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tom_g's avatar

Can someone explain the concept of Jesus "dying for our sins"?

Asked by tom_g (16570 points ) January 24th, 2013

I usually brush over this whole thing because I really don’t get it. But maybe someone can make this whole thing make more sense to me. Was this a “human” sacrifice? And if so, what did that accomplish? Did god sacrifice himself to himself to satisfy his own blood lust, or was doing this necessary to accomplish something? And whatever was accomplished, could it have been done a different way?

I’m particularly interested in the Christian take here. I was brought up a Catholic, and we just never went into this in detail, although we were always told that “Jesus died for your sins. That’s how much he loves us.” I can’t wrap my head around this.

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31 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

This is my short theology, and my not be completely accurate:

Since Man is sinful (imbued with original sin, etc.) there was no entry to heaven prior to the Messiah. God sent his Son to us so that there would be a sacrifice that was worthy for the redemption of us all, and through the Resurrection would move us all beyond the need for sacrifice. Through the Death and Resurrection, it is possible to be in a state of grace (sins wiped away) and there fore worthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

CWOTUS's avatar

It’s a hell of a good question. I’m making popcorn now.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@tom_g I don’t get how a cradle Catholic wouldn’t know, since we go through such a big production every Easter- lol

Basically, the reason Jesus had to die for our sins was so that we could be forgiven and go to be with the Lord. Jesus is God in flesh (John 1:1,14; Col. 2:9) and only God can satisfy the Law requirements of a perfect life and perfect sacrifice that cleanses us of our sins.

All people have sinned against God. But, God is infinitely holy and righteous. He must punish the sinner, the Law- breaker. If He didn’t, then His law is not Law for there is no law that is a law without a punishment. The punishment for breaking the Law is death, separation from God. Therefore, we sinners need a way to escape the righteous judgment of God. Since we are stained by sin and cannot keep the Law of God, then the only one who could do what we cannot is God Himself. That is why Jesus is God in flesh. He is both divine and human. He was made under the Law (Gal. 4:4) and He fulfilled it perfectly. Therefore, His sacrifice to God the Father on our behalf is of infinite value and is sufficient to cleanse all people from their sins and undo the offense to God.

thorninmud's avatar

Here’s the way I learned it:

Adam and Eve were perfect humans, constitutionally capable of living according to Gods laws without screwing up. But when tested by the Devil, they chose to rebel. This somehow corrupted their entire lineage, so that all of their descendents would have an inherent flaw that would make it impossible for them to live without sin.

To set things right, another perfect human, free of this inherent flaw, had to come on the scene, be tested to the nth degree, and not screw up. Having maintained his perfection, he would not owe the penalty that comes from sin, namely death. But by nevertheless willingly taking this penalty upon himself, he effectively paid that penalty for all mankind. It was a “ransom” arrangement, a buying back of mankind’s innocence.

tom_g's avatar

Thanks. But I’m still unclear.

So, god (an omnipotent. all-knowing god) built into his plan to manifest as a half human/half god entity 2000 years ago in order to fulfill a technicality of his creation?

If he wanted to provide a way to “cleanse all people from their sins” (@KNOWITALL), why did he have to wait until 2000 years ago, why didn’t he just do it from the beginning, and am I making too big a deal of this because the Christian god is not supposed to be omnipotent?

tom_g's avatar

Additionally, what exactly did this accomplish? Is @zenvelo correct that this marks the creation of a path to heaven?

Pachy's avatar

I’m not Christian and regard Jesus only as a great teacher. Having said that, I believe the meaning of “dying for our sins” is sort of like a president saying “The buck stops here” or a manager or coach accepting full responsibility for his team’s performance. I know that’s simplistic and certainly not expressed in terms of theology, but that’s how I see it.

thorninmud's avatar

@tom_g This gets into the whole “free will” question, namely: if God knows everything, then surely he must have foreseen A&E’s rebellion and the whole redemption scheme from the beginning. But—so the argument goes—this would have deprived A&E of the freedom to choose their path, so God opted not to exercise his omniscience in this regard.

As to why he waited before executing the ransom arrangement, one argument is that this was to get it on record that life in a state of sin thoroughly sucks. By allowing mankind to stew awhile in the misery of existence in separation from God, the record would clearly show that this isn’t the way to go.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@tom_g As to the atonement to which you refer, I suppose there is a sense in which you are correct, but remember that Christ was able to forgive sins during His First Advent, that is, before He went to the cross and actually “paid” the price for them (cf. Matt.9:2). And David pronounces blessings upon the man whose sins God has wiped out (i.e., David and everyone else who has ever appealed to God for mercy: Ps.32:1). It is true that in these and all other cases of forgiveness before the cross, God is basing His just mercy upon the sure knowledge of Christ’s later sacrifice (Rom.3:25–26 explains this principle), whereas we today have this same just mercy based upon the historical fact of Jesus’ death for us and for the whole world. But whether looking forward to the cross in anticipation or looking back to it in remembrance, in both cases the children of God seek and receive His mercy and forgiveness, seek His atonement and propitiation by faith in the substitute He would (then) or has (now) provided.

