Atoning Blood 3

By Philip Graham Ryken

The Necessity of the Atonement

If ever a theologian kept his mind and heart fixed on Christ crucified it was the apostle Paul.  One of the best places to see his doctrine of the atoning blood of Jesus Christ is the third chapter of Romans.  Here we see, first of all, and as clearly as anywhere in Scripture, the necessity of the atonement. 

A full understanding of the atoning work of Jesus Christ—specifically the blood atonement of his sacrifice on the cross—always begins with the problem of our sin.  As Donald Macleod has written, “All shallow views of the atonement are the consequence of shallow perception of sin and superficial awareness of spiritual need. If we know something of the depth of our own depravity and the extent of our own guilt we shall readily appreciate God’s provision in the blood of His Son.”[1]

This is exactly the approach that Paul takes in Romans.  Before showing us God’s provision in the blood of His Son, the apostle shows us the depths of our depravity and the extent of our guilt.  For nearly two chapters, he explains how “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom. 1:18). 

No one can escape divine condemnation: not the pagan who tries to ignore the existence of God, not the moral person who tries to lead a good life, and not the religious person who claims to know God.  Whether we are Jews or Gentiles, we are all guilty before God.  This is true of every person we know in every family, from every neighborhood, in every workplace, and at every church.  We are all sinners.  To use another one of Tyndale’s famous expressions—one that we find in Romans—people have become “a law unto themselves” (Rom. 2:14).  

To prove this point, in chapter 3 Paul piles up passage after passage from the Psalms to show that “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12).  The language here is categorical: everyone who belongs to the category of mere human being is a fallen sinner.  “For all have sinned,” Paul goes on to say in verse 23, “and fall short of the glory of God.” 

      [1] Donald Macleod, Faith to Live By (Fearn, Ross-shire: Mentor, 1998), 129.