“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…”
(1 Corinthians 15:3 ESV)
This passage says that there is something in the Bible of first importance—the truth that Jesus died for our sins. This statement provides the answer to the question: Why did Jesus have to die?
We use the term atonement to summarize the Bible’s answer to this question.
Let’s walk through what the Bible teaches about atonement and the reason for which Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, died.
5 Reasons Jesus Died on the Cross
God Has to Punish Sin
God is holy. Holy means unique and set apart. God is unlike everything else in his creation, because he’s the Creator (Isaiah 45:18). Holy also means morally pure. God is the source of all goodness, and virtue, and there is no wickedness in him (Psalm 92:15).
Sin is the term we use to describe breaking God’s law (Genesis 3:11)—his law which is good and for our good (Roman 7:12)—but sin is also a personal offense against God because it’s rebellion against our Creator and a failure to believe that he is good.
Therefore, since God is holy, he justly punishes sin. The punishment for sin is both physical death, and spiritual death, which is the more frightening of the two (Romans 6:23). Spiritual death is the loss of God’s favor and the presence of his wrath (righteous anger and punishment against sin). Because God is eternal, this punishment follows us after physical death and greets us on the threshold of eternity.
God Promised to Rescue Us from Our Sin
Because we are all sinners, we not only are awaiting God’s wrath, but are also, at present, his enemies. Our sin nature produces a combative spirit against God. Not only can do we not love God; we also hate him and his law deep down.
God is not only holy; he is also gracious. He initiates kindness to the undeserving. He shows love even to his enemies (Romans 5:8). He created us for a loving relationship and kept pursuing us, even when we rejected him. In the Bible, we find the story of God’s loving pursuit of sinful humanity. Since the very beginning of the story, God has promised to rescue us from our own sin (Genesis 3:15).
Blood Must Be Shed for Sin to Be Forgiven
In the Old Testament, God gave his people his law, a sacrificial system, and a temple, out of his love, to provide a picture of what his people needed in order to approach him. He created a way for them to draw near to him, even as sinners.
You might wonder: Why animal sacrifices? They may sound cruel! God mentions throughout Scripture that he isn’t like foreign gods who delight in blood or cruelty or religious fanaticism (1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 40:6; Psalm 51:6-7; Isaiah 1:11). Rather, the Bible explains to us that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22 NIV). Blood sacrifices reminded God’s people that the punishment for sin was death. In other words, sin is serious.
With these sacrifices, God’s plan was only beginning to unfold. “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near” (Hebrews 10:1 ESV).
In other words, animal sacrifices could not take away sin, much less change the sinner’s heart. We, as people made in God’s image who sin against an eternal God, need a better sacrifice than what was provided in the Old Testament. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV). These sacrifices were a shadow, as Hebrews says, pointing to a greater sufficient sacrifice to come.
God had a plan to take away our sins—himself.
Someone Has to Die to Pay the Penalty for Sin
Since the very beginning, the only the shedding of blood can atone for sin. For “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 NIV). In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices demonstrated this truth. God’s Son Jesus, however, gave his own life as the once-and-for-all sacrifice for the sins of those who believe in him (Hebrews 9:12). He shed his own blood as a true and worthy atoning sacrifice.
Jesus said, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:18 ESV).
We often call Jesus’ sacrifice his penal substitutionary atonement, because Jesus died to take our place (substitution) and pay the penalty (penal) for our sins (atonement). “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28 NIV). He was able to do this, because he was fully God (Colossians 2:9), and therefore able to take on an eternal debt of sin. He was also able to stand before God as our substitute and representative because he was fully human (Hebrews 2:17). Only God, through the miracle of the incarnation of Jesus, could provide true atonement for our sin.
God Desires That We Would Be Close to Him
Jesus didn’t die to free us from sin, merely. He freed us from sin so that we might draw near to God again (1 Peter 3:18). If we trust in Jesus’ sacrifice, rather than our own efforts to be right with God, we will be forgiven—no longer enemies of God, but friends, and even called God’s children (1 John 3:1; Romans 5:10). Like Moses, we will be able to speak to God “as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11 ESV).
“Christ died for our sins” tells you that not everything is okay!
You have sin that needs dealing with, otherwise you will experience God’s wrath (Romans 1:18).
“Christ died for our sins” also means God is love!
He has shown you great love by offering to take your place on the cross if you will believe in him (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).
And “Christ died for our sins” means that there is a way for you to live in a loving relationship with your Creator, and experience full life—life as it was meant to be lived in a right relationship with the Lord of heaven and earth.
Do you believe it? Do you believe you are a sinner whom Jesus died for, and who God wants to welcome into a loving relationship with him? Turn from your sin, and turn to Christ. Tell him you’re in need of his sacrifice, and ask him to reconcile you to God today!