Why Did Jesus Have to Die for Our Sins?
- Hope Bolinger Author
- Updated Feb 15, 2024
I have never seen The Passion of Christ, but from what I’ve heard from fellow Christians who have seen the movie, it ties your guts into knots. Why? Because it pains us, sickens us, to see someone so innocent endure such a horrible punishment and death … for us. I had a friend who once dated an atheist who claimed, “You know what’s unnecessary? A death on a cross.” He’d said this as a way to try and sway her from her Christian beliefs since those alone had been preventing her from wanting to pursue a further relationship with this man. So why did Jesus die on the cross for our sins? Could he not have found another way that didn’t involve the most painful method of death known to man during his time?
In this article, we’ll explore the necessity of the cross, and how the truth of the cross alone shows that Christ stands as the only way to salvation.
What Does the Bible Say about Sin?
Before we can explore the necessity of the cross, we need to first understand the nature of sin. In our culture especially, we have a way of shrugging off sin. If you have not yet had a chance to, dive into a copy of Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be by Alvin Plantinga, Jr. This book explores the insidious nature of iniquity.
Sin racks up an eternal debt. The nature of sin itself tells God, “Not thy will be done. My will be done” (Paraphrased from C.S. Lewis). Not only do we choose to sin, but we delight in wickedness. We march ourselves into hell like peacocks (Proverbs 2:14).
According to Crosswalk, we can establish the definition of sin as such: “The Christian definition of sin is purposely disobeying the rules of God (1 John 3:4). The Bible says, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools..." (Romans 1:18-22). God commands us to follow moral law and has given every human our conscience for intuitively knowing right from wrong.”
Sin necessitates wrath. If we found ourselves in the presence of God, his holiness would obliterate us because of our sinful, wicked nature.
So we have two choices: either endure eternal punishment because of our sin debt or find someone to pay it. And the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23), so that means a perfect sacrifice has to die.
Did Jesus Have to Die For Us to Be Saved?
“This seems extremely unfair,” we may say. “Couldn’t God just ignore the sin, pretend it never happened, and just let us into heaven?”
For those people who ask this, first, I recommend reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. The book shows what happens when unrepentant, unsaved people get a chance to visit heaven. Spoiler alert: they hate it.
Secondly, if God ignores sin, he does not love. Love and wrath are often a two-sided coin. If sin had no consequences, people would murder, rape, commit genocide, etc. with, you guessed it, no consequences.
And something inside of us hates that notion. That someone can get away with literal murder and not face any judgment. Because God made us in his image, and he loves justice. Therefore, so do we.
“But what if we work to pay off our debt? Through good deeds?” every other religion apart from Christianity says.
Here’s why this doesn’t work. First, Scripture says good deeds are like dirty rags, completely worthless (Isaiah 64:6). Also, good deeds, no matter what kind of “debt” they pay (although arguably zero, because our motives would be corrupted by sin anyhow) they cannot repay an eternal debt. We cannot earn our own salvation. We stretched the chasm too wide, and our good deeds, at best, are a 2X2” block of plywood.
So if we go with the second option, that means someone holy and perfect has to die. Someone not tainted by original sin. Someone born of a virgin. God himself.
Why Did Jesus Have to Die on the Cross?
“OK, so maybe he had to die. But couldn’t he have died a less excruciating death? Even stoning (John 8:59) would’ve been way more preferable than a crucifixion.”
True. Even Jesus dreaded the crucifixion to the point where he sweats blood from his anxiety the night before his death. So why endure one of the worst (if not the absolute worst) deaths known to man.
We have to re-look at the punishment. Keep in mind, Jesus fills in for us when it comes to dying for our sins. When we’re talking about all the sins of the world, throughout all time, that necessitates a rather horrible punishment.
The cross would’ve fit the bill. The torture preceding the cross also did as well.
