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When Christians say "Jesus died for our sins", what do they mean?

      I went to Catholic school for 5 years and all I heard was "Jesus died for our sins", "Jesus sacrificed himself for us!!", and "Jesus was the Messiah!". What do you mean by this? As far as I'm concerned, everyone still "sins" all the time.

      Which brings me to my next point...

      Why call Jesus a messiah? Was it impossible to be a good person before he "sacrificed himself for us"?

      This isn't meant to be a hostile question... I really want to know what you mean when you say this kind of stuff.

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Based on: desiringgod.org/resource-library/seminars/tulip-part-1 : "died for our sins" = "took the punishment for our sins; and imputed his righteous to us"; it is NOT possible for sinners to meet God's standard of "righteous" without the sacrifice of Jesus. –  user1694 Jul 31 '12 at 18:05

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Jesus died for our sins

What we (and the Bible) mean by the phrase "Jesus died for our sins" is that all sins have a penalty. We see the same thing in the justice systems of nations--for every crime, there is a penalty. When the penalty is paid, we say that justice has been served, and that's a good thing.

Our sins are really rebellion against God, and they carry a weighty penalty. The penalty is death--not just physical, but spiritual as well. In physical death, our bodies are separated from our souls and spirits. In spiritual death, we are separated from God.

Jesus died for our sins in that He paid the penalty for our sins. As you point out, this does not mean we stop sinning. What it does mean is that the penalty incurred by our sins is satisfied by the payment made by Jesus Himself.

By way of illustration, if you committed a crime and the penalty for that crime was $1,000,000, you could not pay it. However, if you happen to be the son of Warren Buffet, he could pay the penalty on your behalf. The penalty is still paid. The victim is still restored. The cost is still real. Yet because of the generosity and sacrifice of your father, you are not bound to pay the penalty.

So, Jesus died for our sins and paid the penalty for them out of His love and generosity, allowing us to avoid paying the penalty ourselves if we accept that.

Jesus, the Messiah

Jesus is not merely a Messiah--He is the Messiah. He is not merely one of many good people who made sacrifices for others. That is not what the word "Messiah" means. Indeed, many people have done good things and made sacrifices for others, from Mother Theresa to many others. Yet, while people may make notable sacrifices, no one but Jesus could die for the sins of another.

All other people are only human and have their own sins to deal with. Only Jesus, the eternal Son of God who existed before the world and time began, has the authority to die to pay the penalty for the sins of anyone else.

So, Jesus is the Messiah--the only one who could pay the penalty for the sins of the world.

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One short set of Bible verses that capture many answers to your question is here:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (NIV Romans 5:8-11)

So Jesus died for my sin means:

1) God was angry with me but in love he took the guilt and fifth of my sin and placed it on Jesus.  This means Jesus was made to be a sinner for me and I was made to be righteous in the exchange. Not righteous in all my behavior but righteous in how God sees me.  This is what 'justified by his blood' means.  This is the ancient notion of an animal sacrifice in the Bible.  The priest would put his hands on the head of the animal, transmitting the guilt of the people onto it and then kill it as it had become guilty of the sin placed on it. Jesus was like a lamb sacrificed for sin in this way.

2) When my sins were put on Christ, it was as his enemy so after believing in him I never need to worry that the guilt for my sin might come back. In other words as his enemy he died for me, not as his friend. Now that I am his friend I need not worry about loosing my justification before him.

3) The result of having my sin placed on him, and his perfect righteousness placed on my account, even though I still have many sins, is that I have 'peace with God' and He is no longer angry at me looking for a sacrifice to make atonement for sin.

Note: To explain some big words in the Bible here. 'Reconciliation' is just a big word that says former enemies have found peace. There is no longer anger (wrath) dividing them. 'Atonement' is a word with the same meaning, i.e. literally 'at-one-ment', but in the Bible it includes the idea of the animal being killed to create the peace and remove the anger for sin, causing reconciliation. This process of making a criminal free from guilt before heaven's court is called 'justification'.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (NIV Romans 5:1)

Conclusion: He died for sins means there is an exchange. He takes sins and gives back peace, righteousness  and eternal life in return.  We start dead, evil, condemned, going to hell, etc., then after the exchange, we are forgiven, more holy, have eternal life and are going to heaven, etc.   This is what 'Jesus died for our sins' in simple terms means, but unless we believe in it, the Bible says we do not take part in the exchange personally.  Repentance and faith must occur, before the exchange of sin for righteousness happens.  Jesus died for all but not all have received that gift. 

