Most Christians, if asked what makes them a Christian, would respond something like this:"I know that Jesus is the Son of God who died for my sins, and I accept His shed blood for my sins."
While Jesus did die for us, is that all there is to this belief? Does the Bible tell us that there's more to the story?
A sacrifice for humanity's sins
Many Bible passages show why Jesus died for humankind. Let's look at a few.
The apostle Paul wrote that we are to"walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma" (Ephesians 5:2, emphasis added throughout).
To the Christians in Rome, Paul explained:"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation [atoning sacrifice] by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed" (Romans 3:23-25).
Later in the same letter, Paul wrote:"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us . Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" (Romans 5:8-9).
To the Corinthian church Paul explained that God the Father "made Him who knew no sin [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Here the clear implication is that Jesus took our guilt on Himself and paid the penalty for us by His death.
The book of Revelation opens by describing Jesus Christ as the One "who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Revelation 1:5).
The apostle John also explained the reason for Jesus' death:"If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2, New Revised Standard Version).
A little later he explained:"God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:9-10, NRSV).
And also:"We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world" (verse 14).
The apostle Peter confirmed this great truth, that Jesus Christ "bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness" (1 Peter 2:24).
The prophet Isaiah wrote of the purpose of Jesus' death centuries before it actually took place:"He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).
Scripture is very clear about the fact that Jesus had to die for all people of all time and for crucial reasons. He had to die because of human sin—yours, mine and everyone else's.
Sin brought on Jesus' death
The scriptures quoted above show the necessity of Jesus' death—that it was required because of sin. Without sin, there would be no need for Jesus' death, the shedding of His sinless blood.
Sin is the violation of God's law (1 John 3:4). It requires a price to be paid because, as Romans 6:23 tells us,"The wages of sin is death." Without some payment for that awful penalty, human beings would face oblivion through death with no hope beyond the grave .
The New Testament letter to the Hebrews states plainly that"without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (9:22, NRSV). One purpose for this letter was to explain that Jesus Christ was the very Son of God and that He gave His life's blood for the remission—the forgiveness, the pardon, the penalty removal—of humankind's sins.
The recipients of this letter were quite familiar with the Old Testament sacrifices that, as the epistle explains, foreshadowed the one holy sacrifice of mankind's Savior:"He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Hebrews 9:26, NRSV).
Human beings must have their sins washed away, pardoned and forgiven, to be reconciled to God."For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life" (Romans 5:10, NRSV). Without reconciliation to God the Father, there could be no forgiveness of sins.
Hebrews 9:28 further explains that"Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him" (New International Version). A sinless Jesus became sin for us as we've seen (2 Corinthians 5:21). He took on the sins of humankind to save us from everlasting death.
How sin began
Considering that sin is so terrible and destructive that we need a Savior to atone for us, just how did sin begin?
The archangel Lucifer, since known as Satan, was the first to sin against God, the first to break His laws (see Ezekiel 28:15-16). Ironically, Satan has since influenced the world to think that mankind was the first to sin. Adam and Eve did sin, but they weren't the first to sin. Satan had already rebelled against God and was waiting there in the Garden of Eden to plant his lies in their thinking (John 8:42-44).
Eve and Adam were the first human beings to sin against God, and since then all human beings have sinned in like manner (Romans 5:12). Most people find it difficult to acknowledge sin; they simply act as if it didn't exist. But sin is destructive. If God had not provided us with a solution, eventually it would destroy all mankind.
Today, God"commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30)—to stop sinning, to cease from breaking His laws.
Since no human being can obey God's laws perfectly without sinning, God extends grace to the repentant, pardoning them for their sins.
Law and grace go together
Most Christians today find it difficult to understand the relationship between God's grace and God's laws. The view most commonly held is,"If there's something we must actually do to be forgiven, then grace is meaningless because grace implies that God demands nothing in return."
There is some truth in this. Grace, God's favor or good will toward us, is undeserved. It includes unmerited pardon or forgiveness of sins. That cannot be earned.
But God's forgiving grace was never intended as a license to continue sinning. Paul makes this truth very plain:"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2).
Grace and law are inseparable, as the Bible clearly teaches. Since sin—the breaking of God's law (1 John 3:4)—is to be removed, what would be the point of pardoning people from it just to allow them to continue to violate God's law? This clearly makes no sense.
