I always hear people say things like, 'the debt was too large' ... well, why? Why couldn't I pay for my own sin?

I don't like that Jesus took punishment for me, I would hate for my earthly father to get fined or beaten or imprisoned for me, it would enrage me, it's completely unfair. I want to pay the price myself. Why can't I?

The only thing that seems to make sense is that for some reason there had to be a blood sacrfice and that sacrfice had to be a perfect being (similar to how animals could not be sacrficed if they had any defects.) ... but why? Why does the person/animal dying need to be perfect? It doesn't make sense to me yet, I know it's the truth because I believe in God but I feel like there's a block in my understanding, like I'm waiting for a lightbulb moment where I go 'ahhhh ok now I get it.' PLEASE DON'T SAY 'there are some things we will never understand because God is God and mysterious and we just have to deal with that.' I don't believe that is the case with such a critically important issue. The early Christians seemed to have such a good grasp on the whole concept but it's evading me. Please offer your understanding if you get it. Please don't say anything if you're not 100% sure.

Thank you so much, I really want to get this so I can move forward in my faith.

  • 2
    Welcome to the site! This is a "pastoral advice" question, and not really in line with what the site is meant for. I'd recommend reading the FAQ as well as meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/1379/…meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/1379/… idea of what the site is and isn't. A question like this might fit better in chat. – David Stratton Dec 26 '12 at 13:07
  • I'm also not sure we could know for sure. However, were I to take a shot at answering based on what we do know about God, I'd start by reminding you that the reason God created us is to bring glory to Himself. From there I'd ask "if we reconcile ourselves, who gets the glory? Where is the focus? On us, or God?" and probably then point to Ephesians 2:8-9. – David Stratton Dec 26 '12 at 13:30
  • @DavidStratton An aspect of this extravagant greatness is presented in my favorite John Donne quote: "Kings pardon, but he bore our punishment." If humans justified themselves, even the glory of pardoning--of showing mercy (but not justice)--would be denied God. By being both "just and justifier" God is more fully showing who God is, i.e., glorifying God. – Paul A. Clayton Dec 26 '12 at 15:37
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    I think the core question here is answerable from a Catholic perspective. I'd have to break the rules, a little -- part of the Catholic answer is, "it's a mystery." Otherwise, I think I could come up with an adequate answer at some point today without hinging on the mystery of it. But, regarding the last line of the question, you should probably find a spiritual advisor as well. – svidgen Dec 26 '12 at 17:07

The question, as stated, presents an misunderstood view of the economy of salvation. And although it is ultimately a mystery, we can say a fair amount about sin and salvation that makes Christ's sacrifice more reasonable sounding, and the possibility of "self-salvation" far less reasonable sounding. In essence, God created humans to be like God, humans thought they were getting short-changed and disobeyed God (His Word, the law of life), so God had to become fully human to make humans like God again.

First, God makes man in His image. We can see this directly in scripture. As creation culminates, God creates man and woman.

God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:3)

Second, God places man and woman in the Garden of Eden, the Garden of delight. He gives them dominion over everything except the prerogative of good and evil. Based on context, this could mean divinity itself. The Catholic read on this, as I understand it, is that humanity is initially created in a state wherein they will live joyfully and forever, provided that trust in God's exclusive right to determine good versus evil and who is entitled to what.

15 The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. 16 The LORD God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden 17 except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die. (Genesis 2:15-17)

Third, mankind starts to believe that God is holding out. They believe that, although they were told they were made in God's image, that they actually far from God-like. They believe that they must take matters into their own hands, and they taste the forbidden fruit.

1 Now the snake was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” 2 The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’” 4 But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! 5 God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” 6 The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. (Genesis 3:1-7)

At this point, all humans are destined to die. People are finite and stupid, for one. And our pride destines us to die. We simply don't know what it means to be Godlike, nor do we have the power to acquire Godliness. We don't even fully understand what good and evil are, let alone the power to enact good. Least of all do we understand the full consequences of our actions, nor have the power to understand. Hence, having taken good and evil into our own hands, we cannot fulfill God's purpose for us to be like Him. We simply don't have the ability to raise ourselves to Godliness.

