Once Upon Atone

Once Upon Atone February 23, 2010

The Christian doctrine of atonement amounts to this dynamic: People sin. They can’t help it. They always have; they always will. It’s simply in people’s nature to sin. (For more, see my “Born Into Sin” Just Means Born, Period.)

Having it be the nature of every human being to not only sin, but to in fact be defined by their sinful nature, ends up creating for each and every one of us, and definitely for the human race as a whole, a great, big, vast amount of Bad Karma.

Like … unimaginable amounts of it. Universes of it.

And bad karma is … well, very bad.

And just like we would with any awful, caustic, terribly bad thing, we would all really, really like every last bit of bad karma in the world to utterly, completely, and forever disappear.

We mere mortals, however, have no more chance of being able to make that happen than we do of being able to will ourselves a second moon in the sky.

On our own, we are very firmly and irrevocably stuck with the cumulative karma of ours and everybody else’s sin.

And what is the effect of all this bad karma that we have each inherited and continue to create for ourselves and others?

The Bible has that answer in six words: “The consequence of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). And not a one of us needs the Bible to tell us that, either. We all know about the “wages” of cumulative sin (and all sin is cumulative). We understand that ultimately sin leads to the undermining and destruction of everything we naturally hold dear. We know that sin begets pain, shame, the perpetration of evil, and the guilt that eats away at us like acid we swallowed. We know it leads to the degradation of our race, the despair of our children, shame about the past, confusion about the present, and hopelessness about the future.

We know that sin drives a wedge between us and everything holy and divine. We know that it separates us from God.

The cost of sin is just plain bad.

It needs to go!

And that, brothers and sisters, is where Jesus comes in.

Specifically, it’s where Jesus willfully allows himself to be slaughtered—to be, as you’ve no doubt heard it put before, sacrificed—as a very specific, blessedly deliberate act of atonement for our sins.

Christ died for our sins. With his body, Christ paid the final price for everything bad we or anyone else would ever do. That’s where that phrase comes from about we believers being “washed clean by the blood of Christ.” Yes, that phrase is startling visceral. But it captures the reality upon which Christianity is founded. Understanding and believing that Christ died for our sins is what Christianity is.

Christ traded himself—God, in human form, sacrificed himself—in exchange for the final and irretrievable absolution of the effects of all the human sin that ever has been, or ever will be, committed. And in so doing he created a way for any and all who believe in what he did on the cross to avail themselves of what he did on the cross.

Christ’s atonement allows Christians to have their sins utterly and completely forgiven.

You know that guilt you feel when, by your very nature, you add to the Bad Karma Pile that you just know is forever accumulating everywhere around and in you?

Confess your sins to God, and voila: you feel that bad karma lifting off you like a heavy cloak coming off your back.

Christ’s atonement on the cross immeasurably helps you in this life by providing you the means of relieving yourself of your infernal guilt. And it mega-immeasurably helps you in the next life, by assuring you that not only will you not perish after you die, but that you will, instead, spend eternity basking in the glorious light of His direct, divine presence.

Because Christ, through his infinite love and compassion, used his body as ransom to secure for all eternity the absolute atonement of your sins, you, as a believer in Christ, get to die without the rancid stink of sin anywhere near you.

You will, in other words, die perfect.

And it’s dying as clean as the Lord himself that upon your death will render you suitable to not only come into his blessed presence, but to spend the rest of eternity there.

It is Jesus’ 100%, iron-clad promise to you that if you believe in what he did for you on the cross, that is what’s going to happen to you.

Here’s some scriptural support for the above:

Mark 10:45  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

1 John 4:10  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Romans 8:32  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

1 Corinthians 15:3  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.

1 John: 2  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world

Romans 3:25  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—

Matthew 26:28  “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

John 3:16  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

"First, thank you for answering a question I had 'Is God really that good?' I ..."

Does God REALLY Answer My Questions?
"Excellent answer. I am reminded, by way of contrast, with the reaction of Mr. Collins ..."

“My dad wants to invite his ..."
"Really found myself wishing this article ended with some sort of reference to Jesus "eating ..."

“My dad wants to invite his ..."
"Franicis seems to always talk about himself, all the time. I've grown quite tired of ..."

What Francis Chan (And His Ilk) ..."

Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Dan Conger

    Wow John that was and is Beautiful

  • Thanks, Dan.

  • Good stuff.

  • onemansbeliefs

    A nice description of why we need the Love of God and just what His Love did…

  • Excellently stated, John. One of your longer posts but I could not stop reading. Thank you.

  • Thanks, Ric. It was longer than usual, for sure. But … talk about a lot of ground to cover, 'eh?

  • Thanks, One Man's.

  • Thanks, Skerrib.

  • Well, not too brag but I managed to cover it in 80 one syllable words in I So Loved the Wolf.

    Ok, well it doesn't actually explain atone.

  • Tim

    Very beautiful.

    I know you've had a few rough patches in your life, John. Any insights on how to grab onto John 10:10 until we all meet on that beautiful shore?

  • Thank you, Tim.

    John 10:10 is, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." That passage seems pretty … non-mysterious, yes? Or maybe I'm missing something?

  • onemansbeliefs

    Tim: If I may… I grabbed John 10:10 when I became a Christian and it has helped me in all aspects of life. First and foremost, I refuse to believe or accept that anything which includes killing, stealing or destroying is from my Heavenly Father. This helps me separate what is of God and what is of the devil. By doing this, I have a greater ability to have faith for the last part of the verse, which is of God. I like the Amplified version of John 10:10, "The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).

    Seriously, how can one expect to enjoy the life provided by God if they believe that He just may do some killing, stealing or destroying in that same life?

  • (You know what I love about John 10:10? That it wraps up a parable Jesus has to tell as a substitute for the parable he just got done telling, but that no one could understand. John 10:6 goes, "Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. Therefore Jesus said again …" Too hilarious! I mean … to me.)

  • Tim

    @John & onemansbeliefs—I'm such a noob…I didn't preface my post well at all.

    John's post was clear how the atonement makes us perfect in death. I love that. But I have a hard time getting to that abundant living (last half of Jn10:10) in the here and now. Sometimes it seems that the morning of rejoicing, David sings about, is too damned long in coming (if it comes at all) and I begin to doubt if the Almighty hears me. Maybe working in a church environment gives me a tin ear.

  • Tim: What a great, honest comment. I'm gonna do a separate blog post on it.

  • Lynn

    Simply awesome explanation John!

  • Heather

    I think of Jesus’s death differently. I think he was murdered by the religious establishment in order to terrorize people and leave them without hope. But the good news is, Jesus still wins. The ultimate insult that the religious powers could dish out — Jesus’s horrific death on a cross — did not have the intended effect. His disciples saw that Jesus lives still, that he is one with God. Christians have often assumed that God was so offended by our sinful natures that God couldn’t let us into God’s presence without some intervening act — some appropriate sacrifice. Therefore God sends Jesus, the Only Begotten Son who is precious and perfect, to die in our place. These ideas certainly have a basis in the Bible, mostly in John’s gospel and in Paul’s letters. But I think that we need better alternatives today. As a better author than I has said, the Jesus-died-for-our-sins school of thought tends to “divide the Trinity, depicitng the Father as a vindictive judge, and the Son as the loving savior who is willing that huanity be saved, meekly enduring an undeserved death. Perhaps the Son is for us, but eh Father appears to be against both us and the Son.” In our intense guilt and our distorted view of God’s nature, we tend to forget that God is love. He is not some inadequate and abusive parent who would require a blood sacrifice to forgive us.