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The atonement of Christ according to this Moral Influence theory is that Jesus Christ came and died in order to bring about a positive change to humanity. This moral change comes through the teachings of Jesus alongside His example and actions. This is the belief that the atonement of Christ is a demonstration of God’s love which causes man’s heart to soften and repent. Those who hold this view believe that man is spiritually sick and in need of help and that man is moved to accept God’s forgiveness by seeing God’s love for man.
They believe that the purpose and meaning of Christ’s death was to demonstrate God’s love toward man. Christ died to influence mankind toward moral improvement. This theory denies that Christ died to satisfy any principle of divine justice, but teaches instead that His death was designed to greatly impress mankind with a sense of God’s love, resulting in softening their hearts and leading them to repentance. Thus, the Atonement is not directed towards God with the purpose of maintaining His justice, but towards man with the purpose of persuading him to right action. Within this theory the death of Christ is understood as a catalyst to reform society, inspiring men and women to follow His example and live good moral lives of love. In this theory the Holy Spirit comes to help Christians produce this moral change.
Logically, in this theory the Eschatological development too becomes about morality, where it is taught that after death the human race will be judged by their conduct in life. This in turn creates a strong emphasis on free will as the human response to follow Jesus’ example. This theory focuses on not just the death of Jesus Christ, but on His entire life. This sees the saving work of Jesus not only in the event of the crucifixion, but also in all the words He has spoken, and the example He has set. In this theory the cross is merely a ramification of the moral life of Jesus. He is crucified as a martyr due to the radical nature of His moral example.
In this way the Moral Influence theory emphasizes Jesus Christ as our teacher, our example, our founder and leader, and ultimately, as a result, our first martyr. Formulated by Peter Abelard (1079-1142)partially in reaction against Anselm’s Satisfaction theory, this view was held by the 16th century Socinians. Versions of it can be found later in F. D. E. Schleiermacher (1768-1834)and Horace Bushnell (1802-1876).While it is true that Christ’s atonement is the ultimate example of the love of God, this view is unbiblical because it denies the true spiritual condition of man: dead in transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1) and denies that God actually requires a payment for sin. This view of Christ’s atonement leaves mankind without a true sacrifice or payment for sin.
The Atonement of Christ is the sacrificial work of Jesus for sinners. In his death on the cross, Christ atoned for the sins of humanity such that God is satisfied and reconciliation is accomplished for all who will be redeemed. The obedience and death of Christ on behalf of sinners is the ground of redemption. As stated above, Jesus’ death satisfied and reconciled sinners to God.
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