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I've heard many people state that it was the punishment inflicted by the Romans that allows God to forgive us. This just doesn't make any sense to me.

How can a man suffer for a short while here on earth in order that a divine being have the right to forgive sin?

What is the framework of substitutionary atonement that makes Christ's death effective?

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    I've been thinking about that recently too. I would imagine that the sacrifice required for the sins of the entire world would be something so great that no human could endure it, hence the need for a godly saviour. But everything we read in the Bible surrounding Christ's death is able to be endured by a mortal man.
    – user23
    Aug 27, 2011 at 18:35

10 Answers 10

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Let's start with your question title. For the sake of argument let's turn it around and ask "Why would God not be allowed for forgive us?" The problem lies in God's idea of justice. We could spend a lot of time one this one, but let's keep it it simple:

Isaiah 61:8 (ESV)
For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong [...]

In order for Him to actually be just, he has to administer justice. In order for justice to be adminstered the proper recompense has to be made for any wrong-doing. We know that the only way to pay for sin is death:

Romans 6:23 (ESV)
For the wages of sin is death [...]

So we have to die. Or somebody has to die for us. The only person qualified to do that is Christ. The why is a subject for another question. Let's skip to what Christ did. When he was on the Cross he took upon himself the full wrath of God against all our sins.

Isaiah 53:4-5 (ESV) Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

God chose to crush Him. The pain inflicted by the Romans was nothing compared to the weight of that wrath. Even humans can endure the torture of crucifixion for the amount of time Christ did ... longer in fact. The difference was that while the physical act was in progress he also bore an infinite amount of punishment from His own Father. How does that work out for those who believe in Him?

Romans 5:9 (ESV)
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

To round this out I would point out that from a Reformed Protestant perspective, the notion that anything the hands of men could inflict upon Christ, no matter how brutal the Romans were could do anything to change God's ability to do or not do something is considered heretical. What Christ endured at the hands of the Romans an in crucifixion is both symbolic of a spiritual reality that was going on behinds the scenes, but also real in that that it put the rulers and authorities of this world to open shame while at the same time setting the stage for his physical resurrection to demonstrate his victory over death.

Colossians 2:14-15 (ESV)
[God] by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

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It's important to remember that there were two separate things happening here. The Crucifixion was only the end of the Atonement, which needed to cover both aspects of the Fall: sin and death.

When Christ was taken by the Roman soldiers, he wasn't still at the scene of the Last Supper, where Judas had been before he left to go betray him. He went up to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane, and it was there that he took upon himself the sins of the world. He had done everything the Father asked of him thus far, but it was at this one point alone that we ever see any hint of hesitation, when he pleaded, "if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."

Here we have the Perfect Man, who has literally never sinned in his life, being asked to take upon himself the spiritual punishment for all the sins of the world. That's a pretty horrible thing, when you think about it, and it was difficult even for a God to bear. "And his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." It's hard to imagine what that could possibly be like. Some extreme ordeals, such as childbirth with complications, have been known to cause a very small amount of blood to leak through the skin like sweat. To have it happen generally surely means that something unprecedented is taking place, and to have the subject survive the experience is a miracle in itself!

But he did survive it, paying the price for our sins that we would not have to if we would repent. After that he was taken, betrayed and tried in a sham trial, condemned and sent off to his death on the cross. This was necessary since, even though he had already paid for our sins, there was still death to deal with. So he allowed them to crucify him, giving up his life voluntarily and not having it taken from him (John 10: 18) as evidenced by his sudden death while crying with a loud voice--most victims of crucifixion died slowly of exhaustion, and this would have been impossible ordinarily.

He had to give up his life so that he could take it again, conquering death and unlocking the Resurrection for everyone. It's important to remember that "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15: 22) That part wasn't our fault, so it's paid for unconditionally, for everyone. But our sins are our own choices, so we have to choose to have faith in him, repent of our sins and live according to the law of the Gospel to have them washed away in his blood.

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  • "difficult for even a [sic] God to bear". However, keep in mind that Jesus put off the nature of God to become incarnate as man. While on earth he functioned as a man with the power of the Holy Spirit, not as God.
    – user32
    Aug 27, 2011 at 21:14
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    -1 You didn't really provide much scripture to backup your answer. Aug 29, 2011 at 16:41
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    @Jonathan: I'm sorry. I didn't figure references would be necessary in this specific case, as I stuck to material that's pretty familiar to anyone who knows the story of Jesus.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Aug 29, 2011 at 16:53
  • One comment on your first paragraph. I wouldn't consider the Crucifixion to be the end of the atonement – death wasn't conquered until the Resurrection. You did mention this in your last paragraph, but I just wanted to point out the wording in the first. Mar 26, 2016 at 6:07
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***Note - answers provided from LDS perspective. Author no longer affiliated with LDS beliefs.

