Could Jesus Christ have died in vain?
by David Cannon
It’s a terrible thing when any life is ended in its prime. If it is for an honorable cause, we are better able to bear it. But if the death is in vain, without significance or accomplishment, it is especially hard to accept. We recognize the loss, the waste of so much potential. This is magnified tremendously when the death in question is that of God the Son, come down from heaven to walk the earth as man. To believe that Jesus Christ could have died in vain seems incredible. Yet, the Bible gives us three possible scenarios in which Christ’s horrible death on Calvary’s cross would be in vain.
“If the dead rise not, then is Christ not raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins.” - I Corinthians 15:16-17
If the body of Jesus Christ remained in the grave, then He is a false prophet. He is no savior. His death was for nothing. The overwhelming body of evidence is that Jesus Christ physically and literally came back from the dead. The uniform testimony of hundreds of witnesses, the changed lives of Christ’s disciples, their willingness to die rather than to deny that Christ arose, and other facts point to the historical truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This would not be a valid reason that His death was in vain.
“If righteousness comes by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” - Galatians 2:21
If we could earn our righteousness (the goodness we need to be acceptable to God), then it would not be necessary for Jesus Christ to die for our sins. If we could perform a service, offer a sacrifice, participate in a ceremony, or follow a set of commands to reach heaven, why on earth would God allow His Son to suffer the shame and agony of the crucifixion? The one answer and the testimony of the Word of God is that the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the only way our sin debt could be satisfied.
“Not by works of righteousness which we had done, but according to his mercy he saved us” - Titus 3:5
“By Him (Jesus) all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the Law of Moses.” - Acts 13:39
Only Christ’s shed blood, His death for sinners, can satisfy the just demands of God’s holy law. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me.” - John 14:6.
It is not because there is another way to heaven that Christ’s death could be in vain. No, His sacrifice alone is accepted as payment in full for man’s sin.
“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace.”- Galatians 5:4
Herein lies the only way in which the death of Jesus Christ could be in vain. Christ’s sacrifice was for the whole world. There is not one of Adam’s race for whom Christ did not die. He died for your sins. He died for them all. Yet, this payment for sin is only accredited where there is faith alone in the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Without trusting in the finished work of Christ no man shall see eternal life. Jesus said, “If you believe not that I am, you shall die in your sins.” - John 8:24. Paul tells us that God’s righteousness is by “faith of Jesus Christ unto all and (notice it is only) upon all them that believe.” - Romans 3:22. Though Christ died for your sins, unless you rely upon Him alone to save you, His death is of no benefit to you. In fact, as we are told in Romans 9, Christ becomes a stumbling stone to those who trust in themselves that they are righteous. But whosoever believes on Him shall not be ashamed (or believe in vain).