I understand "knowing Jesus" as understanding Jesus who accepts the Cross, ie reasons why He did it and the suffering He took upon himself. And when I accept Him, I accept that suffering, ie I accept the possibility of the same burden to receive salvation. I can't comprehend letting someone suffer for me. I feel evil accepting His suffering for mine. I don't know if that is wrong since protestants claim I should accept (legally) his sacrifice or I go the hell. That is my core belief. Maybe it's the God complex or my ego. But I really want to understand this. Simply, my intuition prevents me from blindly believing that I have to just accept His sacrifice and be happy that he is suffering for me and not me. How can I stand in front of Him without shame after that?
There are many theories of the atonement, that is what exactly Jesus did for us that saves us, and what exactly he saves us from. Many of them can be true simultaneously.
These are the major ones:
- Moral Influence Theory : Jesus set a good example for us to follow
- Ransom Theory : Jesus is the ransom paid either to Satan or to God to buy our freedom
- Christus Victor : Jesus defeated evil, sin, death & the devil (no payoff)
- Satisfaction Theory (Anselm) : Jesus paid our debt to God to satisfy justice
- Penal Substitutionary Theory (Calvin, Luther) : Jesus paid our debt by receiving punishment we deserved
- Governmental Theory (Methodism) : Jesus paid the debt of the church to show us how serious sin is, but not in an exact sin-for-sin way
- Scapegoat Theory : complicated, but Jesus is victim, not sacrifice
In the Book of Job, that suffering man drew up a list of the things a savior would have to do to rescue him. Among them were to pay his ransom ("For I know that my Redeemer lives", Job 19:26), defeat death and evil, and purify him morally (make him like pure gold). This encompasses the first three theories.
The theory you seem to be wrestling with is Penal Substitutionary Atonement. This is a key contribution of the Protestant Reformation. Not all Christians accept it (though I do). However, whichever version you subscribe to, you need to take into account the following:
The Garden of Gethsemane
38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:38-39)
If a perfectly Holy and obedient Son (Jesus) asked his perfectly Loving and Holy and infinitely powerful and wise Father (God) if there was another way to get the job done, then if there were such a way, the Father would have allowed His son to take it. That didn't happen. Any such alternate way would involve us cleaning up part of our own mess and us enduring the suffering we justly deserve. Could we even make the interest payment on such a debt?
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
In the parable, a king forgives a servant a debt of ten thousand talents of gold. In modern terms, that is about 3.5 billion USD. In ancient terms, it was several times the annual budget of the entire kingdom of Israel. Before God, our debt is that huge. Whatever theory of atonement you pick, you owe something you can never repay.
Suffering is more than you understand
I spent two years straight studying Job. From it I learned that suffering is more than punishment, judgment, and retribution. Suffering from God is love and it is a form of communication by which our Father imbues us with His Spirit, His wisdom, and His power. I found that in the cries of Job before God spoke to him from the whirlwind, while he was debating his worthless friends, were revelations from God. Even as Job was saying that he could not see God, could not hear his voice, that God was far off from his cries for help, Job was pouring forth oracles of wisdom that came from heaven. I discovered nine prophecies of the Christ in Job's speeches which covered the Lord's ministry from beginning to end and identified the messiah as both human and divine. Those nine prophecies were arranged in chronological order. Through this suffering, Job was receiving the Word of God into him so that it could be shared with the world. Job was a type of Christ. We all must be broken by suffering. Jesus is like a jar of perfume or a balm. The jar has to be broken so that the curative can be poured on our wounds. And we must be broken like a syringe breaks the skin to administer the vaccine to our bodies.
The Bread of Life
Jesus said that he was the bread of life. When you eat bread, it keeps you alive. You are preserved. The bread is consumed.
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
After Jesus called himself the bread of life, a lot of people left him. On some level they could not accept that they needed someone to do that much for them to rescue them and pay such a heavy price. Common responses are:
- I am not that bad a person. I don't need such a dramatic rescue.
- I can do it all by myself.
- I will do part of the job because that is fair. I'll call you later when I need help.
- I am such a bad person, I don't deserve it. No way anyone would ever do that for me.
They are all forms of pride.
I would urge you to read the scriptures continually until you are persuaded you owe the true God your wholehearted worship; until you are persuaded you are a poor lost sinner; and until you know you need a miracle of grace, that you must have his help to repent and believe.
To be ashamed of our sin, to feel the burden of its guilt and the penalty it deserves - these things are a wonderful gift from God. They play a big part in making us able and willing to open the door to Christ and salvation. They are a sign God is at work with us. Those who are dead in trespasses and sins never have a proper sense of sin such that it makes them sigh for deliverance, or to keep seeking until they find Christ to be the only remedy. As the hymn writer Joseph Hart wrote "A sinner is a sacred thing, the Holy Ghost has made him so." By which he means, that the one who is conscious they are a sinner has been blessed by the Holy Spirit of God.
No one was ever saved that wasn't a sinner first.
When once we fully believe that all our debts have been freely, fully, genuinely, willingly, everlastingly and personally paid for by Christ, the Son of God, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, the Maker of heaven and earth, then I am not sure there is so much room to reflect on our own sin except to simultaneously glory in his love and grace. I mean, how can I think so much about my sinfulness to be continually, sadly wallowing in its shamefulness, to be thinking always of my own failure, which is only the one side of the coin of my experience, when on the other side of the same coin is God's amazing love, grace and acceptance of me for Christ's sake?
Joseph Hart's hymn:
When Adam by transgression fell, And conscious, fled his Maker's face, Linked in clandestine league with hell, He ruined all his future race: The seeds of evil once brought in, Increased and filled the world with sin.
But lo ! the Second Adam came, The serpent's subtle head to bruise; He cancels his malicious claim, And disappoints his devilish views; Ransoms poor prisoners with his blood, And brings the sinner back to God.
[To understand these things aright, This grand distinction should be known: Though all are sinners in God's sight, There are but few so in their own. To such as these our Lord was sent; They're only sinners who repent.
What comfort can a Saviour bring To those who never felt their woe? A sinner is a sacred thing; The Holy Ghost has made him so. New life from him we must receive, Before for sin we rightly grieve.]
This faithful saying let us own, Well worthy 'tis to be believed, That Christ into the world came down, That sinners might by him be saved. Sinners are high in His esteem, And sinners highly value him.