On Why “Jesus Died for You” Isn’t the Gospel

For decades, maybe even more than that, perhaps for the last century, the methodology of evangelism has been to tell people that Jesus died for them. I am here to tell you that isn’t the Gospel. Before you get angry and start calling me a heretic please continue to read and then get angry and call me a heretic. Did Jesus die? Yes! Was Jesus buried? Yes! Was Jesus raised from the dead? Yes! Did Jesus ascend into heaven? Yes! But- there is more to it than that. Jesus also obeyed. This is what active obedience is.

Furthermore, without active obedience, you cannot have a complete Gospel message. So, strap yourself in and we will see if we can explain active and passive obedience. Then we will tie them together to give us a better picture of what Gospel preaching looks like.

Passive Obedience Explained

As I have already stated Jesus did die for sin. He was the expiation spoken of in both the Old and New Testaments. He is the propitiation as well. Passive obedience, simply put, is Christ’s death on the cross without complaint. Remember Isaiah 53? The prophet speaks prophetically about the Christ throughout that entire chapter. But in particular in verse 7 we are told about the willing submission of Christ to the will of the Father without raising a complaint.

I am not entering into the fray of the ESS (eternal subordination of the son) debate here. In that moment, on the cross, Christ was perfectly in submission and did so without complaint. If ever there was a man perfectly entitled to complain about his treatment, it was Jesus. Yet, He obeyed and went without resisting. From the very moment of His betrayal in the Garden to the moment of His death on the cross, He was passively obedient.

This was a necessary act. It could not be escaped. Without this very tangible and objective moment in time, there could be no redemption. Christ indeed, had to die. However, His death alone is not the Gospel. His passive obedience has to be tied to something else.

Active Obedience Explained

Now we have come to it. The truth of what is missing from much of what passes for Gospel preaching today. As I already stated, “Jesus died for you!” is not the Gospel. While I applaud those, who are active in taking the Gospel to the lost, it is imperative that the Gospel message be complete.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to recognize that the passive obedience of Christ is only efficacious because of His active obedience. Active obedience is that part of Christ’s life wherein He obeyed or kept the law perfectly. This is an intrinsic part of the Incarnation.

Merely coming and dying on the cross would not have been a sufficient atonement. Christ had to suffer the temptations to sin that all of humanity suffered. Moreover, apart from the temptation, He had to actively strive to keep the law. All of this was accomplished by Him. The scriptures tell us that He was tempted like us in every way but without sin. We are told that He learned obedience. This doesn’t mean that Jesus was lacking or in some way deficient. But instead is a nod to His active obedience in the midst of suffering the greatest of temptations.

Here Jesus is, the God-Man; living in a physical body subject to all of the same illnesses and pains that our bodies suffer. The temptation for man to sin in these moments comes nowhere near the level of temptation that Christ experienced. The more He resisted the temptations the more powerful and forceful the temptations became. Still He resisted and remained perfectly righteous. This life long obedience in the midst of temptation and suffering is what gave His passive obedience credence.

The God-Man had to suffer the wrath of God against wickedness having none of His own.

For He Made Him Who Knew No Sin…

In 2 Corinthians 5 we are told that Christ was made to become sin on our part so that we could become His righteousness. This Great Exchange is only possible as we watch how Active and Passive Obedience intertwine to accomplish redemption. The sacrifice for sin had to be perfect and righteous and infinite. Yet, that sacrifice had to be man. But only God could accomplish such a thing.

Consequently, when we preach Christ to the lost, we must display to them how it is these things were accomplished. Simply standing on a street corner and telling passers-by that Jesus did indeed die for them doesn’t cut it. We must also point to the truth that He lived for us in a way that we could not. We must point to the perfect law keeping of Immanuel. It is in this context that His death will have meaning.

When we point to the death of Christ we are pointing to a spotless lamb. This unblemished sacrifice is the complete story. Thus, we are able to tell sinners that Christ died for sinners and paid the penalty for sin because He lived the life they can’t. This is the basis for preaching an unadulterated Gospel message.

Should Preaching the Gospel Be This Complicated?

Frankly, yes. I know that the Bible teaches us that anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. But does that mean all we do is preach “Jesus” over and over again? Not hardly. Paul himself emphasizes the importance of getting the Gospel right in Galatians 1. The term Galatian Heresy didn’t arise spontaneously.

In-as-much as we can be responsible for anyone’s salvation, it is vitally important that we preach the pure Gospel. This is why I assert that we must understand the way active and passive obedience work.

Look I am trying to be consistent here. Many of you know that I despise certain phrases in evangelicalism. None of those more than “Ask Jesus into your heart…” The reason I always point to this phrase as incredibly atrocious is because it is thoroughly unbiblical. It isn’t the Gospel. Likewise, neither is “Jesus died for you.” One is a-biblical and the other is incomplete. An incomplete presentation of the Gospel is just as lacking as one that is not found in the bible.

So, while it may seem like I am over complicating things, eternal life hangs in the balance. If we will not accept the “Gospel preaching” of a Mormon as sufficient to save, then should we not also demand that the Gospel work of our fellow Christians be done with accuracy and veracity?

In Conclusion Active and Passive Obedience Aren’t Tertiary

I am not insisting that any person who heard “Jesus died for you” and then bent the knee to Christ, is not truly saved. Nor am I calling people who use this phrase heretics. I am merely calling on us as Christians to become more precise in our language.

We should be studying the word and understanding doctrine and different theological positions. Such things as active and passive obedience are not merely tertiary issues meant for theology nerds. In a day and age where we have a wealth of knowledge literally at our finger tips, there is no cause for a Christian with all of their mental faculties to remain ignorant. Not only is the bible available for free in dozens of translations, but so are a wide variety of commentaries and dissertations.

This is all part of studying to show ourselves approved workmen who aren’t ashamed. Instead of being content to leave these supposedly heady topics in the hands of “scholars” and church “leaders” we should be striving to understand them as well. We should be active in our work in understanding the things of God.

Soli Deo Gloria!

-Todd