Thinking Out Loud

September 22, 2008

What Jesus Did

Filed under: bible, Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:36 pm

Several months ago I spent thirty minutes exploring the blogsphere looking for something profound to write about. Instead my brain started to get dizzy. I made the mistake of searching for the phrase “substitutionary atonement.” That’s a concept that is at the heart of Christian belief, right?  Instead, I ended up seeing pages of people spinning their wheels in the type of theological debate that internet readers and bloggers seem to thrive on.   Sentences, and paragraphs, and pages and even entire websites devoted to the nuances of doctrine.   Great stuff if you’re working on a Master of Divinity degree.   Not so great if you’re a guy or a girl simply on the journey of being a Christ-follower.

Bottom line, “substitutionary atonement” simply means that “someone else took my punishment,” or “someone else paid my debt.”   It’s about the transference of the penalty for our sin to someone else, or more accurately, Someone Else.

At this stage in my life, my understanding of this is best clarified by a comparison to the animal sacrifices taking place in Leviticus. (And there are a lot of them taking place there.)  My view is best informed by people like Rob Bell and a Canadian, Joe Amaral and others (like Ray Vanderlaan) who have provided lots of OT context for NT doctrine. We carry Joe’s DVDs in our store, and if you’re reading this from farther away, the ones on the Feasts and Hebraic roots are worth ordering directly. (They’re not quality productions, but the content is great.) Some of Rob’s best stuff on this is available on audio from Willow Creek sermons he did there earlier this decade. (Especially an 8-CD set called Rob Bell Teaches at Willow.)   You don’t have to understand all of it, but you do have to get the general idea.

Basically, the idea is that God wanted His people to ‘feel’ guilt, but to feel it from His perspective also.   To see that in order for things to be made right, there has to be a price paid.   The death of the animal sacrificed was a reminder of that.   Its pain and suffering.   Its vivid demonstration that sin leads to death.    The cost.  The loss.  To foreshadow that perfect sacrifice that was to follow.

But an online lookup of “substitutionary atonement” is likely to scare many away.   It’s a couple of fancy words that takes something really simple, and makes it sound so complicated.   Like taking Christ’s teaching and trying to make a religion out of them.

With my heart longing today to share something more simple, more elementary, I’m drawn back to something I use a lot with people, a simple spelling test.

Q. How do you spell religion?

A. D-O — Do this, do that, do the other thing. Your standing before God is/will be based on what you do.

Q. How do you spell Christianity?

A. D-O-N-E — It’s all been done for us. There is nothing we can do to earn it, it is the gift of God.

All the theological debates on the internet won’t help you understand it. It has to do with the both the grace of God and the wrath of God. It has to do with God’s justice and God’s mercy. It is truly mysterious. What matters is that know that you’ve been a partaker of it. A receiver of it.   That you know it’s yours.

You might be reading this and you feel like someone standing outside a log cabin on a cold, windy, snowy day.   Inside are people standing by a fire and warming themselves, some are drinking hot chocolate, most are laughing or talking loudly.   But you are outside, with your nose pressed against the window glass, staring at the people inside, and knowing that they are inside and you are outside.  All you would have to do is find the door and walk inside.   Then you would be a person on the inside.   But the wind beats harder and the snow changes to freezing rain, and you stand with your face against the glass…

So go ahead and Google “substitutionary atonement” and allow the concepts discussed to cause your head to swim; but at the end of the day know that the concept of God’s forgiveness and the act of Christ’s death on Calvary is intended to be simple enough that a child can understand it. Then, come as a child.

~Remix 032108


  1. And “subsitutionary atonement” is in the list of words my “Christian Buzzword Bingo” script uses! :o)

    Comment by Jim — September 22, 2008 @ 9:45 pm

  2. Have you seen the Millennial Bingo that ran years ago in the book called “101 Things To Do During a Dull Sermon?”

    When you get five in a row you stand up and shout “It’s the Rapture!”

    They also had A-Millennial Bingo. You wait for someone playing Millennial Bingo to stand up and shout “It’s the Rapture!” Then you stand up and shout, “No it’s not!”

    But alas, Jim, you’ve now taken my most heartfelt, passionate, serious blog post and taken us off in an entirely different direction.

    To get us back on track, all of you have to read the main entry all over again.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 22, 2008 @ 10:11 pm

  3. Found you with google search that sits on my desktop with these search words: thrive christian. I think it’s amazing that substitute atonement popped up. Absolutely no Christian can thrive without that one revelation clearly in their spirit, soul and mind. I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts. When you think no one new is coming by; bam there we are. Keep up the good work. You have blessed me.

    In His grace and atonement thrive…live this day with a spirit of adventure and take in all that our Father has laid out for you.

    Comment by Kay Martin — September 23, 2008 @ 5:25 am

  4. […] overview of the difference between religion and Christianity with someone.   I wrote about it in September, 2008, but the essence of it is: Q. How do you spell […]

    Pingback by The Difference Between Religion and Christ « Thinking Out Loud — June 3, 2010 @ 9:42 am

  5. “It is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13 Hmmmmmmmmmmm..its not my thought, but maybe you need to find out why its his thought. Because it surely shoots substitutionary atonement in the head.

    Comment by Theodore A Jones — November 30, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

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