Whereas the other answers assert that Christ expiated on our behalf and reiterate what he did, I interpret the OP's question as asking how or why it was done. Specifically, why would a rational and non-arbitrary God allow forgiveness of sin via proxy expiation, which to the OP seems irrational. Indeed, scripture echos this sentiment - each person shall be punished for their own sins and not for another's: Deut 24:16, Psalm 49:7, Ezek 18:20, Alma 34:11, AOF:2. How then is Christ punished for our sins?

TL;DR:

  1. Jesus is like our father, and we His children in that He is charged with and responsible for our salvation.
  2. He may therefore take responsibility for our sins, though He Himself is sinless.
  3. This, in combination with His unique heritage allow Him to suffer on our behalf, yet return to God's presence, and raise Himself from the dead,
  4. Making Jesus our intermediary and advocate with the Father.

Summary

  1. Implications of Adam's transgression and fall.
  2. God loves us, but cannot save us - a matter of jurisprudence.
  3. Salvation is through Christ, because he is special, and he alone can save us.

Implications of Adam's transgression and fall

God placed Adam/Eve in His Garden and gave them commandments, which if broken would carry consequences (Gen 2:17). They transgressed God's commandments, suffered the consequences, which we their progeny also suffer by inheritance (Gen 3:4-24). The consequences we all suffer is death. Death comes in two flavors (physical and spiritual) and may refer to different occurrences. This can get pretty confusing, so here's a glossary:

Death

The words "death" and "life" are often used in scripture in a way that clearly has spiritual connotations rather than physical (Rom 6:23, James 1:15).

Spiritual Death #1

Aliases: The Fall, first death (LDS only), spiritual death

When Adam/Eve transgressed, they were "cut off" from God's presence, which is sometimes referenced as a type of "death" (Gen 2:17). In LDS scripture, this is sometimes called the "first" death, because in Christian chronology it came first (D&C 29:41, Hel 14:16).

Physical Death

Aliases: The Grave, death, first death (LDS only), temporal death (LDS only)

We know this one. We all gonna die (except maybe John the beloved?). In LDS scripture this is sometimes called the "first" death, because it comes before the "second" spiritual death - not to be confused with the "first" spiritual death. Confusing, right?

Spiritual Death #2

Aliases: Hell, Hades, second death (Bible and LDS), spiritual death

At some point, every person is called to judgement before God/Christ (Rom 14:10-12) and receives either Eternal Life or Damnation for reasons that depend on who you ask, but generally in some way for rejecting Christ and His Gospel.

Rev 20:6, Rev 20:14, Rev 2:11

FYI (Life/Salvation)

Just as scripture outlines different kinds of death, so there are different kinds of salvation from death:

God loves us but cannot save us

Salvation: when I say saved, I mean salvation from death (both physical and spiritual) as outlined above.

God (the Father), is perfect (Matt 5:48), cannot lie (Heb 6:18), and has decreed punishment for sin. Hence God cannot simply revoke His promises and forgive sin, nor raise men from the dead. We on the other hand, being inheritors and participants of carnal desires, and being cut off from the ennobling influence of God that might otherwise compel us to righteousness, are utterly hopeless to regain God's presence, or Heaven (Rom 7:18-25, Rom 3:10-12).

** Note the analogue embodied in the Mosaic law, in which Priests were "forbidden" from touching a corpse (Num 19:11), but somebody else (e.g. a good Samaritan) could. Luke 10:25-37. This is echoed in Paul's writings where he contrasts God's law with Christ's mercy.

Salvation through Christ

Enter Deus Ex Machina (Jesus of Nazareth) - a third party who will satisfy the demands of God's justice and at the same time fulfill God's (and man's) desire for mercy. But first, some concerns:

  1. No copouts: God can't simply delegate forgiveness of sin and be exonerated by this technicality and a wink, any more than David for (not technically!) killing Uriah (2 Sam 12:9-10). That'd just be bad storytelling.
  2. Question of ability: We already established that we all inherit death/damnation through Adam. And Christ is descended from Adam, so how is He able to sidestep death?
  3. Question of justice: Even if Jesus can save us, how is that right, or just?

The answer is that Jesus was no ordinary human, and His special qualities and position allowed Him to sidestep death - both physical and spiritual.

Ability - Victory over The Grave by inheritance

Jesus was conceived of a virgin birth (Matt 1:18, Luke 1:34-35), and was essentially a demi-god (half God). He inherited God's immortality (John 5:26) and Mary's mortality so that he could both "lay down [His] life...[and] take it up again" (John 10:17-18).

Ability - Victory over Hell by virtue

Jesus inherited a carnal half-human body from His mother Mary with all its attendant temptations, but never sinned (Heb 4:4-14). Hence, if it somehow were just or right that He suffer on our behalf, that would mean He'd be cut off from God the Father (i.e. spiritual death or Hell - Matt 27-46). But, because He was without sin nothing would preventing Him from returning and ascending back to God's Kingdom.

