ATONEMENT: PAYING THE BILL
People are quite different. That is an undeniable fact. The fact we are different
is the foundation of many crises. Almost every teenager considers his or her family
weird because everyone in the family is different. Then we marry someone different.
And, after a few years of trying to change the person we marry to be "like me", the
differences distresses us. At the same time, we have children, and every child we have
is different. And those differences distress us. Then our children become teenagers,
and they think their family weird because everyone is different. And the cycle begins
all over again.
People are quite different. When we look at the same thing, what we see is
different. When we hear the same thing, what we hear is different. When we examine
the same facts, we come to different conclusions. When we consider the same
concepts, we reach different determinations.
- Consider some common understandings about "paying life's bills."
- Some were taught this basic understanding of life: "I made my bed; now I
must lie in it."
Others were taught this understanding: "I got myself into this; it is up to
me to get myself out of it."
- Life is about enduring consequences.
- In this concept, a person "pays the bills" by living with their mistakes.
- Whatever the consequences, you live with them.
- That is only "fair;" you made the mistake, so you pay the consequences.
Others reach adult life with this conviction: "There are no bills to pay, and
if bills exist, someone else should pay them."
- Life is about escaping consequences.
- In this concept, there is a way out, but it is up to "me" to find it.
- "I" must accept full responsibility; that is the only way that "I" can escape
consequences in life.
- If "I' do the right things, "I" can escape consequences, but "I" have to do it; it
is up to "me."
These three understandings are also three views of life.
- In life, there are no consequences.
- Life is about "me," and everything exists to benefit "me."
- Even when someone else pays, if "I" use it, it is "mine."
- "I" have no responsibilities; "I" only have rights.
- Let me share an example of this thought process: if "I" have primary use of a
car, the car is "mine."
- Dad may be making the payments.
- The company I work for may own the title.
- But if "I" use it, it is "my" car!
- Possession is determined by use, not by who pays the bill.
- "I made my bed, so I must lie in it" declares it is impossible to escape the
consequences of my mistakes. Life is about living with consequences.
- "I got myself into this, so I must get myself out of it" declares mistakes can be
escaped, but escape is all up to me. Life is about escaping consequences.
- "There are no bills to pay" declares significant mistakes cannot happen, and I
will not accept consequences. When bad things happen, it is not "my" fault.
- All three views are in fundamental error.
To understand this situation, we need to understand a basic truth about God.
- The truth: God and evil are total, complete, exact opposites.
That puts all of us in a major crisis.
- The presence of evil and the presence of God exclude each other.
- That is why evil cannot stand good and good cannot stand evil.
- Good and evil are enemies dedicated to each other's destruction.
That crisis is seen in two facts.
- Everyone of us is guilty of evil.
- There always are things in our minds, our hearts, and our actions that
oppose God's will and purposes. That means three things.
- Every person is guilty of his own evil.
- Unresolved evil, without exception, excludes a person from God.
- No one of himself or herself can solve the problem of personal evil.
- None of us, of ourselves, can approach God because God is absolute purity
and each of us is evil.
- It is impossible for us of ourselves to produce reconciliation with God.
- If any of us saw ourselves through God's eyes for thirty seconds, we could
not stand what we saw.
- If you doubt that, consider Isaiah's reaction when he had that experience.
- Isaiah found himself in God's presence, and he immediately reacted.
- Isaiah 6:5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of
unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes
have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.
- If it is only me, I do not dare approach the holy God--not in prayer, not in worship,
not in repentance, not in anything.
- Yet, God wants us to approach Him.
- Therein is the problem.
- God wants me to approach Him, but my evil and His purity make that impossible.
Look at the problem: the holy, pure God cannot be approached by people guilty of evil.
- God in His purity cannot be approached by impure people.
God is totally removed from evil.
- Just as human nature is made of many parts and is complex, God's nature is made of
many parts and is complex.