Although a difficult truth to swallow, Jesus’ death necessitated the scandal of the cross. Far few people would’ve awakened from their sinful stupor had Jesus died in a less painful way. The cross awakens us to the horrors of our sinful nature and our desperate need for our Savior willing to undergo that agony for us.
How Does Jesus Dying Prove the Truth of Christianity?
Pastor Joe Coffey in his sermons had presented a really clear picture of why Christianity is the only way to God. I’ll paraphrase one of his most famous illustrations below. Make sure to check out his sermons. They convict and help you to see the Bible in a new light, every time.
Picture a burning house with lots of windows and doors. The family inside can easily get out. So, if your neighbor sacrifices himself by throwing himself onto the burning door, you would say, “Well, that was dumb. He died for nothing.”
Now imagine the house has no windows and only one door, the entrance. The family is trapped inside. If the neighbor sacrifices himself, you’d say, “He died to save that family.”
Christianity works the same way. God would not have died if another religion had a solution. Some religions have far easier ways to “get to heaven” than mandating that God die on a cross. But obviously, God died. So he marks the only way out of the burning house (John 14:6).
The cross disproves all other religions because God had to die for our sins. No number of good deeds could ever repay the debt we have accrued from sin. And our sins required a severe punishment. So, Jesus stepped in.
It can often be difficult to swallow, the necessity of the cross. Part of our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality tells us to earn our own way to heaven. We cannot. We need God. And we needed someone to repay our debt.
Jack Graham summarizes how this truth, that we needed someone to pay our debt, and Jesus paid it all, makes Christianity a unique worldview: ‘’
“I want to share with you an illustration that reveals how Christianity is different from the other religions of the world. It's an easy way to share this truth with others.
Imagine a man who's stuck in a pit and who can't get out. Buddha comes along and says, ‘Meditate, discipline yourself, seek wisdom, purify yourself, and you'll get out.’ So the man tries all of that but he can't get out.
Mohammed comes by and says, ‘Worship Allah and him only. Practice the Five Pillars and you'll get out of the pit.’ And so the man did as he was told, but he remained stuck.
When Christ comes along and sees the dilemma of the man and he gets down in the pit with him. Then, with nail-scarred hands, he lifts the man out of the pit.
Do you see the difference? The religions of the world have a ‘do’ mentality. ‘Do this’ and ‘do that’ and you'll get out of the pit.
But in Christ Jesus, the work is already ‘done.’ When Christ died on the cross and cried out, ‘It is finished,’ the salvation of mankind was completed. Jesus paid it all. He made it possible for everyone to know him as Savior now and forever.”
Taken from "Jesus is the Difference" by PowerPoint Ministries (used by permission).
Prayers to Thank Jesus for Dying for Us
Lord God, you loved this world so much that you gave your one and only Son, that we might be called your children too. Lord, help us to live in the gladness and grace of Easter Sunday, every day. Let us have hearts of thankfulness for your sacrifice. Let us have eyes that look upon your grace and rejoice in our salvation. Help us to walk in that mighty grace and tell your good news to the world. All for your glory do we pray, Lord, Amen. - Maria Miriam
Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to save me from my sins. Thank you that you loved me enough to send a perfect sacrifice, so that we could live together eternally. I confess that I am a sinner and need forgiveness. I ask you to come into my heart, and I commit to following Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. In Jesus’ name, Amen. - Glynnis Whitwer
Lord, You are so amazing! How can I ever thank You enough for coming into this world to give Your life for me? I'm sorry for the times I get so busy that I fail to remember the incredible love You willfully demonstrated to me by going to the Cross. You didn't have to do it, but You did it for me. I thank You from the depths of my heart for loving me so completely! I pray this in Jesus' name! - Rick Renner
(Excerpted from "Easter Prayers: Celebrate Resurrection Day Victory" compiled and edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff)
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/kckate16
Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, book editor for hire, and the author of almost 30 books. More than 1500 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids. Check out her editing profile at Reedsy.com to find out about hiring her for your next book project.
This article is part of our larger Holy Week and Easter resource library centered around the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!