Fourth, God rescues mankind. And since the original plan was for humans to be like God, God can accomplish this by entering the full human experience. From birth:

10 The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

Through daily life, learning, teaching, eating, partying, friendship, betrayal, judgement, and denial to suffering, agony, mockery, and death.

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)

And the Catholic understanding of this is twofold.

Firstly, we understand that Christ makes humans like God again by bringing the fullness of God into the full human experience. This is often called divinization or deification. Because Jesus was fully God, everything that He was as a human, all that happened to Him, and all that He did is God-like, including death, which we are bound to!

The Son of God became man so that we might become God. - St. Athanasius

Not coincidentally, Jesus is risen from the dead, suggesting in a very "loud" manner that we too can be risen. But not of our own doing! Only by accepting God's offer for salvation by "commending our spirit" to God! That is, we can only allow ourselves to be risen by God by allowing God's offer, the power of the cross, to make us like Him again. We cannot do it on our own, for we are not God. It is precisely in an attempt to "do it on our own" that we are apart from God.

But secondly, and contrary to your request for this question, we understand that the mechanics of salvation are a mystery! It's well and good to talk about deification. It's well and good to say that Christ became sin, as we often do. It's well and good to talk about paschal sacrifices, the law, the Word Made Flesh, etc. But, that doesn't mean we understand it. And if we start to presume salvation and God are not mysterious, we find ourselves back in front of the forbidden fruit, ready to take that ill-advised bite.


There are two reasons why the sacrifice needed to be perfect. First, if the sacrifice was not perfect, the sacrifice would only be paying for his own sins. Second, the perfect life of the sacrifice satisfies the human side of the covenant, so by receiving the righteousness of the sacrifice, the saved person receives the fullness of the promises. (This is referred to as double imputation.)

Part of the difficulty in accepting this may be in not realizing how impossible it is to come even close to loving God with our all (Deuteronomy 6:5) and that all the things we think of as good deeds are filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

An attitude of self-satisfaction (which may be behind a belief that one could save oneself) has two issues. It is saying "I am good enough by my standards so I should be (must be) good enough by God's standards"; i.e., God is not any holier than I am. It is also saying "I am just as good as the God-man"; i.e., God is no more capable of saving than I am.

If one came before a great king and offered a heap of used tampons ("filthy rags" in Isaiah 64:6 may have referred to menstrual cloths) as demonstration that one is worthy of a relationship with the king, the king would either think one is insane or intentionally offering an insult ("Here, O King, is a reflection of what I think your majesty is worth--icky rubbish!").

(I realize that much of the above is dealing with the whole of salvation and not solely the just retribution for sin, but I hope this helps anyway.)


The real question is: why can't you accept to be loved by your Father? Why would it it would enrage me if your father took punishment for you?

You say: "it's completely unfair".Well, yes, it is.

But this is the difference between Grace and Law.

The Law "convinces you of your sins" and tells you what is not good. The Grace enables you to love.

In the old testament the law was leading the relationship with God (Think about Moses and the 10 commandments), and because of the law the man understands he is a sinner.

In the new Testament, Jesus does not abolish the Law, but ponts out that the most important is not only "NOT TO SIN", but to love.

Under Jesus we are asked for something that is simply impossible for us: love as He loved. Think about Mtw 5,28

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.`

We need a constant Grace and love by God to 'refine' in some way our humanity, and to be able to really love (who makes us happy).

Accepting we are 'sinners' doesn't mean accepting that we are bad, nasty. It just means to accept we are humans, not perfect, we make mistakes, we have the human Nature which is wonderful and complex (body, intelligence, soul... and we try to keep all together) and we need also God. We are not self-sufficient. It doesn't mean we are stupid: it is part of the game that we receive God's love.


I've asked a question like this too, in church. I'll explain what they told my and what made me go 'ahhhh ok now I get it.'

