The Atonement: What You Must Know

I just wrote a long post on works. It’s long because I took the time to try to answer some concerns that honest, God-fearing modern Christians have about the things I say about works (which I got from the Scriptures and the apostles’ churches).

Another post that aroused concerns was my post on the atonement. In fact, I suspect that what was even harder to swallow was the section on the atonement in The Foundation of God, an ebook I’m almost done writing, but which needs a lot of editing and formatting.

In talking with friends of mine, I was able to put my finger on some reasons some of them couldn’t understand what I was saying.

1. You can’t cover the doctrine of the atonement in one blog post.

Was I missing something in what I said about the atonement? Of course!

You can’t cover the atonement in one blog post. In fact, if you study the history of atonement theology, you’ll find it’s about the most complicated subject in all of church history. You begin to wonder if anyone fully understood it.

In fact, I’m not wondering anymore. I’m convinced no one understands it fully. The work of Christ on the cross was so great that it can be spoken of many different ways, all of them accurately, and no one person is going to understand all those different ways.

The cross of Christ was a great work of God, and it’s no surprise that it remains a mystery to man.

However …

There are inaccurate ways to describe the atonement, and one of  them is in the Tangle video I embedded in the post I mentioned above. There they tell us that if we commit even one sin, then God won’t let us into heaven. They then tell us not to worry, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, so we don’t have to.

That theology makes God a monster who will eternally torture people for one small sin. It’s ludicrous, and it’s slander of God. There’s nothing in the Scripture that describes God in that sort of way. God in the Scripture is a merciful God who does not need sacrifice to forgive sin. He needs a broken and contrite heart (Ps. 51:16-17; Jer. 7:22-23).

When I described the atonement in that post, I was refuting a specific, false gospel presentation as found in that Tangle video. Thus I emphasized one aspect of Christ’s atonement, though I believe it is the most major aspect: Jesus died for us, to obtain the power of the Spirit for us so that we can repent, submit to God, and live life in the Spirit.

2. I have a goal, and it is not to teach you the atonement.

Paul said that the goal of God’s commands is love from a sincere heart, a good conscience, and a faith that is not fake (1 Tim. 1:5).

That is my goal.

The grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteous, and godly (Tit. 2:11-12). I teach the same thing, encouraging you to good works by letting you know two things:

  1. You can only do the works God has called you to by the Spirit of God
  2. Those works are required; you cannot live in the flesh and go to heaven

If you agree with that, then I don’t want to delve into long explanations of  the atonement that both you and I have a limited understanding of. I only explain the atonement enough to overthrow the false teaching that you can live however you want and experience no penalty for your sins because Jesus died for you.

That’s not so:

This you know: no immoral, unclean, or covetous person has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Eph. 5:5-6)

God’s wrath comes upon the sons of disobedience because of immorality, uncleanness, covetousness and other like sins. They are not paid for, and if you don’t live in repentance, yours aren’t paid for either.

3. Terminology sometimes matters

In my post, I refuted the idea that Jesus paid the penalty for sins. Then I turned around and said that Jesus died for our sins. A friend told me that it sounded like I was contradicting myself.

I was not. Jesus did not pay the penalty of sin. He died because of our sins. He was a sin offering for us. In some mystical way that is beyond our human minds, he bound us to God and overthrew the power of sin by his offering.

He did not simply pay a penalty.

Let me explain with a commonly used illustration.

Christians like to evangelize by telling a story about two twin brothers. One commits a murder, rushes home in the blood-stained clothes, tears them off and hides them, and then waits in the living room. Soon a policeman knocks on the door, but the innocent twin puts on his brother’s blood-stained clothes and takes the rap for him.

By the time the evil twin realizes what has happened, his brother has been put to death. Stricken with remorse he weeps before the court, confessing his crime. The court, however, refuses to try him because someone has already paid the penalty.

Nice story, but it has nothing to do with why Christ died. Your penalty is not paid. Instead, the court of heaven will simply forgive you if you repent. It has always been that way (Ezek. 18:21-22).

Terminology can be important. In the atonement, Jesus did not pay the penalty even though he did die for our sins and even bring forgiveness.

4. What must you know about the atonement?

Nothing at all.

You reap the benefits of the atonement by confessing and forsaking your sin out of faith in Christ, not by studying and understanding Christ’s death.

If we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 Jn. 1:9)

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from every sin. (1 Jn. 1:7)

Notice that if you confess your sin and walk in the light, you will experience the benefits of the atonement. You will be forgiven.

There are no promises that if you understand and believe in the atonement, then your sins will be forgiven.

None; nada.

Read through Acts sometime. The apostles never told any lost person why Jesus died. They told them that Jesus died, but they never told any lost person why. It didn’t matter. They wanted people to believe in Jesus Christ and be saved, not understand his sacrifice on their behalf.

Do you want to understand the atonement, or would you rather experience it? If you want to experience it, then obey Christ. He has promised eternal salvation to those who obey him (Heb. 5:9). (Did you know that one was in the Bible?)


Since I’m aware of this, I don’t want to complete your understanding of the atonement. I can’t!

I can, however, overthrow that false and dangerous gospel that says Jesus paid the penalty for your sins, so it doesn’t matter you you live. Hogwash. Sow to the Spirit, and you’ll reap eternal life. Sow to the flesh, and you won’t.

Simple as that.

I just want you to wholeheartedly follow, worship, love, adore, and know the Most High God. If that’s not what you want, or if it’s more important that you keep your own life, then know that God has said you will lose your soul after you die.

Simple as that.

Much grace be with you!

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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2 Responses to The Atonement: What You Must Know

  1. John Bob says:

    This was great. Thank you. It’s a pretty neat summary of the conversation that day.

    What I got excited and sort of liberated by, was that realization that the early church didn’t concern themselves with this. That the only reason we were sitting there having the discussion about ‘the atonement’ was because someone somewhere along the line decided it would be fun to dissect and make formula out of the mystery of the cross. Peter, Paul, John and James didn’t deem it necessary to teach on this, why should I?

    There’s a lot of relief and rest in realizing that much of what modern Christians argue about, is just nonsense to begin with. Thank you for simplifying this so very well.

  2. allison says:

    Thanks for writing this. 🙂

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