The God Who Saves

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Study 3

The atoning sacrifice

The aim of this study is to show God's surprising, loving and just solution to the problem of sin. God reconciles himself to us by taking our punishment personally. This part of the gospel is not widely taught outside the Protestant church. As a result, it can come as a real surprise for many religious people. More often, religious people see Jesus' death on the cross as an example of supreme goodness—an example we are to follow. While this is true, it is not the whole story. Seeing Jesus' death as just an example leaves people feeling that it is a distant event—an event which makes them feel hopeless and guilty. Some may even think, “I could never be like that”. Understanding that Jesus' death on the cross is his personal payment for each of our sins can be a real revelation. A number of religious people I know have said that understanding the atonement helped them to understand the gospel at last. It made sense of why Jesus had to die. One said angrily, “I can't believe no-one has ever explained this to me before!”

1. There are a number of ways that God could deal with the problem of sin.

Option 1: God could just forgive us, irrespective of what we've done, its consequences, or whether or not we want to be forgiven.

a) Do you think this solution is just? Why or why not?

All wrongdoing requires punishment. People may feel that a good God should be able to simply overlook sin, as we sometimes do. However, the problem is really that our standards are considerably lower than those of a perfect God. Everyone will reach a point where they decide that certain actions can't be ignored and need to be punished, whether it be the bullying of a child, paedophilia or genocide. God, being perfect, must be perfectly just.

Option 2: God could give everyone what they deserve.

b) What do we deserve?

We deserve the punishment of death, since we haven't just committed small individual sins; we've rejected the authority of the Creator over our lives. The wrong things we do are simply an outward expression of our inward rejection of God.

c) Is this solution merciful?

No.

Read Romans 3:21-26.

2. Who has sinned?

All (v. 23).

3. How do sinners become “justified” (= declared to be righteous or acquitted)?

They are justified freely, by God's grace (that is, his generosity), through the death of Christ as a sacrifice of atonement. See the explanation of this idea on page 17 of The God Who Saves. You might like to invite the person/group to explain what this means in their own words in order to check that they understand this properly.

4. What contribution do people make towards being saved from their sin?

None at all. Christ dies for our sin which means that we don't have to.

5. Why does God save people from their sin this way?

In Romans 3:25-26, it is to demonstrate God's justice. Also, as we saw in Study 1 when we looked at Romans 5:6-10 and Ephesians 2:1-10, it was because of God's love.

6. How does this demonstrate God's justice?

The full penalty that sin warranted has been paid by God himself.

7. How does this demonstrate God's mercy?

The ones who deserved to die for sin have been shown mercy and have escaped that penalty.

8. If being saved relies completely on what God has done, can you be certain that you are saved? Why or why not?

We can be certain of being saved if we trust in God. He is able to do what he sets out to do, and he showed that he intended to save us by giving up his only son to pay the price of salvation.

9. If being saved relies on what you do, can you be certain you are saved? Why or why not?

If we look to ourselves—the strength of our faith, or whether or not we are good—we are in trouble, and can have no certainty. The answer to doubts about your salvation is to look to what God has done in Jesus.