We can see in this particular aspect in the operation of the plan of God a macrocosm of our individual lives vis-a-vis the plan of God. Why aren’t we immediately transported to heaven after believing? Or to hell after rejecting Christ? Why does God sometimes not answer our prayers immediately? Why do we have to wait? In all these things, God is showing us something here on earth, namely, His faithfulness and goodness, and righteousness, and wisdom in all manner of situations, places, and historical eras. God is showing us Himself. All we have to do is to watch, and listen, and learn, and trust Him that He knows best and is doing the best for us, no matter what the world says to the contrary.

God has a different take on time than we do, in part at least because He sees in one stitch of time all these things, Adam and Eve, you and I, Jesus’ two advents, and all who have chosen for Him, so that with Him, slowness to act over several millennia is not really slowness at all (2Pet.3:8–9), but rather the perfect development and implementation of the perfect plan that gives all of His creatures the perfect opportunity for salvation and spiritual growth, and for coming to appreciate to the full what a truly and indescribably marvelous God He is.

http://ichthys.com/mail-wait%20to%20send%20Jesus.htm

Seek's avatar

God made man to be perfect, but gave him free will.

God told man, “You can do whatever you want, except X. If you do X, you’ll die.”

Man, being an ape that’s attracted immediately to what he’s not allowed to have, did “X”.

God, being the logical creature he is, said “Well, now you have to die. But I kind of like you, so you’ll just die eventually. But we’ll make an ‘out’. If you kill animals occasionally and sacrifice them to me, you’ll get to die once and then live forever after that. If you don’t, you’ll have to die a lot, all the time, for all eternity, with all the other creations of mine that have disobeyed or displeased me.”

Eventually, it became really inconvenient to kill all those animals, so God went with another ‘out’. Obvi, we still needed a sacrifice – God isn’t quite so omnipotent that he could just, y’know, change his mind about the whole death thing – so God decided as a public service, he would become human, and sacrifice himself. Since god-blood is much more valuable than goat-blood, it works for everyone.

Now as long as you believe this happened, that the sacrifice was necessary and meaningful, and you follow all the other laws (or at least are really, really super-duper sorry when you do break them) you get to live forever. If you don’t believe or aren’t sorry, you go to the naughty corner.

tom_g's avatar

@KNOWITALL – I realize that the last response was pure quote from that link. But the type of language used is useless to me. I can’t comprehend any of it. I’m curious what you think about this issue. And are you able to translate it into something that would make sense to non-Christians?

@thorninmud – Yeah, I didn’t want to wander into the whole free will thing, because that will definitely open up a whole other discussion. And while we can pretend that god was able to shut down his omniscience for a moment, it does present us with an image of a god with poor judgement.
But the second point about showing humankind that “separated from god” suck – that’s interesting. Wouldn’t this first-hand knowledge of what existence is like while “separated from god” only apply to those people who lived prior to the Jesus sacrifice?

@Seek_Kolinahr – Right, the whole animal sacrifice thing makes sense. Since this is how the people in that time saw things, it would make sense that a human sacrifice would fit in. I guess. But how that flies today is rather odd. First, we’re not really into the whole blood sacrifice thing. But we’re also into personal responsibility. If I murder someone in your family, we are likely (as a society) not likely to accept an offer from some random person to serve my jail sentence for me.

Anyway, thanks everyone. I’ll keep reading and processing this….

Seek's avatar

@tom_g and that’s why Bronze age religions don’t make sense anymore, when you add in the capacity for critical thought.

ragingloli's avatar

Story wise, Jesus paid the price and suffered the consequences for the misdeeds of others.
It absolves believers of responsibility for and consequences of their actions.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@tom_g I think you should talk to your parish priest who probably knows a lot more than me. I think it’s an unanswerable question because I can’t know the thinking process of God.

rojo's avatar

A couple of excerpts from The Pauline Conspiracy by A. Victor Garaffa (Here) regarding his view of Original Sin and Jesus.

1) Paul saw Jesus as the means of salvation, not by adherence to his teachings or by following his example, not by his light, his life, or his way, but through his death. As a human sacrifice whose blood atoned for the sins of all mankind.

“It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses…” (Romans 4:25; RSV)

“Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood…” (Romans 5:9; RSV)

He conceived of Jesus as being pre-existent with God at the creation, and that he came to earth in human form as God incarnate, but born as other men through the flesh and into sin. This would seem to negate the purpose of the Virgin Birth, of which he apparently had no concept.

