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 ). 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 ,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 ). 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 , 1 Ti 2:6) or ‘payment’ was for us in this sense (John -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 , 1 Co , Gal 1:4, 2 Co 8:9) are of the highest value – for because of His wounds, we are healed (Gal , 1 Pe , 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 ), 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 ). 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 ), 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 (
In light of God’s love, the power of sin (both in us and influencing us) is overcome within us (Rom 2:4, Rom ). This revelation of God gives us strength to live in liberty and life despite the sin in our selves, other people, and oppression (Rom ). 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 , Gal ). 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 ). 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 , Rom -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 , Mark ). God was on that Cross. In Christ, God demonstrated He is indeed Lord and Saviour (e.g. Tit 3:4-6, Tit , 1Ti , 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 ), to reveal God’s heart (John , 9:5, then Mat ) and conquer the kingdom of the devil with Godly love (John -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 , Luk 24:49, Act 1:8, Act 2), and Jesus states that we will do ‘greater things’ than the works He did (Joh ). Just as Christ was, we are representatives of God (2Co ). Just as it was for Christ, our mission is to liberate people to give them the life that comes from living in the
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)".