Questions About Salvation: The 100 Most Frequently Asked Questions About Salvation –
Have Questions, Find Answers on Otakada.org – Jesus and Salvation – Daily, people turn to the Internet to find answers to their questions about spiritual matters. Topics related to spirituality are the second-most searched subjects online. Sadly, websites that present false teachings far outnumber those that proclaim the truth of God’s Word. We will provide answers as the Holy Spirit leads us from a biblical perspective. You will also need to pray to secure answers to any question you may have because one of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to lead us into all truth – John 16:13. Today, we look at questions about Jesus and Salvation and questions that relate to this with biblical answers.. Enjoy
What does it mean that Jesus died for our sins? Why did Jesus have to die?
Is Jesus the only way to heaven?
Why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ important? How and to whom did Jesus pay our ransom?
If God hates human sacrifice, how could Jesus’ sacrifice be the payment for our sins?
If the penalty for sin is eternity in hell, how did Jesus’ death pay our penalty since He did not spend eternity in hell?
What is the doctrine of substitution? What is the substitutionary atonement?
If Jesus is our atonement, why did He die at Passover instead of the Day of Atonement?
Is the atonement of Christ unlimited?
Why does Christ’s righteousness need to be imputed to us?
Question: What does it mean that Jesus died for our sins?
Answer: Simply put, without Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, no one would have eternal life. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In this statement, Jesus declares the reason for His birth, death, and resurrection—to provide the way to heaven for sinful mankind, who could never get there on their own.
God created Adam and Eve innocent and perfect in every way. He placed them in an earthly paradise, the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). God created man in His image, meaning they also had the freedom to make choices of their own free will. Genesis 3 goes on to describe how Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s temptations and lies. In doing so, they disobeyed the will of God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: “And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’” (Genesis 2:16-17). As a result of Adam’s sin, all mankind is subject to both physical and eternal death. We have inherited a sinful nature from Adam.
God declared that all who sin will die, both physically and spiritually. This is the fate of all mankind. But God, in His grace and mercy, provided a way out of this dilemma—the shed blood of His perfect Son on the cross. God declared that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22); but through the shedding of blood, redemption is provided. The Law of Moses (Exodus 20:2-17) provided a way for the people to be considered “sinless” or “right” in God’s eyes with the offering of animals sacrificed for sin. These sacrifices were only temporary, though, and were really a foreshadowing of the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross (Hebrews 10:10).
This is why Jesus came and why He died—to become the ultimate and the final sacrifice for our sins (Colossians 1:21-22; 1 Peter 1:18-19). Through Him, the promise of eternal life with God becomes effective to those who believe in Jesus, “so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22). These two words, faith and believe, are critical to our salvation. It is through our believing in the shed blood of Christ for our sins that we receive eternal life. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Question: Why did Jesus have to die?
Answer: Before we can come to grips with anything God does, we must first acknowledge that God “is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Part of God’s “perfect” and “just” plan was that Jesus die on the cross.
The death of Christ was necessary for our salvation, and the recounting of His death is an essential element of the gospel: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The Bible explains why Jesus had to die.
The punishment for sin is death.
God created earth and man to be perfect. But when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s commands, He had to punish them. A judge who pardons lawbreakers isn’t a righteous judge. Likewise, overlooking sin would make the holy God unjust. Death is God’s just consequence for sin, and it is the natural consequence for rejecting the Source of Life. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Our good works cannot make up for our wrongs against God. Compared to His
goodness, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Ever since Adam’s sin, every human has been guilty of disobeying God’s righteous laws. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin is not just “big things” like murder or blasphemy; it is also love of money, hatred of enemies, lying, and pride. Because of sin, everyone deserves death—eternal separation from God in hell.
The promise required an innocent death.
Although God banished Adam and Eve from the garden, He didn’t leave them without hope of heaven. He promised He would send a Savior to take the punishment they deserved (Genesis 3:15). Until the Savior’s arrival, men would sacrifice innocent animals to show their repentance from sin and faith in God. God reaffirmed His promise of the coming Sacrifice to men such as Abraham and Moses. In God’s perfect plan, God Himself provided the only sacrifice (Jesus) who could atone for the sins of His people. It’s why Abraham knew God as “Jehovah-Jireh,” “The LORD Will Provide” (Genesis 22:14). God’s perfect Son fulfilled God’s perfect requirement of God’s perfect Law. It is perfectly brilliant in its simplicity: “God made him [Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The prophets foretold Jesus’ death.