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There is definitely a notion of atonement when Jesus died on the cross. However, in addition to atonement, there has to be other reasons why he died on the cross (i.e. defeating death). If it was only atonement, it seems as if Jesus dying on the cross is so that we don't have to deal with the physical messiness of gutting animals. –  ShrimpCrackers Jul 31 '12 at 16:59
    
@ShrimpCrackers - Sin causes death, so when sin is removed, so is death, Devil, hell, ect. Death came because Adam sinned but when sin is removed the entire curse of death, Devil and hell is killed and removed. Basically Christ's death restores believers into Paridise (eventually) by removing the curse of sin. This is the fundamental belief of most all of Christianity as far as I know. –  Mike Jul 31 '12 at 17:23
    
Isn't that why Catholics get baptized? To remove original sin (Adam & Eve story)? –  RandomDuck.NET Jul 31 '12 at 20:59
    
@RandomDuck.NET - Yes some people believe that infants have this exchange and benefit from Christ's death, without conscious faith of their own through baptism, but most do not fully trust in that when faith is rejected later on in life. A persons makes the biggest gamble over their soul if they rely on baptism for salvation, but do not rely personally on the death of Christ for the forgiveness of their own sins. –  Mike Aug 1 '12 at 1:29

Sometime question arises "If Jesus died for us, then why are we still dying?"

The fact that we are still dying in spite of Jesus dying for us shows death is more than what we know it to be. There is something called "second death" in the Bible (See Revelation 20:6, 14).

“20:6 Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”

And again it says at Rev 21:8 But to the cowards, unbelievers, detestable persons, murderers, the sexually immoral, and those who practice magic spells, idol worshipers, and all those who lie, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. That is the second death.”

If there is a second death, then logically there has to be a first death.

Bible elsewhere always makes it clear which death is referred to. Therefore the Bible has not to be just read, it has to be studied carefully and prayerfully as Jesus Himself said "Search the scriptures" John 5:39.

One of the first things God told Adam was regarding the forbidden fruit. He said: For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Genesis 2:17) The same day they were supposed to have been paying the penalty for their disobedience and die. But they didn't, because: God so loved the world. (John 3:16) He loved them so much, that He Himself decided to pay the price in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. A substitute was found and therefore the penalty of sin was differed.

The Bible says: Adam lived... nine hundred and thirty years: and he died. (Genesis 5:5) Was he paying the penalty of sin after nine hundred and thirty years? No! Jesus paid the penalty for Adam's sin and for all the sins of mankind. Adam's probationary period of overcoming sin was over at nine hundred and thirty years; his lifespan ended.

In fact the Bible uses word sleep, many a time, when talking about the death that comes at the end of a lifetime. Talking about Lazarus' death, Jesus himself called it sleep. He said:

John 11:1, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.

This word "sleep" has been used several times, both in the Old and in the New Testament, in reference to the first death or the natural death that all have to face in this sinful world. (For e.g. See Job 14:10-12, 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 16). All the people who ever died on planet earth died only the natural death or the first death; and first death is the consequence (natural result) of sin-because of Adam's fall-and not the wages (punishment) of sin.

The death of Christ and also His resurrection were divine acts, and not natural acts. Death had no power on Him, as He did not sin. For us to die is natural, for Christ it was not. He was doing something that otherwise would not have happened. Just before Jesus could go to Calvary, this is what He said about Satan:

For the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. (John 14:30)

Satan had no power over Christ, as Christ did not yield to temptation. He laid His life down as a voluntary act for our salvation. He was paying the penalty of the human race on the cruel Cross. He was dying the death that we deserved.

