Sin and Atonement (a supplement to Romans 8 study notes)

As much as I look forward to studying Chapter 9 of Romans, my heart dwells on Chapter 8, eager to share an essential divine truth revealed in this chapter, fearing we might miss what the Word of God is telling us.

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:2-4

We had previously learned how we receive forgiveness by God because of Jesus Christ. The word “forgiveness” is very often misunderstood because we often relate it to an analogy in human forgiveness. Human forgiveness is drawn from the subjective mind of the person who forgives, and is therefore a mere attitude. But to understand what kind of forgiveness we need from God, it is necessary to consider what Atonement is.

From the most basic sense, atonement is a remedy to a problem, like a cure to a disease. Specifically, atonement is God’s remedy or cure to a problem and disease called Sin.

Sin is a problem – a problem to the sinner himself; a problem to others; a problem to the universe; and most of all, a problem to the Holy God.  Sin is a blemish, a fault, and defectiveness, but it is much more than that. Sin is a destructive force, but it is even more than that. Sin is active rebellion against a righteous God and thus not only deserves punishment but must be punished, unless God himself is unrighteous.

For any problem, a remedy is necessary. If the nature of the problem so requires, the necessary remedy can be a horrible one. If you have any memory of the pandemic chicken influenza (chicken flu) broke out in Hong Kong some years ago, you will recall that the chickens or other birds stricken by influenza must be killed in mass and thoroughly destroyed by burning and burying. The healthiness of human lives and the environment not only justifies such a horrific remedy but in fact demands it.

If you see the contrast and conflict between the sanctity of healthy human life and pandemic chicken, I hope that picture gives you a clue, although still an imperfect one, to the contrast and conflict between a holy God and man’s sin.

Sin deserves death penalty and also must be punished.

“… but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:17.

But God sent “His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh…”

In His perfect Son, God found the perfect remedy to the problem of human sin. Jesus Christ took the likeness of sinful nature, on account of my sin and your sin, took the punishment on my behalf and on your behalf, so that Sin was condemned, while at the same time allowed you and I to escape from the death penalty we rightly deserved. That is, the death of Jesus Christ became the atonement for my sin and your sin.

Seeing and accepting the atonement in the death of Jesus Christ is the very beginning of one’s salvation. Merely feeling some need of help by a “god who is kind” does not lead to salvation.

Many people have self-willed and wishful thoughts about God, using all possible imagination to make up an all-loving “god” without acknowledging the atonement by the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Those people will one day discover, in deep regrets, that their man-made religion does not solve their biggest problem – Sin, because it is simply a wrong remedy, an unworthy one, unacceptable to God.  And sin, without an effective remedy, will certainly lead to eternal death.

The divine truth revealed in Chapter 8 of Romans goes beyond just atonement. It revealed a new heavenly and glorious spiritual life promised for anyone who has received atonement. Once again, here you see resurrection (life) follows death (atonement). One cannot receive nor understand resurrection life without having first received atonement by the death of Christ.

God is true love. He loves not according to the self-willed wishful thinking of human being, but according to truth, the eternal truth. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16.

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