How Could Christ Pay For Our Sins?
Christians really excel at promoting Christianity in such a way that it turns modern people into skeptics and critics. One big reason for this is that Christians are so culturally inbred that they can only talk to each other and not to outsiders. Outsiders then don't understand what Christians are talking about and assume Christianity is just nonsense. I know. I am culturally a science kind of guy and all the stuff I heard about Christianity did not MAKE SENSE. It wasn't even easy for me to figure out what Christianity was all about.
A second important reason Christians fail is that they will simply say "God said it. I believe it. That's it!" or "The Bible clearly teaches bla, bla, bla." Modern people just don't accept things that don't MAKE SENSE. Modern people look for the why behind it all. Unfortunately, Christians seldom (it seems) can show why what God says, MAKES SENSE. And they don't know why God does what He does and says what He says because their knowledge of God is so very shallow because they aren't eager to know more about Him. Memorizing scripture is very popular but understanding what you memorized isn't really emphasized enough. Christians, then, simply become mind-numbed robots who repeat words that they don't really understand.
Here is one nice example of the problem. I found a critic in a Google+ discussion group who said this:
sorry, but the entire concept of a god sacrificing itself to itself to appease itself for a rule it set up in the first place makes no sense whatsoever.
Given the assumptions that go into it, this critic is absolutely right! This doesn't make any sense. Well, but, the assumptions that go into it are wrong. But where did these assumptions come from? Well, from Christians of course. Christians will tell you that this, that and the next thing is a sin. Sin has to be paid for. And Jesus paid for sin. But to find WHY this makes sense you have to go behind the legalism to see where it came from. Laws or rules, including the ones God makes up, always have some sense behind them. Take for instance, the speed limit in cities on residential streets in the US is usually 30 miles per hour. Why not 65? Or have no limit at all? The reason is that there are going to be too many terrible accidents if people go over 30 miles per hour.
In this particular case we have Jesus coming to Earth, living among us, loving us and doing miracles for us to prove Who He is. And He died a very painful death. And He rose from the dead. Rising from the dead proves that God endorsed everything Jesus said and did. All of this gets the attention of lots of people. They will want to know more about Him and what happened to Him. And why it happened to Him. So when it comes to the sense behind it all, you can say this:
Jesus paid the penalty for our sins in the sense that He did what was necessary to get our attention and make us want to follow Him.
By analogy, think of advertisements, like on TV, like for the Super Bowl. Companies put together something really expensive (they pay a penalty by sacrificing some profits) in order to get people to think about their product. And they want you to become their loyal followers. When I responded to this person with a short summary he said then that what Jesus did "was a publicity stunt." I said, "You are absolutely right!". Jesus' expedition to Earth is a much grander (and nobler, to be sure) advertisement trying to get people to give up their selfishness, follow God and get a really wonderful life in the future. So here you have something that MAKES SENSE.
Well, now, how to you turn this idea that makes sense into the legalism that does not seem to make sense? First there is a given: the penalty for sin is death. This doesn't just mean physical death, it also means spiritual death. Spiritual death means separation from God. If you never want to give up sin you will end up REALLY separated from God, you end up in Hell. The other side of this is that you can only really get life, that is, a real, meaningful, full spiritual life by hanging out with God. If you don't think this makes sense, then read another essay, "Hell, Yes!" where I develop the idea in more detail.
Next, in the end, people are saved by having faith in God. That is, trusting Him to the point where they decide to follow Him forever. (Just believing that God exists is not good enough. Demons know that God exists and that's not going to do them any good.) Abraham is the classic Old Testament case. God was working with Abraham one on one. God was appearing to Abraham. And talking with Abraham. And doing good things for Abraham. The biggest thing God did for Abraham was that God gave Abraham, a son, Isaac, long after Abraham's wife Sarah could not have children. In this whole process, Abraham grew to trust in God. Abraham thus demonstrated that he wanted to follow God. And for this reason, God declared him righteous, or in other words, God was going to forget Abraham's sins, make Abraham over into a perfect person who would be fit for heaven, who would get eternal life (a great spiritual life) by having a close, personal relationship with God.
Well, with Abraham, God was working one on one. But there were going to be a whole lot more souls coming to Earth. God knew that these souls would take to sin like ducks take to water. He gives these souls the opportunity to be sinful (selfish) and then is basically constantly asking them if they really like being selfish and living for eternity in a world filled with selfish people or would they like to move on to a better, perfect world. God did not decide to work with these souls one on one in a personal way in exactly the same way God worked with Abraham. Instead we have Jesus, who works with a massive number of people rather than just one. Now it is given that Jesus was simply present from "the beginning" (He always existed, just like God the Father) and this puts Jesus in a really unique position to be able to explain everything to human beings. Jesus is then really said to be God (but I will not touch the Trinity issue in this essay, the problem of how God can have three parts.)
So now Jesus has been given a project to work with a massive number of people. His mission is to get people to trust in Him (and therefore God) in same basic way God got Abraham to trust in God. To do this, Jesus needs to demonstrate just how much God loves people. Jesus was able to do this by healing people and even raising a few of them from the dead. Also, Jesus demonstrated his love for people by suffering a terrible death on the cross in order to make this project work. All of this is quite a sacrifice. He put our happiness ahead of His own (This of course, is a nice demonstration of how people really need to be, and will be in heaven. Put everyone ahead of yourself and let God coordinate the details.)
God said there had to be a perfect sacrifice to pay for human sins. Jesus was perfect so He really did not deserve death. He got death anyway. But since He was sinless, God could raise Him from the dead. God proved Jesus was perfect because God raised Him from the dead. The fact that God could do this for Jesus means that God can do this for other people as well. Jesus was saying exactly that while He was on Earth.
So to summarize: God came up with a project where massive numbers of people could come to trust in Him. To accomplish this project, God needed someone who really knew God and that would be Jesus (who was also God). Jesus would also be perfect (sinless) and that meant Jesus could be raised from the dead. Or another short way to put it is, only God/Jesus dying on the cross and later being resurrected could result in large numbers of people coming to God/Jesus and having their sins forgotten (or taken away).
Christians: modern people are looking for things that MAKE SENSE. They are not going to accept "The Bible clearly teaches bla bla bla" or "God said it. I believe it. That's it." Ages ago when people were poorly educated, Christians could get away with this. They could say, "Well, the priest knows all about this so just believe what he says, OK!" But now when Christians can't give the sense behind what God does then naturally modern people just won't believe Christians.