By Pete Garcia of

If there is anything about this Christian life that makes it hard to grasp, it is the principle of atonement.  But once you get it, the rest of it makes sense.

It makes shorter work of understanding grace and mercy and explains why salvation cannot be related to works.  I’ll say that again at the beginning of the column so you will know what to look for.

We are going to find the reason why salvation CANNOT be related to works.  So let’s start first with ‘works’.

In Christian theology, we work at the task of living, and our “works” are the visible results of that effort.

“Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:18)

How we approach the task of living produces certain fruit reflective of the way in which one works at it…

James says that faith is not something that can be visibly demonstrated except through the works that result from it.  This makes logical sense.  Faith without works is dead.  But you can’t turn the equation around — works have nothing to do with faith.

Works cannot generate faith, unless that faith is in one’s own ability to perform them.  If my faith is in my works, then it can be well and truly said that I am faithful — to me.

From here, there is no possible way to skip over me and claim my real faith is in the completed Work at the Cross because of how good I am.

But it is by faith we are saved and not works.

“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.” (Romans 3:27)

“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Romans 11:6)

“This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:2)

“Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” (2 Timothy 1:9)

“That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:17)

We are saved by grace and perfectly equipped with the necessary equipment (Scriptures) to do all good works.

There is an old hymn that says, “only one life, t’will soon be past, only what’s done for God will last. . .”

The only truly unselfish and perfect good work a Christian can do is to lead a lost soul to Christ.  We are equipped with the Scriptures and motivated by faith.  Works, good or bad, cannot possibly be relevant to faith in Christ’s ability to save you.

Otherwise, the principle of atonement would not make sense.


The word atonement is a variation of the Hebrew word “kapher” whose primitive root literally means “to cover, specifically with bitumen, or pitch.”  It is the same word used in Genesis 6:14 when God instructed Noah to waterproof the ark with pitch.

Bitumen is the heaviest, thickest form of petroleum.  It’s a really sticky, gooey type of oil like the tar used to patch a leaky roof.  The point is that bitumen covers completely, doesn’t wash off and prevents anything from getting through it.

Atonement literally means ‘to be covered’ and figuratively as ‘the means whereby alienation ceases and reconciliation ensues’. “Reconciliation” is the equivalent term given for the same Hebrew word, kopher ‘to cover’, or ‘atonement’.

A kindred term expressing a different aspect of the same truth is “propitiation” (hilasmos) (1 John 2:2), the verb of which is in Hebrews 2:17 translated “to make reconciliation.”

Also “ransom,” or payment for redeeming a captive (Job 33:24), kopher, “an atonement,” Matthew 20:28. Hebrews 9:12; Christ, “having obtained eternal redemption for us.”

We are saved by faith in the atonement, through Christ, Who obtained eternal redemption for us.

The atonement; kopher, hilasmos, is the covering of our sins with the Blood of Christ, which covers them as completely as pitch, allowing nothing to get through.  The redemption is the price paid for the covering that provides for the ‘reconciliation’ which means ‘atonement’.

We can go at it all day but every word that is used to explain the mechanism by which we are saved eventually winds back to atonement, illustrated as ‘covering’.  That is salvation.

To lose one’s salvation, one must, by his own works, somehow sin through the covering Blood of Christ, which is why understanding the illustration of “covering” — specifically with something as sticky and impenetrable as bitumen – is so necessary to understanding the Christian’s true standing before God.

I didn’t make atonement (cover) myself.  Neither did I make atonement for myself.  I didn’t have the ‘pitch’ I needed – I had to get it from somewhere else.

After atonement was made for me and the covering applied at the moment of salvation, I put my faith in the clear and repeated proclamation that the covering was enough.

“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28)

The atonement (covering) allows us to stand before God justified, judicially righteous and without the stain of sin. We obtain that covering by repenting (metaneo – a change of mind) about our sin and trusting Jesus Christ for our salvation.

The illustration used by Scripture recalls the pitch used to seal Noah’s Ark at the Lord’s direct instruction. Our works cannot add to the atonement (covering), nor can they scrape it off.

In this illustration, you aren’t Noah. You’re the ark.

The atonement (covering) is obtained by faith and it is faith in the atonement that produces works of faith. Works neither produce that faith, nor can they undo the covering obtained by that faith.

Saving, sustaining faith is in the covering, not the covered.

“I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live. Yet not I, but Christ, liveth in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith ofthe Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.”

“I do not frustrate the grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Galatians 2:20-21)

Don’t let the enemy steal away the victory.  There are dark times ahead.  Know where you are in Christ and you can’t help but walk in the light.

How great is that?