Before Jesus died, we had to take care of our own sins. We had to pay for them. How? Read the first 5 books of the bible, which describe the laws given to Moses. Trust me, you do not want to live that way. It is almost impossible to live that way, because you are always doing it wrong or not good enough.

Now Jesus died for us, we are free, we can live because God offered his only son for us. The perfect offer, enough to wash away all sin, for ever and ever.

So the best answer would be in my opinion: You simply can't pay for your own sins. You'd be offering all day and night, and still not be forgiven for everything. God made the choice for you, that you do not want, and have to pay for your own sins anymore. The only thing which remains, is confess your sins, and ask for forgiveness, every day again. This might be hard enough already.

  • Also I just want to say that I can see how this may be a pastoral advice question so thanks for the link to the faq's. I am very glad you didn't close it before all of these informed, biblically sound and non argumentative answers. I know the site needs to be monitored and that goes without saying, but I hope you do not jump the gun in closing questions when people are learning, as that seems to be a major point of the website. All the best – Laura Dec 28 '12 at 0:24
  • @Laura - Hi and welcome to the site! It is a shame your question was closed, unfortunately this site has to choose it purpose and the question had to be closed. People like me just toss something in before it goes down in flames because I believe although the question is being asked at the wrong site, it is still a good question in life :). Cheers. – Mike Dec 28 '12 at 1:21

You're right that a blood offering is needed. In Romans we are told:

For the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23)

We can pay for our own sins, but the cost is our death and destruction.

The cost of our sin cannot be repaid to God without death. In the old testament that death is the sacrifice of an animal:

‘If he brings a lamb as his sin offering, he is to bring a female without defect. He is to lay his hand on its head and slaughter it for a sin offering at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered. Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. (Lev 4, NIV)

The laying on of his hands is a sign that he is sinful, but he is "transfering" his sin to the lamb, and the lamb is slaughtered and its blood poured out. Note also that the lamb must be perfect to allow it to take the mans sin.

Ultimately it points forward to a time when the perfect spotless lamb comes to die:

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

A perfect substitute must be provided for our sin - no matter how hard we try, we cannot pay our debt without death.

For the other part of your question:

I don't like that Jesus took punishment for me, I would hate for my earthly father to get fined or beaten or imprisoned for me, it would enrage me, it's completely unfair.

I agree it is completely unfair that we made God die for us so we can live. As a dad though, I kind of get it. I would do anything for my children, including being beaten, imprisoned or die. That's what dad's who love thier children do!


We can’t reconcile ourselves to God because we have no power to do enough good, or suffer enough harm to equate the scales of justice. God’s justice is infinitely opposed to sin and he will not let sin go unpunished. This simply means were stuck under sin – period, without any wiggle room.

Let’s for example imagine that a person gives their life to the service or the poor and embraces whatever suffering a selfless life would lead, like Mother Teresa; this would not carry any power to appease God’s vindictive justice. Trying to obtain our reconciliation is actually like a drug lord trying to bribe the police.

The gospel is all about God freely forgiving sin by transferring all its guilt onto the Lamb of God. There is no room for any boasting or good works in light of this. If we could reconcile ourselves to God, we would have reason to boast and Christ would not have had to die. We could say I have done this therefore I deserve reconciliation. I can boast. But this is seen as a wicked attitude in the Bible in the light of God's grace, for all boasting is absolutley excluded.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8–9, ESV)

The entire glory of the gospel is that it is unfair, that God unfairly volunteered his own son to pay for our crimes. This is love.

Under the cast of the Biblical notion of sin and our guilt under it, Hitler would have more chances at getting pardon from an international court by reforming his attitudes and helping out his neighbor, after the holocaust, then we could get pardon from God by our own repentance and good deeds.

  • Thank you everyone for your responses. I have read them all slowly and did cross reference with my bible the passages which you suggested. It's all definitely food for thought and I'll keep praying about it. – Laura Dec 28 '12 at 0:08

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