In this article, you’ll find a short list of terms that are found throughout the Bible, or throughout Orthodox history, that define soteriology (the study of salvation) in ways we can better understand. There are different aspects to one’s salvation and we should strive to learn what these mean so that we can glorify God in how much grace He has shown us, and even continues to show us.
This term covers more than just itself. The atonement of Jesus Christ contains many other terms and doctrines that cannot be left out when defining atonement. In its most basic sense, atonement is everything that Jesus Christ did in His life, death, and resurrection to provide for your salvation. To go further, this term must be further explained.
The Old Testament Atonement
In the Old Testament, you had this idea of atonement that was limited. It was defined as only “covering” the sins of the people. This covering of human sin was done by offering up an animal sacrifice, which God commanded, but was not the fulfillment of the atonement. The fulfillment of this term would come when Christ would die once for the sins of many (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10).
So the Old Testament only had a shadow of the real atonement. The real meaning of the atonement would be fulfilled when Christ comes and “does away with the first in order to establish the second.” (Hebrews 10:9). The book of Hebrews explains clearly that this idea of the blood of goats and sheep not being enough to save anybody. Hebrews 11 talks all about faith being the conduit of salvation by Christ’s work; and everybody who was saved in the Old Testament who had this faith that saved them. It wasn’t the actual covering of the animals that restored oneness between God and the sinner, but the faith in God that did. The atonement for these people came later, when Christ paid for their sins on that cross as well as those who would believe in the future.
The Four Terms of Atonement
Atonement is a deep study, and one that not so easy to explain, but it also covers more than just the term atonement. There are four other things happening when someone’s sin is atoned for.
Because we were in bondage to sin, we needed somebody to step forward and redeem us from that slavery. We needed a ransom to be paid for our release. Even though, sin had no right over us in regards to God, but because God is just, there needed to be a ransom that was paid to free those in bondage to sin (Mark 10:45’ Hebrews 2:15; Colossians 1:13). Christ came to put us under grace, and no longer under the law (Romans 6:11,14).
Hebrews 9:26 says that “He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sins by the sacrifice of Himself.” The judgment for sin is death; and somebody must die to pay the penalty for sin. Jesus did that. He was the perfect payment for sin because He was perfect; and only a spotless lamb can actually take away sins. Covering sin does no good if it’s never taken away.
When somebody is atoned for, they are also propitiated for. Propitiation means to remove somebody from the wrath of God. Regarding the time when Jesus was asleep on the boat and His disciples woke Him because the boat was about to capsize because of the amount of waves and storm outside, Jesus was the only one who could take away or calm the angry storm. This not only represents how Jesus is God and has control over weather, it also shows that Jesus is the only One who can calm and take away the wrath of God from sinners. Christ is the only One who can propitiate the wrath of God for us (1 John 4:10).
Now that Jesus has overcome our separation from God by taking away His wrath and become a sacrifice for our sins, we need to be reconciled to Him as children. Jesus steps in as our older Brother and provides reconciliation and thereby bring us back into fellowship with God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
The New Testament Atonement
So the atonement isn’t really a stand-alone term to define. There are so many more things going on within this atonement that they must be defined as things happening while the atonement is happening, to put it in a very dumbed-down explanation. Once a person has been atoned for, they have also been regenerated, justified, propitiated for, redeemed, reconciled, sacrificed for, and so much more. We are made perfect in the sight of God. Our sins were counted toward Christ and His perfection was counted on our behalf.
Everything has changed now that Christ came, lived a sinless life, and died the perfect death. Hebrews talks all about how the old form of atonement was simply a shadow of what the true atonement is in Christ. Here are a few examples of how Christ was the perfect atonement for our sins:
- Making propitiation for their sins (Hebrews 2:17)
- Without sin (Hebrews 4:15)
- Salvation to all who obey (Heb. 5:9)
- No perfection comes thru the Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7:11)
- Jesus is priest forever (Heb.7:21-25)
- He was offered once because He is perfect (Heb. 7:26-27)
- Old priest served a copy and shadow of the heavenly things (Heb. 8:5)
- Jesus is much more excellent than old covenant (Heb. 8:6)
- Old covenant is obsolete (Heb. 8:13)
- The old offerings could not make perfect the conscience of the worshiper (Heb. 9:9)
- He made atonement once for all by His perfect blood (Heb. 9:11-15)
- The first atonement could not take away sins (Heb. 10:4)
- His sacrifice has perfected all those being sanctified (Heb. 10:14)
- No need for more offerings for sin (Heb. 10:18)
These are just a few of the many ways that Christ’s atonement is much better than the old atonement, which was only a covering. And you must receive this atonement through faith in the blood of Christ.
This is not a comprehensive list of those terms in Scripture that decribe soteriology, but it is a start for anybody interested to study the different aspects of one’s salvation and what happens when somebody is saved or even what has happened in the past to get that person saved.