Christians have a ready-made response to the question, “Why did Jesus die?” The answers are usually something along these lines: “Jesus died to save me from my sins.” Often when I get answers like these, I feel like asking, “And. . . ?” I don’t ask follow-up questions just to be annoying. I do it because many professing believers genuinely have never thought through the reasons for, and the implications of, Jesus’ death on the cross. Unfortunately, many Christians, if really pressed for a logical argument for the atoning death of Christ, won’t have a good answer.
And because of the lack of clarity regarding Jesus’ death, deceitful doctrines have crept into our churches. The Scriptures have been twisted into cultural clichés and false teachings about why Christ died, and what was accomplished by his death.
Here are four things Jesus didn’t die for.
1. For Your American Dream
Jesus didn’t die to make you healthy, wealthy, secure, and comfortable. This may be your current state, but don’t let that to lead you to think it’s a promise. God blesses those who belong to him—sometimes with temporal comfort but spiritual chastening, and sometimes with temporal suffering but spiritual flourishing.
However, devastatingly harmful teaching in churches across America claims physical “blessings” are a sure sign of God’s favor. Not only does this teaching fly in the face of the entire Bible, but it’s also a grievous offense to those Christians experiencing immense persecution in countries all over the world, often in impoverished circumstances.
Jesus’ death means he has taken on your sin, in exchange for his righteousness. God has shown us “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). These are the only riches you are promised in this life—the joy and peace that comes with knowing that you have a good and loving God who has saved you at the infinite cost of his only Son.
2. To Be the Poster Boy for Your Cause
Liberal? Conservative? Environmentalist? Homophobe?
The name of Jesus has been used for all these “-isms” and more. It’s so easy to take our own traditions, worldviews, and causes, paste Jesus’ name on them, and call them “Christian.”
Jesus isn’t a conservative Republican. Jesus isn’t a progressive Democrat. Jesus is God.
Jesus’ death was the glorious inauguration of his coming kingdom, not an invitation to use his name to legitimize our own little kingdoms. Don’t get me wrong: I support causes, social and political. But those things cannot save. They cannot change sinful hearts, they cannot save from eternal death, and in the end they cannot offer anything more than a better life in this passing world.
Christians have one supreme message: the gospel of Jesus Christ’s atoning death, glorious resurrection, and coming kingdom. Be defined by that message. Preach that and let everything else come second.
3. So You Wouldn’t Have to Change
Jesus died so we could change. Without his death, there is no justification before God. There is no Holy Spirit coming to heal our rebellious souls and make worthy our small acts of worship. Without Jesus we’re trapped. We are slaves to our own sinful desires and couldn’t obey God even if we wanted to. And God had every right to leave us this way. But he didn’t. Out of the sheer force of his loving will, because of grace alone, he sent Christ to take on our sin. This encounter with such unimaginable grace will change you.
Will you still sin? Yes, until the day you die. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Christian believer will persevere. God will grow your love for him and his people and begin to kill off your love for sin and self. Salvation is both a radical recalibration as well as a slow, steady march, which allows us to be more and more like Christ each day.
Grace not only saves us, it trains us. It teaches us to take Jesus’ side against our sin. This grace brings you to repentance—not like a kid forced to eat his vegetables, but like a slave shedding his chains for the first time.
4. To Merely Raise Your Moral Standard
Look around your church. How many people look for morals rather than salvation? How many want law rather than grace?
Do you know the problem with grace? It’s not a consumer good. It’s not commodifiable. Grace reveals our lack of autonomy, our utter dependence on God, and thus may be quite unattractive to people who want to believe they’re entirely autonomous and independent. Can you think of anything less American?
Yet grace is all we need. Our religious, pharisaical hearts scream for us to add our “do” to Jesus’ “done.” But he doesn’t need it. Somehow we’ve fooled ourselves into believing our spiritual resumé will make us acceptable to God.
We get comfortable with a moral standard we can attain, and then pass judgment on all those who can’t. Our pride and self-righteousness are just as offensive to God as the sins of the prostitute and the pimp. A pastor’s sins are just as offensive as the addict in the front row. They both need redemption found at the foot of the cross.
Jesus didn’t die so we could achieve the American Dream, but so that we could inherit immeasurable riches in the presence of God for eternity.
Jesus didn’t die so we could create our own little social/political kingdoms in this age, but so that we would rejoice in the coming kingdom of the next.
Jesus didn’t die so we could keep on sinning but so that we would have the desire to stop sinning and glorify him in all we do.
Jesus didn’t die so we could amass a spiritual resumé of good works but so that we could rest in his righteousness as we obey out of love and humility.