Understanding the Atonement 

Understanding the Atonement 

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Response to Questioning of the Atonement – Ray E Horton

[A Facebook friend who is an unbeliever wrote: “I have so many doubts myself about the coherence and plausibility of the Christian doctrine of the Atonement … Christ died for our sins: what could that possibly mean that doesn’t involve ancient Middle Eastern mythology about appeasing the god(s) through human sacrifice?

“It’s the sacrifice part that puzzles me … Jesus/God could ‘save’ his followers any way he wished, surely, without self-torture. Moreover, how exactly is the Crucifixion supposed to save anyone?

“Let me add, for all readers,” he adds, “that I have no intention of being blasphemous or even irreverent; it’s a case of non-faith seeking understanding.”

Now, I’m not a theologian by any means, but I believe in the revealed truths of the Bible and decided to offer the following explanation:]

Response to Questioning of the Atonement

I commend your inquisitive nature. Mythology often represents a poor imitation of truth. The Atonement actually has nothing to do with appeasing the god(s) – God – through human sacrifice, as I’ll explain below.

But first, let me try to explain the need for the atonement from a Biblical perspective in a way that is clear. 

That pure love compelled Him to make us in His image and likeness, with free will. That free will gave us the CHOICE not to put our trust in Him

God is perfect in every way and is completely holy. He created man out of His great love. That pure love compelled Him to make us in His image and likeness, with free will. That free will gave us the CHOICE not to put our trust in Him. Not by God’s desire, but by the reality of what/who Holiness is, man was thus separated from Him.

Only a perfect/holy One of our own nature could redeem mankind. No way man could do it. We all know we can’t become perfect by our own efforts. God had to do it Himself, as a man (Jesus) to remove our sin and thus, for all who would receive, make us perfect in the Spirit realm. All who receive Him are then empowered for this life to change more and more back into His perfection.

But, while the Born-Again human spirit is saved, the sanctification of our souls (mind, will and emotions) isn’t automatic. It happens gradually as we are transformed by renewing our minds through His living Word and indwelling Spirit. We still have the habit of the old way. But we do gradually overcome as we more and more learn to trust in His Spirit within us guiding our reborn human spirits.

God’s life in believers is not natural to experience or believe, since we can’t see or experience the indwelling by our natural senses. <B>Thus the need for faith, not putting aside our intellect, but developing our intellect in the light of grace. 

Concerning Sacrifice 

Now, concerning sacrifice, God could not, as you say, “save his followers any way he wished.” Jesus’ sacrificial death was NOT the same as “human sacrifice” which is outlawed in the Bible. (Remember that old testament sacrifices were only animals – God stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac). Jesus’ was a SUBSTITUTIONARY death. And, concerning the method of His death, crucifixion, that was simply a common means of execution in that time and culture.

A brother by the name of Glenn M. Miller articulates our understanding of the atonement well, so I’m drawing on him for a lot of the following: 

Throughout history to kill an adult guilty of a capital offense was justice. Jesus became ‘guilty’ for us. It is morally right for a person to take a substitutionary role, such as paying someone’s personal debt; being killed by a car, after pushing a child out of the street to safety, or by a Secret Service man being hit with a sniper’s bullet, while attempting to shield the President from gunfire. We typically praise these kinds of actions of self-sacrifice for another. Jesus’ substitutionary death was of a similar kind, although He was the God/Man taking on the sins of the world.

Consider Jesus’ words on the matter in John 15.13: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Also, the ever-humbling 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.”

Needless to say, the Jesus who affirmed the Law saw no contradiction in voluntarily dying for His friends – as obvious from other passages that portray His death as voluntary – not ‘exacted from’ Him:

John 10:11,15,17-18: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep…17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.

This self-giving is linked to the Old Testament sacrificial ritual explicitly in Hebrews 7.27: “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” Also, Hebrews 9:14 – “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Jesus was ‘unblemished’ BEFORE the Cross–it was the only reason He could become a substitute (all sacrifices had to be without defect in the system). 

It had to be Jesus 

Not just any man, but the God/Man, Jesus was necessary. Only God has the sovereign ability to accept substitutes and/or transfer legal liability. (So, in Isaiah 53 we see the actions of Father God in ‘laying’ the sins of Israel upon the Messianic Servant:

In fact, His substitutionary work was prophesied centuries earlier: Isaiah 53: 6,8,12 – “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all … For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people, he was stricken … For he bore the sin of many.”

Thus, we see the atonement of Christ NOT some morbid human sacrifice to appease an angry God, but rather, a loving substitution to take the sin that separates people from God and the means to restore humanity to eternal life with God, for all who will receive. 


Ray E Horton

Serving the Lord as encourager, reconciler, intercessor and prophetic teacher of God's Word, primarily in person and on Facebook, as well as writer and editor. Beyond, or as part of, the Ministry of Reconciliation that we are all called to, I am serving the Lord and His people as a minister of prayer at a local church, and encouraging the brethren locally among people I know, and worldwide on Facebook

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