“Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” – Psalm 85:10
Atonement is central to Christian theology, and without the cross we do not have Christianity. Much of the New Testament is devoted to explicating what happened on the cross of Christ, and the atonement was necessitated by the problems that sin brought to our relationship with God (Rom. 3:21–26). To understand the atonement, therefore, we must first understand how our transgressions affect our relationship with our Creator.
First, as a result of sin, we have incurred a debt to God. Since God is the Creator and our Sovereign King, He has the absolute right to impose obligations on us. God first imposed His law on us in Eden, commanding Adam to obey Him perfectly by not eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:15–17). Adam stands in a special relationship to the rest of humanity. He is the federal head or representative of the entire human race (except Jesus), which means that his response to God’s command is reckoned as our response to God’s command. Adam’s disobedience, therefore, is our disobedience, and when Adam sinned, we incurred an infinite debt against the Lord (Rom. 3:23; 5:12–21; 1 Cor. 15:22). No sinner can pay this debt, for it takes someone of infinite worth to satisfy this charge against us. Christ, however, could pay this debt because of His infinite worth as the Son of God. His sacrifice pays the debt for Adam’s sin and for all of our individual transgressions when we trust in Him alone. He becomes our new federal head, and we are counted righteous in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).