But still, how would proxy expiation be just?

Justice - Victory over Hell by commission

Finally, we get to the OP's question: How is it just to atone for another's sins. In law you can require payment for damages from someone other than the perpetrator of those damages only if that someone is responsible for the perpetrator's actions. Such is the relationship between a parent and child, and such is the relationship between Jesus and mankind. To Jesus was committed God's Kingdom (1 Cor 15:24-28), God's authority to judge man (John 5:27), and the commission to save every last human being from before the foundation of the World (John 17:24, 1 Peter 1:20).

In summary:

  1. Jesus is like our father, and we His children in that He is charged with and responsible for our salvation.
  2. He may therefore take responsibility for our sins, though He Himself is sinless.
  3. This, in combination with His unique heritage allow Him to suffer on our behalf, yet return to God's presence, and raise Himself from the dead,
  4. Making Jesus our intermediary and advocate with the Father.
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  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. For more on what this site is all about, see: How we are different than other sites. Thanks for offering an answer here. Though you've provided references for most of your quotations, a reference is missing for the final one, and needs to be supplied. Meanwhile, I hope you'll browse some of the other questions and answers on this site. Nov 28, 2017 at 16:54
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Jesus provided forgiveness of sins before his crucifixion:

Luke 5:20 (NIV)
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

It was not his suffering that cause the forgiveness, but the sacrifice. Had he been beheaded, all the scriptures regarding his sacrifice would be just as valid.

However the way that he died was to fulfill prophecy:

John 19:36-37 (NIV)
These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

The method of the death itself is not significant (outside of it fulfilling prophecy and allowing him a chance to forgive the thief on the cross). It is the sacrifice he made that allows for the sins to be forgiven

Hebrews 10:14 (NIV)
For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

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  • John 19:36 - You would think a couple bones in the hands and feet were broken; the tarsals and metacarpals or w/e. A nail might pass through the hand if pierced in the right spot, but not likely the feet, given the size of the nails. Do you have any insight to that? Mar 21, 2012 at 22:08
  • If you do a Google search for "feet bones" (I'm sure there's a more technical term) :) there are a lot of gaps between and around the bones in the feet that a nail could have passed through. Mar 26, 2016 at 6:18
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Jesus' death did not "allow" God to forgive us. Were that the case, God would be subject to some external law that says "someone must die for sin".

Instead, God Himself decided that this would be the best way to accomplish His purposes. He could have said that forgiveness could only be available to left-handed people who pray the rosary in Hindi...but He didn't.

The question is, "What is God trying to accomplish?". From what I can tell, it all boils down to this:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Jesus' death did not "allow" God to forgive us...it is the best way for God to DEMONSTRATE His love.

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What was it about the death of Jesus that allows God to forgive us?

Many people attempt to see in the physical pain and suffering of the crucifixion that Jesus paid for our sins. While his death was much more physically painful than most, the sins he bore were for the whole world.

1 John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

The Father placed on Jesus this sin that we all deserve so that payment could be made.

2 Corinthians 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

In death Jesus took our sins and paid the price.

1 Peter 2:24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

Jesus can offer forgiveness of sins because he paid the price for all sin. He also has the right to judge those who reject forgiveness because he made payment for all those sins.

Jesus' death was brutal. However, we may not even be able to understand exactly what having the sins of the whole world placed on him actually meant.

When the Father looks at us who have received the forgiveness of our sins by faith in Jesus, he does not see our sin anymore but the image of the Son he loves.

Romans 4:7-8 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

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Let us look at Matt 27 verse 27 through 31.

27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

Now, let us look at Isaiah 53 verse 5.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

By this explaination, Jesus was pierced for our transgressions, and he was mocked for our iniquities. He was essentially the lamb who was punished instead of us being punished.

-1

Recall that in the Old Testament, God gave instructions to Israel on how to atone for their sins through the sin offering. No longer do we have to sacrifice a goat or a bull, as the price has been paid through Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

13 For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Hebrews 9 (NKJV)

What granted us God's forgiveness wasn't so much that Jesus endured through pain and suffering, but rather that He offered Himself up for sacrifice.

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ANF01 - Clement 1st. ltr. to Corinth) Though your sins reach from earth to heaven, I and though they be redder than scarlet, and blacker than sackcloth, yet if ye turn to Me with your whole heart, and say, Father! I will listen to you, as to a holy people.” 40 Comp. Isa. i. 18. BLXX Isaiah 1:18

come, let us reason together, saith the Lord: and though your sins be as purple, I will make them white as snow; and though they be as scarlet, I will make them white as wool.”

