Our Need for Atonement

What concept of sin, separation, and salvation do the patriarchs under the old covenant have? Psalm 32:1 begins with blessings for those whose sins are forgiven by God, and David acknowledges the sorrow associated with separation from God. Also, Psalm 38:1 opens with a plea for mercy from judgment, the consequences of the sins he confesses in verse 15. Psalm 51:1 begins again with a plea for mercy, asking the psalmists’ transgressions be blotted and cleansed. He asks for purification by God in verse 7. These psalms demonstrate an understanding of sin, separation, and forgiveness that we sometimes don’t attribute to those who lived under the Old Testament.

Today is the Day of Atonement on the Jewish calendar – Yom Kippur. In the Old Testament, the Day of Atonement is a monumental occasion, the day when the high priest enters the holiest place, when the scapegoat is released, a day of fasting. Would they forget what necessitated atonement? Do we likewise emphasize the death of Christ while forgetting what put Him on that cross?

If it is only the death of Christ on which we should focus, the New Testament writers might have demonstrated less reserve in describing that death. They are not concerned with portraying agony for agony’s sake. They do not concern themselves with theatrical or dramatic portrayals of the cross. The significance is not only in what happened but also why. The reason for Christ’s death is sin – yours and mine. How we view our sins affects how we view the cross just as those in the Old Testament had to appreciate their need for atonement to appreciate the meaning behind the Day of Atonement.

The Seriousness of Sin

We often define sin as, “missing the mark,” and that does not sound so severe. Missing a mark can be close, and we have little problem with being close. However, God sees sin as a condemnable act, and we should take it so seriously. Multiple times in Ezekiel 18, the prophet proclaims that the soul who sins stands condemned to death. Luke 13:1 accounts a discussions where the Pharisees are talking about the consequences of others’ sins, but Jesus rebukes them for not taking their own sins seriously. In John 8:24, Jesus warns that sin brings death without His intervention.

Sin is a terminal disease, but we have a tendency to trivialize it and tolerate it. We feel guilt, but we learn to shrug that guilt away. SIn corrupts character, creates barriers between men, causes crime and abuse. When we define sin as simply missing a mark, we miss a true appreciation of the seriousness of sin. It is rebellion against God, and, if we participate in it, Isaiah 59:1-2 warns it creates a separation between ourselves and our God.

The Greatness of Salvation

If we view sin as the serious offense it is, then we can truly appreciate the greatness of God’s salvation. Salvation is more than a good disposition or a general mindset. Romans 3:23 warns that all have sinned, and Peter writes that God wants all to repent from the sin that separates man. We have problems reconciling God’s love the idea of punishment, but in Matthew 25:30, in the context of a parable, Jesus speaks of an outer darkness. Verses 41 and 46 talk of eternal fire and punishment. Mark 9:43 records Jesus preaching of the desperate measures we should be willing to take in avoiding condemnation.

Salvation delivers us from terrible consequences, and it is not something to view casually. In Hebrews 5:9 calls Jesus high priest to all who obey Him. How then should we feel about our atonement? How should we feel about the cross?

  • Romans 6:23 makes it clear that sin causes death, and our Savior died on that cross to pay that debt.
  • II Peter 2:22 and II Corinthians 5:21 emphasize Jesus’ lack of sin. He died because of sin, but He did not die for His own.
  • II Corinthians 5:21 makes it clear Jesus was made sin on our behalf.

In Isaiah 53, the prophet writes of how the suffering servant bears my sin, my sorrows, my transgressions, my iniquities. He takes on my punishment. His stripes heal me. The consequence of sin is death, but Jesus did not die for His own sins. Instead His sacrifice took my place.


Jesus’ death is more than an act of martyrdom. It is a sanctification that allows us to drive sin and its consequences from our lives. Romans 6:1-2 warns us against assuming God’s grace. Rather we should die to that sin for which Jesus died. Jesus took our grief and transgressions. In response, we must purge sin from our lives, looking at sin the way God does. We can remember our Lord, repent, and turn toward a Lord who has brought us a great salvation from the consequences of sin.

lesson by Tim Smelser