One Sin One Time
One odd misconception about the atonement you see on atheist
web-sites is the notion that Jesus' sacrificial death atoned for one
sin and one sin alone: Adam and Eve's disobedience in eating the
fruit of the forbidden tree, just as if this were the only sin
mankind has ever at any time committed. Richard Dawkins in his book 'The God
Delusion' seems to want to endorse this familiar 'one sin one time' atheist paradigm:
". . .there are other teachings in the New
Testament that no good person should support. I refer
especially to the central doctrine of Christianity: that of
'atonement' for 'original sin.' This teaching, which lies at the
heart of New Testament theology, is almost as morally obnoxious as
the story of Abraham setting out to barbecue Isaac, which it
resembles. . .What kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns
every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote
ancestor?. . .But now, the sado-masochism. God incarnated himself
as a man, Jesus, in order that he should be tortured and executed in
atonement for the hereditary sin of Adam." (Richard Dawkins, The God
Delusion, pp. 284-286).
In fairness to this author, the problem may simply be
that he is such a poor writer he is saying something he does not
mean to say; he also says, "Not just the past sin of Adam: future
sins as well, whether future people decided to commit them or not!"
(Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 286). (I wonder if Las Vegas
will lay odds on whether future people will commit sins; what an
opportunity it would be to get a little of that action!) However, if the
preceding discussion has any point at all, it is that Jesus died upon
the cross for one sin and one sin only: the sin of Adam and Eve in
eating the fruit, translated by Jerome as 'apple,' which Dawkins
considers extravagant. This is not accurate nor helpful, because,
"And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world."
(1 John 2:2).
Anyone so gullible and naive as to learn theology from atheists needs
to backtrack: Adam and Eve's fall was the trickle through the dam which opened the
breach for the flood to follow. Adam and Eve's sin is not the only one
Jesus bore to the cross, because it is by no means unique. We are true
children of our first parents. We have inherited from them a propensity
to sin, a sin-nature: as any parent can testify, you do not need to
teach your children how to lie, somehow they just know. Common observation
can confirm this sad reality of human nature; introspection could confirm
it, if these observers were honest. And so there
hasn't been one sin committed in human history, but an uncountable
multitude, and none of us stands guiltless or acquitted by our own
merits. Jesus bore the burden to Calvary, not of one sin, the distant
one that established the precedent we invariably follow, but of our own sins
as well, of which there is never any shortage. See:
"Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them."
The wrath of God is accumulating, stored up for all the sins which
Adam's posterity have added to his legacy. This anti-theistic argument goes back to Reimarus:
"But God was also to be looked upon as a Judge, and here a
new difficulty presented itself. . .If salvation was alone to be
found in the name of Jesus, if all who did not believe in him
were to be everlastingly damned, and as this creed must have
been handed down from the sayings of Jesus himself, it followed
that ninety-nine hundredths of the human race, those who either
had never heard of Christ or of salvation to be obtained through
him, or those who had not been able to convince themselves of
it, were unmercifully sentenced, after this short life, to
everlasting torment; and this not for the sake of making them
better, but to punish them, and to satisfy God's unquenchable
wrath, for a sin committed in the beginning of Creation, and a
sin of which they themselves were guiltless." (quotation from
Strauss's Life of Reimarus, p. 260, Fragments of Reimarus, Brief
Sketch of the Life of Reimarus, Kindle location 73).
That it is so poorly thought out should tell you something.
The penalty, which Christ took upon Himself, was not for one sin only
committed long ago, but for innumerable myriads of sins committed
constantly and incessantly by fallen creatures. That Adam was the last
sinner who had any real choice in the matter does not make him the only
sinner, nor the fatal choice his only sin. If Christ paid for only one sin,
then we are again lost; if His blood cannot cover our own, original
efforts at self-realization, then what comfort can we take in seeing
Father Adam, from afar, amongst the blessed, from whose company we are
shut out? We all did fall in Adam and lost the ability to be innocent; this
is strangely misconstrued as the suggestion, that we are innocent, he
alone is guilty. The misconception of 'one sin one time' comes about, I suspect, through
somebody having overheard a confused effort to rationalize
a traditional but not Biblical practice, infant baptism. Neither,
incidentally, is the percentage who have never heard the gospel 99%; a
demographer will tell you, most of those who have lived are now alive,
this in consequence of the tendency of the human population to increase
geometrically. So if two billion of the world's six billion inhabitants
are now Christian, it cannot be the case that 99% have never heard the
gospel; how many have heard and rejected it!
A similar atheist argument is that there is one and only one sin
for which humanity are condemned, not the sin of Adam this time, but rather
the sin of unbelief: for failure to put their trust in Jesus, and
for that fault alone, sinners will spend eternity in hell-fire.
There is a sense in which it is true that, "And Jesus said, For
judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might
see; and that they which see might be made blind." (John 9:39).
Jesus' taking our place and bearing the weight of our deserved
condemnation bounces the ball back into our court, so to speak, because our
forgiveness is free, if only we accept it. But
draw back the focus and take in the larger scene; Jesus never would
have had to bear our sins to Calvary, had there been no sins to
bear. It was for our sins He died:
"The first chapter in every Christian' existence is the
dark, sad chapter of condemnation. This was vividly set forth in the
ancient camp of Israel by the fire that ever burned without the
camp. It suggests the wrath of God revealed from heaven against all
unrighteousness of men. That fire consumed the offering to which sin
had been transferred, and it must likewise consume all whose sins
are not transferred to that burnt offering.
"If Christ, in the place of the sinner, suffered this
vengeance, how shall we escape if we dare to stand before God
covered without guilt and corruption? Our Lord has not quenched this
fire but left it still burning outside the gate of the gospel for
all who reject Him. 'He that believeth not is condemned already'
(John 3:18)." (A. B. Simpson, Christ in the Tabernacle, p. 19).
The sins He was bearing were certainly not His own, so whose were
they? The atheist is firmly convinced that he, and the rest of humanity, are pure, righteous, holy, and innocent,
and we have, all of us, been unfairly maligned and unjustly condemned to
eternal punishment. This conviction is not only not scriptural, it isn't
what our own empirical experience testifies.