Hundreds of years before Christ came to earth, God sent prophets to warn mankind of sin’s punishment and to foretell the coming Messiah/Savior/Sacrifice. One prophet, Isaiah, described Him:
“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who
can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:1-9). The prophet likened the coming Savior to a lamb, slaughtered for the sins of others.
Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in the perfect Lord Jesus, born of the virgin Mary. When the prophet John the Baptist saw Jesus, he cried, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Crowds thronged Him for healing and teaching, but the religious leaders scorned Him. Mobs cried out, “Crucify Him!” Soldiers beat, mocked, and executed Him. As Isaiah foretold, Jesus was crucified between two criminals but was buried in a rich man’s tomb. But He didn’t remain in the grave. Because God accepted His Lamb’s sacrifice, He fulfilled another prophecy by raising Jesus from the dead (Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 26:19).
Why did Jesus have to die?
Remember, the holy God cannot let sin go unpunished. For us to bear our own sins would require us to suffer God’s eternal judgment in the flames of hell. Praise God, He kept His promise to send the Savior and sacrifice the perfect Lamb to bear the sins of those who trust in Him. Jesus had to die because He is the only One who could pay the penalty for our sins.
Question: Is Jesus the only way to heaven?
Answer: “I’m basically a good person, so I’ll go to heaven.” “OK, so I do some bad things, but I do more good things—so I’ll go to heaven.” “God won’t send me to hell just because I don’t live by the Bible. Times have changed!” “Only really bad people such as child molesters and murderers go to hell.”
These are all common rationalizations, but the truth is that they are all lies. Satan, the ruler of the world, plants these thoughts in our heads. He, and anyone who follows his ways, is an enemy of God (1 Peter 5:8). Satan is a deceiver and often disguises himself as someone good (2 Corinthians 11:14), but he influences all the minds that do not belong to God. “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
It is a lie to believe that God doesn’t care about “small” sins or that hell is reserved for “bad people.” All sin separates us from God, even something like a little white lie. Everyone has sinned, and no one is good enough to get to heaven on his own (Romans 3:23). Getting into heaven is not based on whether our
good outweighs our bad; we will all lose out if that is the case. We can do nothing good to earn our way to heaven (Romans 11:6; Titus 3:5).
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (Matthew 7:13). Even if everyone else is living a life of sin in a culture where trusting God is unpopular, God will not excuse it. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:1-2).
God created the world perfect and good. Then He made Adam and Eve and gave them a free will so they would have a choice whether to follow and obey God. But they were tempted by Satan to disobey God, and they sinned. This sin separated them (and everyone who came after them, including us) from being able to have a relationship with God. He is perfect and holy and must judge sin. As sinners, we could not reconcile ourselves to God on our own. So God Himself made a way that we could be united with Him in heaven (Isaiah 59:16). “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Jesus was born to die for our sins so that we would not have to die. Three days after He was crucified, He rose from the grave (Romans 4:25), proving Himself victorious over death. He bridged the gap between God and man so that we may have a personal relationship with Him if we only believe.
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Most people believe in God—even Satan believes that much (James 2:19). But to receive salvation, we must turn away from our sins, turn to God, and follow Him. We must trust in Jesus with everything we have and everything we do. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22). The Bible teaches that there is no other way to salvation than through Christ. Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus is the only way of salvation because He is the only One who can pay our sin penalty (Romans 6:23). No other religion teaches the depth or seriousness of sin and its consequences. No other religion offers the infinite payment for sin that only Jesus Christ could provide. No other “religious founder” was God become man (John 1:1, 14)—the only way an infinite debt could be paid. Jesus had to be God so He could pay our debt. Jesus had to be man so He could die.
Salvation is available only through faith in Jesus Christ! “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Question: Why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ important?
