The purpose of Christ’s death
The purpose of Christ’s death
Why did Jesus die on the cross? Most should know the answer to this. He died to save us from our sins. It’s the standard answer to this question and that would be correct. But let’s ask a follow-up question. Why did He die to save you from your sins? The correct answer to this, of course, is to deliver us from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9). The wrath we are delivered from is the final judgment. This is Revelation 20:11-15, when all mankind will be judged according to their works written in their books. So, Jesus died to save you from your sins in order to save you from that fatal day. But the Lord also had a present purpose in dying for your sins. In other words, He died for your sins to accomplish something in your life today.
I want to take you on an expedition this morning to discover what that purpose is. Our expedition is going to take us to three texts: 1 Peter 2:24, 2 Corinthians 5:15, and Romans 8:3-4.
Why is this important?
Knowing why Jesus died for your sins will inspire faith and love in your heart. In other words, once you see why He died you will be encouraged to both love Him and trust Him to accomplish the purpose He died for.
So, let’s turn to our first text.
1 Peter 2:24
The reason Peter writes verse 24 is because he wants you to know that you are able to obey his commands in verses 18-20.
18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.
19 For this finds favour, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.
20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it; this finds favour with God.
(1 Pet. 2:18-20)
This is not easy. Our instinct for self-preservation is indomitable and that makes this command impossible. When your masters (whoever might be in authority over you) are being unfair, it’s very difficult to be submissive with all respect! It’s the attitude that’s being emphasized here. Sometimes submission is forced and you have no choice. What Peter is commanding is that we do it with a reverent attitude. When we do it this way and we endure the unfair treatment without returning evil for evil, it finds favor with God.
In verses 21-24 Peter gives us two points to motivate us to do the impossible. The first point is the fact that Christ left us an example of this kind of reverent behavior
(v. 21-23). The second point is the fact that Jesus died to make it possible (v. 24). Peter says, “He Himself bore our sins … so that”. This introduces a purpose clause, which means Peter is about to tell you why Jesus died. He is about to tell you the reason Jesus had for going to the cross for you. And here is the first Part of the reason: “so that we might die to sin” – these are the sins we are tempted to commit when we are treated unjustly.
How do we die to them?
Jesus used a different picture to illustrate our dying to sin. He said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Lk. 9:23). Jesus used the cross to depict what it means to deny yourself. He was about to show us what it looks like by denying Himself and dying on the cross for us. Jesus was tempted as we are, says Hebrews 4:15, “yet without sin”. This means that Jesus was also tempted to preserve His life like we are. When we are unfairly treated, we are tempted to respond in kind. Evil for evil and insult for insult. But He denied those desires and lived according to the desires of the Holy Spirit.
The reason Jesus died on the cross was so that you might die to those desires by denying them when they rise in your heart.
Here’s the second half of the reason: “and live to righteousness” (v. 24) – this is the righteousness we see in Jesus under unjust treatment and it’s the product of living by the desires of the Holy Spirit.
So, what was the Lord’s purpose in dying for your sins? His purpose in dying was to enable you to do what He did. What did He do?
22 Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth;
23 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.
(1 Pet. 2:22-23)
Now don’t think He enables you and walks away. He is your enablement. He died to become your enablement moment by moment. It’s like photosynthesis – the sun’s energy is the constant power that enables the plant to perform the chemical reactions it needs to survive. In the same way the Lord dwells in you to communicate His grace to you to do what He did.
2 Corinthians 5:15
Paul makes a similar point in this passage. Only, here his focus is on the motives of our hearts. Or to put it in other words, his focus is on what motivates us. And he says that Jesus died “so that they who live, might no longer live for themselves”. So, Jesus died on the cross so that He might change what motivates you. In your old nature, you live for yourself. You live to indulge your own desires. That is what motivates you. The apostle James describes it like this:
1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?
2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.
In your old nature you are willing to quarrel and fight when you don’t get what you want, because what you want in your old nature is what motivates you. But Jesus died so that you might no longer live for yourself. He died so that something else might motivate you. What is that other source of motivation? Jesus died “so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” (2 Cor. 5:15)
Now, notice carefully what Paul does here. He says that the new motivation is to live for Jesus. But then Paul describes Jesus in the words “who died and rose again on their behalf” (v. 15). He is the one who did this for you. The larger context of this verse is Paul’s discussion of what motivates him in his apostolic ministry. In verse 14 he says that “the love of Christ controls us”. His love for Paul and every other human being is what controls and motivates Paul to endure the things he endured during his ministry on behalf of Christ. Here is a life lived for God. In Philippians Paul describes his motivations in these words.
7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.