Which death was it that He died-the first or the second death? It has to be the second death that Christ died. For if He died the first death, then why are we still dying? Remember He paid the penalty for our sins, so that we need not have to pay it in the lake of fire. For:

Whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

The first death is a natural consequence of sin. Whether one is a believer or unbeliever, the first death is for all, whether a saint or a sinner. It is the close of probationary time, either to make it or break it to Heaven. When Adam and Eve were told that they would die the day they ate the fruit, was it a reference to the first death (the end of this probationary time) or was it a reference to the second death (the eternal extinction)? It was the eternal extinction-the second death-that God was referring to.

The difference between the first and the second death is that the first death physically destroys the body, but it is not an eternal destruction, as there will be a resurrection. But the second death is the eternal destruction of the person. So the second death is the real death, the complete death. The first death has only a part of the second death in it. The second death has the first death and more in it.

Christ died the second death, the complete death. It is technically incorrect to say He died the first and the second death together, as the second death embraces the first too. When the impenitent die in the lake of fire, it is called the "second death"

(Rev 20:6, 14, 15; 21:8), and not "first and second death", as the second death is the complete death.

Those who die the second death have no resurrection. But Jesus rose from the dead even though He died the second death. Well, because He was sinless, He was dying a substitution death. He was not dying for His sin (He did no sin), but for the sins of the others (the whole world).

When we die the first death, we can afford to smile and die, and even sing while burning at the stake, because we know it is only the first death, and there is a resurrection.

It is at the final death, the second death, when people pay the wages of sin, they would feel the bitter agony of being forever cut off from God and from life, and then all will cry and weep and gnash their teeth.

Christ has conquered death and grave and has the keys of both. At His second coming, He will resurrect all His saints and bring them out of their graves, and bestow immortality to them. And the wicked, later, will be resurrected from the first death to face second death-to pay the wages of sin in the fires of hell according to the amount of sins committed, and then face the "second death".

So the reason we still die today is because Jesus died the "second death" for us, and not the first death.

Many times we see the word death in the Bible having a reference to the second death, and not just first. Look up the following texts. All of these refer to the second death and not the first. (See Genesis 2:17; Ezekiel 33:11; John 5:24; John 8: 51, 52; Romans 6:23; Romans 8:6, etc.)

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"Jesus died for our sins","Jesus sacrificed himself for us!!", and "Jesus was the Messiah!". What do you mean by this? As far as I'm concerned, everyone still "sins" all the time.

In Leviticus the Bible talks about offerings to God. One such offering is the Sin Offering. The point behind the offering was simple, only by the shedding of innocent blood, in accordance with the instructions of God, could one’s sins be atoned for.

Jesus was the final sin offering for all of us, past present and future. All of our sin was placed on Jesus. He died in our place, so that we would not have to.

And yes, you are correct Christians still sin. While our sins are forgiven the consequences of those sins are not.

Why call Jesus a messiah?

The Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah in chapter 53 spoke of the Messiah, whose shed blood would atone for men’s sins. There are more scriptures that talk about the Messiah long before Jesus is born. In his lifetime he fulfilled all of those prophecies including dying on the cross. This is why he was the Messiah.

Was it impossible to be a good person before he "sacrificed himself for us"?

By God's standards yes, by mans, no.

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You said "[h]e died in our place, so that we would not have to", but even before Jesus you didn't die for your sins- you would sacrifice another animal or crops. Nothing changed after he died, except that non-human sacrifice ceased for Gentiles. –  RandomDuck.NET Jul 31 '12 at 20:54
    
I Should have expanded on that. I was not refering to us being sacrifices, but rather dying the second death. –  dcreight Aug 1 '12 at 20:05

This is a good question and I wish more people stopped to think about this. The following is the Bible's very logical answer. This is what Jehovah's Witnesses believe.

In order to fully appreciate what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah and to die for our sins, it helps to understand the answers to the following questions: What did the first human couple give up? What events lead up to the Messiah's appearance and sacrifice? What effect does this sacrifice have on people in the past, present, and future?

