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This is a very good question because we realize that no one has ever been saved apart from the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s look at Genesis 15:1-6, “After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”  We see here that the basis of being righteous in the sight of God is faith.  Abraham believed all the Lord had told him and the Lord reckoned him as being righteous.

Throughout the history of Israel, the people offered sacrifices that never did and never could take away their sins.  Hebrews 10:1-4 tells us, “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.  But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.”  Then we read in Hebrews 10:11, “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”

You may wonder why the Lord required sacrifices and offerings of His people if these sacrifices could not take away their sins and make them righteous.  Let’s read again Hebrews 10:1, “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.”  The law given was a shadow or type of Christ Himself.  The sacrifices offered were types of Christ and the sacrifice He would give.  He gave himself for us, the one true sacrifice that would satisfy God’s righteous demands for the putting away of sin.  Those who obeyed the law as an act of faith and obedience to the Lord were counted righteous, even as Abraham was counted righteous.

The word ‘atonement’ is used throughout the Old Testament.  Leviticus 9:7 says, “And Moses said unto Aaron, Go unto the altar, and offer thy sin offering, and thy burnt offering, and make an atonement for thyself, and for the people: and offer the offering of the people, and make an atonement for them; as the LORD commanded.”  Then we read in 1 Chronicles 6:49, “But Aaron and his sons offered upon the altar of the burnt offering, and on the altar of incense, and were appointed for all the work of the place most holy, and to make an atonement for Israel, according to all that Moses the servant of God had commanded.”  The word ‘atonement’ literally means ‘to cover’.  So, while the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins, to those that acted in faith, it would cover their sins.  It’s only the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ that can actually take away our sins, as we read in Hebrews 10:11-14 which says, “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”  Hebrews 9:26 tells us, “…but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

The word ‘atonement’ is really not a New Testament word, although it is found in Romans 5:11 where we read, “And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”  Only the King James Version uses the word ‘atonement’ here.  It is better translated ‘reconciliation’.  It’s through our Lord Jesus Christ that we have been reconciled to God as we read in 2 Corinthians 5:18, “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.”

I trust that you have been reconciled to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Before being saved, we actually consider God to be our enemy, but Christ gave Himself to reconcile us to the God who loves us and wants to save us.  Colossians 1:20-22 says of the Lord Jesus, “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.  And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled  in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight.”  Imagine standing before God and Him seeing you as unblameable and unreproveable.  This can only be done by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, and just as God did for Abraham, He will count it to you for righteousness.