Christians often use the word atonement to describe what Jesus did for us through his death. Paul wrote in Romans 3:25: “God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement.”
I doubt if there’s a more special word in the Christian lexicon than atonement. Take the word “atone” and divide it into two words – what do you get? At one. Atonement refers to the price that is paid to allow us to be at-one with God. At its heart, it’s a reconciliation word.
Now do the math. If we need Jesus’ sacrifice to make us “at one” with God, then what does that say about our relationship with God before we come to Christ? It says we are separated from him. In fact, the Bible is more severe. It tells us we are at war with God. We are enemies with God. We’ve declared war on him (James 4:4, Romans 5:10).
A lot of people think – wrongly – that we are automatically children of God by nature, by token of being born on the earth. But the Bible tells us we are “by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). You’re not a child of God by being born; you become a child of God by being born again, which takes place when you believe in and receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord (John 1:12).
This is why the Bible uses the word reconciliation to describe what happens when a person becomes a follower of Christ. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…All this is from God who has reconciled us to himself through Christ.” (2 Cor.5:17-18).
Scripture goes one step further. It insists we need to be adopted back into God’s family. Galatians 4:4-5 says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son… that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (The Greek word here literally refers to the process of adoption.)
The atonement provided by Jesus’ sacrifice enables reconciliation and adoption to take place. Without it, we would remain separated from God. “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you.” (Isaiah 59:2).
For me, one of the most convincing proofs of the truthfulness of Christianity is the idea of atonement. While some act offended by the idea that Jesus must die for me before I can be restored to a relationship with God, for me (and millions of others for 2,000 years) the idea is life-giving. Because this idea tells me the truth about…
I know – at least when I’m honest with myself – that there is something horribly broken within me, which keeps me from consistently doing what is right and good. I can’t even live up to my own standards, let alone God’s. As I look at the Cross, I can only conclude: how awful my sin must be if this is the remedy for it.
But the atonement contains an unexpected twist. Just when I’m left feeling wretched beyond comfort by what I owe God for all my wrongdoing, another thought arises. Jesus willingly paid that price. Therefore as I look at the Cross, I can only conclude: how valuable I must be to God if he would go to these lengths to save me.
The atonement then unlocks for me the highest motivation any religion can offer for my I should pursue goodness with my life. “Be good and God will (or may) accept you,” is the rule given by every other faith, religion or philosophy, except one.
Only Christianity says, “That’s a failed errand from the start. For you’ll never be good enough on your own. Instead, God accepts you on the front end because of Christ’s sacrifice. Now, forgiven and anchored by that acceptance, go and pursue goodness with your life. And give that same grace that you’ve received, away to others.”
In my heart of hearts, I know that I need atonement. And the only place I find it is in Christianity, there at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. He’s just released his latest book, “Living Under The Cross: A 40-Day Devotional Journey”. His blogs and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”, all available through Amazon.