It seems to me that most Christians believe and say, “Jesus died for my sins.” The thinking would continue that, “By dying on the Cross, Jesus paid the penalty for my sins so that I don’t have to.” Is this just a narrow-minded assumption on my part? I guess I’m making a gross generalization, but I think most Christians would see this as the main reason, if not the only reason, that Jesus died.
But let’s reconsider the statement: “Jesus died for my sins.” We’ve all heard it so often that it just sounds so right too, doesn’t it? But note that “my” is a word that is one person - a singular person. It’s the person making the statement. And making this statement personal - about the individual - fits so well with the self-centered, egotistical, self-obsesses, iThis, iThat, iEverything “me” society in which we live. And when individuals make the statement, “Jesus died for my sins,” it pretty much seems to be the end of the story. That’s the complete equation. Really? Is it really true that Jesus died for the sins of you as one individual? Isn’t there an “and” that should be added there?
I see three problems with the, “Jesus died for my sins” statement. But not just with the statement. I think the statement represents a dangerous way of thinking that can result in a completely ineffective way of living.
Problem 1: Plural not Singular
I don’t see this individualistic approach to Christ’s substitutionary death taught in scripture. Jesus is not described in The Bible as dying for my sin personally. But we can read that Christ, “died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:15) and that “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) and Jesus being described as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Sure, I am one of the many individuals that make up the whole world, but we’d do well to remember that Jesus died for the sin of everyone. Everyone! Saying, "Jesus died for my sins" doesn't help us see the bigger picture. Is that just a little issue? Not a big deal to you? Before making that conclusion, please read about the second and third problems.
Problem 2: Whose action brings about the forgiving?
The “Jesus died for my sins” statement tends to allow the Christian to believe that his sin is forgiven - that the penalty of sin is no longer due in his, individual case - but the sin of so-called “non-Christians” is not forgiven because they have not done what the Christian has done. “They have not become a Christian like me, so they still have to pay the penalty for their sin - I don’t!” might be how it’s explained. The dangerous and unconscious supposition is that, "I am forgiven because I made the decision to be a Christian." But was it really the individual's decision that brought about the forgiveness on sin? Certainly not.
Furthermore, the “Jesus died for my sins” Christian can easily feel like they’ve done what they need to do and assume that, as far as their forgiveness is concerned, the story is over. The transaction is complete. Christians seem to think that, “Now it’s up to others to become Christians if they want Jesus to have died for their sins too.” But Christ died for the sin of the whole world! And the forgiveness of sin is wholly and entirely dependent on what Christ has done and nothing to do with what I have done - even praying a sinner’s prayer. As Oswald Chambers reminds us in My Utmost For His Highest (October 29) …
“We are acceptable to God not because we have obeyed, nor because we have promised to give up things, but because of the death of Christ, and for no other reason.”
The passive, “I’m right with God now and you’re not” mentality fuels the extremely unattractive “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” bumper sticker approach to life. It cultivates a pew-warming, inactive, stagnant religiousness. It takes away the emphasis on the essential, current and ongoing responsibility of the follower of Jesus. This is dangerous and most certainly not the position to which Christ calls His followers. There’s more. There’s an essential “and”.
Problem 3: And?
The forgiveness of my sin is not the end objective of Jesus’ death on the Cross. I believe forgiveness of my sin is included in the deal, but it’s almost a byproduct. There’s more. There’s an essential “and”. We would do well to remember that the forgiveness of sin through Christ Jesus is inextricably linked to what takes place within those who are forgiven.
And he died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 2 Corinthians 5:15
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, Galatians 4:19
Did you get that? If I have been separated from my sin, it’s so that I no longer live for myself but instead live wholly for Christ! If I have been separated from sin, it's so that I become God’s righteousness! If I have been separated from sin, I will lay down my life for others in the same way that Christ laid down His life for me. If I have been separated from sin, Christ Himself is being formed in me!
Rather than, “Jesus died for my sins”, I believe a far better statement is, “Jesus died for the sin of the whole world. As a recipient of forgiveness through Christ, Christ now lives His life in and through me.” Yes, it’s a bit longer, but it helps remind me that, by identifying with Jesus’ death, I forfeit any rights to myself. I am separated from sin and filled with Christ’s righteousness so that I can be God’s love to the world.
You see, Jesus died so that everyone might know His love, grace and forgiveness of sin. Jesus died so that His followers would be conduits through which He pours Himself for the benefit of all. I should no longer see my life as my own. I am merely a steward - a caretaker - of all that I formerly saw as mine: my time, my talent, my relationships, my energy, my money … my life.
While I recognize that relationship with Christ does have a very personal, individual aspect to it, we would do well to remember that Christ died for everybody’s sin - not just mine and the other people who are like me and agree with me about God - and that, if I would be so bold as to identify fully with Christ’s death, forgiveness is not the end of the story. This free gift of forgiveness costs me everything.