Before God was manifested on Earth through Jesus, the Hebrews received forgiveness of sin from God. After the crucifixion people still receive forgiveness of sin from God. The Redemption paid by Jesus through the incarnation, the passion, and the crucifixion, washed all mankind of original sin, which had stained man since Cain and Able were born. We are all now washed in the blood of Christ. But when we sin, we must still ask God for forgiveness, and must believe we have received it.

Jesus had His own explanation of the consequences of keeping the laws.

Jesus said:Mt. 5: 17* ¶ Think not that I am come to destroy the law (Torah), or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

And: He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

There are some 70 commandments given by Jesus in the NT.

(Matthew 28:19-20 KJV) Go ye therefore, and teach all nations (Matthew 22:37-38 KJV) Thou shalt love the Lord thy God (Matthew 22:39-40 KJV) Thou shalt love thy neighbour EXODUS 20:1-17 (KJV) THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (Matthew 7:12 KJV) whatsoever ye would that men should do to you (Matthew 6:12 KJV) we forgive our debtors. (Mark 11:25-26 KJV) forgive, if ye have ought against any (John 3:7 KJV) Ye must be born again. (John 15:4 KJV) Abide in me, (Matthew 5:16 KJV; see Let your light so shine before men also Matthew 5:15) (Matthew 5:23-25 KJV) first be reconciled to thy brother, (Matthew 5:29-30 KJV) cut it off, and cast it from thee (Matthew 5:34-37 KJV) Swear not at all; let your communication be,Yea; Nay, (Matthew 5:38-39 KJV) resist not evil: (Matthew 5:40-42 KJV) Give to him that asketh thee (Matthew 5:43-45 KJV) Love your enemies, ... be the children of your Father (Matthew 6:1 KJV) do not your alms before men (Matthew 6:5-7 KJV) pray to thy Father which is in secret; use not vain repetitions (Matthew 6:9-15 KJV) After this manner therefore pray ye: (Matthew 6:16) when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: (Matthew 6:19-21) Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:25-26 KJV) Behold the fowls of the air ... reap not, gather not (Matthew 6:34 KJV) Take therefore no thought for the morrow (Matthew 6:33 KJV) seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness (Matthew 7:1-2 KJV) For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged (Matthew 7:6 KJV) Give not that which is holy unto the dogs (Matthew 7:7 KJV) Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find (Matthew 25:34-36 KJV) -2 ye gave me meat; ye took me in: ye clothed me: ye visited me: ye came unto me. (Matthew 7:13-14 KJV) Enter ye in at the strait gate and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:15 KJV) Beware of false prophets (Matthew 10:1 KJV) to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. Matthew 10:8 KJV) Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: (Matthew 18:10 KJV) despise not one of these little ones (Matthew 23:8-12 KJV) - 5 be not ye called Rabbi: call no man your father upon the earth Neither be ye called masters: But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; he that shall humble himself shall be exalted (Matthew 18:15-17 KJV) - 3 go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: take with thee one or two more, tell it unto the church: (Mark 11:22-24 KJV) - 2 Have faith in God. shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe when ye pray, believe that ye receive them (John 15:12 KJV) love one another, as I have loved you. (Luke 22:19-20 KJV) do this in remembrance of me. (John 13:14 KJV) ye also ought to wash one another's feet. (Luke 6:35b KJV) Be ye therefore merciful (Matthew 28:19-20 KJV) Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them (John 14:15 KJV) keep my commandments. (Luke 12:40 KJV) Be ye therefore ready also

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I've heard many people state that it was the punishment inflicted by the Romans that allows God to forgive us. This just doesn't make any sense to me.

->>My answer: As what I've understood from the teachings of the church, It was God who decides to forgive us through the death of his son Jesus Christ. It is his way of loving us by sacrificing his only begotten son, as this was from the lyrics of the song-"Let us tell the world of His love".The full explanation to this is beyond our human understanding, but hopefully if you can read the bible, you might be enlightened.

How can a man suffer for a short while here on earth in order that a divine being have the right to forgive sin?

--> My answer: Our life here on earth is just temporary. We suffered here on earth because we have to attain the values in order to enter eternal life with God. God allows us to suffer, to learn from our mistakes and to have the trust and faith on Him no matter how miserable out life is. He has the purpose on eveything that's happening in our lives. Of course God has the right to forgive us because He is God, God of love.

What is the framework of substitutionary atonement that makes Christ's death effective?

->> You can read here http://www.christian-history.org/substitutionary-atonement.html

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    Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. In particular, this is a Q&A site about the beliefs of Christian denominations rather than a discussion site and a place for expressing personal views. Answers must focus on the specific question asked, and its scope, which in this case means showing how these questions are answered from a Substitutionary Atonement perspective. See: What makes a good supported answer? Mar 26, 2016 at 21:10

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