At the core of Christian theology is the belief in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When referring to the “work of Jesus,” Christians mean the entirety of His life; however, it was His sacrificial death on the cross and His bodily resurrection three days later where everything comes into view. Christians believe that it was in His death and resurrection that His ultimate work was achieved on behalf of humanity. This is known as objective salvation. More specifically, objective salvation is the teaching that in the cross event something is achieved on behalf of humanity by God in Christ and that atonement itself happens outside of the individual.[1]This paper will show how a better understanding of the work Jesus accomplished on the cross on behalf of humanity (objective salvation) requires a specific response in order to experience the benefits. This will be accomplished by first briefly looking at three terms that are directly related to the atonement: sacrifice, substitution and the idea of Christus Victor. This will be followed by a brief discussion on the benefits of receiving Christ joined together with the Christian life of continually being transformed by the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit.


The Christian understanding of the term “sacrifice” has its roots deep within ancient Judaism. According to Levitical worship and ritual, a sacrifice was two-fold. First, it ritually acknowledged the holiness and sovereignty of God and second, because of sin, sacrifices sought to draw offenders nearer to God’s holiness.[2]In other words, sacrifices both honored God and provided a way for His people to remain within His good graces. Without ritual sacrifice, then, God’s people had no way of maintaining a right relationship with their God because of the ongoing problem of their sin, which separated them from God.

The ancient Jewish tradition had many different forms of sacrifice such as the burning of foods or pouring out of fluids; however, the sacrifice associated with atonement required the death of a living animal to be offered up to God.[3]As a means of atonement, the imposition of hands on the head of the victim symbolized that the sins of the people were being heaped upon it, thus, the atoning virtue, or power to cover sins, was assumed to reside in the shed blood of the sacrifice.[4]However, these sacrifices were ongoing. In other words, the blood of the bulls and goats that were offered up annually for Israel’s atonement of sins was not enough to solve their issue of sin once and for all (Heb. 10:4). It was from this ancient Levitical description of the term “sacrifice” that the New Testament understood the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

The death of God’s Son on the cross was, in every way, a true Levitical ritual sacrifice of atonement. The paradoxical divine factor involved is that God was both the sacrifice offered (Son) and the sacrifice received (Father).[5]Furthermore, Jesus, being the God-man and not merely a bull or goat, was able to solve humanity’s sin problem once and for all (Heb. 10:12-14). In other words, Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself on behalf of humanity, which brings up the topic of substitution.


The best way to arrive at an understanding of the term substitution is through the idea of penalty. It is important to understand that “it was God’s justice that required that sin be paid for, and, among the members of the Trinity, it was God the Father whose role was to require payment.”[6]In other words, God, in order to maintain His attribute of divine justice, required full satisfaction for the incalculable transgressions that humanity has made against Him. However, human beings were unable to pay the penalty because they were the source of the problem, which is why the God-man Jesus the Christ was necessary. The eleventh-century monk and theologian, Saint Anselm states this clearly where he writes that “the debt was so great that while man alone owed it, only God could pay it, so that the same person must be both man and God.”[7]Undoubtedly, Anselm’s atonement theory draws from Scripture passages like 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin” (English Standard Version) – and the words in Isaiah, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:6). The key point of both of these passages is that Jesus paid the penalty for us all.

The view presented above is known as the theory of penal substitution. The term penal is directly associated with the idea of penalty; however, Christ’s death was also a substitution because he voluntarily died in our place. Grudem adds that this view is also called the theory of vicarious atonement. He writes, “a vicar is someone who stands in the place of another or who represents another. Christ’s death was therefore vicarious because he stood in our place and represented us [and] as our representative, he took the penalty that we deserve.”[8] It should be clear by now that penalty and substitution work together in atonement, however, what exactly did Jesus accomplish on the cross through His substitutionary sacrifice? The answer to this question is developed in the idea of Christus Victor.