Paul’s complex philosophy sees Jesus as being without sin, yet condemns him to sin by being born through a mortal woman, ”...into sin.” Contradictions abound in his play on words, but only because he is building his ‘theology’ on the basis of Greek mythological philosophies, existing pagan rituals, and Pharisaic concepts such as ‘predestination’.

2) And now Paul strikes upon the ultimate theory, and the ultimate confusion.

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (Romans 8:28–29; RSV)

You see, Paul speaks with a forked tongue. God works for the good of those who love him… AND are called! Predestined!

Paul’s concept of God’s plan is complex, and with the terms he uses, there is no way one can avoid drawing the conclusion that Paul is speaking of predestination. Even our Christian scholars agree that there is no way to, ”...avoid such a conclusion.” (The Interpreter’s Bible; Volume 9: Page 525)

Can all of this be understood in a simple way? If we are ‘chosen’ beforehand, ‘predestined’ to be a part of something, then in effect there is no, free will. It has been set out beforehand, etched in stone, so to speak. With such a ‘calling,’ the individual has no free choice, they will be what God has ‘chosen’ them to be.

The horror, therefore, is not of being thus singled out for God’s purpose, but for those who never will be, cannot possibly be, for God has made His choice beforehand. If there is a pre-set group who have been ‘chosen’, then man has no ability to choose to follow God, he is condemned, for those who will follow, those who will serve, have already been ‘glorified’ by God’s ‘calling.’

“And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30; RSV)

Logically then, those whom he did not choose are condemned!

The ‘chosen’ are also known by Paul as the ‘elect.’ The problem with Paul’s theory is that if it were true, his preaching any gospel would be useless. Regardless of what any one tried to do, the ‘elect’ have already been ‘chosen’ to carry out God’s will. All else is in vain!

And if one chooses to say that there is always the chance that one soul might be ‘saved’ by ministry, then we question the “perfection” of God’s works.

tom_g's avatar

@KNOWITALL: ”@tom_g I think you should talk to your parish priest who probably knows a lot more than me. I think it’s an unanswerable question because I can’t know the thinking process of God.”

But it does make enough sense to you that it doesn’t keep you up at night. So, it isn’t just a matter of “I don’t know what the heck god was thinking”. I have heard Christians say that they can be brought to tears by the thought of what Jesus did. I’m assuming the tears aren’t out of frustration because they just don’t get it. It sounds to me they deeply understand the logic behind the Jesus sacrifice, and it is beautiful.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Have you ever watched the Passion of the Christ ? It’s all over the world, including the Muslim world, and thousands have and will continue to convert, even in Iran. It has touched many lives by the shear brutality of the scenes.

The torture and sacrifice of Jesus, for US, not any selfish purpose, is beautiful. If your mom layed down and died so you could live, it would be very meaningful to you as well, I’m sure.

He didn’t call the angels to save him and take him to Heaven, or to scare the persecutors with his wrath, and this man who walked on water, didn’t just pull the nails out and walk away, he stuck with it, died and was buried, and rose again through God’s grace and power, for us. To show us he was the One.

Then he specifically asked his father, God, to ‘forgive them for they know not what they do’, because he hadn’t proved through his miracles and other actions (like healing Lazurus and all the documented miracles), that he was the One, so he had to go through the crucifixion, burial and miraculous raising again to prove it.

These are the kinds of questions, that cause me a little regret about not going into a nunnery or service of some kind. I thought about it, I really did, but I didn’t feel the calling strongly enough. Can you imagine the bliss of studying your Deity and his works all your life with no distractions?

tom_g's avatar

@KNOWITALL: “The torture and sacrifice of Jesus, for US, not any selfish purpose, is beautiful. If your mom layed down and died so you could live, it would be very meaningful to you as well, I’m sure.”

Wait. Wasn’t Jesus aware that he was being sacrificed (whether he was half/all god/whatever) so that people could “live” forever in heaven and all that? I don’t know a single human being that would not go through that so that people could “live” forever or whatever. Seriously. I would do it for far less noble causes. There is nothing exceptional about a half-god doing what anybody would do, right? Especially since this god was just going to be “dead” for a few days before dancing around living the good life. The term “sacrifice” means very little in this context.

But these questions aside, I can’t figure out how this concept of the Jesus story doesn’t paint god in a bad light.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@tom_g I personally don’t think people are quite as self-sacrificing as you do when it comes down to being tortured and dying, but point taken – lol

Please explain what you mean about not painting God in a bad light….like He should have come down in all His glory with a legion of angels to kill everyone who was hurting his son?

