is the gospel (mk 1:14-15; act 2:36; act 17:30-31). This bothers some believers the first time they hear it because it means the atonement for sins is not what scripture calls the "gospel", and no Christian wants the atonement to be ignored or de-emphasized.
When we consider the atonement separately from the gospel however, we actually give it a stronger emphasis and embrace than when we call it gospel. Recognizing the atonement as secondary to the explicit gospel elevates the atonement by moving it from an outsider's message to an insider's daily oxygen.
ELEVATING THE ATONEMENT
As documented, Paul taught the atonement in greatest detail not to unbelievers as a gospel, but to the most neglected believers in the New Testament. Paul had neither visited Rome nor indicated that anyone else had properly taught them the atonement, so he taught the atonement to the Romans in greater detail than anywhere else in scripture. He did not tell them to preach the atonement to outsiders. Instead, he elevated it in their minds beyond a sermon for unbelievers. Paul commanded the Romans to reckon the atonement of the King to themselves and to reckon His resurrection to themselves too (6:11) as if such a renewal of their minds was their worship (12:1) and their transformation (12:2) and their avenue for proving that the will of God is good, acceptable, and perfect (12:2).
As also documented, Paul provided the second-most detailed teaching of the atonement not to unbelievers, but to the second most neglected believers in the Bible: the saints at Colossae. Even though Epaphras had given them foundational (2:7) teaching Paul doubled down on their understanding of the atonement as their daily strength. He reiterated to the Colossians that they must reckon the atonement to themselves, affirming they were dead to sin (col 2:20), alive to God (3:1), and hidden in the person of the King (3:3).
GALATIA, CORINTH & EPHESUS
Not surprisingly, we find Paul teaching this to other cities as well, reiterating the daily strength of the atonement to believers in Galatia, Corinth, and Ephesus. Paul had told the Romans in 6:5, "For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection." So likewise he strengthened the Galatians in 3:27: "For as many of you as were baptized into the King have put on the King."
Paul told the Romans in 6:6, "our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin." Likewise he testified to the Galatians in 6:14, "But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord King Jesus, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."
He told the Colossians in 3:9-10, "you have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in after the image of his Creator." So he said in his second letter to the Corinthians in 5:17, "Therefore if anyone is in the King, he is a new creation."
BREATHING THE ATONEMENT
Teaching the atonement after the explicit gospel enabled the apostles to present atonement as far more than encouragement. Paul presented the atonement in such a daily form of strength that we could ingest the atonement of our King almost like we inhale the air we breathe. Paul explicitly commanded the Romans in 6:11 to internalize the atonement: "therefore consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in King Jesus." He modeled that command for the Galatians in 2:20 of their letter by deeply personalizing it himself: "I have been crucified with the King, and it is no longer I who lives, but the King living in me."
To the saints in Ephesus, Paul gave another command to internalize the atonement in 4:22-24 of their letter: "that you take off (regarding your old lifestyle) the old man who grows in corruption after his deceitful desires, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, which in God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth." Paul taught us to pray at all times, so his commands to internalize the atonement can be obeyed in prayer. In prayer we tell God we agree with Him: that our sinful self is dead, our old mindset is discarded, and our old identity is cast off. In prayer we tell God we believe what He said: that we are His new creations, that He has given us the mind of the King, and that we are putting on the new man or woman who has been born of the Holy Spirit.
WHO HELPS US BREATHE THE ATONEMENT?
Recall that Paul told the Romans in 8:13, "...by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the flesh." So too he encouraged the Galatians to accept the Holy Spirit's help with this counting, renewing, and taking off/putting on. He told them in Galatians 5:16, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh." He spoke of the old dead man and the Holy Spirit's help again in 5:24-25, "Those who belong to King Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit."
By Paul's instruction, we know to rely on the help of the Holy Spirit (rom 8:26) when we prayerfully take off our old self and welcome in our newness. Paul also told us how often we should breathe the atonement. Just as he told the Colossians that the new self was "being renewed" on an ongoing basis, so too he told the Corinthians in 4:16 of their second letter, "...though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day." Paul taught saints everywhere about the daily discarding of the old identity and prayerful acceptance of the new.
King Jesus himself may have defined as discipleship as this daily breathing of the atonement. He said in Luke 9:23, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me."(emphasis added)
WHY DO WE BREATHE THE ATONEMENT?
Paul warned the believers at Rome in 12:2 that without renewing their minds, they would be conformed to the world. We are not surprised then to find Paul warning the Galatians in 5:24 that the old self is put to death so that the old sinful desires will not be fulfilled. Likewise Paul said taking off the old man and putting on the new in Ephesians chapter four was for the purpose of ensuring they would not walk like the citizens of this world (4:17) rather than walking as the people of the new King (4:20).
We renew our minds, inhaling the atonement and resurrection of our King like oxygen in order to rid ourselves of the old man day by day and moment by moment. We breathe in the atonement prayerfully so that we will not present ourselves to Sin as if we were enslaved to Sin (rom 6:12). We breathe the atonement so that we may present ourselves moment by moment to the Son to whom we are so happily enslaved! (rom 6:19)
Sin pays her slaves for their service with the coins of corruption and death (rom 6:21-22). The Son does not pay His slaves, but lavishly gives them His sanctifying Spirit and true life which never ends (rom 6:22-23). Atonement is more than a message for unbelievers. Atonement is the life and breath of the citizens of the new King.
"How to Inhale the Atonement" by Matthew Bryan was first published at www.matthewbryan.net on November 6th, 2013. All rights are reserved.