Romans 1:16-17 -- 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? Why couldn’t God just forgive us? Why did He have to die? Wouldn’t it have been simpler to just say, “Well you humans messed up, but I’ll just forgive you all.” That sounds much easier, to us at least.
Now the passage I just cited is important to the understanding of why Jesus had to die on the cross, and we’ll come back and see why in a bit.
Let’s go back to the very beginning to try to get a grasp on this. (Genesis 3:15-24)
Focus: Vs. 15. is a Messianic prophesy and is sometimes called the “first gospel.” The language used here is deliberate. It isn’t just talking about how humans and snakes were going to hate each other from then on. The Seed is referring to the One whom God would send to crush the head of the devil (whom the serpent represents). The serpent is the devil, who was appointed to bruise His heel (Jesus’ heel referring to a serious injury). Vs. 17 God curses the whole of creation here and promises man a life of work and hardship and suffering culminating in death because of pride and disobedience. We question God’s authority (vs. 1 “Has God indeed said..?”) and have pride (vs. 5 “be like God”). In fact, you can probably think of a dozen cases of humanity trying to be like God nowadays.
So here we see why God cursed creation. We disobeyed His holy Word. We broke His law. In Exodus 20, God gave us His holy law in ten easy to remember steps.
- You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not make for yourself an idol
- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
- Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
- Honor your parents
- Don’t murder
- Don’t commit adultery
- Don’t steal
- Don’t bear false witness (lie)
- Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife or belongings.
We break God’s law every day. According to Paul in Romans 3:23, every single person has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This is why God is described as having wrath, because He is angry with sin and sinners. Psalm 7:11 says, “God is a just judge, And God is angry with the wicked every day.” God is described as “just” and “righteous” all over the Bible. Because of this, there must be punishment for those who have broken His law. We should fear God. Luke 12:4-5, “4 And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!”
Now, going back to the question, “Why can’t God just forgive us?” Let’s bring this down to a level that is easy to understand. If you broke the law and went to court and the judge just let you off, would he be a good judge? No, of course not. This is also why other religions can’t get you to God. Judaism says you just say sorry to God and He forgives you. If I just said sorry to a judge for killing someone, that judge would say, “Good, you should be, you still have to pay the penalty.” Islam says something similar, except you have to do a bunch of stuff, like a pilgrimage or 5 prayers a day, and even then you can’t be assured of your salvation.
This is why Jesus says in John 14:6 that He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one comes to the Father but through Him. It’s because He stepped into the courtroom and paid our fine, because God loves us so much. He hates sin, so He must punish it, but He loves His creation. That’s why He came down from heaven to die for us.
On the cross, Jesus:
- Reconciled (to restore friendship and harmony) us to God; Romans 5:10, “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
- Paid the ransom (a consideration paid or demanded for the release of someone or something from captivity) we owe; 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”
- Redeemed us (bought us back); Galatians 3 talks about this starting in verse 10: “10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
- Became the propitiation for our sins; Romans 3:24-25, “24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.” Now propitiation is a word that we don’t hear much anymore. One reason I think the NIV is a little wimpy is because it replaces the word “propitiation” for “atoning sacrifice.” That is partly fine, but propitiation means more than that. The Greek word is hilasterion which refers to placating or appeasing someone. Men can’t appease God. Jesus literally appeased, or satisfied, the wrath of God on the cross.
This means those who repent and trust in Christ for their salvation are seen by God as righteous. Just as God looked at the blood of the Passover lamb and did not kill anyone in the houses that displayed it, so to God looks at the blood of Jesus shed for those who believe and accounts them as righteous, as it says in Romans 4:3 where Paul recalls Genesis 15:6, “For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” This is known as imputation.
Now you know why the passage I read at the beginning, Romans 1:16-17 was so important to my point. The righteousness of God is shown in the gospel!
In closing, if you will recall when I mentioned Muslims I said they aren’t assured God will forgive them. God has told us in His word that we can be assured that we are saved.
- 1 John 5:11-12 says, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
- John wrote his gospel so, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)
- Jesus said in John 5:24, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”