Answer: Jesus’ resurrection is important for several reasons. First, it witnesses to the immense power of God Himself. To believe in the resurrection is to believe in God. If God exists, and if He created the universe and has power over it, then He has the power to raise the dead. If He does not have such power, He is not a God worthy of our faith and worship. Only He who created life can resurrect it after death, thereby removing death’s sting (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). In resurrecting Jesus from the grave, God reminds us of His absolute sovereignty over life and death.
Second, the resurrection of Jesus is a testimony to the resurrection of human beings, which is a basic tenet of the Christian faith. Unlike all other religions, Christianity alone possesses a Founder who transcends death and who promises that His followers will do the same. All other religions were founded by men and prophets whose end was the grave. As Christians, we take comfort in the fact that our God became man, died for our sins, and was resurrected the third day. The grave could not hold Him. He lives, and He sits today at the right hand of God the Father in heaven.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul explains in detail the importance of the resurrection of Christ. Some in Corinth did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, and in this chapter Paul gives six disastrous consequences if there were no resurrection.
1. 2. 3.
4. 5. 6.
Preaching Christ would be senseless (verse 14). Faith in Christ would be useless (verse 14).
All the witnesses and preachers of the resurrection would be liars (verse 15).
No one would be redeemed from sin (verse 17).
All former believers would have perished (verse 18).
Christians would be the most pitiable people on the earth (verse 19).
But Christ indeed has risen from the dead and has become “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20), assuring that we will follow Him in resurrection.
The inspired Word of God guarantees the believer’s resurrection at the second coming of Jesus. Such hope and assurance results in a great song of triumph as
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
How do these concluding verses relate to the importance of the resurrection? Paul answers, “… you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). He reminds us that, because we know we will be resurrected to new life, we can suffer persecution and danger for Christ’s sake (verses 29-31), just as Christ suffered for us. We can follow the example of the thousands of martyrs throughout history who gladly traded their earthly lives for everlasting life via Christ’s resurrection.
The resurrection is the triumphant and glorious victory for every believer. Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose the third day according to the Scripture. And He is coming again! The dead in Christ will be raised up, and those who remain and are alive at His coming will be changed and receive new, glorified bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Question: How and to whom did Jesus pay our ransom?
Answer: A ransom is something paid to provide for the release of someone who is held captive. Jesus paid our ransom to free us from sin, death, and hell. In Old Testament times, God commanded the Israelites to offer animal sacrifices for substitutionary atonement; that is, an animal’s death took the place of a person’s death, as death is the penalty for sin (Romans 6:23). Exodus 29:36a states, “Sacrifice a bull each day as a sin offering to make atonement.”
God demands holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16). We cannot give God holiness because of the sins we commit (Romans 3:23); however, God’s righteous Law must still be satisfied. Animal sacrifices satisfied the Law to a certain extent and for a period of time, but more is needed. This is where Jesus comes in. Hebrews 9:12-15 tells us, “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”
Likewise, Romans 8:3-4 says, “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the
likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”
Clearly, Jesus paid to God the ransom for our lives. That ransom was His own life, the shedding of His own blood, a sacrifice. Due to Jesus’ sacrificial death, each person on earth has the opportunity to accept that gift of atonement and be forgiven by God. For, without the death of Christ, God’s Law would still need to be satisfied—by our own death.
Question: If God hates human sacrifice, how could Jesus’ sacrifice be the payment for our sins?
Answer: The Bible makes it quite clear that God hates human sacrifice. The pagan nations that surrounded the Israelites practiced human sacrifice as part of the worship of false gods. God declared that such “worship” was detestable to Him and that He hates it (Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10). Furthermore, human sacrifice is associated in the Old Testament with evil practices such as sorcery and divination, which are also detestable to God (2 Kings 21:6). So, if God hates human sacrifice, why did He sacrifice Christ on the cross, and how could that sacrifice be the payment for our sins?
There is no doubt that a sacrifice for sin was necessary if people are to have any hope of eternal life. God established the necessity of the shedding of blood to cover sin (Hebrews 9:22). When God gave the Law to Moses, there were extensive instructions on how, when, and under what circumstances animal sacrifices were to be offered to Him. This was to continue until Christ came to offer the ultimate, perfect sacrifice, which made further animal sacrifice unnecessary. “But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4).
