Friday, October 08, 2004

Christ's Victory - the original idea of what Christ did for us


Christ's Victory ('Christus Victor') is not as boring as it sounds – and this may be worth a read. It is not so much a rational systematic theory as it is a drama, an account of events, a passionate story of God triumphing over the powers and liberating us from the bondage of sin. It operates from a paradigm of liberation, not of penance. Though it is often summarised as a ‘cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil’, there is considerably more depth beneath this summary. As the Church Father Irenæus writes, “The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil”. According to the authoritative book on the theory this view dominated from the beginnings of the church until the 10th century (Aulen, ‘Christus Victor’), and indeed the view is amply supported by Ireneaeus’ writing. However, the passionate drama of Christus Victor was rejected in the Middle Ages because it was too "emotional" who preferred to see it though the lens of a rationalistic judicial system.

My understanding of the Christus Victor Atonement

References are for your information, perhaps to help see where different concepts tie in - rather than 'evidence' to support this idea i.e. they are not 'proof texts'. For me, Christus Victor is not a theory that needs backing up, but rather a story that is self-evident.


Christ came to liberate us from sin and the associated spiritual death (both of which the devil wants). God Himself reconciled by Himself to us, and in turn us to Him, by revealing His heart and grace through what Jesus did and who He was, which persuades our hearts to turn away from sin and back to God.

We are liberated from sin, death and the power of the devil

People of the world are ruled by sin (and hence the devil) by their own choice to do it (Rom 6:16). Sin corrupts the mind and leads to the person continually wanting to choose it, and thus puts the person into slavery to sin and death (Rom 6:20,21). Sin is our problem, not God’s, and He does not hate it in and of itself, but He hates it because it damages us. But in Christ, God presented Himself in shocking nearness and unmistakable grace – that is, He revealed Himself to the world to bring them back to Himself (to reconcile the world to Him). Once His character is understood our attitude is changed, and sin no longer controls us for we know the truth of His nature, and that truth sets us free (John 8:32, Rom 6:14, 1 Ti 2:4). Our desire to sin dies because of the revelation of Christ (Rom 6:6-7,16), and we are liberated from sin (Rom 6:18). The devil did not have legal ‘rights’ over people, nor God did not use trickery or deception to ‘fool the devil’ – but rather in a completely fair, just and Godly manner, God used a revelation of Himself to cause people to leave the kingdom of the devil. In this sense, the devil is defeated.

We are given new direction

Not only did He liberate us from personal and extra-person sin and spiritual death that it brings, but He showed us what to do with our liberty by modelling perfect humanity – as Adam should have (Mat 5:17, John 1:17, Rom 10:4). In this sense, Christ went over the same ground as fallen humanity (recapitulation), but showed a different way through it by demonstrating self-less love as a true human being subject to our world.

Christ revealed this new life, to free us

Yet, this liberation was not without cost. In becoming human, Christ suffered the hurt, heart-ache, pain and evil of our fallen world – all for our sakes, so that we would be liberated. God Himself was personified in Christ, and His ‘ransom’ (Mat 20:28, 1 Ti 2:6) or ‘payment’ was for us in this sense (John 10:11-18). In the revelation of Himself, God has given us the ‘money to buy our freedom from slavery’ – that is, the revelation we required to turn away from sin and instead be freed-men to follow Him. In this sense, Christ’s payment was not to God, but to us. The emphasis, indeed the point, is our liberation from sin, not whom payment is made to – and payment is certainly not made to the devil or to God. After all, sin is our problem that we must be freed from, and God’s attitude toward it is not the issue. Thus, His sufferings (the price God paid for our sakes so that we would be freed, e.g. 1 Co 6:20, 1 Co 7:23, Gal 1:4, 2 Co 8:9) are of the highest value – for because of His wounds, we are healed (Gal 3:13, 1 Pe 2:24, Is 53:5).

