Question: I've been told that Jesus died for my sins. What does that mean exactly? How could the death of Jesus help me get to heaven? What does the death of Christ save me from? 

Answer: One way to understand the meaning of the death of Jesus is to imagine a courtroom scene in which we are on trial for our sins and God is the judge. Our sins against God are capital crimes. God Himself is our judge, and according to divine law our crimes deserve the death penalty. Death, in a spiritual sense, means eternal separation from God in unending torment. That's a very serious judgment.

By shedding His blood on the cross, Jesus took the punishment we deserve and offered us His righteousness. When we trust Christ for our salvation, essentially we are making a trade. By faith, we trade our sin and its accompanying death penalty for His righteousness and life.

In theological terms, this is called "substitutionary atonement." Christ died on the cross as our substitute. Without Him, we would suffer the death penalty for our own sins. Here are a few verses that explain this concept:

He [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
(2 Corinthians 5:21)

And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
(1 Peter 2:23-24)

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way: "And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22). For God to forgive our sins, His judgment had to be satisfied and that required the shedding of blood.

Some object, "Shedding blood seems so barbaric. Is it really necessary? Why doesn't God simply forgive us?" Because God is holy, He must judge sin. Would a just and righteous judge let evil go unpunished? At the cross, God poured out His judgment on His Son, satisfying His wrath and making it possible for Him to forgive us. That's why Jesus shed His blood for your sins, my sins, and the sins of the whole world.

At what moment during the crucifixion ordeal did God pour out His judgment on His precious Son? Many theologians believe it was toward the end of the three-hour period of darkness when Jesus cried out: "'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" (Mark 15:34). By taking upon Himself the sins of the world, Jesus removed Himself from God's holy presence, and God, in turn, removed Himself from His Son. It was a temporary but excruciating separation, for at that moment, the Son of God became Father-forsaken.

God unleashed His wrath on His Son so that we might be spared that awful fate. This is the central message of the cross and the reason for our hope: God forsook His Son so that He might never forsake us. God assures us, "'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5). Isn't that a wonderful promise?

Have you placed your trust in Jesus Christ as the substitute for your sin? Do you believe that Jesus died for you in order to give you eternal life and that He rose from the dead victorious over sin? If not, we encourage you to receive Jesus as your Savior right now. You can express your desire in a prayer like this:

Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I believe You died for my sins and rose again. I trust in You as my Savior now. Forgive me of my sins, and make me into the kind of person You would have me to be. Thank You for your gift of eternal life. Amen.

If you truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have eternal life. You can rest in that truth. The apostle John has written: "And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:11-12). When you have the Son of God, the Lord Jesus, you have eternal life.

If you've prayed this prayer and you wish to find out more about knowing God and His plan for you in the Bible, contact us at Insight for Living. You can speak to one of our pastors on staff by calling (972) 473-5097.

Publication date: March 9, 2010