How to Study the Atonement

This article is an excerpt of Studies in the Atonement

  1. The doctrine of the atonement is exclusively a subject of special revelation and thus we are entirely dependent upon the Scriptures.

    Christianity is unique and singular in its concept of the atonement. We will search history in vain to find another religion which developed the concept of God becoming man to die as the sinner’s substitute. False religion always views man as seeking God and providing for his own salvation while Christianity views God as seeking man and providing salvation for him. The Scriptures view men as guilty rebellious sinners who are running from God as fast as they can (Rom. 1:18).

    Thus we cannot look to man’s reason, feelings or experiences to tell us the truth about salvation. We will trust only in the infallible Written Word of God for “all Scripture is inspired of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). “To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to the word it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20).

  2. Approach the doctrine of the atonement as the solution to your problems and not as the problem itself.

    The saving work of Christ is God’s answer to man’s greatest questions. How can a man be just before God? How can sins be forgiven? How can spiritually dead sinners be made alive? How can we escape the just punishment of eternal perdition? Who takes the initiative in salvation? Is salvation all of God or does it involve the works of man? The answers to such questions are found in the Biblical doctrine of the atonement.

    Perhaps a word could be said here to theological students. Beware of being “problem-centered.” Too often theological studies are designed to give as many problems to the student as possible. He is taught “the problem of the existence of God,” “the problem of the inspiration and text of the Bible,” “the problem of preaching,” “the problem of evil,” etc. It is apparent that some seminary and Bible college professors are excellent in presenting problems but weak in giving solutions! This results in weak, undecided ministers who can’t say anything dogmatically to their people. The people in turn are not doctrinally strong and are soon “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14).

    Don’t be sold short in your theological education by being problem centered. Seek the Biblical solution to each issue. Study until you are convinced that you know what the Word of God teaches. Then preach and teach it with the boldness of the Holy Spirit. Never rest until you have an answer to your questions.

  3. Approach the doctrine of the atonement in an experimental manner.

    We must not be content with a mere intellectual grasp of the atonement. If our study of this precious truth of God’s Word does not spiritually profit us in terms of salvation or sanctification, we have missed the underlying purpose of the study. We are dealing with the suffering and death of the Son of God. We should visualize afresh the bleeding sacrifice made on our behalf.

    The test of our understanding is to measure our love to Christ. Experimentally we should grow in our devotion and love to Christ as a result of this study.

  4. To see the true nature of sin, look to the cross of Christ.

    To see sin as it really is, contemplate what it cost to remove it. If we had fallen into a deep pit, we could tell how deep we had fallen by the length of the rope let down to save us. In the same way, we can only understand the depths of depravity into which sin has brought us by the lengths to which God must go to redeem us.

    God Himself had to die a bloody death at the hands of wicked sinners. To see the awful suffering and to hear the awful cry, “My God, my God, why have Thou forsaken Me?” reveals how awful sin must be in the sight of God. Don’t look at sin to see sin’s true nature. Look at what it did to Christ on the cross. Experimentally, we should grow in our hatred of sin as a result of the study.

    Ye who think of sin but lightly,
    Nor suppose the evil great
    Here may view its nature rightly,
    Here its guilt may estimate.
    Mark the sacrifice appointed
    See who bears the awful loss;
    Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed,
    Son of Man and Son of God.*
  5. Take the simple step of faith with each new understanding of the atonement.

    True Biblical faith involves assent and trust as well as knowledge. It is not enough to knowabout the atonement, you must assent to and trust in the saving work of Christ. A new or deepened understanding of every aspect of the atonement should be followed by the affirmation of the heart, “Lord, I believe.” The doctrine of the atonement should provide much fuel for praise and many arguments to be used in prayer. Seek to appropriate and to use your Biblical knowledge in your life everyday.


With these basic principles in mind, we can now begin our study of the saving work of Christ.