Christ's whole Incarnation gives us revelation of the true heart of God, which sets us free

Christ’s Incarnation and Atonement are inseparable, and it is the whole of the Incarnation – from birth to ascension – that is important. Furthermore, God and Christ are inseparable. Christ demonstrated God’s love for the weak, the poor, the oppressed, and the sinful during His life. The Almighty God, in Christ, lowered Himself to serve the world, that it would return to Him. Through death (for greater love has no man – John 15:13), He lived out his teachings in the most difficult way in the fullness of being a human. God was represented in full as the Son of God (John 14:7, John 10:30), and demonstrated that He was, is, and will always be willing to accept us in spite of our sinfulness (Eph 1:7, Rom 5:20, Mat 9:6, Mar 2:10, Luk 5:24, 1 John 1:8-10). (Contrary to most atonement theory’s, including the CV, in my personal opinion God did not change his attitude toward people or change the way He accepted them, for He does not change – Mal 3:6.) Our sinfulness was amply revealed by crucifying a perfect man, yet Jesus even showed grace to those who killed Him (Luk 23:34). Indeed, it was not God but people who inflicted suffering on Christ (Is 53) – our iniquities were put upon Him in this sense. But then, our great hope comes from the victorious resurrection of Christ (1Pe 1:3), which showed decisively that God can overcome sin and even death itself to instead give us life, even eternal life (Rom 6:23, 1 Pe 1:2, Tit 3:7).

Christ, therefore, was not a sacrifice to God on our behalf, for God was IN Christ to bring people back to Himself. (Christ and the Father are one and are of the same mind, so it makes little sense for God to sacrifice Himself to change his own mind. In fact, sacrifice to appease a god is a pagan idea.) Rather, sacrifices were always to bring people’s hearts back to God (Psa 51:17, Is 1:11), and were never intended to change God’s heart toward people. Thus Christ was God’s sacrifice to us – which revealed His love in the strongest way (Col 1:21, John 15:13). Christ was the 'covenental sacrifice' to us, in which God made it clearer than ever before how to be a part of His people - and it was sealed with the blood of Christ Himself. In Christ, God pledged His love and grace toward us.

In light of God’s love, the power of sin (both in us and influencing us) is overcome within us (Rom 2:4, Rom 8:37). This revelation of God gives us strength to live in liberty and life despite the sin in our selves, other people, and oppression (Rom 8:11). Christ suffered in life and in death to show us God’s love and power with His own life and body (1 Jo 4:9-10). Indeed, it is God’s love that gives us the ability to turn away from sin and death, and hence the devil, and instead love God (1 Jo 4:19, Gal 2:20). This is one aspect of how the devil is defeated, for in Christ, God led us to turn back to Him not by force, but by revealing Himself.

It is because of God's amazing grace

God showed that His grace is greater than our sin – not that our sin is overlooked (for the atonement was to deal with sin), but that God will accept us in spite of it (e.g. Rom 4:5-8, Luk 23:42-43, John 1:17, Rom 3:24, Rom 5:8, 10). In Christ’s resurrection, God showed that He is even more powerful than death itself, and that even death will not separate us from God’s love (Rom 8:35-39). The devil wanted us separated, so this is a second important aspect of how the devil is defeated, for nothing the devil can do can make God give up people (Heb 2:14-15, 1 John 3:8). In undergoing our sufferings of being human, Christ demonstrated that the devil is overcome by God’s unfailing love (Heb 2:14). By accepting us despite our sins, we are healed. God also showed His power over the devil when Jesus cast out demons. What is more, God has given us His power and authority, just as He gave it to Christ, so that we may continue to defeat the devil by freeing others from sin and bringing them into the life of God’s Kingdom, even as we ourselves are free (Luk 24:47-49, Mat 28:18).

Summary of Christus Victor

What God achieved through Christ did not metaphysically change anything ‘out there’ – but rather it was to influence people in a very real way: through the flesh and blood of a real human relationship (Act 15:11, Rom 1:16-17). God revealed Himself to people by and revealing His true heart for us, which in turn brings us to reconcile ourselves to God by choosing follow Him rather than sin (Rom 2:4, Rom 12:1). By being victorious over sin and death, Christ has given us victory to live free from sin, and the spiritual death it causes, and be accepted by God who gives us spiritual life (John 10:10, Rom 8:2, 1 Jo 3:8, Col 1:14).

