The term “Atonement” comes from the phrase “at-one-ment.” The idea is that those who are participating in redemption—God and man—are in agreement over the correct procedure. God has defined what must be done; man agrees. Therefore, they are at-one or in harmony or agreement. A secondary meaning is observed in the one who is coming to God in repentance over his sin, as he brings a substitution who will take the penalty for the guilty party. This agreement between the guilty and the redeemer, causes them to be “at one” with each other in the manner by which the sin will be dealt with and removed. In other words, when I bring my sacrifice to God for my sins, I am in agreement with the one who is offering His life for me, that my sins are transferred to Him so that may be acquitted.
This is the very essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
1. We agree with God that we have sinned and need forgiveness.
2. Our sins require a perfect sacrifice.
3. Jesus was perfect and willing to be our sacrifice.
4. God accepts Jesus sacrifice for us because He is a perfect man–without sin.
5. We agree to transfer all our guilt to Jesus; He agrees to take it.
6. Jesus died to pay the debt we owe to God for our sins.
7. We are cleansed of all our sins and are made perfect in the sight of God.
From these seven above, we see that the Old Testament procedure for atonement was repentance (#1), confession (#1), and sacrifice (#2-7). No one is ever forgiven of their sins without all three of these parts of atonement being completed.
Repentance: The internal feeling of deep remorse for sins committed against God and a desire to turn from these sins–to a life of righteousness.
Confession: The act of speaking to the Lord, honestly, and specifically–what our sins are, without making excuses, and with an understanding of the wrong that has been committed.
Sacrifice: Understanding that when a sin is committed, a penalty is owed to God. According to the Old Testament, that penalty is death . “Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father As well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die” –Ezekiel 18:4
A sacrifice then, is the substitution of an innocent life–for the guilty, who will die to pay the penalty owed for the sin committed.
Notice that in atonement, there is very little that is required of the one who is obtaining forgiveness–only item #1 above: agreement with God that we have sinned and require forgiveness. The remaining acts of atonement are accomplished by the one making possible the cleansing of our sin.
Of course, a part of agreeing with God that we have sinned (Item 1) requires that we confess our sins and feel sorrow for them to the degree that we are willing to not continue in the former sins that required a sacrifice in the first place.
When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” –John 8:10-11
All of the other components of atonement (2-7) are accomplished during the sacrifice which was completed by Jesus—for us.
This is a good illustration of how salvation is completely the work of God. Items 2-7 were all accomplished for us by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The entire work of salvation is from God, and none of it is made possible by anything that we do–except to believe what God says. After we agree with God that we have sinned and express our sorrow and desire to turn from our sins and not practice them any longer, He does the rest, through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In this way, we see how the life of the Messiah has made it possible for all of us to experience the removal of our sins–forever and gain eternal life.
Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. –Luke 13:23-24
To admit that we have been wrong in the conduct of our life is a difficult task. Jesus described the decision to turn from our sins and surrender our life to Him as being like “a narrow gate,” that is difficult to pass through. Nevertheless, if we sincerely desire a new life and the removal of all our guilt–we must repent and believe what God has said.
Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He (the only Savior), you will die in your sins.” –John 8:24
God has left the destiny of our eternal soul in our hands. He has provided Atonement for all of our sins and freely offers to every person–complete forgiveness and heaven as our final destination. The problem is that most people will refuse to believe what God has said–and be lost. Not because God was not willing to save them–but because they were unwilling to come through Jesus sacrifice for their sins. Jesus said:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Matthew 7:14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. –Matthew 7:13-14