Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Through not reading the Bible, people – especially “religious” people can get all sorts of strange ideas in their heads. A really common belief among people revolves around the concept of atoning for one’s sins. Whole movies and TV shows have been written with this concept in mind and there are several religions that do require it. However, the Holy Spirit wants to remind you today that personal atonement is not in your hands.
Let’s first talk about sin. Without sin there is no need to atone. Say you’ve done some bad things in life and now you think karma will shine on you if you change your ways. Or perhaps if the good outweighs the bad you can sneak into heaven. This seems to make sense on paper, but there is a problem with these theories: Sin weights more heavily on your soul than you may think. Paul famously wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). According to that, sin carries a death sentence; this is backed up in the Old Testament as the Lord states, “For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son – both alike belong to me. The soul that sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Now, since every sin comes with a death sentence you can atone for a sin, through your death – not just a physical death, mind you; but also a spiritual death in hell…forever. Jesus once taught, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out” (Mark 10:43). Hell is real and sin gets you there; and that’s the sentence that comes with only one of your likely many sins, known or unknown.
Ok, so if sin carries such a high price tag, then what can be done about this? Well, you can’t do anything. Paul confronted this problem as he wrote, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Luckily, the work of atonement has already been done and your soul has already been paid for. Writing to the church, Paul taught, “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23). When Jesus died on a cross he did so as a sinless person. This is noted in several places, but let’s grab Hebrews 4:14-15 as proof,
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.
Being sinless, Jesus Christ had nothing to atone for, and therefore he could give his life as a ransom for someone else (as his sinless life would cancel out their sin death sentence). Jesus knew this was part of his mission on earth and even taught (to his then non-understanding disciples), “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” (Mark 10:45). Paul explained it by writing,
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).
So, although you’re full of sin; so much so that there’s no possible way for you to go to heaven, Jesus died and freed you from that burden on your soul.
“Ok, so Jesus, a man without sin, died so that someone may live – how does that help me?” Though normally, such a situation would result in a 1-for-1 life exchanging action, Christ was not a normal person; he was God. In the flowery opening to his gospel, John established Jesus (who he refers to as “the Word”) as also being God (while also being with God). He wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2). Since God is infinite in size and power, Jesus’ sacrifice was unilateral; paying for the sins of people past, present, and future. That means that even 2000 years later your sins can still be atoned for through the death of Jesus Christ. In order to access that atonement, Paul explained,
…That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
Therefore we see that if we believe in Christ and freely confess him as our savior, his atoning death will also free us from our own death sentences.
After crossing from death to life, everything changes (though you may not notice right away). 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” And it is written to believers, “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). So we can presume that after coming to Christ, a life-change is expected; and so it shall be. By accepting Jesus’ sacrifice in your stead, he’ll go to work through the Holy Spirit and help you to get your life on the right track as you undergo the process of sanctification; which is preparing you to become a citizen of heaven (that is to say, the goal is for you to be more “heavenly”). You get to help in this part as you choose (though God will make changes to your life whether you actively go along with it or not). The Bible recommends,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1).
As Christians, we are called to do our best in this world and try not to sin too much. Will you be perfect? Of course not, you’re still in a body and world marred by sin, but Jesus will be right there with you to forgive you when you mess up; for it is written, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Don’t try to pay for your sins yourself, it is an impossible and pointless act (and somewhat rebellious to God since you ignore his son in the process). Rather, allow Christ to be the Lord of your life and accept his atoning sacrifice as your own new start. He already did all the work; all you have to do is trust in it. Let’s pray.
Forgive me for trying to justify myself.
I know that you alone can atone for sin,
And that you’ve already done so for me.
Help me to allow your work through the Holy Spirit in my life.
Clean me up, Lord,
And make me whole in your eyes.
I trust in you, Lord Jesus, and not myself.
Help me in my journey,
In your name I pray,