God did not require any satisfaction of justice, nor an appeasing sacrifice on behalf of humans to Him (Isa 1:11,13,16-17, Hosea 6:6, Psalm 51: 16-17). Instead, in His love He showed people a way out of sin, oppression, hated and spiritual death – pointing them back to Himself (John 8:32-36, Rom 12,1). He demonstrated His faithfulness and dedication to fulfil his original intentions of creation – to be in relationship with people who belong to Him. God did not conquer evil with force or evil, but was victorious IN the Servant Messiah (Matt 20:28, Mark 8:31). God was on that Cross. In Christ, God demonstrated He is indeed Lord and Saviour (e.g. Tit 3:4-6, Tit 2:10, 1Ti 4:10, 1Ti 2:3, 1Ti 1:1, Isa 43:3, Psa 106:21). God revealed Himself to us in the shocking physical reality of Jesus, and how can we not respond?

What’s more… the Atonement continues in us

NB: This is my own extention to the Christus Victor model, which I believe follows naturally from it.

Christ was God, Christ was perfect – neither of these things we can expect to be while on this earth. But Christ has given us the same commission that He had – to literate people through sharing the love of God. Christ was the perfect example to us, for He sacrificed self-interest and obeyed God so that people would turn to God. We also, are commissioned with the same purpose, to give our lives for our friends (1 Jo 3:16), to reveal God’s heart (John 8:12, 9:5, then Mat 5:14) and conquer the kingdom of the devil with Godly love (John 13:34-35). Just as Christ was one of God's 'two hands' (the other being the Holy Spirit) - we are His many hands. God has given us the power and authority to do this (Luk 10:19, Luk 24:49, Act 1:8, Act 2), and Jesus states that we will do ‘greater things’ than the works He did (Joh 14:12). Just as Christ was, we are representatives of God (2Co 5:20). Just as it was for Christ, our mission is to liberate people to give them the life that comes from living in the Kingdom of God.

For further information, read this article particularly. Also read Christus Victor: an historical study of the three main types of the idea of the atonement, by Gustaf Aulen, which is much easier to read that the title suggests. There is also some useful information here.

Edited 12:53pm Sat Oct 9: corrected 'the two hands of God' to be both Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Edited Sun Oct 10: included Christ as God's 'covenental sacrifice' - by which God pledges His love and grace toward us.
Edited Wed Oct 13: added "
Sin is our problem, not God’s, and He does not hate it in and of itself, but He hates it because it damages us;" "After all, sin is our problem that we must be freed from, and God’s attitude toward it is not the issue;" "(for the atonement was to deal with sin)".


Andrew said...

Wow, wow and wow.

You should become a used car salesman. If you could sell those half as well as you sell atonement theories, you would be rich.
Anyway I'm sold, where do I sign up?

A few quibbles:
Your quote from Irenaeus (“The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil”.) is unfamiliar to me. I have to suspect he's taken liberties with his translation/paraphrase here. Do you have a reference to where the quote is from?

However, the passionate drama of Christus Victor was rejected in the Middle Ages because it was too "emotional" who preferred to see it though the lens of a rationalistic judicial system.

That's not what I've read elsewhere, and I explained a quite different reason in my post. This seems a very unlikely explanation to me.

Just as Christ was God's 'two hands'

~cough~ the TWO hands of the Father are Christ and the Holy Spirit in Irenaeus' writings. Christ is hence one of the Fathers 'two hands' with which He works.

Random comments:
I also think that covenental ideas can be attached fairly seemlessly to this model: That the person of Christ forms the nucleus of the New Coventant People with this new relationship to God in which we become members and partake in as we follow his example and become like Him.

Some curly questions to answer or think on, that I feel should be addressed by a complete theory of the atonement:
In what way was the law that condemned us nailed to the cross?
Was there a reason Christ was killed horribly rather than not at all or could he have died a natural death and all would still have been fine and dandy? Was it good that his death was an unjust one at the hands of God's supposed people?
Are the conditions of 1st century judaism at all relevant - is there any good reason Christ was an Israelite in the 1st century rather than an Englishman in the 20th century or an Egyption in the 19th BC?
What was the role of the law in preparing the way for Christ?

Andrew said...

Contrary to most atonement theory’s, including the CV, in my personal opinion God did not change his attitude toward people or change the way He accepted them, for He does not change.