This also would be an utter contradiction of Paul's teaching that Jesus Christ"gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14).
Grace, made possible through Christ's sacrifice of Himself, allows us to be"redeemed"—to be bought back by God through Christ paying the price for our sins. But God's grace (His free gift ) encompasses much more. It includes our being purified as God's"own special people" through the gift of His Holy Spirit, making us"zealous for good works."
Yes, grace, through Christ's sacrifice, supplies the forgiveness that the law can't give. But grace does not replace the laws of God, as Scripture clearly shows. Rather, grace gives us a new beginning, a chance to start life over in harmony with God's teachings—which include the great spiritual principles embodied in His law. Indeed, grace includes God giving us the needed spiritual help to obey.
Who can receive salvation?
Many misunderstand grace. To think that God requires nothing from us except to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for our sins would deprive us of salvation—would leave us still in our sins!
Don't take my word for it! See what your Bible has to say:"Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
"For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law [that is, under its punitive judgment for violating it, as they had been before they repented] but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?" (Romans 6:11-16).
Remarkably, many sincere people still believe that no changes are required of them to receive God's gift of grace other than to believe on the name of Jesus and accept His shed blood for their sins. Paul's words above show that is simply not true.
Perhaps the most popular and misunderstood scripture that focuses on the importance of Jesus' death is found in John 3:16:"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
The last part of this verse,"that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life," has been only partially understood by millions of people. Many mistakenly assume that believing in Jesus means only believing in His identity and promises and that it does not include any reciprocal action on their part. Yet truly believing in Jesus is demonstrated by one's actions. (See"What Does It Mean to Believe in Jesus?".)
But the Bible tells us emphatically that to be saved we must repent of our selfish ways, turn to God in faith and believe what Christ tells us to do (Acts 2:38). Many professing Christians who believe on Jesus still don't demonstrate their belief by living as Jesus instructs. As the Bible reveals, this initial, minimal level of belief isn't what Jesus desires (Luke 6:46).
When a rich young man asked Jesus what it would take for him to enter eternal life, he got an answer that would surprise many today:"If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17).
Jesus also warned that"whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19).
Paul knew this truth, explaining that "the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12). Therefore, God wants us to keep His laws in the spirit as well as in the letter—to genuinely grasp and apply their full intent. Salvation is only offered to those who are willing to strive to keep God's commandments from the heart.
If you need further proof as to whether there's anything more we must do than what is traditionally taught, go to the very end of your Bible. There it states,"Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life [for the gift of eternal life], and may enter through the gates into the city [the new Jerusalem, our ultimate destiny]" (Revelation 22:14).
The Bible shows that there is much more for you and me to do than simply accept the name of Jesus, call ourselves Christians and accept the shed blood of our Savior. God wants to transform our lives, to build in us His righteous character.
To be accepted by God, to receive that great blessing, which is a gift and can't be earned, you and I must want to keep God's laws because we respect and love them and have repented of breaking them. Then we must accept God's grace for forgiveness of our past failure to keep His laws properly. And we must strive with His help to start obeying His laws, always repenting and asking for forgiveness when we fall short.
When Jesus' death applies to you
The death of Jesus Christ applies to you and me personally when we are drawn by God to understand His truths and we respond. If you've been called by God (see John 6:44), then you already recognize how Jesus' death applies to you.
Accepting the death of Jesus must be accompanied by repentance—a change of direction from our old habitual sins. It also requires that we exercise faith (sincere belief) in what Christ has taught us. This means we will begin obeying God's laws that can liberate us from our captivity to sin (Romans 6:11-23).
Yes, John 3:16 is true—we must believe in Jesus. But we need to fully understand what that means. The truth is that there is something for us to do, once we are drawn to God to understand His truth. We must know that our sins—yours, mine and everyone else's—have necessitated the death of Jesus Christ, without which we would die permanently and be forever forgotten.
Jesus died in our place. We deserve death; Jesus didn't. Anyone who sins deserves death (Romans 6:23). But God is merciful to us and has given us His Son to willingly take that penalty on Himself and die in our stead.
In response, He expects us to listen to His instruction, to obey His commands. This is what Jesus died for.
There's more to the greatest story ever told! So be sure to read the following article,"Jesus Christ's Resurrection: Leading the Way for Others," to discover the rest of the story of His involvement in your salvation. GN