Atoning Blood 4

By Philip Graham Ryken

We ourselves are part of the problem.  This point is so obvious, and the evidence for it so abundant, that it hardly needs a defense.  But consider a gentle reminder.  For the purpose of self-examination, consider a series of spiritual questions from old Puritan— questions that test whether we are leading the life that God wants us to live:

  • Have I been fervent in prayer?
  • Have I practiced God’s presence, at least every hour?
  • Have I, before every deliberate action or conversation, considered how it might be turned to God’s glory?
  • Have I sought to center conversations on the other’s persons interests and needs and ultimately toward God, or did I turn it toward my own interests?
  • Have I given thanks to God after every pleasant occurrence or time?
  • Have I thought or spoken unkindly of anyone?
  • Have I been careful to avoid proud thoughts or comparing myself to others?
  • Have I been impure in my thoughts or glances?
  • Have I over or under eaten, slept, and worked?
  • Have I been leading in my home, or only reacting to situations?[1]

If we are honest, when we ask ourselves these questions we quickly realize our sin.  We should also realize that there is nothing we can say in our defense.  When we hear the law of God, every single commandment is an accusation against us: “Whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (Rom. 3:19-20).  This is not a trial in which we are innocent until proven guilty; instead, it is a trial in which we have already been proven guilty and must remain guilty unless until we are declared righteous.

This is a real problem for us because the wages of sin really is death.  It has been that way since the first sin, when God told our first parents that if they sinned, they would die (Gen. 2:17).  Thus, by the disobedience of Adam, the entire human race is guilty of sin and doomed to die.  As Paul writes later in Romans: “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men” (Rom. 5:12).  Or again, as the climax to his argument: “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

In order for us to find atonement, therefore, something has to be done about the problem of sin and guilt and death.  Anselm of Canterbury learned this in writing his famous book on the atonement, Cur Deus Homo?  “I came as a sinner to be reconciled,” he wrote, but “I find that I am a dead man to be raised.”[2]

[1] Tim Keller shared these questions with students at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) in the syllabus for his course “Orientation to Ministry.”

[2] Anselm, in Gillian R. Evans, Anselm, Outstanding Christian Thinkers (Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow, 1989), 29.