This is an email I sent to someone who wrote to me (from the Netherlands!). I have edited it to make it clearer, so you are getting a better version than he did.
I would love to discuss the atonement!
There are two things I hold foundational in overthrowing false tradition about the atonement. You wrote one of them: “I realized that payment atonement is the opposite of forgiveness.”
You also touched on the other foundational idea. We can be punished for sin at the judgment (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 8:12-13; Gal. 5:19-21; etc.). Obviously, then, the penalty for sin is not paid by Jesus’ death.
So what did Jesus “pay”? He paid a purchase price. He bought us out of slavery to sin. The Scriptures are clear on this. The price he paid was to buy us (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:20). The words “redeem” and “ransom” are also “purchase.” To redeem is re-purchase a previous possession. To ransom is to purchase something you value from a captor. The captor was sin. Jesus purchased us out of slavery to sin.
Most of the time when the Scriptures say Jesus died for the “remission” or “forgiveness” of sins, the word is “aphesis,” which means release. It has a rich history in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that the early churches used and from which the New Testament primarily quotes). The word “aphesis” is the Greek word chosen to translate “Jubilee” (Lev. 25); the word for the “scapegoat” on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 26); and the word for the “release” of debts that happened every sever years under the Law of Moses (Deut. 15).
Thus, Jesus’ death produced Jubilee, the return of our rightful land to us and a release from slavery. Our sins were carried away by him (the scapegoat). All our debts are taken away.
At least three times, the New Testament says that Jesus died so that he would be complete Lord, ruler, and owner of us (Rom. 14:9; 2 Cor. 5:15; Tit. 2:13-14). The grace we receive by faith not only recreates us for good works (Eph. 2:10), it frees from the power of sin (Rom. 6:14), and teaches us to live holy (Tit. 2:11-12). This sort of thing is supposed to be taught with all authority, not allowing anyone to oppose us (Tit. 2:15).
Blood is required for that kind of “remission” (aphesis; Heb. 9:22). Plain forgiveness, charizomai in Greek, is provided by the mercy of God without blood. This is what is talked about in Psalm 51:16-17, where David says God does not want sacrifice but a contrite spirit and broken heart. It is also what Ezekiel 18 is talking about, where God says that he is a just judge that will forgive the wicked person who turns to righteousness. We did not need the availability of forgiveness. It has always been there. We need the ability to follow through on our repentance and live righteously. All who “patiently continue to do good” will be granted eternal life at the judgment (Rom. 2:6-7). The problem is that humans do not patiently continue to do good. We need God’s Spirit, so that we do not “grow weary in doing good” (Gal. 6:8-9). If we sow to the Spirit, and thus do not grow weary in doing good, we will reap eternal life.
All this plain truth in the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude can be seen in John as well if we know just a couple things about Greek.
Ok, that’s my quick version of atonement teaching. I would love to hear your feedback.