Chapter 3 of Redemption Accomplished and Applied is called, “The Perfection of the Atonement.” In a word, when Christ died on the cross, he removed the guilt of all of our sins – past, present, and future. If you are in Christ, you do not owe now, nor will you ever owe, any satisfaction whatsoever to God to pay the penalty for your sin. Let that sink in for a minute. If you belong to Christ by faith, you can be certain that God will never, ever, ever, punish you for your sin. Why? Because the sacrifice Christ made for sin was a perfect sacrifice. “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14).
Thinking about this brought to mind a typical Christmas day at the Johnson home. Our kids wake us up at some ridiculous hour, we open all the presents, have breakfast, and then I spend much of the afternoon with a screwdriver in one hand and directions in the other putting toys together (the “screwdriver” being the tool, not the cocktail, though the assembly process is enough to drive one to drink!). There are some gifts – “some assembly required” – that come unfinished. And as long as they are, the kids can’t enjoy them.
To say that Christ died for us on the cross, but there is still some satisfaction we owe to God for our sins, is like receiving a gift at Christmas with some assembly required. It may be a great gift, but you have to do some work on it first to make it complete. The Reformers saw something like this in the Catholic understanding of the nature of Christ’s atonement and believers’ penance. Though Christ’s death takes away the eternal punishment for the sins of baptized believers, yet the faithful must still make satisfaction for the sins they commit after baptism, either in this life or in purgatory. In other words, for all practical purposes, Christians must add to the satisfaction Christ made on the cross.
Thankfully, the grace of God is not like that. Christ’s blood covers all the sins of his people, with no work of satisfaction remaining. The gift of eternal life and forgiveness of sins is ready to enjoy right out of the box, so to speak. As Jesus himself said on the cross, after suffering for our sins, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Jesus paid it all,
All to him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.