Pause for thought
Written by: | Posted on: | Category:

Most of my life has been involved with computers and their programming, which is probably why I am an easy mark for the latest and greatest apps (short for “applications”) implemented in software. It’s a long, long way from the simple mathematical algorithms and business applications I started out programming, to the amazing, stupendous, and utterly mind-blowing language processing, image recognition and generation options available to anyone with access to a personal computer today.

Although I personally write every word in these columns I thought it would be interesting to ask ChatGPT, which is a Large Language Model Artificial Intelligence application, a question that comes up frequently from agnostics and non-believers with whom I interact.

“Why did Jesus die on a cross?”.

Here’s the answer I got, verbatim, as a reply from this piece of software:

“According to Christian belief, Jesus died on the cross as an act of sacrifice for the redemption of humanity's sins. Christians believe that Jesus, being the Son of God, willingly offered himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind. His death is seen as fulfilling a divine plan of salvation, as prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures.

In Christian theology, Jesus' death on the cross is considered necessary to reconcile humanity with God, bridging the gap caused by sin. Through his death and subsequent resurrection, Christians believe that Jesus conquered sin and death, offering the possibility of eternal life to those who believe in him.” ChatGPT-3

Although the failings of Artificial Intelligence software are well-publicized, in reality, that’s a much better answer than you’ll find in many Christian churches!

Although they would not recognize the title, many Christians have grown up being taught, and believing in, a doctrine called “penal substitutionary atonement”. In a nutshell, this could be expressed as “Jesus had to die to pay for our sins”. Since the 17th century, this is a doctrine that has been widely believed and handed down from generation to generation. It might come as a surprise to you to learn that it has no basis in scripture!

Some limited verses speak about Jesus’ death in relation to our sins. However, they point to Jesus' death being related to our sins, not that His death was a substitute or penalty because of our sins.

His death did not scrub us clean of the sins we would commit in the future, or give us a “free for all” pass to do whatever we wanted, any more than the doctrine of “once saved, always saved” would allow us license to behave with impunity after accepting salvation. His death is not an excuse for our continued sins, which the “penal substitutionary atonement” doctrine might suggest.

Paul writes to the Corinthian Church: “I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said.” 1 Corinthians 15:3 NLT.

Certainly, Jesus died for our sins, but not because he was making a payment for sins, past, present and future. Rather, he died because his death provides a legal pathway to reconciliation with our creator, despite our sins!

So who does pay for our sins?

May I suggest that it is the sinner, and the world at large, who pays the price. Very often those whom we love, our family, our friends, or neighbors, suffer the consequences. They bear the brunt of the penalty of an individual’s sin — sometimes, far into the future. If an innocent person dies because of another person’s wrongdoing, the person who did wrong is still guilty.

Whenever the Bible talks about penalties, it always attaches them to the one who committed the offense. We are still held responsible for the sins we commit. In the end, each of us will have to account for our deeds and there is no way around that. We are responsible for the totality of our actions.

So, if Jesus didn’t die to make payment for our sins, why did Jesus die on the cross?

There were political reasons. Jesus died because he had offended those in power. He challenged the status quo and refused to step aside. Jesus knew what He was doing, and that His actions would ultimately cause His death. He knew He was being viewed as a threat to the government of the time and predicted how His crucifixion would take place.

However, He also knew that His death would be used by the Father as a mechanism to allow repentant, sinful people to return to eternal fellowship with their Creator. His death becomes the ultimate token of exchange in the transaction of ransom, or redemption — the act of repossessing an object of value.

“… the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 NLT

So, in the end, Jesus allowed crucifixion as an act of love!

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13 NLT

So, the next time you ask, or are asked, why the most perfect innocent human being who ever lived was murdered by political, religious, and government forces, don’t give the stock answer similar to picking up the tab in a restaurant (although it would be in character for Jesus to do so!), explain that it was the ultimate act of love so we could all choose to spend eternity in heaven.

Explain how devastating it would be if the one inquiring would not join us there!

You/they may still have to deal with the consequences of sins, but because Jesus died and rose again those consequences can’t keep you from eternal happiness and fellowship. Our record as past sinners won’t be held against us! It won’t be because a price was paid, but because atonement, redemption and reconciliation were provided because Jesus loves us that much!

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” Romans 8:1-2 NLT

As always, when you let Scripture inform your thinking, it becomes ever more clear just how much our God really, really loves us! Spread the word!

Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black

P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at