Christus Victor

Christus Victor (Christ the victor) is the atonement model and belief that Jesus Christ, through his substitutionary sacrifice was able to do for us what no one else could do – conquer sin, death, and the devil through death.”[9]This idea is seen in Hebrews 2:14, “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” Additionally, the apostle Paul continually exulted in the victory of Christ’s atoning death throughout his writings (1 Cor. 15:56-57; Rom 8:37; 2 Cor. 2:14). Although, Christus Victor is implied in the New Testament, it was developed more thoroughly during the Reformation by Martin Luther.[10]It is important to note that theologians have pointed out that the Christus Victor model does not address the deeper questions in regard to the atonement, but nonetheless – for the purpose of this paper – it provides an answer to what Christ accomplished on our behalf: He freed us from the law, death and paid the penalty of our transgressions against God.[11]In light of this, then, Christus Victor is more than sufficient.

The Benefits of Receiving Christ and Christian Living

Everything covered up to this point has to do with Christ’s objective work in salvation and it must be emphasized that His work is transferable to human individuals, which was the whole point of substitutional sacrifice. To be clear, because Christ made atonement for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2) – the possibility of forgiveness of sins is made possible. Likewise, Christ defeated death (Christus Victor) and therefore – eternal life in Christ is made possible (Rom. 6:23). These are the benefits of objective salvation; however, they are only obtainable through the proper response of the individual, which is to believe and confess that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). However, this is the beginning of the Christian life and there is life to be lived after the cross.

It has been shown that the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation back to God are immediate benefits, but even more so, Christ, in His life, “provides a model or paradigm for the redeemed life.”[12]What this means is that Christians, after receiving the immediate benefits of objective salvation, are to respond in a way that conforms their person to the image of the Son. Simply put, Christians are to become like Christ. However, unlike the precise moment of being justified in Christ, conformity occurs throughout a Christian’s life. Thankfully, Christians are not left alone in this transformational process of imaging the Son rather they are freely given the Holy Spirit as their helper.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus directly speaks to His disciples about the Holy Spirit – saying, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn. 14:26). Later on, in the same Gospel, Jesus states that the Holy Spirit will bear witness about Him (Jn. 14:26). Granted, the disciples did not fully realize what Jesus specifically meant with His words, but they realized, soon enough, on the day of Pentecost when they and about three thousand others were indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4; 2:41). It is important to notice that what immediately followed the indwelling of the Spirit was the formation of the first Church – where the Scriptures state that they devoted themselves to apostolic teaching; fellowship; prayer; worship; generosity and attending to each other’s needs with joy and gladness (Acts 2:42-47). Although this is not an exhaustive list, the key point is that all of these things are part of the transformational process of imaging the Son, and none of them would be truly possible without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Today, in addition to the above, Christians have the canon of the New Testament Scriptures to aid them in transformation as well as the Great Tradition that has been passed down throughout the ages.


Jesus Christ obtained all that was needed for human salvation. This, as it has been shown, is known as objective salvation. However, in order to receive this salvation, the individual must respond by putting their faith in the Son. This means that salvation for the human individual involves both objective and subjective elements. Lastly, once an individual receives the immediate benefits of the cross, they are encouraged through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to enter into a process of conforming to the image of the Son – Jesus Christ. This is more than reason enough to rejoice and praise God for all that He has done through His Son on our behalf and all that He is doing through the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. – αμήν!

End Notes

[1]. Roger E. Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, ©2002), 256.

[2]. Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology(New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, ©1992), 411.

[3]. Oden, 411.

[4]. Ibid., 413.

[5]. Alister E. McGrath, Theology: The Basics, 3rded. (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, ©2012), 84.

[6]. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, ©1994), 577.

[7]. Hugh T. Kerr, ed. Readings in Christian Thought, 2nded. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, ©1990), 91.

[8]. Grudem, 579.

[9]. Larry D. Hart, Truth Aflame: Theology for the Church in Renewal, revised ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, ©2005), 363.

[10]. Olson, 259.

[11]. Ibid., 259.

[12]. McGrath, 95.


Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, ©1994.

Hart, Larry D. Truth Aflame: Theology for the Church in Renewal, revised ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, ©2005.

Kerr, Hugh T. ed. Readings in Christian Thought. 2nded. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, ©1990.

McGrath, Alister E. Theology: The Basics. 3rded. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, ©2012.

Oden, Thomas C. Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publisher, ©1992.

Olson, Roger E. The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, ©2002.