The Necessity of the Atonement

9 min readFebruary 16, 2022


Christ , gospel , atonement
Jeff segoviaBy: Jeff Segovia
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Have you ever wondered why the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ was necessary? If you have ever pondered on that question, I am sure that you’ve been left with a satisfied and amazed heart. At the same time, you probably felt so much humbled as you realized the sinfulness of sin, the just and holy character of God, and the weight of Christ’s atoning work at the cross.

The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). However, finding His own is not enough to reconcile them to the Father. This is because God is just and to just simply pardon a sinner without paying the debt that is due to his sins is not a character of a just and holy God. The justice of God requires the condemnation of any one who has sinned against Him. For this reason, we are helpless to save ourselves for all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23). So, one answer to the question of why the atonement is necessary is this: the just and holy character of God. While that answer is about who God is, the second answer is about who we are.

The Sinfulness of Sin

The soul who sins shall die (Ezek. 18:4,20). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a). All have sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). These horrifying effects of sin tell us that great is its sinfulness. Now, how deep or great do you think is the sinfulness of sin?

Sin is so serious because it is committed against the Holy God who is infinitely righteous, whose being is so perfect, whose character is so pure, quite incomprehensible to the human mind. Thus, the punishment to the one who sins against God must be so severe for God is absolutely holy. Since God is just, He will not only punish the sinners, but more importantly He MUST punish them.

To further understand this, let’s see as taught by the sacred Scriptures, the different ways by which the biblical authors describe sin:

  • Debt

When we sin, we become indebted to God and this debt, we can never pay. We don’t have the ability to pay this debt for to sin is to become morally indebted to God. There isn’t someone among the sinful men from whom we can borrow or get the payment for this debt. When the Lord Jesus taught the model prayer in Matthew 6, He said this:

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

The Lord didn’t mean that we have a monetary debt to God. What’s that about is asking God for forgiveness for our sins. So to sin is to be a debtor to God.

  • Enmity

Enmity means war. It also refers to hostility or having an ill will or bitter grudge against the opposite party. Now, man in his sinful state is in enmity against God. The Bible teaches this:

Because the carnal mind [is] enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. (Romans 8:7)

Man’s desire for sin and his lack of regard for God’s glory is an indication that he doesn’t want God in his mind. Man’s hatred for God leads him to all kinds of excuses to the degree that he denies His existence. This is why there are atheists today who deny the obvious existence of God. They’re not actually atheist for there’s no such person as an atheist. What we have now in the world are liars who just deny what is obvious.

  • Crime

The late Dr. R.C. Sproul said, “Sin is cosmic treason.”.

That is absolutely right. Sin is committed against the Holy King, the One who sits on the throne, far above the heavens, seated with authority and reigning in sovereignty. Sin is a heinous crime against the Divine and thus deserving of great punishment. God gave man a command and He plainly told him not to cross a certain line. But man did. Man fell into sin by an act of disobedience and a disobedience of God’s command is sin. Man isn’t entitled to commit one sin. One sin is enough to send him to hell forever. The Bible teaches this:

Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (1 John 3:4)

God drew the line but we crossed it. God said, “Thou shall not” and we said back to Him, “I will”. He said, “Thou shall” and we willfully rebelled against Him by saying, “I will not”. This is man’s natural inclination. We are naturally law breakers.

This is the sinfulness of sin. This is the other reason why the atoning work of Christ is indeed necessary. An understanding of what the Bible teaches about sin and the humble, genuine acceptance that we are sinners will surely compel us to cast ourselves upon God’s mercy. Now, God being rich in mercy, didn’t leave us helpless. He provided a way for us to be saved  the atonement .

The Atonement

So now, a question should arise in our minds : “Since God is just and holy and that it is rightful for Him to punish the guilty, how can He forgive sinners?”

That is a valid and an important question to ask. That’s what theologians call the Divine Dilemma. But the answer is found in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, Christ came to save sinners from their sins. Even His name “Jesus” literally means “to save” or “savior”. Among the many things which He completely and perfectly did, here are some of them:

  • Forgiveness

While to sin is to become a debtor to God, to be in Christ is to be forgiven of sins. The one who sins shall die for the wages of sin is death. But Christ bore the sins of many and His blood was shed in order for them to be forgiven.

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace… (Ephesians 1:7)

Christ satisfied the justice and appeased the wrath of God by becoming the propitiation or the sacrifice that removes wrath on our behalf. Christ paid the debt that we could never pay through the shedding of His own precious blood at the cross. God Himself put Christ forward to be the substitute for us (Rom. 3:25).

  • Peace and Reconciliation

While to sin is to be in enmity against God, or to be estranged from Him, to be in Christ is to be reconciled to the Father.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation (Ephesians 2:13-14)

Our sins have separated us from God, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear (Isa. 59:2)”. But Christ’s work at the cross which justly removed the wrath of God towards His people made us reconciled to Him. When a person gets born again, he effectively becomes at peace with God. The great divide is no more and the saved can now enjoy God’s presence. This is then the start of the lifelong and eternal enjoyment in and with God as the newly converted regards Him as the ultimate treasure of his heart and the never-ending river and the never-drying well of joy and satisfaction.

  • Ransom

While sin is a crime against God, Christ paid the ransom that is due to our crime. The Lord Himself said,

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

And that’s exactly what He did. As the Good Shepherd, He laid down His own life as a ransom for many — the many who are sinful. His blood was the payment, His life was the cost. Rebels like us can now live in life and freedom because the Son of God died at that lonely cross, taking all our sins upon Him, and willfully paying the penalty that is due to such sins. Oh what a love!

Here we see love — that Christ was willing to do what’s necessary in order to save sinful men. While the cross shows us the unimaginable horrors of sin and the wrath of God, we also see there the demonstration of God’s love with which He loved the ungodly (Rom. 5:8). Oh! What a beautiful truth indeed!

So why was the atonement necessary?

God is holy and just and we’re not. As sinners we are debtors, in enmity with God, and criminals before God. But Christ’s substitutionary atonement at the cross made the forgiveness of our sins possible, provided a way for us to be reconciled to the holy God having all charges against us completely dismissed, and paid the ransom that is due to our sins. By His atoning work at the cross, God’s justice was satisfied and His wrath was appeased. His love was demonstrated and the sinners are rescued and His Name is now and forever glorified! ☺

One final note, when you think about the cross, think of the vertical part of it as what Christ has done for the Father — satisfying His justice, absorbing His wrath, paying our debts by His blood and the horizontal part of it as the effects of His perfect work — debts forgiven, sinners reconciled, ransom paid.

Always remember that! ☺

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