Note: The following is an excerpt from Larry Moyer’s latest book 101 Tips for Evangelism: Practical Ways to Enhance Your Witness.
Tip #15: The fact that He died in our place is the essence of the gospel.
Ask the average person, “What do you have to do to gain eternal life?” The prominent answer you will receive is, “You have to be good.” Why do they fail to see that eternal life is a free gift that is not deserved and cannot be earned?
It’s sometimes because they miss two words in one of the clearest statements the Bible makes. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
So many people miss those two words, “for us.” His death shows us how to live sacrificially and how to die to self so we can put others first, but His death was first and foremost for us. That means in our place. Had He not died, we would have. He was our substitute. The nails that should have been driven through our hands and feet were driven through His.
Why do those two words “for us” make such a big difference? First, the payment for sin is death. A holy God has to punish sin. That “someone” who takes our place has to be someone perfect. One sinner cannot pay for the sins of another sinner any more than one criminal can pay for another criminal’s crime. The fact that God accepted His Son’s death as our substitute means Jesus was who He declared Himself to be, the perfect Son of God. Had He not been, His death would never have sufficed in paying for our sins.
Second, that is why no one can even think of some way to pay for their own sin. The payment for sin has already been made. On the cross, Christ said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). God was completely satisfied with what His Son did in paying the price for any and all sin of any and all people. There is no way to pay for what has already been paid.
Now one can understand why no amount of goodness or good deeds can earn anyone a right relationship with God. One has to be satisfied with what satisfies God. Had He been satisfied with any goodness or good deeds on our part, His Son would not have had to die in our place.
The cross is first and foremost about substitution, not simply about sacrifice. He did not die to impress you; He died to pardon you.
When you explain the gospel, be certain that unbelievers hear you—He died for us.