God explained to Adam that if he disobeyed the command not to eat from a specific tree, he would die. (Genesis 2:17) Later, both Eve and Adam ate from this tree, and eventually died. (Genesis 3:6; Genesis 5:5) Death only occurred as a consequence of their disobedience. (Genesis 3:17-19) Since death was a consequence of their sin, if they had remained obedient they would have gone on living forever. They sinned before having any children, resulting in their offspring inheriting sin and death from them. (Romans 5:12; Romans 5:19) We are born with a defect: We all have an an inborn tendency to sin, and we all die. (Genesis 8:21) Adam and Eve were not created with a tendency toward sin. They were also given free will (Genesis 1:26,31).

What could be done about this predicament? God immediately knew what to do, and thus the first prophecy is recorded in the Bible about a seed who would rectify the situation (Genesis 3:15). Over time it was revealed which family line this Messiah (meaning appointed by God to a special position) would be born through. (Genesis 22:17, 18; Genesis 28:10-15; Genesis 49:10; 2 Samuel 7:11-16)

Jesus was born through this line and proved to be the Christ (the word rendered "Christ" from the Christian Greek scriptures is the equivalent of the word rendered "Messiah" from the Hebrew scriptures). (Mathew 1:1-16) Jesus allowed himself to be killed as a ransom sacrifice to cover our sins. (Ephesians 1:7) What was different about Jesus that made his death so meaningful? Jesus was alive in heaven before being born on the earth as a human. (John 6:38) Jesus mother Mary, was a virgin at the time she became pregnant. God performed a miracle, and transferred the life of his Son to Mary's womb. (Luke 1:30-35) This means that Jesus was born without any inherited defects. He lived his entire human life without sinning. (Hebrews 4:14, 15) He paid the equivalent of what Adam lost, a perfect human life. (1 Corinthians 15:45) Three days later, Jesus was resurrected in spirit form. (1 Peter 3:18) A few weeks later, he returned to heaven and presented the value of the sacrifice to his Father, and it was accepted. (Hebrews 9:24)

This opened the opportunity for all humans to have the forgiveness of their sins along with the everlasting life that Adam gave up. (John 3:16) The value of the ransom also applies for all time, even to those who died before it was offered. (Hebrews 9:26)

There are two hopes for those who hope to receive everlasting life, one earthly and one heavenly. (Matthew 5:3,5) Some will be resurrected as spirit creatures to serve in a specific position in heaven. (Revelation 5:9,10) Most however, will get to live on the earth forever. (Psalms 37:11, 29) Once the value of the ransom gets fully applied to mankind, God will restore humans to perfection and they will no longer grow old and die. Thus God's original desire for mankind to live forever on the earth under enjoyable conditions will be realized. (Genesis 1:28; 1 Corinthians 15:26; Revelation 21:3,4)

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Could we ask you to edit in some kind of reference to show what part of Christianity is represented by this view? –  Caleb Oct 1 '12 at 11:03

Ok its this simple. We as humans are made up of 3 things; namely, the physical body, the spiritual body and the soul.

  • The soul is who we really are.
  • The physical body is the vehicle or a vessel that carries the soul in this physical world.
  • The spirit is the vehicle for the spiritual world. It also doubles as a connection to God, for God is a spirit and all who worship Him(connect to him) must do so in truth and in SPIRIT...

Now before man had even come into existence, the devil had rebelled and God had planned to destroy him and his followers like a company destroying defective products. Satan just wants to annoy God so when man was created, he caused man to become 'defective' by disobeying God gen 3:1-13. Automatically, we were meant to be 'recalled' and 'disposed off' in the lake of fire along with the devil.

Now think of the human soul as a laptop with the internet connection being the spirit and the 'tree of life' being the power source to charge the batteries. When man sinned, the 'power cable' was 'unplugged' and the 'internet connection' blocked as they were sent out of the garden (gen 3:22-24). The batteries slowly died.

After death, man's soul leaves his lifeless body and enters the spirit which is not connected to God so is placed in a 'warehouse' marked 'factory recalled goods' also know as hell where the devil and his minions have renovated and redesigned to make humans as uncomfortable as possible out of hatred.

Before Christ came, every one went to hell, even Abraham (the friend of God). But this place was divided into two by a 'great gulf' that was fixed so that no one could cross over to the other side.

Now on one side is Abraham and all the people who gave themselves to God and acquired some sort of connection with God. In this place, there is no suffering. This is what is refared to as heaven. They are safe from the devil and his attacks. On the other side is every one else. This part is the actual hell. (luke 16:19-31.).

