Transferring sin: Exodus 20:5

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Essay donated by Gerald Ostroot

Transferring sin: Jesus on the Cross
interpreted from an Evangelical viewpoint

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"The Christian Scriptures contain support for the conservative Christian belief …. That one’s sins are transferred to Yeshua on the cross."

The above statement on the Religious Tolerance web site is from "The Transferability of Sin:" by B. A. Robinson. Is this a correct statement or is it a misunderstanding about what the scriptures say? I recently presented that statement to a small Bible study class and they agreed that it was correct. Most Christians would probably agree, since this seems to be a common point of view. It shows up in Christian literature and on Christian websites. It is taught from many pulpits. There are many verses in the New Testament that seem to carry that intent and that are interpreted that way. Paul contributes several references, in particular, the one quoted below:

2 Corinthians 5:21: For He made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness 1 of God. (KJV)

It’s a short step from this verse to the quote at the top of the page. But that step requires interpretation and shows the general confusion that exists about just what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Some commentaries interpret the above verse to mean that Jesus was a sin offering or sin-bearer for all our sin—an innocent carrier of all sin for all people for all time. (Matthew Henry, John Wesley, Jamieson-Faucet-Brown) He voluntarily took the punishment we deserve.

They recognize that to interpret the cross as a transfer of our sin to Jesus opens up a major problem. That transfer also means a transfer of our guilt that is inherent in that sin in order that we may become "the righteousness of God." It is God’s will that we be sanctified.

Hebrews 10:9-10 Then said he (Jesus), "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." He taketh away the first (sacrifice of animals), that he may establish the second.

By which will, we are sanctified 2 through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (KJV)

Thus, the interpretation that sins are transferred to Jesus says that all people for all time become sanctified and will be saved.

1 John 2:2: He is himself, a sacrifice to atone 3 for our sins, and not ours only but the sins of the whole world. (REB)

But Jesus also says that not all people will be saved.

Matt. 7:13-14: …Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (KJV)

We should not equate atonement with transference. The world’s sins are not transferred. Rather, Jesus sacrificed himself to fulfil the required sin penalty and allow our relationship to be restored.

Perhaps you are saying, "It’s not true that all would be saved because only those that accept Jesus sacrifice will be saved." That is precisely the point. To accept Jesus is to admit our guilt, repent and accept forgiveness. That is also a part of atonement and it did not happen on the cross. The guilt for sin is forgiven through repentance. The punishment for sin has already been taken for us by Jesus on the cross. Sin has one consequence—death.

Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (KJV)

The escape from sin has two requirements—penalty and forgiveness. Jesus paid our penalty on the cross. He forgives us when we confess and repent. The cross is only the penalty that we could never pay for ourselves. Forgiveness is a condition that we must choose to seek when sin occurs. That, as Paul said in 2 Corinthians, is when we are made righteous.

1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (KJV)

It is not our sin that Jesus removed on the cross. Rather, he paid the penalty that we incur through our sin. The guilt remains in us. Jesus made a penalty payment sufficient to cover all mankind for all time. For us today, it is "in the bank" waiting, in case we are wounded by a sneak sin attack. Our confession of faith has made forgiveness possible and added our names to those authorized to make withdrawals against that penalty payment made by Jesus on the cross. That confession is also our withdrawal slip to cover the new penalty we have incurred.

Ephesians 1:13: And in Christ you also—once you heard the message of the truth, the good news of your salvation, and had believed it—in him you were stamped with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; (REB)

Through that seal of promise we can be healed. It is accomplished by our repentance, our confession and the sin penalty paid by Jesus. Our confession will bring forgiveness and cancel our guilt. Our withdrawal will cover our penalty. That is why we must still confess those sins we continue to commit. That is why sin was not transferred on the cross.

The subject of Jesus on the cross has been clouded and confused by many "religious" words such as ‘expiation’, ‘propitiation’, ‘atonement’, ‘justification’, ‘righteousness’, and ‘sanctification’. It’s been obscured through a general misunderstanding about what happened on the cross. It’s no wonder we were confused. In this explanation the purpose for the cross was made clear and those "religious" words have been avoided wherever possible. The others are defined below.

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Definitions used:

  1. Righteousness: Holy and upright living, in accordance with God’s standard. We become righteous because of our identification with His Son. (Thomas Nelson dictionary)
    Righteousness is our response to God’s invitation. It requires a confession of faith.
  2. Sanctification: The process by which God purifies the believer. (Thomas Nelson dictionary)
    Sanctification is God’s response to our righteousness.
  3. Atone: Our action that allows God to restore us to a proper relationship with him by forgiving our guilt and accepting Jesus payment for our sin.
    Atonement is our action that restores our relationship with God.

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Originally posted: 2007-NOV-11
Latest update: 2007-NOV-11
Gerald Ostroot, at:

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