Why did Jesus die? In our limited capacity as humans, we think of what His death accomplished with a singular focus: “He died to reveal God’s love for us” (Eph. 5:25); “He died to satisfy God’s justice by His blood” (Rom. 3:25); or “He died to justify us by condemning our sins” (Rom. 8:1, 3). These are all correct. Christ’s death, then, must be viewed as through a prism, from many angles. His death was multifaceted.
One surprising answer to the question of why Jesus died is found in Romans 8:4. While we simplistically focus on Jesus’ death to justify us, Paul adds a multifaceted layer: “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” While it is true that Christ accomplished “the righteous requirement of the law” for us (His active obedience), here Paul says that the law will be fulfilled “in us.” In the words of Thomas Manton, “We often consider Christ as dying for our pardon; we should as much consider him as dying to renew and heal our natures, that we may be recovered to our obedience to God, to crucify the old man, to give us the spirit of holiness.” In other words, when we think about why Jesus died for us, our sanctification is just as important as justification. John Calvin once said, “Let believers, therefore, learn to embrace Him, not only for justification, but also for sanctification, as He has been given to us for both these purposes.”
Romans 8:4 means, then, that Jesus died to change our relationship to the law. The law was once our foe when it came to our justification. It brought only the knowledge of sin (3:20), wrath (4:15), increase of trespasses (5:20), and arousal of sinful passions leading to death (7:5). But the law is now our friend when it comes to our sanctification. What we did not and could not submit to in our unregenerate state (8:7–8) is now “fulfilled in us.” We have been freed from the law’s terror that we might live according to the law’s tenor.
Jesus also died to change our attitude to the law. He liberated us from the law’s condemning voice so that we can rightly hear its commanding voice. This leads us to say, as justified sinners, “I delight in the law of God in my inner being,” that is, in our renewed natures (7:22), and, “So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind” (v. 25).
Finally, Jesus died to change our obedience to the law. “The righteous requirement of the law” is to love. In Christ, our obedience to God is no longer a legal obedience but is now an evangelical obedience. Our sanctification is not a covenant of works, but flowing from the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, it is now sincere and heartfelt—albeit imperfect—so that we can say our pattern of life is to “walk . . . according to the Spirit.”
Surprisingly, then, Jesus died to accomplish all the complexities of our salvation.