There are several reasons why the sacrifice of Christ on the cross does not violate the prohibition against human sacrifice. First, Jesus wasn’t merely human. If He were, then His sacrifice would have also been a temporary one because one human life couldn’t possibly cover the sins of each person who ever existed. Neither could one finite human life atone for sin against an infinite God. The only viable sacrifice must be an infinite one, which means only God Himself could atone for the sins of mankind. Only God Himself, an infinite Being, could pay the penalty. This is why God had to become a Man and dwell among men (John 1:14). No other sacrifice would suffice.
Second, God didn’t sacrifice Jesus. Rather, Jesus, as God incarnate, sacrificed Himself. No one forced Him. He laid down His life willingly: “No one takes it
from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). God the Son sacrificed Himself to God the Father and thereby fulfilled all the requirements of the Law. And unlike the temporary sacrifices, Jesus’ once-for-all-time sacrifice was followed by His resurrection. He laid down His life and took it up again, thereby providing eternal life for all who would ever believe in Him and accept His sacrifice for their sins. He did this out of love for the Father and for all those the Father has given Him (John 6:37-40).
Question: If the penalty for sin is eternity in hell, how did Jesus’ death pay our penalty since He did not spend eternity in hell?
Answer: If we think of Jesus as merely a man, then this question is a natural one to ask. But the reason Jesus did not have to spend eternity in hell is that He is not merely a man, but the God-Man. The second Person of the Godhead took on flesh and lived among men in the form of a man. But He was a man like no other because His nature was that of God—holy, perfect, and infinite.
Several passages attest to this fact, such as the opening passage in John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made …. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14). The apostle Paul says, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).
It is certainly true that the penalty for our sins is an eternity in hell. The Bible clearly says that all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and that the consequence of our sin is death (Romans 6:23). We learn in the book of Revelation that those whose names are not in the Lamb’s Book of Life are cast into the lake of fire, where they will be tormented “forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10, 15).
But how can the death of Jesus atone for the sins of every person who has ever lived? Again, it is important that Jesus is the God-man. If Jesus were a mere man (with sin of His own), then His death would not even atone for His own sin, much less the sins of another. But Jesus is no mere man; He is God in human flesh. As a man, He can identify with those for whom He sacrificed Himself. As a perfectly sinless man, He can atone for the sins of mankind without first having to atone for His own sin. Finally, as God, He can fully satisfy the wrath of God that our sins incur.
Sin against an infinite God must be paid infinitely. There are only two options
for infinite payment. Either a finite creature (man) must pay for his own sin for an infinite amount of time, or an infinite Being (Jesus) must pay for it once for all men for all time. There are no other options. A sin against an infinitely holy God requires an equally infinite satisfaction as payment, and even an eternity in hell will not dissipate God’s infinite, righteous wrath against sin. It requires an infinite Being as a substitute for mankind to satisfy God’s wrath. Jesus, the God man, fits the bill perfectly.
Question: What is the doctrine of substitution?
Answer: Substitution is one of the major themes of the Bible. God instituted the principle of substitution in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned. By killing an animal to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:21), God began to paint a picture of what it would take to bring mankind back into proper relationship with Him. He continued that theme with His chosen people, the Israelites. By giving them the Law, God showed them His holiness and demonstrated their inability to achieve that holiness. God then granted them a substitute to pay the price for their sin: blood sacrifices (Exodus 29:41-42; Numbers 29:2). By sacrificing an innocent animal according to God’s specifications, man could have his sins covered and enter God’s presence. The animal died in the sinner’s place, thereby allowing the sinner to go free, vindicated. Leviticus 16 tells of the scapegoat, upon which the elders of Israel would place their hands, symbolically transferring the sins of the people onto the goat. The goat was then set free into the wilderness, bearing the sins of the people far away.
The theme of substitution is found throughout the Old Testament as a precursor to the coming of Jesus Christ. The Passover feast conspicuously featured a substitute. In Exodus 12, God instructs His people to prepare for the coming Angel of the Lord who would strike down the firstborn male of every family as a judgment upon Egypt. The only way to escape this plague was to take a perfect male lamb, kill it, and put the blood on the lintels and doorposts of their houses. God told them, “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). That Passover lamb was a substitute for every male firstborn who would accept it.
