After studying your two-volume set on the atonement, I continue to be very impressed with your treatment of this topic and have a few questions.
In particular I am puzzled by a section in your book 1 on page 48. You state Christ’s physical death marked an initial reconciliation of the new believer, canceling his past sins and that this was “signified” to the new believer. Could you please clarify what you mean by this section? If I had not read the rest of the booklets I would think that this would seem to imply that Christ’s death serves as some sort of a substitute for our past sins.
Let us quote the portion of our booklet which is in question:
“Paul stated several times that the death of Christ signified to the new believer the removal of his past sins and an opportunity to begin, so to speak, with a clean slate. This act of Divine forbearance, however, was in no way a guarantee of final salvation, nor did it grant any righteousness. It simply stated that the new believer did not have to be weighted with an evil past. He could go straight ahead to obey the law of God without any worry of the sins of his old life standing against him” (see The Atonement: Is It Biblical? Book 1, page 48).
In Paul’s view, there was some association between the death of Christ and the removal of the past sins of the new believer, and we are not told exactly what Paul meant. Whether this relationship was symbolic, a representation, or an illustration of a fact, the death of Christ did not actually remove past sins.
Long before Paul’s day, it was stated that “if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live” (Ezek. 18:21-22). It has clearly not been in God’s plan to hold the new believer responsible for sins that he committed before he became acquainted with the law of God. We have Paul’s own words, “For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Rom. 5:13). And, “As many as have sinned without law will also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law” (Rom. 2:12). How can anyone be fairly judged by a law of which he had no knowledge?
This principle was in place apart from and before the first advent of Christ. By using the word “signified” we are suggesting a significance in the mind of the new believer, not a new condition which came with Christ’s death or a forgiveness that depended upon His death. It is not meant to imply that Christ’s death serves in any way as a substitute for sins, or guarantees the believer’s salvation should they continue in former sins. Christ’s death did not accomplish anything toward our eternal salvation.
Whether our past sins are said to be removed by the mercy of God or by the death of Christ, the fact remains that we cannot continue in them or they still stand against us. Whatever sin we turn from and forsake, God promises to forgive, and this plan was in place long before the death of Christ (See Prov. 28:13).
Without question, we must follow Christ’s exemplary model to obtain salvation, for we will be judged according to what we have done (Rev. 22:12; 2 Cot. 5:10; Jer. 17:9-10).