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Christian, tell me why do you talk about “atonement”? That’s an awfully church-y word. What does it mean?
Because…SOMEONE has to cover the cost of sin, or we’ll be permanently separated from God.

Do you ever keep score? I do sometimes.

  • If someone pays for my meal, it’s my turn to pay next time.
  • If I offend someone, I want to make it up to them.
  • It bothers me if someone gives me a Christmas present but I don’t have one for them. (I hate when that happens!)

I want to keep things balanced. I don’t like to be indebted. That’s really uncomfortable for me.

What if it were something more than a meal or a gift? What if I caused real harm, maybe being at fault in a car wreck where someone was hurt or even killed? There’s no way I could make up for that. Even giving my own life would not undo the pain or bring someone back from the dead. How could I ever “atone” for such an offense?

The Bible teaches that my sin is not like a meal or a gift. It’s more on the scale of deliberate murder, and the offense is against the God who gives me life. It’s not that I break this or that rule. It’s that I don’t love or trust God enough to do what He says. I take all the blessings He gives, including my next breath, and then act like He doesn’t exist (or at least is not relevant to how I live my life). Then I complain if anything goes wrong, as if that were His fault! That’s very offensive. Anything I could give in payment or restitution is already His; I have nothing that doesn’t come from Him. So how on earth can I atone for my sin?

Answer: I can’t.

Further answer: But God has made a way.

The first few chapters of Leviticus describe God’s instructions to the Israelites for sacrificial offerings. They were to lay their hands on an animal — a bull, a calf, a goat, a lamb, or a bird — symbolically transferring their sin-debt to that animal. Then the animal was killed, its blood poured onto the altar, and the meat burned as a sign of being given to God. Even though its death still didn’t un-do the sin, God chose to accept it and consider the debt to be paid.

That seems unfair, doesn’t it? The animal was innocent. It didn’t sin; it did nothing to offend God. But it paid in place of the person who had sinned.

For hundreds of years, the Israelites followed these instructions, offering their sacrifices over and over…and over…and over. They had to, because as soon as the sacrifice was completed, they sinned again (probably on the way home from the temple!). That could get a wee bit old…

Today, I still sin. It still needs to be atoned for, to keep that sin from being a barrier separating me from God. I don’t have a bull or a lamb, and my church doesn’t have an altar for burnt offerings. But, God has provided a once-for-all sacrifice that is sufficient to cover every sin I will ever commit. He became the sacrifice!

Jesus is God Himself, the second Person of the Trinity, become a man for the sole purpose of giving His life in my place. He lived a completely innocent life…no sin, no offense against God, nothing for which He needed to atone. God transferred my sin-debt onto Him, though, so that when He was killed, it was in my place and paid my debt.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

Isaiah 53:5-6 1

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

John 3:16-17

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

Mark 14:23-24

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

Hebrews 9:24-26

What does this do to my “score”? Thanks to Jesus, I don’t owe for my sin. He has that completely covered. But now I owe Him everything! The scales are totally unbalanced: Jesus – a gazillion, me – zero. There’s no hope of evening them…but also no need. He just offers this tremendous gift, and asks me to accept it.

I’ll end with this song of praise to Jesus for His incredible gift of atonement for my debt: “Jesus Paid It All“.

Footnotes and Scripture References

  1. These words were written several hundred years before Jesus was born. But the entire chapter is an eerily accurate depiction of His life, death, burial, and resurrection.

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