I’d like to share a view that I’ve pondered about the atonement for quite some time now. Specifically it is a different take on the Christus Victor view, which is one of the major views of atonement. Views of atonement are different ways that we understand what happened with Christ on the cross, especially in regard to sin. The Christus Victor theory states that Christ triumphs over evil, that He won the battle over sin and Satan, through his death on the cross. There are a number of other views of atonement, such as:
- Ransom theory – Christ paid the debt that we owed to God in order to release humanity from the bondage of sin
- Satisfaction theory – Christ suffered the penalty, a blood sacrifice, for sin on our behalf that was required through the law
- Moral influence theory – Christ’s sacrifice brought a positive moral change to humanity
They are all different ways to understand Christ’s work and are included within an orthodox Christian understanding of atonement. Moreover, the theories are by no means exclusive; one does not have to be true while the others are false. They each present a different lens by which to view Christ’s redeeming work, and each has merit and can be sustained with Scripture. In fact, a thorough Christological understanding of atonement synthesizes each aspect of these theories together in harmony. But this article focuses on the Christus Victor view.
Before I proceed, the reflection I am about to propose differs from what much of the Western church has traditionally taught about Christus Victor; although, I am fairly certain many great Christian thinkers would agree, including Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Basil the Great, who defined much of the Christian doctrine of Christology.
The church has traditionally viewed the victory of Christ through His work on the cross, that is, through his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection. I do not disagree with this by any means; the death and resurrection of Christ is clearly the pinnacle of His redeeming work.
However, I don’t think the work of Christ in overcoming sin began on the cross. I think it is deeper and has greater significance than that. I think it began long before the cross, before his struggle in Gethsemane, before arriving in Jerusalem, even before His baptism and public ministry. It think it began at the very beginning of His life: in the incarnation.
The incarnation is God’s mission to the world. Through the incarnation, God entered humanity. More than that, through the incarnation, God entered into humanity. He became man. God didn’t simply take on flesh as a suit or a mask. He became one of us, fully God and fully man. This is why the belief that Jesus has both a fully human nature and a fully divine nature is so important. Christ is of one substance with the Father, and he shares in the fullness of our humanity.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15
Through the incarnation, Jesus became the god-man. Most theologians throughout the age have said that Christ took on humanity in every way, except the fallen nature. They believe that He was fully divine and fully human, except for inheriting original sin. I have an issue with that, and this is where my exposition really begins.
If Christ did not take on the fallen nature of humanity, original sin, the brokenness of the human nature, then He couldn’t truly experience all that it is to be human.
Could Christ truly have experienced temptation if his human nature didn’t include the fallen brokenness that would give him a propensity to succumb to temptation?
If Christ didn’t have a fallen nature in his human will, then why did he struggle with accepting the divine will, the cup of his suffering, in Gethsemane (Luke 22:42)?
And if Christ didn’t experience and bear the desperate brokenness of our human nature in the incarnation, then what did he really save?
Here’s my theological proposal -
I agree with virtually all other theologians that the mission of God is the reconciliation of humanity with God the Father through Christ Jesus. If original sin separated God from humanity, then original sin must be overcome to reconcile God with humanity. So perhaps Jesus took on original sin, the fallen human nature, in His incarnation, in order to overcome original sin by living a sinless life.
Being fully God and fully man, he had a fully divine will and a fully human free will, as we see at Gethsemane. Perhaps Christ lived as the God-man a perfect life, “tempted as we are, yet without sin,” and His human will was always in submission to His divine will. Perhaps by taking on the fallen nature, and living His perfect, sinless life, Christ overcame sin – not just moral sin, but original sin as well: all of sin. Perhaps this is the full work of Christ – through his life as well, and not just through his death and resurrection.
This is my understanding of Christus Victor. Christ overpowered evil and sin, including original sin, through the perfection of his life, sacrificial death, and by establishing a new covenant with humanity, a covenant of grace, by his blood. And through His bodily resurrection, we have hope in our own resurrection. He is the perfect representative of humanity, alive and risen, sitting at the right hand of the Father serving as our High Priest, our mediator.
I don’t think this view is outside of orthodoxy – if it is, Lord have mercy, and may I be corrected. What do you think?
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