As Christians we know that the cross is central to our faith and an understanding that Jesus was the sacrificial one who was executed for the benefit of all. It is his death that gives us confidence to approach God and seek forgiveness from him – all in the name of Jesus.
Last Tuesday and Wednesday saw Jewish people observe Yom Kippur, a 25-hour period of prayer and fasting, which I am told is the holiest day of the year for them. In English it is the Day of Atonement. To gain atonement Jews must pray, repent of their sins and give to charity.
This isn’t so different to the undertaking of Christians who seek forgiveness from God. We don’t have to wait for a special day in the year, because we know that we can approach God at any time and confess our sins and seek his forgiveness. And, of course, we do all this in the name of Jesus. To gain forgiveness Christians are not required to give to charity, but as we have seen by reading through the Letter of James, our response to God’s grace in Jesus will require a changed life, which might well involve giving to charity.
In western Christian theology, atonement describes how human beings can be reconciled to God through Christ's sacrificial suffering and death. Atonement refers to the forgiving or pardoning of sin in general and original sin in particular through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, enabling the reconciliation between God and his creation, which includes us.
Guilt and its partner, shame, can paralyse us. You may have experienced it. Yet Christian people have a way to minimise guilt by turning to God and seeking his forgiveness. This all contributes to a healthy life for us – which is exactly what God wants for us.