You’re asking some odd questions for a cradle Catholic, friend, but I kind of like it. It reminds me of me when I was 17 and going to conversion classes….ha!

tom_g's avatar

@KNOWITALL: “Please explain what you mean about not painting God in a bad light….like He should have come down in all His glory with a legion of angels to kill everyone who was hurting his son?”

Well it at least reveals a god that is lacking no omnipotent and omniscient, and likely not benevolent. If he had shut off his omniscience one weekend when designing the universe, he should at least be able to make corrections without human sacrifice. The fact that it makes for good cinema seems to rely on the fact that we have a victim. This is a victim of this god (and also half this god or something?).

Look, if a chump like me can spend a few hours designing a universe that works better than this supposed god, it just doesn’t look good. It looks like we’re dealing with someone who is “special” in the “in the brain” sense – not the “exceptional’ sense.

Should he have “come down in all his glory…”? I don’t know. What about just raising your hand and producing the whole forgiveness of sins thing without being all drama queen about it?

KNOWITALL's avatar

@tom_g I’m sorry, but the tone of your last post makes me uncomfortable. Peace.

ucme's avatar

In short, it’s like putting David Blaine to death…a controversial, but popular move.

Linda_Owl's avatar

The whole idea that anyone can die to make another’s sin a redeemable situation is ridiculous. The whole concept is ludicrous. That an all-knowing “God” would subject his flesh & blood “Son” to be crucified (a very brutal & torturous death) as a sacrifice to “Himself” for the benefit of the beings that he Created (& being “All-Knowing God” he created beings that he had to have known that would fail to do what he wanted them to do). However, if you look at the concept of the Christian Church & the (questionable) fact that someone that was so inter-twined with the new ‘faith’ had to “Die” & then to “Rise from the Dead” – then you have the perfect situation for this new ‘faith’ to take control of the minds of the people of the time. All the early church had to do was to LIE & they have continued to lie to the ‘faithful’ from the earliest point in time.

filmfann's avatar

I am not a Biblical scholar, but I will take a shot at this.

Before the birth of Christ, the Jews had to routinely sacrifice animals, vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts to God to absolve them of their sins. The animals sacrificed had to be unmarked, and never used for plowing, etc.
The Sacrifice of Jesus, who was perfect (without sin), was so great that no other sacrifice would ever be needed again.

By the way, it is easy to say you can be honorable and stand up to the torture he endured for a good cause, but the cold truth is you wouldn’t. Jesus had to endure their torture, and still not hate them for it. Otherwise, the sacrifice wouldn’t have been worthy.

Judi's avatar

I haven’t read the other answers yet. In these kinds of questions it’s better for me to read them after answering.
Instead of thinking of sin as all the bad things you do, think of it as the thing that separates you from perfect intimacy with God.
God is the source of life. Separation from him is death. Since we all tend to seek our own selfish ambition, even against our own self interest, we are destined to death. God wanted to find a way to restore that perfect balance, and perfect relationship.
He sent his son, who was sinless to take our place in death. He conquered death and although we constantly break that relationship, what Jesus did created a bridge that allows us to return to that perfect relationship.
I think it’s probably bigger than this. That reconciliation is for all of creation and I sometimes have a hard time wrapping my head around that but as far as my little mortal mind can grasp, that’s what the whole “dieting for your sins” means.

rojo's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Free Will??!!??
“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (Romans 8:28–29; RSV)

“And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30; RSV)

If we are ‘chosen’ beforehand, ‘predestined’ to be a part of something, then in effect there is no, free will. It has been set out beforehand, etched in stone, so to speak. With such a ‘calling,’ the individual has no free choice, they will be what God has ‘chosen’ them to be.

The horror, therefore, is not of being thus singled out for God’s purpose, but for those who never will be, cannot possibly be, for God has made His choice beforehand. If there is a pre-set group who have been ‘chosen’, then man has no ability to choose to follow God, he is condemned, for those who will follow, those who will serve, have already been ‘glorified’ by God’s ‘calling.’

Where is the free will part?

Judi's avatar

@rojo, that argument (pre destination vs free will) has been going on since Calvin and Luther at least. I doubt we will resolve it here.

thorninmud's avatar

@Judi You just made my day with “dieting for your sins”.

GracieT's avatar

When I raised the point of predestination with people the answer usually is that God does not pick the people who are going to positively respond to Him, but rather that He knows beforehand who are going to do so, and that He doesn’t actually choose Himself. I don’t know how I feel about that, even though I am a believer, I am “born again.”

Judi's avatar

@thorninmud, darned iPhone and fluthering when I should be sleeping!

Seek's avatar

@rojo Yep. Which is why, again, the religion doesn’t make sense. I was simply reiterating the concept as I understand it.

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