I’ve covered these in detail in the recent “Faith that Works” series posts on Romans. I’ll try to be brief.
(Rom 2:14-16 ESV) 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law by nature[,] do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
As N. T. Wright argues in his commentary on Romans, we have to take “the law is written on their hearts” as an allusion to Jeremiah 31 — which is speaking of saved people. (The “Faith that Works” series makes this argument in detail, and also explains why I relocate the comma in the translation (koine Greek has no commas)).
(Rom 2:28-29 ESV) 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Paul then, in parallel, refers to Deuteronomy 30:6 — God circumcises the hearts of his children — by the Spirit — and the changed heart makes him pleasing to God.
Thus, the new covenant of Jeremiah (and related prophecies) explains how God saves without physical circumcision. It’s about transformed hearts — which is by the Spirit, by God writing his laws on our hearts.
We next turn to –
(Rom 7:6 ESV) 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
Of course, the “new way of the Spirit” is having the law written on our hearts and having our hearts circumcised by the Spirit.
(Rom 8:3-4 ESV) 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Somehow, the cross “condemned sin in the flesh” for the benefit of those who have received the Spirit. Is this Christus Victor? Maybe.
It’s certainly not quite substitutionary atonement. “In order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” is speaking more of how we actually live than a forensic imputation in which we’re credited with righteousness we don’t really have.
I’m not saying there’s no such imputation, just that this verse, like Rom 2:14-16, speaks of how we actually live as being ”righteous” to the extent our lives are prompted by the Spirit.
All this Paul credits to the cross. Somehow, the cross makes this possible. The new covenant is realized by the cross — not just forgiveness but also the Spirit and transformation.
(Heb 9:25-28 ESV) 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
In the context of the new covenant promises of Jeremiah, the author declares that Jesus has “been offered once to bear the sins of many” and “appeared … to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” This is not exactly Christus Victor, as Jesus had to “bear” the sins of the saved, not merely to defeat Satan.
(Heb 10:5-7 ESV) 5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
The author then credits Christ’s obedience with taking away our sins: “I have come to do your will.”
(Heb 10:15-18 ESV) 15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
The author again quotes Jeremiah 31, crediting the new covenant with our forgiveness — and saying that no further sacrifice — beyond the crucifixion — will ever been needed.
The author then announces that those who rebel — who continually deliberately sin — fall away.
(Heb 10:29 ESV) 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
“Blood of the covenant”? This a reference back, surprisingly, to –
(Heb 9:19-20 ESV) 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.”
The author is comparing the blood of the covenant in Exodus 24:8 with the blood of Jesus on the cross. You see, both covenants were inaugurated with blood.
(Exo 24:7-11 ESV) 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” 9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.
God sealed his covenant with Israel with the blood of animals, and then their leaders ate with God — and “they saw the God of Israel” and yet lived.
Just so, at the Last Supper, the leaders of God’s people ate with Jesus — God in the flesh — and sealed the new covenant with blood — symbolized by the wine but soon poured out in all reality.
And the author of Hebrews declares that for a Christian to continue in deliberate sin is to “profane the blood of the covenant” — to make what is sacred into something meaningless.
In so saying, the author equates the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 with God’s covenant made on the cross and declares that this new covenant compels us to live faithfully — to reject intentional sin on penalty of damnation.
Does the atonement have consequences for Christian ethics? Indeed, it does.