It's Not Just About Forgiveness
Why couldn't God forgive our sins without needing Jesus' sacrifice on the cross? Because that is asking God not to be just.
There is an excellent new movie in the theaters called "Inside Man" that asks the question: Can a person atone for hideous crimes by living a good life afterward? From a biblical standpoint, the answer to this question isno
. As the movie suggests, the truth will out, and truth always matters.
But if we cannot atone for our own sins or mistakes, how can they be dealt with? Can someone else pay the price and redeem our lives for us? In fact, the Bible suggests that this is the only way sins can be atoned for.
But this issue raises a question about the character of God. Can he just take a pass on issues of justice and recompense? Must someone pay a price for sin, or can God overlook human faults?
God, both in the Old and New Testaments, is depicted as holy and loving. He is both righteous and the one who sets right the sinner. He is just and also compassionate. Some people have a hard time reconciling these two seemingly incompatible attributes. But we must understand that even though God acts in a loving and forgiving way, he does not check his righteousness or justice at the door. Indeed, the cross is that place where we see the harmonic convergence between the justice and the mercy of God, the holiness and the love of God, the righteousness and the compassion of God. If we emphasize only one side of the divine equation, we don't do justice to the character of God.
Let me put it more graphically. God sent Jesus to the cross to atone for the sins of the world as a substitutionary and propitiatory atonement. Jesus himself understood what was going on, and says so in Mark 10.45: He came to give his life as a ransom in the place of the many.
There are many aspects to this, but I will list just three: 1) If Jesus' death was not both the necessary and sufficient means for the atonement of human sin, then God, who sent him to this death, is not a loving father. Rather, God would be a sadist guilty of child abuse. But precisely because Jesus’ death is such an atoning sacrifice, his death is the most loving act that has ever happened on earth.