He wasn’t motivated by the old things anymore. Or more accurately, he didn’t allow himself to be motivated by them anymore. What motivated him now was his desire to know Christ. Back in the book of Corinthians, it’s the love of Christ for him that motivates him to live for Christ. It’s the love of Christ for him that creates the desire to know Christ and give up everything for the surpassing value of knowing Him.
Now, the important thing for us to see here is that Jesus died to accomplish this transformation in you. He died to transform, on a daily basis, the motive of your heart. You share in the same death that transformed Paul, and the same power that worked in him works in you.
Here Paul turns our focus on God the Father. I want to emphasize what Paul says here because we tend to underestimate the intentions and motivations of the Father in salvation. This is not a new phenomenon. Back in the 18th century John Owen wrote:
“With what anxious, doubtful thoughts do people look upon the Father! What fears, what questionings are there, of His good will and kindness! At the best many think there is no sweetness at all in Him toward us, but what is purchased at the high price of the blood of Jesus.”
He says that people tend to
“fix their thoughts only on His terrible majesty, severity, and greatness, and so their spirits are not endeared. Would a soul continually eye His everlasting tenderness and compassion, His thoughts of kindness that have been from of old, His present gracious acceptance, that soul could not bear an hour’s absence from Him…”
John Owen’s observations are spot on. Your love and faith in the Father is as deep as your grasp of His love for you.
Now, listen to what Paul says in verse 3, “what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did”. What could the Law not do that God did?
In his commentary on this verse Colin Kruse says that what the Law was powerless to do “was to set people free from the power of sin and so bring about the fulfillment of its own demands”. Paul has spent the entire chapter 7 to explain our inability to obey the Law. We are incapable because of the fleshly nature that dwells in us. And the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ looks at this and champions your cause! What the Law was incapable of doing, God did.
How did He do it? By sending His Son and through Him condemning that old nature on the cross. Now we get to verse 4. Take note of the first words here: “so that”. Paul is about to tell you why the Father condemned sin in your flesh. Like the other two passages we looked at, Paul is about to reveal what motivated God. But in this case, he is focusing on the Father’s motivation.
Paul says that He did it “so that the requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us…” (v. 4). As you know, the shorthand for the “requirements of the Law” is love. Love, says Paul, is the fulfilment of the Law. The Father knows you are not able to fulfil His requirements of love. He also knows how destructive it is when you live for yourself. The flesh with its passions and desires is like a malignant cancer. It aggressively infects everything it touches. Ultimately it frustrates and kills everything that’s good in your life. Therefore, the Father sent the Son in order to condemn that sin in your flesh and enable you to obey Him.
But Paul doesn’t stop there. What he says next is absolutely crucial. It’s the linchpin to understanding how the Father enables you. The Father sent the Son “so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
The Father masterfully balances His free and gracious enablement with your responsibility to obey Him. The righteous requirement of the Law is fulfilled in those who walk according to the Holy Spirit. Let me say it in other words: God the Father condemned sin in you so that you might fulfil the requirement of the Law through the Holy Spirit who dwells in you. Or, He provides His free enabling grace through the Holy Spirit and you fulfil the requirements of the law by walking according to the enabling grace mediated by the Holy Spirit.
To summarize then, here we see that the Father’s purpose in sending Christ to die for you was to enable you to fulfil the requirements of the Law through the Holy Spirit. There is so much to be said about the role that the Holy Spirit plays in affectively accomplishing the purpose of Christ’s death, but it falls outside of the goal of our expedition.
As I said to you in the beginning, I wanted to take you on an expedition to discover what God’s present purpose was in dying for you. What have we discovered?
From 1 Peter 2:24 we see that Christ died to enable you to do what He did. In 2 Corinthians 5:15 we discovered that He died to transform the motives of your heart. And from Romans 8:4 that the Father gave His Son to enable you to fulfil the requirements of the Law.
God not only commands what you are to do, He dies to enable you to do it. The holy life that God requires from you has been bought for you by the blood of His Son. Your victory over selfishness, fear, greed, impatience, unfaithfulness, insincerity, malice, outbursts of anger, immorality, and addiction has all been bought for you through the death of Christ. How do you lay hold of that enablement? This points us back to the heart of the Gospel message.
But the righteous will live by his faith. (Hab. 2:4)
Those who have been set in a right relationship with God (the righteous) shall now live the rest of their lives by faith.
I want to remind you of the picture I’ve given you of your sanctification. In Exodus 17 Moses is on the mountain and the Israelites in the valley. Moses represents your communion with God, and the Israelites represents your war against sin. Just as the Israelites lose the war when Moses drops his hands, so the war against sin is dependent on your communion with God. The death of Christ has bought your right to lift your hands in full confidence and expectation that God will give you what He has died to accomplish!