The sacrifice of Jesus allows us to declare righteousness before God.
Atonement is central to Christianity and refers to how sinful humanity can be reconciled with a holy God. In the Bible, atonement describes how God and humanity can return to perfect union and harmony after sin severed that relationship. It refers to the forgiveness and reconciliation made possible through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.
Through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, Christians can receive forgiveness and restoration in their relationship with God. The following post explores why atonement is necessary and examines three significant examples found in the Bible.
What is Atonement?
Theologian J.I. Packer describes atonement as “Christ’s work in His life and death to earn our salvation.” By dying on the cross in our place for our sins, Jesus paid the penalty so that we could be pardoned. His sacrifice allows a holy God to show justice and mercy (Romans 3:25-26). Through faith and repentance, sinful man can be declared righteous before God, restoring our broken relationship with Him.
While Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, it is only effective for those who repent and believe (Mark 1:15). Repentance and faith are not one-time actions but ongoing behaviors. As believers, we must turn from sin daily and surrender to Christ, relying on His grace and righteousness to cover us.
Atonement brings us into the right relationship with God. Repentance and faith keep us in that place of sanctification and justification as the Holy Spirit conforms us more to Christ’s image. Atonement is not automatically applied but must elicit our trust, submission, and dependence on Jesus as both Savior and Lord.
Why is Atonement Necessary?
Atonement is vital for believers for several reasons. First, Scripture teaches that all sin and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Our corruption results in separation from a holy God. Therefore, without atonement and the forgiveness of sins, we remain spiritually dead and alienated from God.
Additionally, the perfect justice of God demands that sin and rebellion against Him be punished. God’s wrath is justly aimed at unrepentant sinners. But in His great mercy, God sent Christ to take the punishment we deserved on Himself through the cross (1 John 4:10). He became the atoning sacrifice for our sins, satisfying God’s wrath and restoring us to a right relationship with Him.
Atonement is also necessary because our good works or religious rituals alone cannot erase our guilt before God or gain salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 clarifies that salvation is by grace alone through faith, not by works. Jesus’ substitutionary atonement on the cross fully paid the penalty for sin once and for all. There is nothing we can add to His finished work.
Three Significant Examples of Atonement in the Bible
Numerous examples and precursors of atonement are woven throughout the Old and New Testaments. Here are three significant biblical examples that give greater insight into this core doctrine:
1. The Sacrificial System
The extensive system of animal sacrifices and offerings found in the Old Testament foreshadowed the ultimate atoning sacrifice of Christ. Leviticus describes in detail the burnt, grain, sin, guilt, and fellowship offerings made by the priest to atone for the people’s sins and maintain a right relationship with God. The animal’s shed blood symbolically made amends for sins committed. Yet Hebrews 10:4 notes that the blood of bulls and goats could never fully take away sins. Only the sufficient sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God could do that once and for all people (Hebrews 10:10).
2. The Passover
God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt provides another vivid picture of atonement. Exodus 12 recounts the first Passover, where a lamb’s blood saved the firstborn sons from the angel of death and delivered the whole nation from bondage. The Passover lamb had to be an unblemished male (Exodus 12:5), just as Jesus was the perfect, sinless sacrifice. God promised that when He saw the lamb’s blood on the doors, He would “pass over” that house and spare those covered by the blood from judgment and death.
3. The Cross of Christ
The Gospels depict Jesus Christ’s crucifixion at Calvary as the once-for-all atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus willingly took on flesh and became obedient unto death (Philippians 2:8). He bore the wrath, condemnation, and punishment we deserved, taking the penalty for our sins upon Himself. His shed blood made appeasement for our sins, turning aside God’s wrath (Romans 3:25). Without the cross, there is no forgiveness or reconciliation with God. But because of the perfect sacrifice of the Son of God, those who place their faith in His finished work can experience atonement with God.
Atonement is a central biblical theme running from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus made atonement for our sins once and for all. His sacrifice allows us to be declared righteous before God, bringing reconciliation between God and man. Through the Gospel, we can be forgiven and restored to a relationship with our Creator.