God carried that theme of substitution into the New Testament with the coming of Jesus. He had set the stage so mankind would understand exactly what Jesus had come to do. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God’s perfect Lamb took the sins of the world upon Himself, laid down
His life, and died in our place (1 Peter 3:18). The only acceptable sacrifice for sin is a perfect offering. If we died for our own sins, it would not be sufficient payment. We are not perfect. Only Jesus, the perfect God-Man, fits the requirement, and He laid down His life for ours willingly (John 10:18). There was nothing we could do to save ourselves, so God did it for us. The Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53 makes the substitutionary death of Christ abundantly clear: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (verse 5).
Jesus’ substitution for us was perfect, unlike the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament. Hebrews 10:4 says, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Someone might say, “You mean, all those sacrifices the Jews made were for nothing?” The writer of Hebrews is clarifying that animal blood itself had no value. It was what that blood symbolized that made the difference. The value of the ancient sacrifices was that the animal was a substitute for a human being’s sin and it pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 9:22).
Some people make the mistake of thinking that, since Jesus died for the sins of the world, everyone will go to heaven one day. This is incorrect. The substitutionary death of Christ must be personally applied to each heart, in much the same way the blood of the Passover had to be personally applied to the door (John 1:12; 3:16-18; Acts 2:38). God offers the Substitute, but we must receive that Substitute personally by accepting Christ in faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Question: What is the substitutionary atonement?
Answer: Substitutionary atonement refers to Jesus Christ dying as a substitute for sinners. The Scriptures teach that all men are sinners (Romans 3:9-18, 23). The penalty for our sinfulness is death. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That verse teaches us several things. Without Christ, we are going to die and spend an eternity in hell as payment for our sins. “Death” in Romans 6:23 refers to a separation. Everyone will die, but some will live in heaven with the Lord for eternity, while others will live a life in hell for eternity. The death spoken of here refers to life in hell. The second thing this verse teaches us is that eternal life is available through Jesus Christ. His substitutionary atonement makes salvation possible.
Jesus Christ died in our place when He was crucified on the cross. He was our substitute. We deserved to be the ones placed on that cross to die, because we
are the ones who live sinful lives. But Christ substituted Himself for us and took what we rightly deserved. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Here again we see that Christ took the sins we committed onto Himself to pay the price for us. A few verses later, we read, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). Not only do these verses teach us that Christ was our substitute, but they also teach He was our atonement —He satisfied the payment for sin and reconciled us to God.
One more passage on the substitutionary atonement is Isaiah 53:5. This prophecy said that Christ was to die for the sins of God’s people. The prophecy is very detailed, and the crucifixion happened just as foretold. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Here again we see that Christ paid the price for us!
We can only pay the price of sin on our own by being punished in hell for all eternity. But God’s Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth to pay the price of our sins. Because He did this for us, we now have the opportunity to have our sins forgiven and to spend eternity with Him. Salvation comes when we place our faith in what Christ did on the cross. We cannot save ourselves; we need a substitute to take our place. The death of Jesus Christ is the substitutionary atonement.
Question: If Jesus is our atonement, why did He die at Passover instead of the Day of Atonement?
Answer: Every one of the Old Testament sacrifices typified Christ. The Passover, or paschal, sacrifice was a type of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God. The paschal lamb was to be a male, without spot or blemish, and not a bone was to be broken. Jesus fulfilled this picture perfectly. As the Israelites applied the blood of the sacrifice in faith, so we today apply the spotless blood of Christ to the “doorposts” of our hearts. In all these ways, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7 KJV).
An objection sometimes arises that the paschal sacrifice was not considered an atonement; rather, atonement was provided for the Jews via the sacrifices on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Therefore, Jesus, who was killed at Passover and who is called “our Passover” in the New Testament, could not have
been an atonement for sin.
There are two ways to counter this objection. The first is simply to show how Jesus also fulfilled the symbolism of Yom Kippur. Jesus bore our sins in His own body (1 Peter 2:24) and tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9). In doing so, He offered a better sacrifice than those of Yom Kippur—better because Christ’s sacrifice was permanent, was voluntary, and did not just cover sin but removed it altogether (Hebrews 9:8-14).
