Atonement is a word heard regularly in the Christian faith and yet few believers have a clear understanding of its meaning. And while the subject of atonement can be deeply studied, the purpose of this article is to explain atonement in a simple and concise manner for the everyday believer.
Simply put, atonement means making amends or righting a wrong. In the Christian faith, atonement (or making amends) is accomplished through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross — a sacrifice to reconcile sinners back to God. In other words, Jesus Christ is the atonement for all mankind.
This begs the question of why atonement is necessary in the first place. What wrong needs to be made right and why can it only be accomplished through a sacrifice? To answer these kinds of questions, we need to start from the beginning, back to what took place in the Garden of Eden.
Genesis 1-2 tells us all about creation and how God provided everything Adam and Eve would ever need. But something happens in Genesis 3 that causes Adam and Eve to question the goodness of God and the provisions he provides — and it came in the form of the serpent.
The serpent convinces Eve, who later convinces Adam, that there is something good that God has not given them. Listen to how the serpent challenges the authority of God when speaking with Eve about eating the forbidden fruit: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 NIV).
But what happens next is the crux of the story. Once they had eaten the forbidden fruit, “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked… (verse 7). Adam and Eve had a new awareness of shame, guilt, and remorse.
Because we are made in the image of God, most people recognize when something is not right and try to fix whatever is broken. Adam and Eve tried to do this by sewing fig leaves together to try to hide their shame, and then for good measure, they hid behind some trees when God approached (verse 8). And when that didn’t work, they started the blame game.
When questioned by God, Adam blamed Eve and God for his disobedience. Eve does the same thing — she blames the serpent rather than herself. In fact, the shifting of blame still continues today with some people going all the way back to the Garden and placing blame on Adam and Eve for their sin instead of taking full responsibility for their actions.
But no matter the method, there was absolutely nothing Adam and Eve could have said or done to fix their sin problem on their own. And there’s nothing we can say or do to fix our sin problem on our own.
But God can and does fix the problem of sin and he does it through atonement. Genesis 3 is a picture of atonement based on the shedding of blood of innocent animals — a substitute price paid for our guilt and shame to restore our broken relationship with God.
But why blood? Leviticus 17:11 answers that question: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given you the blood to sprinkle upon the altar as an atonement for your souls; it is the blood that makes atonement, because it is the life” (TLB). Romans 6:23 teaches that the wages of sin is death and Leviticus teaches that life is found in the blood. Therefore, in order for sin to be paid (death), blood must be shed (life).
So now we come to Jesus Christ, the perfect and blameless atonement for our sin. It’s through the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross where we can come into complete reconciliation with God once again (Hebrews 9:11-14). Scripture teaches that everyone stands guilty before God regardless of who we blame or how good we think we are (Romans 3:23). And it’s only through the death and resurrection of Christ where our sin is covered (Romans 6:4-11) and no longer counted against us (Hebrews 8:12). Jesus is the only way to fix and restore our broken relationship with God.
In conclusion, God shows us that the first sacrifice made in the Garden of Eden was just a shadow of what was to come. His ultimate plan was to provide all humanity a way back to him and that way is through his son, Jesus Christ, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Through Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, atonement for sin and reconciliation with God is found once and for all (Hebrews 10:1-14) and is available, as a free gift, to anyone who asks.
And that is the beauty of atonement.
Donna Hughey is an award-winning Christian author and columnist. She lives in Crescent City.