Why Did Christ Die?

Was it because sin is so heinous or because humans need a cosmic flannel graph to illustrate God’s displeasure over sin (I don’t think he is weeping about it)? Machen thinks the former:

The atoning death of Christ, and that alone, has presented sinners as righteous in God’s sight; the Lord Jesus has paid the full penalty of their sins, and clothed them with His perfect righteousness before the judgment seat of God. But Christ has done for Christians even far more than that. He has given to them not only a new and right relation to God, but a new life in God’s presence for evermore. He has saved them from the power as well as from the guilt of sin. The New Testament does not end with the death of Christ; it does not end with the triumphant words of Jesus on the Cross, “It is finished.” The death was followed by the resurrection, and the resurrection like the death was for our sakes. Jesus rose from the dead into a new life of glory and power, and into that life He brings those for whom He died. The Christian, on the basis of Christ’s redeeming work, not only has died unto sin, but also lives unto God. (Christianity and Liberalism)

But what if God can change you apart from the death and resurrection of Christ?

In the midst of this crisis, (that went on for more than a year,) I came across the teaching of Martin Luther and his followers, who, when confronted with the same apparently insoluble problem, issued a ruling that was, essentially, against God. Human nature was hopelessly corrupt, top to bottom and god Himself has no power to alter it. They described the human soul as a dung heap, over which the grace of God falls like a deep covering of snow, that changes nothing of the underlying corruption.

This nauseating and plainly wicked doctrine – essentially nihilistic – so infuriated me that I realized in a flash that it was an insult, not to me in my failings, but to God’s infinite perfection and power. My very fury at this insult made me understand at last what the Church had always held: that it is not my power, but the power of God that will change me into this “perfect” new thing. This promise was true, and it had much more to do with Him than with me.

If God can change us, why would he need to send his son to die on the cross?

But if Machen and Luther are right about the extent of sin and the irredeemable character of fallen humans apart from an alien righteousness imputed to them and received by faith, then what incentives do people have to be good?

We cannot “earn” God’s love but, alas, too often we reject it. And it is up to us to use the gifts God has given to us—including our inherent rationality as well as the Church and the aids to faith and reason it provides—to orient ourselves to the good. Through hard work we can develop our character (habits of virtue or vice that go far toward determining who we are) such that we will recognize and say “yes” to God’s will. The saint does not achieve salvation through mere right conduct, but the saint’s conduct, both spiritual and physical, help him to surrender fully to God and do His will. In doing the right thing for the right reason we orient ourselves toward what is right and thereby recognize and accept God.

. . . Good works help develop within us habits that enable us to distinguish between good and evil; good works make it more likely that we will choose the good, even when it brings with it pain and death. This, I submit, is not some prideful claim to earning one’s own salvation, but rather a recognition of both the dignity and the weakness of the human person. We have within us an impulse toward the good, which we too often ignore. We have written on our hearts a knowledge of God’s will, which we also too often ignore. By both thinking and doing right we can embrace the good, opening ourselves to the grace offered by God—who is beyond our full knowledge but who has created within us a soul capable of recognizing His will.

If we have goodness, or an openness to the good within us, why exactly did Christ have to die?

Somethings don’t develop or change. Christianity doesn’t make humanism Christian.

14 thoughts on “Why Did Christ Die?

  1. Did Christ come to help us understand ourselves?

    The problem for most of us is that we don’t realize how united we are with God. Except in rare moments of mystical experince, most of us don’t generally feel such intimacy with the Divine. Even if we believe devoutly that God is present with us, our usual experience is that we are “here” and God is “there,” loving and gracious perhaps, but irrevocably separate. “We just don’t understand ourselves,” says Teresa [of Avila], “or know who we are.”


  2. The big tent of acknowledging the good that resides within:

    there is no sense that God is active in the lives of all people, no sense that people who, for example, think same-sex unions, while different from traditional marriage, should nonetheless be seen not as demonic but as an appropriation of healthy values into a situation that is different from that conceptualized by moral theologians for most of the last 20 centuries. There is no sense that even if those who think the use of artificial contraception is justified, or is no big deal, are misguided, they are not intentionally taking part in a diabolical plot to subvert the Christian faith. As for the “bathroom wars” I would love to see the look on the cardinal’s face if, while using the men’s room, Caitlyn Jenner walked in. And, finally, there is very little in the way of compassion in this section of the talk or, indeed, throughout.


  3. Wycliffe—“God justly and righteously punished Christ for the offense of His brothers.”

    Johan Piscator—“God punished us in Christ, or what comes to the same thing, God punished Christ for us and in our place.”

    Francis Turretin- “Christ is justly punished by God in order to make expiation for sinners”

    Herman Bavinck—“God condemned sin in his flesh and punished Jesus with the accursed death on the cross.” RD, volume 3, p 398

    Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified, IVP, 2014—Human nature after the cross remains as it was before the cross. If Christ healed our humanity by taking our humanity, then Christ was crucified by the very nature he had healed…. According to Torrance, Christ condemned sin by saying no to the flesh and living a life of perfect faith, worship and obedience. But this would mean that the condemnation of sin did not take place on the cross, but in the daily life of Christ. But Romans 8:3 says that it not Jesus but God the Father who condemns sin in the flesh. While it was indeed in the flesh of his Son that God condemned sin but it was not only in his Son as incarnate, but in his Son as a sin-offering.. God condemned sin by passing judgement on his Son.


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  4. Why is Pete Enns so certain that certainty is a sin? Why doesn’t he wait to announce that everything is gray now because of the not yet?

    Machen, Notes on Galatians, p 178–“You might conceivably be saved by works or you might be saved by faith, but you cannot be saved by both. It is ‘either or’ here not ‘both and’. The Scripture says it is by faith. Therefore it is NOT works.”

