This spring’s Gospel Project for Adults and Students leads participants through the “Atonement Thread,” which helps people put the Bible together to see how the theme of atonement runs from Genesis to Revelation.
For the past several Thursdays, I’ve featured contributions from some friends who are examining the beauty of the atonement from different angles. We began with Brandon Smith, who wrote about the mysterious beauty of penal substitution. Nancy Guthrie pointed us to the story of Hosea and Gomer to help us understand the beauty of redemption. Then, Jared Wilson showed us what it means to say that Christ is our ransom. And last week, Matt Capps explained how the atonement is meant to influence us. Today, my friend Adam Mabry looks at the atonement through the lens of expiation.
Adam Mabry is the Lead Pastor of Aletheia Church in Boston, MA—a growing, diverse church passionately committed to bringing the truth, grace, and the changing power of the Gospel for the glory of God and the good of all people. He has also planted churches in Edinburgh, Scotland and is a guest speaker at various events around the country. He and his wife, Hope, have four children.
I could tell she felt terrible. I had just blessed and dismissed the congregation, and she headed straight for me. She was convicted. She was guilty. She didn’t know what to do. Her name isn’t important, but her pain is. Hers is the pain we all share because of sin. The story she shared chronicled anger, sexual brokenness, depression, and defeat. “I just feel so terrible, Pastor.” It was heartbreaking to hear, and I hear it all the time.
Deep sadness over sin is something we all feel. We forget, of course, because our cultural moment has moved into the stage of collective depravity wherein we celebrate sin instead of hiding it. We plaster depravity on magazines, billboards, and web ads.
Who’s feeling guilty? Underneath all that puffery, everyone is. Even to those who’ve never heard the gospel, their thoughts still condemn them (Rom 2:14-15).
So what of the atonement is good news to a guilty world, hellbent on assuaging their collective consciences through every other possible means? What of the gospel do we tell them?
We tell them of expiation.
Expiation is that angle on the atoning work of Christ that means we are clean. Clean.
The young woman after church felt dirty. Used. Beyond redemption because of her brokenness. What does the world tell her? “Perk up, you’re just like the rest of us. You need some self-esteem!”
But that’s just it. She knew herself quite well, and there wasn’t much there to esteem. What she needed was the good news that Jesus Christ died not only to forgive her, but to cleanse her.
1. Expiation Means My Scars Don’t Define Me
My pastor in college would always remind us, “we all operate out of our pain.” That’s true, until our pain is healed. We hurt others the way we were hurt by others. It’s pop psychology truth that we are likely to scar our kids the way we were scarred by our parents. That is, unless the scars are removed.
Expiation means that the pain of sin committed by us or by others against us no longer has to define us. He has cleansed us (1 John 1:7), healed us. He got scars to free us from ours.
2. Expiation Means I Don’t Have to Be Ashamed
Because Jesus says we’re clean, we are. The addict is no longer “the addict.” The drunk no longer “the drunk.”
Shame is our emotional response because of sin. We hide in it or we take pride in it (as many are apt to do today), but it’s still shame. Expiation means that Jesus was shamed so I could be accepted. He was sent out so I could be brought in (Rev 1:5b).
3. Expiation Means I’m Clean
If Jesus is truly my expiation, then I no longer bear the marks of my sin. In Christ, neither do you. Neither does the young woman after church. The gift of expiation is a clean conscience. And if Jesus dirtied Himself and took my sin to declare me clean, then clean I am.
4. Expiation Means I Can Be Bold
Because Jesus has clothed us with righteousness (Is 61:10) then we should be bold. Not brash or rude, but bold — secure in our identity as forgiven, restored children of God.
Because of expiation, we can pray boldly (Heb 4;16), live boldly, and speak the good news of the gospel boldly (Acts 4:29) to a world that needs so desperately to hear it.
The young woman left that day beginning to know she was clean in Christ. I wonder, do you?