The second counter is to point out that Jewish tradition did indeed view the Passover sacrifice as being expiatory; that is, the lamb removed sin from God’s view. The Passover lamb died under God’s outpoured wrath, thus covering over the sins of the one offering it. During the tenth and final plague in Egypt, the Passover sacrifice literally saved individuals from death (Exodus 12:23). On the basis of the redemptive offering of the Passover blood, the firstborn lived.
The Passover lambs brought atonement to the believing Jewish households on that night of judgment and redemption. Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra also links the Passover with atonement: “The mark of blood was designed as an atonement for those within the house who partook of the paschal offering, and was also a sign
for the destroying angel to pass by the house.
When John the Baptist saw Christ, he pointed to Him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus is the “Passover lamb” in that He was silent before His accusers (Isaiah 53:7) and by His death bore the wrath of God, preserved the lives of all who trust Him, and gave freedom to the former slaves of sin.
Question: Is the atonement of Christ unlimited?
Answer: The Bible has much to say on the atonement of Christ. The word atonement means “satisfaction or reparation for a wrong done”; to atone for something is to make amends. When applied to Jesus’ finished work on the cross, atonement concerns the reconciliation of God and humankind, as accomplished through the suffering and death of Christ. Jesus atoned for our sins —He made amends for our rebellion against God. Paul highlights the atoning work of Jesus when he says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:8-10).
The question among many theologians is whether Christ’s sacrifice provided limited or unlimited atonement. The doctrine of unlimited atonement states that Christ died for all people, whether or not they would ever believe in Him. The doctrine of limited atonement states that Christ died only for the elect, those who were chosen by God for salvation.
Those who hold to unlimited atonement fall into one theological camp (comprised primarily of Arminians and Wesleyans); they believe that Christ died for everyone who ever has or who will ever live. The other theological camp— made up of Reformed thinkers, who are often called “Calvinists” after John Calvin—hold to limited atonement; they say that Jesus only died for those whom the Father chose from the foundation of the world to be saved.
Is Everyone Going to Be Saved?
In examining this issue, the first question to ask is this: Is everyone going to be saved through the atoning work of Christ? Those holding universalism say “yes.” Universalists argue that, because Christ died for everyone and all the sins of humanity were laid on/punished in Christ, everyone will spend eternity with God (whether or not they believe in Jesus).
Scripture stands in opposition to such teaching and makes it abundantly clear that many people will be lost. For example, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15; see also Daniel 12:2; Matthew 7:13-14; 7:22-23; 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Since not everyone will be saved, the atonement of Christ must be limited. If the atonement were unlimited, in the truest sense of the word, then universalism would be true; yet Scripture teaches that not everyone will be saved. The atonement, then, is limited in some way.
How Is the Atonement Limited?
The next important question to examine is this: If the atonement is limited (and it is), how is it limited? Jesus’ famous statement in John 3:16 provides the answer: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In this passage, the necessary condition that limits the atonement is “whoever believes.” In other words, the atonement is limited to those who have faith.
Who Limits the Atonement?
Neither Arminians/Wesleyans nor Calvinists will argue this point—the atonement of Christ is limited to those who believe. The disagreement occurs over the next question: Who limits the atonement—God or man?
Calvinists/Reformed thinkers maintain that God limits the atonement by choosing those whom He will save; thus, God only placed on Christ the sins of those He had chosen for salvation. The Arminian/Wesleyan position states that God does not limit the reparation of Christ; instead, it is humanity that limits the atonement by freely choosing to accept or reject the offer of salvation God makes to them.
A common statement of the Arminian/Wesleyan theologians is that the atonement is unlimited in its invitation but limited in its application. God offers the invitation to all; however, only those who respond in faith to the gospel have the work of the atonement applied to their spiritual condition.
To support the position that humanity, not God, limits the atonement, Arminians list a number of Scripture verses, such as 1 John 2:2: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (see also John 1:29; 6:51; 12:32; 1 Timothy 5:6; Hebrews 2:9).
In addition to the biblical references above, Arminian theologians provide a number of logical arguments to support their case. The most common is that if God is all-loving, how could Christ not die for everyone? Doesn’t God love each and every person (cf. John 3:16)? They see a God-limited atonement as a denial of the omni-benevolence of God.