    Gaffin, By Faith, Not By Sight, p 38—From this perceptive, the antithesis between law and gospel is not a theological ultimate. Rather, that antithesis enters not be virtue of creation but as a consequence of sin, and the gospel functions for its overcoming. The gospel is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer

    Gaffin, By Faith not by Sight, p 77, “Surely our gratitude is important. But sanctification is first of all and ultimately not a matter of what we do, but of what God does. As Machen says, the works which James commends are different from the works which Paul condemns

    Moo, “Justification in Galatians”, p 172, (essay in the Carson f , Understanding the Times)—”Nor is there any need to set Paul’s “juridicial” and “participationist” categories in opposition to one another (see Gaffin, By Faith Not By Sight). The problem of positing a union with Christ that precedes the erasure of our legal condemnation before God CAN BE ANSWERED IF WE POSIT, WITHIN THE SINGLE WORK OF CHRIST, TWO STAGES OF “JUSTIFICATION”, one involving Christ’s payment of our legal debt–the basis for our regeneration–and second our actual justification=stemming from our union with Christ.”

    Click to access 9781596384439.pdf

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  5. thank you DG. Wwe come to see the absolute and utter appropriateness, joy, privilege, honor, ability…..
    Answer 1: to glorify God and to enjoy him forever…

    … for the riches of His glory upon vessels of MERCY; who according to His great MERCY has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; saving us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His MERCY, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit – those who are born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God; so then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has MERCY.

    …God, being rich in MERCY, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by GRACE you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

    … so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His GRACE in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus; to the PRAISE OF THE GLORY of His GRACE, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved, to the end that we would be the PRAISE OF HIS GLORY, to the GLORY AND PRAISE OF GOD.


  6. Darryl,

    “If God can change us, why would he need to send his son to die on the cross?”

    Because God uses means to achieve His ends.
    Trent: “Of this Justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting; while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance; but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father; the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified; lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one’s proper disposition and co-operation. For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity.”

    Do the Reformed think their sanctification doesn’t change them, or if does change them, that it is untethered from Christ’s death on the cross?


  7. Cletus: Do the Reformed think their sanctification doesn’t change them

    not my question I know, but just to quickly interject on that Cletus, maybe alternatives could be considerated and hashed out some time , maybe something like:

    “Responding to a concerned friend inquiring as to whether he thought God was OK with the continuous wanton debauchery he had become known for, local man Stephen Blattner disclosed Wednesday that in lieu of sanctification, he had gotten a cross tattoo.” http://babylonbee.com/news/man-gets-cross-tattoo-lieu-sanctification/


  8. James Young, who denied means? The question is why the cross is a means when you have all the sacraments to change people? Gracious means happen apart from the cross. You should know. You pray to dead people.


  9. If honest, everyone knows they need time in purgatory:

    This reviewer struggles with one aspect of the book: How many of us can honestly say that we don’t deserve at least some time in Purgatory? It’s fine to say that we want to avoid it, but are our souls truly pure enough to merit immediate admission to heaven? The Church gives us the means to do so, even via some exceptional privileges, such as the Apostolic Pardon which can be given by a priest to a person near death, so perhaps it’s not so presumptuous a grace to desire after all.


  10. Darryl,

    “The question is why the cross is a means when you have all the sacraments to change people? ”

    The sacraments are only effective because of Christ’s death in the first place. We are only changed and justified because of Christ’s death meriting it – hence the citation of Trent (“merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father”
    “For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth”)
    You say you don’t deny means, then deny means.

    So, do the Reformed think their sanctification doesn’t change them, or if it does change them, that it is untethered from Christ’s death on the cross? Are baptism and the lord’s supper not means of grace and part of sanctification in the OPC?


  11. Clete,

    So, do the Reformed think their sanctification doesn’t change them, or if it does change them, that it is untethered from Christ’s death on the cross? Are baptism and the lord’s supper not means of grace and part of sanctification in the OPC?

    The Reformed certainly believe their sanctification changes them. The love of God is poured into our hearts (Rom 5:5). In sanctification, the Spirit is “infused” into the believer (WLC 77). In the Supper Christians “feed upon Christ to their spiritual nourishment” (WLC 168). Baptism is a sign *and* a seal of “ingrafting into him” (WLC 165).
    The sacraments are means of the application of Christ’s sacrifice.

    That doesn’t address the question polemically about differences between Reformed or Catholic ideas, but I wanted to briefly lay out the answers about the Reformed position.


  12. James Young, marriage is only effective because of Christ’s death?

    Christ’s death actually accomplishing something in the OPC. Those for whom Christ died go straight to heaven. They don’t have to burn off those lesser sins like eating forbidden fruit.


  13. Darryl,

    Per BA: “The Reformed certainly believe their sanctification changes them….The sacraments are means of the application of Christ’s sacrifice.”

    The end.


  14. In 2nd Peter 1 the Apostle defines the Christian as possessing the Divine Power within. As a consequence of this divine power the believer is then able to add graces to the faith that has been granted; virtue, temperance, godliness, love etc. It is the grace of God alone, however, the power within which is the basis of this work of progressive transformation. This is sanctification. But sanctification only deals with the moral impurity of our present state. It cannot deal with the intractable problem of our guilt. Only the righteousness of Christ , granted in Justification can meet this need. This justification was provided positively when our Lord lived out His perfect life for us, and negatively when He suffered the wrath of His Father for our sins. It is in Romans where this truth receives the greatest attention. Justification first, then Regeneration followed by Sanctification. The atonement is the overall basis for this glorious work of salvation


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