Denney and Torrance make the point too easily based over in the presentation of the Gospel: one cannot both receive the atonement of Christ and be the same person afterward. To receive the work of Christ’s atonement requires death and life (Galatians 2:20).
The Atonement is a reality of such a sort that it can make no compromise. The man who fights it knows that he is fighting for his life, and puts all his strength into the battle. To surrender is literally to give up himself, to cease to be the man he is, and to become another man. For the modern mind, therefore, as for the ancient, the attraction and the repulsion of Christianity are concentrated at the same point; the cross of Christ is man’s only glory, or it is his final stumbling-block.
James Denney, The Atonement and the Modern Mind, 3. Thus, we cannot even begin to know what we mean of the atonement unless and until we receive Christ’s work of atonement:
the truth that there is forgiveness with God, and that this forgiveness comes to us only through Christ, and signally or specifically through His death. Unless it becomes true to us that Christ died for our sins we cannot appreciate forgiveness at its specifically Christian value. It cannot be for us that kind of reality, it cannot have for us that kind of inspiration, which it unquestionably is and has in the New Testament (17).
Torrance likewise explains that the atonement interrupts everything of our lives. We cannot simply add forgiveness of sin to our existing life. Rather, to receive the forgiveness of sins means that we have become something new:
Here we must recall that in the death of Jesus Christ we have a deed of divine intervention which sets our life on a wholly new basis…This reversal means we cannot think our way into the death of Christ because the continuity of our way of thinking and striving has been interrupted by it, but we may think our way from it if we follow the new and living way opeened up to us in the crucifixion. Here is a deed of unearthly magnitude before which we can only bow in utter humility–far from being able to fit the death of Jesus into our life and our own preconceptions or notions we face the demand that we should be conformed to his death. We can understand the cross only by metanoia, repentance and change of mind, which is correlative on our part to the ‘wonderful exchange’ or mirifica commutatio on Christ’s part when he who was rich was made poor for our sakes that we might become rich ….
T.F. Torrance, Atonement, 3. A child cannot be both adopted into a new home part of another family. A groom cannot be married and yet a bachelor. To join the Marines will transform a life. To come ot know the atoning work of Christ necessarily transforms the human being. When I think of it like that, I begin to wonder: How rare a thing is this? It is not merely moral renovation; it is ontological, psychological, noetic, moral — it is to be someone else.