What Makes the Death of Christ Unique?

Everyone must decide who Jesus was and whether His claims stack up. One thing is for sure: amongst religious founders His claims and behaviour are unique.

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A Unique Death

Christianity is built on the foundation of the death of Jesus Christ.  All great religious leaders have died, but no one died in the way that Jesus Christ did.  What is unique is not the suffering associated with His death, but its significance.  On the cross Jesus became a sacrifice for the world. 

The Bible explains that human beings can do nothing  to obtain a right standing before God. All are law-breakers in God’s sight, burdened with a sinful heart which has a tendency to do wrong.  Most religions acknowledge this problem of wrongdoing but offer a code of conduct, which, if followed, allows the person to avoid God’s judgment or obtain lasting happiness. 

The message of Christianity is unique because of the death of Christ.  It does not demand that we follow a set of rules to be saved.  Rather, Christianity announces that there is nothing we can do to remove our own sins or side-step God’s judgment.   However, when Jesus Christ died on the Cross, He suffered in the place of sinners.  He accepted the legal penalty for the rebellion and law-breaking of the human race.  This means that the work needed to provide salvation is now complete. 

In light of the death of Christ, God offers forgiveness to all who turn from their sinful ways and depend on Christ’s sacrifice for their acceptance with God.  Unlike all world religions, Christianity does not focus on what we must do to please God, but rather on what God has done in order to save us from our sins.

"Unlike all world religions, Christianity does not focus on what we must do to please God, but rather on what God has done in order to save us from our sins."

Think of it this way. The King visits a Prison. He approaches a young offender who has committed various heinous crimes against the state, and ultimately against the King. The King expresses the desire to give the offender full pardon for the crimes committed and a permanent place in the royal household. He hands the offender a large book setting out a code of conduct he expects him to follow.  He explains that he will keep in contact for around 20 years and measure the offender’s performance against this code of conduct.  At the end of this period he will decide whether or not the man is good enough to merit forgiveness and a place in the Royal household. The problem is, the code of conduct demands perfection. Despite the offender initially getting excited, he quickly realises there will be no release from prison, either now or in the future. He knows he cannot be perfect and will never make the grade! The whole offer is pointless. 

This is exactly how many people think God deals with human beings.  If our performance is satisfactory measured against some standard (as for example, the eight-fold path of Buddhism, or the five pillars of Islam), we may well merit divine acceptance or reward.  Christianity paints a totally different picture.  God approaches us in our helplessness. He sees us in our sins and desires to save us from their consequences.  He provides a basis for us to be forgiven and accepted into His family through the death of Christ. 

God does not ask me to earn my acceptance because He knows I cannot.  Instead He offers me immediate acceptance when I turn to Him in repentance and hold Him to His promise of forgiveness.  My sins are at that point immediately forgiven.  I do not need to wait until judgment day to find out whether my performance was good enough.  However, I now try to show great love towards God in the way I live my life.  This is not because I am trying to earn favour with Him but rather because He loved me and accepted me when He had every reason not to. 

The death of Jesus Christ thus provides a unique basis for our wrongdoing to be righteously forgiven by God.  Other religions speak of forgiveness, but cannot explain how their God can be righteous yet at the same time withhold the punishment for wrongdoing.  The Christian gospel uniquely gives the answer: “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

"Christianity paints a totally different picture.  God approaches us in our helplessness."