Why Did Christ Die?

By H. A. Wilson

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine, February, 1926


JUST why was it necessary for Christ to die? This question was recently asked by a prominent business man in Denver. The man who asked the question was an earnest believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. For many years he had been superintendent of one of the largest Sunday Schools in the city. He had taught in the Bible classes in his school. He had read widely on Bible study themes. And he was a man with much more than average instruction in spiritual matters. Still he asked the question, "Just why was it necessary for Christ to die?''

Knowing the personal faith of this man one would not conclude that the question was asked in ignorance or unbelief, or that it was an evidence of superficial knowledge. Rather it was the mark of rare thoughtfulness. He had rested in faith upon the Cross of Christ as the sole hope for the salvation of of his own soul. And he had pointed others to the Saviour as the One Who was able and willing to save sinners. But he realized that there was more in the death of Christ than he himself had ever grasped, consequently he asked for further information about a subject which was dear to his heart.

The example of this man is worthy of our emulation. The most familiar truths of the Scripture upon more thoughtful and prayerful investigation become radiant with new light, and thrill the soul with their revelations of new beauty, In order, therefore, to enter more deeply into the understanding and appreciation of that truth which is so dear to us, let us raise the question, "Why did Jesus die?"

THE first reason for the death of Christ is familiar to everyone who has really trusted Him for salvation. Jesus died that He might save the sinner from condemnation for his sin.

All have sinned and come short of the glory of God," is the plain statement of Rom. 3:23. In this we find both a definition of sin and a declaration of its universality among men.

To sin is to come short of the glory of God, or (since the members of an equation may be transposed without changing their value) to come short of the glory of God is to sin. This is entirely consistent with the primary meaning of the Greek word which God here uses to speak of sin. It is a word which means "to miss the mark." The "mark" in this case is God's righteousness, and anything short of that is sin. In this connection it is also noteworthy that the word translated "come short" is a word which means "to lack" or "to be in want of." It is the same word which is used when, in speaking of the prodigal son, it is said that "he began to be in want" (Luke 15:14). Surely this is significant, for the sinner in his own life having come short of the "glory" or righteousness of God is in sore need of it.

With this understanding of the character of sin in mind, surely few will be so foolhardy as to deny that all are sinners. Many, not understanding this, will protest that they are not sinners because from the stand point of comparative human morality they are not so degraded as others. But usually the very people who most loudly protest their own righteousness will shrink back in horrified negation when they are accused of thinking they are as righteous as God. And in so doing they convict themselves of sin, for sin is simply failure to measure up to the perfect righteousness of God. But whether men will admit its truth or not, the positive declaration of God's Word still stands—"All have sinned and come short of the glory of God."

In view of this fact there is most solemn import in the further statement of the Word, "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). The first statement, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God," is the verdict which brings all the world in "guilty" before God and makes all men subject to the penalty of broken law. But this statement, "The wages of sin is death," is the death sentence which the judge pronounces against the convicted soul.

Where may we look for hope with such a sentence hanging over us?

Surely not to our own works, for it was they which condemned us. And though it were possible for us to measure up to the perfect righteousness of God through- out the balance of our lives, still we would come short of that righteousness because of the failures of past years. And to meet our responsibility perfectly and faithfully for the coming years could not cancel the responsibility of past years. Still that awful verdict would be written down against us, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God!" And still that merciless sentence must make the future hideous with its portent, "The wages of sin is death!" Nay! there is no hope within him- self for a condemned sinner. We must look elsewhere.

But what is this we read?

"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us" (Titus 3:5).

His mercy! What a blaze of light in the midnight darkness of sin's despair! This is no vague abstraction. It is no will-o-the-wisp gleaming fitfully through the darkness, only to lure us to destruction or to taunt us with its lying promises, raising within our bosoms many unattainable hopes. Rather it is a clear, steady light, shining into our hearts from the face of Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness. We say this because God's mercy is inseparably linked with the death of His Son, for the Scripture says:

"God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Yes, there is hope for us. We are sinners. We cannot deny it. And being sinners we deserve to die. But Another has died in our stead. The Son of God has loved us and given Himself a Substitute for us. He, the guiltless One, has assumed the burden of our guilt and has borne its penalty, for it is written:

"Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit" (I Pet. 3:18).

Believing in Him as our Saviour we approach the throne of God with joyous confidence, knowing that "now in Christ Jesus, we who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:13). And we face the future with fearless hope, believing that "there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1).

But now let us press a step further.

THE second reason for the death of Christ is closely related to the first. It is, in fact, the same truth approached from a different angle. It is this. Jesus died that He might vindicate the righteousness of God.

God is perfectly holy. Of Him the Scriptures say:

"The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works" (Psa. 145:17).

But this very righteousness of His Being makes it necessary for Him to judge sin. He is "of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look upon iniquity" (Hab. 1:13).

God, being, as He is, the supreme Ruler of the universe, is bound to punish all who transgress His laws. He could not be holy and do otherwise, for in the j very nature of the case obligation to execute justice rests upon those who establish laws, otherwise those laws would be powerless and useless. For a civil officer to refuse to punish criminals is to make himself a party: to their crimes. So for God to fail to punish sinners would be to make Himself a sinner.

