Athanasius saw Jesus as the one who ministers the things of God to humankind and the things of humankind to God. Jesus ministers the things of God to us, not as a mere agent of God acting for God, but as God himself in human flesh. All that God does for us is accomplished in the one who is himself God as human. Jesus ministers the things of humankind to God because he is the true human bringing to God what is required of us. Everything God requires of us is given by God and to God in Christ who is God as human. Jesus offers the Father his own human life of trustful obedience flowing from love to his Father. And so, in our place, he lives the human life that gladdens the Fathers’ heart.
In Jesus there is a new relationship in which Jesus is, therefore, the reconciling action from both God’s side and ours. As H.R. Mackintosh says, “God in him for us, and we in him for God”. This two-way movement of love in action establishes our union with God. That means we are already one with God. We do not progress into union by our own efforts. Rather, as the Spirit of Christ joins us to Christ in faith we discover our own humanity caught up in Christ’s humanity and therefore already lifted up into union with God. Consequently, there are no stages to pass through or steps to take so that we become more deeply one with God than we already are in Christ. We simply live in Christ as he lives in us by his Spirit.
When I first came to faith I was taught to define the atonement as “at-one-ment” because through the atonement we are one with God. Soon, I was taught to move on in my understanding by developing an elaborate doctrine of atonement. I was then able to choose the right “theory” of atonement.
I now know that we cannot understand atonement by definitions and theories. We must rather focus fully on Jesus himself as the atonement. Even then, we do not really grasp the atonement because it is mystery just as Jesus himself is mystery. But we can never even begin to understand the atonement by focusing on concepts rather than Jesus himself as atonement.
The atonement is truth that we are to understand, but it is the truth of this unique person who is himself the truth of our oneness with God. Jesus is the true God moving faithfully towards us in history to make our tragic cause his own. Simultaneously, he is also the true man moving faithfully towards God on behalf of us all. In this movement oneness with God “happens”.
This same Jesus comes to us personally by his Spirit revealing who he is as the truth of oneness. We cannot know the truth by any other way. For truth is this unique person who is the actual oneness of God and humanity. Only as he opens to us who he is in living encounter do we know the truth of oneness with God. Then Jesus, the truth, lives in us and we live in the truth. That is the only way we understand something of the mystery of “at-one-ment”.
Jesus said, “I am in my Father”. That means Jesus belongs to the Father as the one who indwells the Father. Jesus also said to us, “you are in me, and I am in you”. That means we belong to Jesus and to his Father in living union by his Spirit.
But can we also say that God belongs to us? God can never belong to us in the sense that we “possess” him. Nevertheless, God does belong to us simply because he has given himself to us. God’s eternal decision is that we would belong to him and he would belong to us. And Jesus is that eternal decision of mutual belonging made actual among us in history. Can we look at God actually becoming one of us and then doubt that he has given himself to us?
God wasn’t forced to give himself to us in this way. He freely decided to be God this way and no other. He is Lord of his own being and he freely decided to give himself to us in mutual belonging. And in that belonging we find deep rest of soul.
But we so easily disrupt our soul rest by making too much of our own decision. We may even make my own decision all important. And we cannot find deep rest in our own shaky decision. We must rather live fully in God’s decision. In Christ, God has disclosed himself as the one who has decided to bind himself to us in mutual belonging-totally.
So let’s continually focus on Jesus as he reveals God’s eternal decision of belonging. Focussing on that decision we shall find deep rest for our souls.