I agree with your position here, but I'm wondering why you say that most atonement theories and CV have God changing his thinking toward man. Offhand I'm unable to think of many passages from the Fathers supporting the idea that God changed his thinking. It seems to me the Recapitulation, Ransom, & Moral Exemplar theories would assert that God did NOT change His thinking, so you've got me very curious as to what Aulen puts into his presentation of Christus Victor that suggests God did change his attitude.

I am VERY impressed at Aulen's apparently comprehensive understanding of the Fathers, which I find to be totally amazing for a western theologian writing so early in the 20th century at a time when mainstream Protestant thought was still calling Irenaeus "incoherent".

incognito said...

Right, my apologies on my quote from Irenaeus. It is in fact a summary of Aulen after quoting these two passages from Irenaeus, which he believes summarise his view:

1) "That He might destroy sin, overcome death, and give life to man." (Adv. Haer., III., 18. 7)

2) A heaps longer quote from Adv. Haer., III., 23, I.

I will change my post accordingly to reflect the 'two hands' - it doesn't change my interpretation or my meaning.

Responses to your random comments:

<"In what way was the law that condemned us nailed to the cross?">

Aulen convincingly argues that Luther portrayed the most vivid picture of the classic (CV) idea. Luther includes that the Atonement is a victory over sin, death, the devil, AND the Law, AND God's Wrath. Luther ties in with Pauline teaching that the Law is a 'power' that has us in bondage and was overcome. God's wrath, he holds, is a direct consequence of his abhorence of sin. However, the Law and God's wrath are defeated in that it is overcome by God's grace.

<"Was there a reason Christ was killed horribly rather than not at all or could he have died a natural death and all would still have been fine and dandy?">

Firstly, Christ's sufferings highlights what reconciling us to God 'cost' Him. Secondly, it illustrates, even evidences, God's love being victorious over sin, death, the devil, the Law, and Wrath. Thirdly, in it, Christ practises what He preaches of service and love - in the most dramatic way.

<"Was it good that his death was an unjust one at the hands of God's supposed people?">

Indeed, the fact that His death was unjust seems to undermine any attempt to see His death as fitting in with 'Justice'. In fact, as you'll find in the first site I linked to, biblical 'justice' apparently had the connotation of reconciliation - not legality. Thus, again, this highlights the reconciliatory aspect of Christ.

<"Are the conditions of 1st century judaism at all relevant - is there any good reason Christ was an Israelite in the 1st century rather than an Englishman in the 20th century or an Egyption in the 19th BC?">

Perhaps that question is best left for God to answer. Suffice to say it would seem that judging by the fact that the name 'Jesus Christ' is known across the whole world, along with at least a vague knowledge of who He was and what He was like, God timed it pretty well.

<"What was the role of the law in preparing the way for Christ?">

I don't think the Law 'prepares the way', in the sense you have used it. I believe the Law was a guideline given to instruct people in the best way to live, holy and pleasing to God. However, people turned away from God - and therefore the Law inevitably took on a wholly different nature: one of condemnation and judgement. Yet in Christ, there is no condemnation - for God revealed that His grace abounds more than sin. Thus, Law highlights the gravity of sin, and Christ shows the even weightier grace of God. The contrast between them serves to highlight His grace, rather than reduce the importance of either.

<<"Contrary to most atonement theory’s, including the CV, in my personal opinion God did not change his attitude toward people or change the way He accepted them, for He does not change.">>

Precisely, the Fathers realised God is unchanging in His attitudes toward people and the way in which He accepts them. But the 11th century Latin theory (satesfaction) basically means that 'because of Christ, God can accept us." Thus, according to the Latin theory, God changed His way of dealing with us.

From the CV point of view; after finishing Aulen's book, I may I have been mistaken in my interpretation of a few paragraphs of Aulen's book. However, Aulen did seem to suggest God had somehow 'changed His mind', rather than simply He Himself reconciling the world to Himself. I think this 'changing His mind' is manefested in the idea that God decided to 'make the atonement' - as if it changed his acceptance of people. This is why I stated I was in disagreement.

Katherine said...