But more than this is involved. "Sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4), and the law is the expression of the perfect will of God. When a soul sins he simply sets up his own will in the place of the will of God., Thus it is a question as to whether the will of God shall be done or the will of another. For God to brook sin, therefore, would be for H ; m to yield to the will of the creature. This He could not do and still be God, for He would recognize the will of another as superior to His own will, and this would make the sinner greater than God Himself.

How then can God righteously save the sinner? Obviously He cannot do it at the expense of justice. The only ground on which He can show mercy must be one on which at the same time His justice is perfectly satisfied. It is in the death of Christ that such a basis for mercy is afforded. We have already considered the Cross from the standpoint of the mercy shown the believer. Now let us see how it also vindicates God's righteousness in saving the sinner.

A wonderfully clear exposition of this is given in Rom. 3:21-26:

"But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

"Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference;

"For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;

"Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;

"Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God;

"To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus."

This Scripture clearly answers the question, "How can God be righteous and at the same time save the sinner from the judgment due his sin?"

First it testifies that God has saved all who believe in Christ, though they all are sinners, for He has robed them in His own perfect righteousness. It then declares that this is done "freely" — "by grace" — entirely apart from any merit on the sinner's part. And the ground on which this is done is shown to be the shed blood of Christ.

Then notice the delightfully clear teaching which follows. God is said to have set Christ forth upon the Cross, not only to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, but also to demonstrate that God was righteous in passing over sins previously committed without judging them, and that He is righteous at the present time when He justifies the sinner.

Other translations, while they do not add anything to what is in the King James version, by the different way in which they put it help to make very clear that this is the real meaning of the passage. Weymouth translates it thus:

"He it is Whom God put forward as a Mercy-Seat, rendered efficacious through faith in His blood, in order to demonstrate His righteousness — because of the passing over in God's forbearance, of the sins previously committed — with a view to demonstrating at the present time, His righteousness, that He may be shown to be righteous Himself, and the Giver of righteousness to those who believe in Jesus."

This makes the meaning very clear. God was righteous in passing over the sins of men who lived before the Cross, because He was planning even then to judge those sins in the person of Christ. He is righteous in passing over without judging the sins which men commit before they accept Christ, because Christ has borne His judgment against those sins. Only on this ground could He give men the opportunity to receive Him as their Saviour, whether before or since Calvary. Then again when a soul comes to Christ in faith God is absolutely righteous in declaring that sinner righteous and securing him forever from judgment against his sins, for He has already judged every one of those sins in the Cross of Christ.

Let us have done with all soft and silly talk about the "mercy" and "love" of God while in the same breath denying that Jesus Christ was judged for our sins. It is only because He was judged for them that God can be vindicated and proven righteous in showing mercy to hell-deserving sinners. If we divorce the mercy of God from the Cross of Christ we annihilate God's righteousness. Let us therefore uncompromisingly repudiate "Christian Science," and all such Antichrist philosophies which make much of God's "love" but scorn the Cross on which His justice was vindicated.

BUT the third reason which we shall consider for the death of Christ is just as closely linked with the first. Jesus died in order that He might command the fullest devotion to Himself in the hearts and lives of all who believe in Him.

This is plainly stated in II Cor. 5:19 which says:

"He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died- for them and rose again."

What a wonderful thing is this! By right of creation God was entitled to the deepest worship and most faithful service of which the creature was capable. But sin alienated men from God and robbed Him of His rightful due. And instead of blotting man out in His righteous anger, God loved him and gave His Son to die for him in order that man might be bought back from the bondage of sin to the service of God.

Surely the mercy shown us in the Cross of Christ affords the greatest reason why we should give to Him the full devotion of our hearts, and the unqualified yielding of our lives to do His will and not our own. So it is entirely fitting that every appeal which God's Word makes for His children to yield to Him should be based upon the mercies of God.

But there is another matter involved here which makes even more plain the vital relation between the death of Christ and the service of the believer. Sin had rendered man incapable either of service or worship. It had blighted man's perception of God, and so marred His image as to make real worship impossible. And it had so defiled man's life as to make the best service of which he was capable an insult to God. In His death, however, Christ tore away the veil which hid God's face from man and revealed the true character which makes God the worthy object of worship for all created beings. In His death He so fully satisfied God's righteous judgment against sin as to make it possible for men through faith in His blood to enter without fear into the presence of God. And in His death He provided the power which was needed to deliver us from the fetters of sin and to strengthen us to live lives pleasing in the sight of God. So, as the only approach to God in Jewish temples led past the blood-sprinkled altar of sacrifice, the sin-burdened soul can render service which is pleasing to God only after he has come to Christ as his Saviour. The death of Christ alone makes it possible for us to serve God acceptably.

Believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, "You are not your own, for you are bought with a price" (I Cor. 6:19-20). Christ has purchased with His own blood the right to your life. Are you denying Him His purchased pos- session? Are you living for your own selfish interests? Is it true of you as it is of so many that you "Seek your own, and not the things which are Jesus Christ's? " If so, recognize that Christ died for you, that henceforth you should not live unto yourself, but unto Him Who died for you and rose again.

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service,

"And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:1-2).