Furthermore, the Arminian believes that a God-limiting atonement is devastating to the gospel message. How can an evangelist preach that “Christ died for you” if Christ did not indeed die for all? There is a complete lack of confidence, they say, in making the statement to any one person that Christ died for him because (given a God-limiting atonement) the evangelist has no idea if that is really the case.
The Calvinist sees it differently: if Christ died for everyone, and “everyone’s” sins are covered by the atonement, then why is there anyone in hell? If Jesus died for all, but some go to hell, then Jesus’ death did not accomplish its task. The Calvinistic view is that everyone who is atoned for will be saved, guaranteed. No one will be lost. There are no “maybes” among those covered by the blood of Christ. All whom the Father gives the Son will come to Him and have eternal life (John 6:37).
Unlimited Atonement: The Conclusion
Unless one is a universalist and believes everyone will ultimately be saved, a Christian must hold to some form of a limited atonement. The key area of disagreement is over who limits that atonement—God or man? Whether one takes the Arminian or Calvinist position, we know that salvation is by grace
through faith. Those who believe in Christ will be saved (John 1:12).
Question: Why does Christ’s righteousness need to be imputed to us?
Answer: In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke these words: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This comes at the end of the section of the sermon where Jesus corrects His listeners’ misunderstanding of the Law. In Matthew 5:20, Jesus says that if His hearers want to enter into the kingdom of heaven, their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees, who were the experts in the Law.
Then, in Matthew 5:21-48, He proceeds to radically redefine the Law from mere outward conformity, which characterized the “righteousness” of the Pharisees, to an obedience of both outward and inward conformity. He uses the phrase, “You have heard that it was said … but I say unto you” to differentiate between the way people heard the Law taught from how Jesus reinterprets it. Obeying the Law is more than simply abstaining from killing, committing adultery, and breaking oaths. It’s also not getting angry with your brother, not lusting in your heart, and not making insincere oaths. At the end of all this, we learn that we must exceed the “righteousness” of the Pharisees, and that can only come from being perfect.
At this point, the natural response is, “But I can’t be perfect.” This is absolutely correct. The truth of the matter is that, on our own and by our own efforts, we can’t possibly be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. We don’t love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37-38). We don’t love our neighbors as ourselves (verse 39). We have a problem, and it’s called sin. We are born with it, and we cannot overcome the effects of it on our own. No matter how good we try to be, we will never meet God’s standard of perfection. The Bible says that all of our righteous deeds are like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
That’s why Jesus lived a perfect life in full obedience to God in thought, word, and deed. Jesus’ mission wasn’t simply to die on the cross for our sins, but also to live a life of perfect righteousness. Theologians speak of the “active and passive obedience of Christ.” Active obedience refers to Christ’s life of sinless perfection. Everything He did was perfect. Passive obedience refers to Christ’s submission to the crucifixion. He went willingly to the cross and allowed Himself to be crucified without resisting (Isaiah 53:7). His passive obedience pays our sin debt before God, but it is the active obedience that provides us with the perfection God requires.
The apostle Paul writes, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22). Through our faith in Christ, the righteousness of God is given to us. This is called “imputed” righteousness. To impute something is to ascribe or attribute something to someone. When we place our faith in Christ, God ascribes the perfect righteousness of Christ to our account so that we become perfect in His sight. “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Not only is Christ’s righteousness imputed to us through faith, but our sin is imputed to Christ. That is how Christ paid our sin debt to God. He had no sin in Himself, but our sin is imputed to Him. As He suffered on the cross, He took the just penalty that our sin deserves. That is why Paul can say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
By having the righteousness of Christ imputed or attributed to us, we can be fully pleasing to God. When God looks at the Christian, He sees the holiness, perfection, and righteousness of Christ. Therefore, we can say with confidence, “I am perfect, as God is perfect.”
Links to Other Q and A on Salvation
Top Questions About the Plan of Salvation with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Jesus and Salvation with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Who Can Be Saved with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Assurance of Salvation with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Salvation and Works with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Salvation Terminology with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Life After Salvation with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Election and Predestination with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Salvation and the Old Testament with Biblical Answers
Top Miscellaneous Questions About Salvation with Biblical Answers