Hm, well since I have your express permission, I shall openly divulge my innate reaction to this post, despite my unqualified status.

First of all, like Andrew, I find this extremely compelling, am captivated by its beauty and simplicity, find the hope it professes deeply uplifting, and would probably 'sign up' immediately if I were still an impulsive teenager and not a cynic (heh) who prefers to deliberate a little longer.

The comments have cleared up a few of my queries. I too was going to mention that you made no reference to the Holy Spirit, and you still haven't really said what His role is in this picture; though perhaps that's because it's reasonably self-explanatory.

My biggest question (and it may just be that I haven't read carefully enough) is whether this implies that the whole of humanity is saved. Presumably this follows, if our sinfulness does not prevent us being accepted by God, and if Jesus' plea, that God forgive those who killed Him because 'they don't know what they are doing', is to be taken at face value. Is this the way God sees sinfulness generally - simply a mistake made in ignorance, the causes of which He understands and takes into account? I am inclined to hope so.

Obviously we should still respond to God with love and obedience even if this is the case, in order to bring about healing in the world; and obviously I would be overjoyed if I discovered that this was the case, and no one had to suffer for eternity. Does this all suggest, then, that the salvation we have through Christ is more an earthly salvation - a liberation to put things right here and now - rather than a heavenly one? Or am I over-simplifying again?

Regarding the discussion about sacrifices: does this imply that the Jewish sacrifices were simply a culturally relevant way of expressing repentance and devotion to God, without there being any particular symbolic transaction taking place? And does Jesus' death therefore not take on all the associated symbolism that has so fascinated me in the past? Or perhaps if I reassess the sacrificial system according to this idea, the symbolism will still hold in a new way [goes away and does that...and in fact the whole OT, which she begins to think needs to be read again from a new perspective...].

Well that's some of my thoughts anyways. As I said to Andrew, I do appreciate the opportunity to partake of the benefits of all your hard work in this way. May we all find what we're looking for! And not be burned at the stake for being heretics! God bless.

Andrew said...

Katherine, I would just like to comment briefly on your question of whether this implies universal salvation.

Firstly, yes I think you have rightly understood that this type of theory of the atonement has no direct explicit connection to eternal salvation. The obvious consequence of this is not necessarily universalism, but more the fact that you could plug on to it any sort of conception of eternal salvation you care too - eternal salvation becomes an independent variable. Out of the Fathers who held the Christus Victor type thinking some were Universalists (eg Origen), others took the "God will judge at the end of time and smite or bless based on your deeds" line (eg John Chrysostom), others took the "It is not God who judges, but our sin that will cause our own eventual destruction should if we persist in it, as the nature of sin is self-destructive" (eg Maximus). In more recent history the last theory has won out in the Eastern Orthodox church, so I'll explain it a bit more:

The problem with sin is the fact that it is sin, not that God dislikes it. If you are dirty you a dirty, if you cut off your arm your arm is cut off, if you jump off a cliff you fall and die: All regardless of whether God dislikes it. Sin is simply self-destructive, and the one who submits themselves as a slave to sin walks the path of their own self-destruction as they become more and more a being deprived of any goodness, more and more disimilar to God, tending in the limit toward complete and absolute disimilarity with God. All traces of love, of kindness, of compassion are eventually eliminated, and all that remains is something no longer human - for humans are made in the image and likeness of God and these no longer bear his image. God doesn't punish these people: Being infinite love, He loves them infinitely - they are His creation.

In the hereafter God will renew creation itself, full of joy and happiness the saints will reside with God, enjoying His presence, ever growing in their knowledge and love of God, tending in the limit toward a perfect reflection of God. As for the disimilar: no one will expell them, they would be welcomed by God and the saints, loved by them all. But what would be the response of the Depraved to this? What is it for someone who has made themselves the very anathema of love to receive love? What is it for someone who hates themselves and anything which would reveal their wretched condition to be exposed to God Himself, the very Light of Truth itself. If "what is done in secret will be shouted from the rooftops" in the Presence of Him who is Truth, how will those who hate the truth and have no truth in them feel about this situation? For them it will be hell, and the very same conditions will comprise their hell as will comprise the heaven of the saints: A perfected and incorruptable paradise in constant communion with the Ultimate Love Truth and Light. Thus the horror of sin.