- We like some parts of God's nature: God is loving, merciful, kind, forgiving,
- But God's nature also includes wrath, justice, absolute holiness, and absolute purity.
- For us, that is a problem.
- We are evil; we even consider some of our evil to be good.
- The result: our evil makes it impossible for us to approach God.
God solved the problem none of us could solve, and God's solution is called atonement.
- In the Old Testament, Israel could approach God if Israel atoned for their evil by
offering animal sacrifices.
For a permanent solution, someone "had to pay the bill in full."
- The Hebrew words for "atonement" come from a common root word that means
- Atonement allows two who are estranged to come together as one.
- We do not use the word "atonement" much; we use the word "reconciliation."
- The Old Testament word is atonement; the New Testament word is reconciliation.
- In the Old Testament, the people of Israel could approach God because they offered
- The animal's life and blood "covered" their sin and allowed them to approach God.
- But the life and the blood of a sacrificed animal "covered" the people's evil only for
the moment; animal sacrifices could not permanently "cover" evil.
For atonement to work, some definite conditions were required.
- Humanity's evil created an enormous "bill."
- Our individual "bill" was enormous.
- Humanity, collectively or individually, could not pay the "bill."
Permanent atonement exists for us because God "paid the bill:" God sacrificed the
life of the perfect specimen.
- The sacrificial animal had to be "perfect;" or in Old Testament words, "without
- The sacrifice had to cost; evil was and is a serious matter.
- It cost the sacrificial animal its life.
- It cost the one who offered the sacrifice the best animal he had.
- To use words familiar to us, atonement required the sacrificial death of the perfect
- God let His sinless Son die on the cross.
Hebrews 10:4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Hebrews 10:10-14 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of
Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the
same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He (Jesus), having offered one sacrifice for
sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until
His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all
time those who are sanctified.
The more I understand Jesus Christ, the more terrified I am by what I see among
- Let me ask you to read a scripture with me.
Ephesians 4:17-20 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just
as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding,
excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of
their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the
practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way.
Why is it impossible for people who know Jesus Christ to live like godless people?
- Paul was writing to Christians who in their past did not even know God.
- He said, "Christians cannot live and act like people who do not know God. Christians
cannot have the attitudes, the emotions, or the value system that people who do not
know God have. Christians cannot treat others as do people who do not know God."
- "It is not possible to know Jesus Christ and act like people who do not know God."
- "You were not taught Jesus Christ in a way that told you to act like godless people."
Why? Why would an adult ever choose to be baptized into Christ?
- When I accept Jesus' atonement, God renews the spirit of my mind (Ephesians 4:23).
- When I accept Jesus' atonement, I want God to re-create me in the righteousness and
holiness of truth (Ephesians 4:24).
- When I understand Jesus' atonement, I want to be the new self who lives in God's
likeness (Ephesians 4:24).
- Why would anyone choose to be buried into Christ?
- Why? Atonement! Reconciliation!
- Jesus died on the cross, was buried in the tomb, was raised to a new life for me.
- When I understand atonement, when I understand God was covering my sins in Jesus'
death, I want to die with Jesus, be buried with Jesus, and be resurrected with Jesus.
- Jesus did that for me so I could be one with God; Jesus reconciled God and me.
- I want to participate in Jesus' death and resurrection so I can be one with God.
[Prayer: "God, help us see and understand everything You did for us in Christ."]
Atonement means no one has to lie in the bed he or she made. Atonement means it is not
up to me to discover the way to escape consequences. Atonement means all of us make
mistakes--big ones. Atonement means God paid the bill in full with His own Son's death to
"cover" my evil. Atonement means that I can be reconciled to God.
Because we are all different, atonement individually reconciles us to God by individually
"covering" the evil in our individual lives. That "covering" is permanent. We recognize that
"covering" as forgiveness. A Christian needs to believe and repent every day. A Christian does
not need to be baptized every day. Have you accepted the atonement?
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 18 February 2001
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