Substitutionary Atonement

Recently I was listening to some atheists discussing their concerns regarding the idea of the substitutionary atonement of Christ. Basically, that’s just a big, fancy term for the fact that Jesus died for our sins. Nothing more complicated than that.

Here is the misunderstanding that I heard based on how the conversation went. They don’t get how someone else can be punished in our place. If we are the ones who have sinned, then someone else should not be punished. The analogy that they used was a big brother getting punished for the fact that the little brother did something wrong.

First, let me address the analogy, since it’s not even close to accurately representing the situation. It would have been better to draw an analogy of the father assuming the punishment and not the big brother. In other words, it would be a closer approximation to say that instead of the father punishing the son for doing something wrong, the father takes on the punishment himself, not the innocent sibling.

Second, there is a major misunderstanding of exactly what sin is being atoned for. This isn’t that big of a surprise. I know that I personally struggled with this for some time, though in a different sense. I always wondered how what Jesus went through was supposed to make up for every sin that everyone (including me) ever committed or would commit. Now, I don’t believe this is an accurate way to understand this.

When Jesus took the punishment for sin, it might be more appropriate to refer to it as Sin with a capital ‘S.’ In other words, it does not seem to be a one-for-one match so that Jesus paid the price for each of our sins individually. It would seem more accurate that Jesus paid the price for the Sin of Adam which resulted in death (separation) for all. This separation was a separation from the presence of God, which was restored at the cross.

Jesus’ work reconciled us to God, a separation that occurred back in Genesis 3. Some refer to this as Original Sin. Whatever you want to call it, when you view it from that perspective, suddenly this substitutionary atonement is not such a weird thing (apart from the fact that we didn’t deserve it to begin with).¬†Our Sin separated us from God…not a specific individual sin (such as telling a lie) but rather our propensity for sin or our “sin nature.”

Now, at this point, one might ask…”Well, then. If Jesus died to pay the penalty for our ‘sin nature,’ then why is it that 2,000 years later we are still sinning? Something’s not adding up, here.”

If you asked that question, it’s a good question. If you didn’t ask that question…well, it’s still a good question and I’ll still give my answer to that question. Next week. In the meantime…

Grace, love and peace.

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