Anyway, that's just one view. As I noted above, the CV theory is compatible with any model of the afterlife/judgement you want to conjoin to it.

incognito said...


Yes, the Holy Spirit is our strength to continue to defeat sin, death, and the devil.

Regarding sacrifices: Certainly they were a culturally relevant way of expressing repentance and devotion to God - but they were also more than that. They were a powerful symbolism, and a strongly emotive act - but did not necessitate the 'transfer/transaction' of sin or 'righteousness' (acceptance). In my opinion, sacrifices had nothing to do with the juridical system of traditional 'satesfaction'.

Rather, they cleansed the sinner - through the very real and very emotional powerful event. Allow me to quote Nachum Braverman, a Jewish Rabbi, who describes the process:

"You rest your hands on its head and you confess the mistake you made. Then you slaughter the cow. It's butchered in front of you. The blood is poured on the altar. The fat is put on the altar to burn. How do you feel? (Don't say disgusted.) I'll tell you how you feel. You feel overwhelmed with emotion, jarred by the confrontation you've just had with death, and grateful to be alive. You've had a catharsis. The cow on the altar was a vicarious offering of yourself"

So there was very real symbolism in sacrifice - and it had a very real affect on the one making it. However, the symbolism of the act is only that, and does not imply the sin is actually transferred in any way. Nor does it imply the shedding of blood itself bring the person into better standing with God. In anything, it was only the broken-open and contrite (crushed, humble, repentant, etc) heart (the true form of sacrifice - Psa 51:17) that God truly valued.

We are certainly saved here and now - and our salvation affects us in this life to liberate us from sin and spiritual death. I find sufficient evidence in my knowledge of the NT to believe there is eternal life for those who belong to God. As far as the eternal salvation question - it treads strongly on the toes of Protestant/Pentecostal doctrine to suggest anything apart from the commonly accepted notion of Heaven and Hell. Nevertheless, I will tread... =)

Certianly, God does not 'punish people forever for their wrongs', yet as a good Father He no doubt disciplines. This is illustrated in His dealings with Israel. Also certain is that sin is inherently self-destructive. In a book I once read regarding life-after-death experiences, one person described their revelation that Hell is merely where sinful people dwell in the afterlife. It was suggested these people would want to dwell there, with other people like themselves - much like the picture Andrew paints.

As with the nature of sin, it feeds upon itself into greater and greater evil. Thus, Hell would be a place where people are free to follow their hearts (perhaps just as Heaven) and yet the direction of their hearts will lead them to misery and un-fulfillment. Thus, the suffering they experience is the result of their own choices - rather than a punishment by God. I believe this is the nature of any 'weeping and nashing of teeth' in Hell.

Indeed, the view painted by Andrew is compelling in that it upholds the grace and love of God, rather than portraying a rather childish view of a God compelled to punish people to uphold 'justice'. Whether this grace extends so far as to let people 'become saved after death' is unclear to me. Perhaps, as some suggest, in God's mercy and love, He is kind enough to ease the wicked people's sufferings in the only way He can. He cannot force them to become Godly, and their ungodliness brings them great sorrow, and thus perhaps by 'throwing them into the lake of fire' He actually destroys them - they cease to exist. This is known as annihilationism.

I need to do more reading and thinking on matters of the afterlife to form any sort of well-thought-out opinion. Perhaps it can be something for a future post.

graham old said...

I know this is extremely old now, but I thought I should still comment.

My own understanding of the atonement would be somewhat similar to your own. However, it seems like you've incorporated quite a bit of moral influence into your CV; certainly more than is historically the case.

Is this intentional?

Reuben said...

Hi Graham,

Thanks for your comment. Yes, I wrote this when I was still on a steep learning curve in my study. The more I have researched, the more I found that the moral transformation theme was a core aspect of the early Christian's understand of what Jesus did for them (atonement). So yes, there is a strong moral influence theme here because I believe it is a strong idea for the early Christians. My later research has confirmed this considerably. The reason I've not been posting much on this sort of topic lately is because I am now co-writing a book of my findings, but perhaps if I get some time I'll post some more on this topic.