After Jesus died, he went to hell and set the people on the heaven side free and took them to a place closer to God. They were now fixed so they left the recall warehouse and went to be with God. Now every one who dies or has a 'dead battery' goes to heaven which is with God, as far as he accepts Jesus as his lord and personal savior. This is so because after you are born again, you are given a new connection to God, a new and powerful connection.

The Holy Spirit. Because of this connection, when your physical body dies, your soul enters your spiritual body and is guided by the Holy Spirit to heaven.(eph 4:30). This is what is going on now.

Now in the end of time, all in heaven, hell and on earth would come before Christ. The judgment throne of the lamb. Those marked recall would be thrown into the lake of fire along with the devil and his demons and they would be totally destroyed, like the the terminator at the end of Terminator 2, as he was lowered into the vat of melted metal. This time no one can say ,''I'd be back''... The ones who remain would be given new physical bodies and would be placed in the new city called The New Jerusalem. Where there shall be no more death and we shall abide with God for ever. These new bodies do not require charging. And God is so close that we are virtually part of Him. No connection needed. Its a perfect place.

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I've added some editing to make it readable. Welcome to C.SE! –  Affable Geek Feb 21 '13 at 20:28

The reason is very simple, actually.

Jehovah and Israel were in a marriage covenant known as the Law of Moses.

Israel committed adultery in this relationship and was "stoned to death". (See Ezekiel 30)

Marriage law forbids a man from receiving a wife who has been "put away". She may not marry another man until her husband dies, which death releases her from the "law of her husband".

So, unless and until Jehovah actually dies, Israel is not eligible to be received into a new covenant with God. Therefore, Jesus fulfilled the role of taking upon himself the Spirit of Jehovah and being put to death in order that all Israel can be released from the law of her husband, which makes her eligible to enter into a new covenant.

This is what shall be fulfilled in due time when the Father comes as the bridegroom and those who are prepared and ready shall become the new bride when the Father's Kingdom is established as Jesus foretold it would be.

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So wait... Israel couldn't enter a new covenant with the same bridegroom until that bridegroom died? And what if they don't want to be in a new covenant? And how do the gentiles play into this? Does that make Jehovah a polygamist? Also, could you expand how this has anything to do with sin? –  Richard Jul 25 '13 at 19:57

Disclaimer: You're going to get a lot of different answers here as well because Christianity is not exempt from theological diversity.

I believe when it says Jesus died for our sins, it means that he has saved human beings from physical death. It is often said that death is a consequence of sin, and when Jesus died on the cross he defeated sin, therefore death was defeated.

But people, plants, animals, and even stars in the cosmos die. People still sin. So how did Jesus exactly save us from physical death? Through something called the resurrection. The typical view that most mainstream evangelical Christians have about the resurrection is that when they physically die, their "souls" will be taken up to a place called Heaven where they will live eternally in a disembodied state. In other words, resurrection to them is having consciousness after dying, but usually in a disembodied state.

However, Christian theologians like N.T. Wright say that this is an incorrect view of the afterlife, and an incorrect view of the resurrection. If we physically die, doesn't resurrection mean a restoration of our physical bodies? "In the end of time", I believe that all human beings will be physically raised from the dead, judged, and for those who have been faithful their bodies will be restored as a new spiritual body as Paul has said.

That's what I think it means when we say "Jesus died for our sins."

P.S. A physical resurrection and renewal of our bodies also comes with a renewed Earth, and God's love, justice, and mercy winning in the end. See "new heavens and new earth" in Revelation.

Forgot to answer your question on why Jesus is called the Messiah. During Second Temple Judaism, Jews often thought of their savior as someone who was going to come down with a sword and wipe out all the pagans and particularly their Roman oppressors. That's what they thought their Messiah, their savior, was going to do: return land to the Israelites and destroy their enemies, just like in the Old Testament. What they didn't expect was Jesus Christ. Jesus turned the tables on that kind of thinking. I think today, we've hijacked the word messiah to mean that Jesus is our savior in the sense that (at least from my perspective) he will save us from physical death as I've mentioned above.

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