Couldn’t God just forgive us? Why was the cross necessary?


A person might look at the crucifixion, look at what the Lord did on the cross, and wonder “Why was that the only way? Why was that necessary? Couldn’t God simply forgive us?”
This is an idea I’ve heard from Tim Keller before, and it’s an important idea on having a theology of forgiveness.
In any meaningful way a person has ever wronged you and you’ve forgiven them, when you forgive, you then bear a burden. You bear a burden for the way they originally sinned against you, and whatever you lost in the process: opportunity, time, happiness, money. Whatever it was. You were wronged and lost something. And when you forgive, you bear a cost a second time because you are relinquishing an opportunity to get even, to inflict vengeance upon them.
And the worse the wrong is, the harder it is to forgive. The more costly the forgiveness, because it’s a greater debt that you’re forgiving. Not to say that people shouldn’t have consequences when they’ve committed crimes or acted violently. But even in those situations, we are called to be forgiving.
But forgiveness is not as simple as just ignoring a wrong done.
If someone destroys something you own, you can make them pay for it. That’s often what happens. Or perhaps you and the person can both pay for part of what was destroyed. Or you can personally pay for it. You can bear that cost yourself.
My point is that in either event, someone has to pay. Forgiveness is not a write-off that where the wrong disappears and is forgotten about. Someone has to pay the price for what was broken.
So with our sin against God, how does God approach forgiveness? All of the wrongs and injustices in the world. All of the wrongs and sins in our own lives, in our hearts, our actions.
We could have never paid that price. We could never have done enough to earn our forgiveness. There was no hope.
But on the cross, we see that Jesus himself bore the cost for us.
That was the cost of forgiveness. The horrible death he died, the injustice that he faced. All of that shows us the cost of our sin.
At the cross, we see the love of God.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
-Romans 5:8-10
Because Jesus bore infinite wrath for sin. There is infinite grace when we turn to him. There is no sin he is unable to forgive. It’s not that he died and can forgive every sin, but he can’t forgive that one, or this one, or what you did, or what you’re struggling with.
Infinite wrath because of our sin. But infinite mercy on the cross because of his grace.
If you’re not a Christian, you need to know that Jesus paid for sins on the cross. Jesus showed that he is the way to God. Jesus died so that we could have a relationships with him. He promises eternal life for everyone who comes to him.
All you have to do is believe in that. The Bible says that faith is credited to you as righteousness.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
The Bible teaches that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).
And the proof of that is on the cross. Many other places where people look for salvation, where people look for life.  None of those things will give you life. On the cross, Jesus died so that you could have life.
You can’t earn God. The cross shows us that. If we could earn it, we wouldn’t have needed Jesus to die.
2 Timothy 2:5-6 says:
There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time
Jesus said “I am the way and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the father except through me (John 14:6).
The validation for these things, what testifies to the salvation and ope that is found in Jesus…is the cross.
Because he died on the first Good Friday. But he rose on Sunday. God has authority over life and death. God has authority over how to be made right with him.
And while we didn’t deserve it, the good news of the gospel is that he made a way.
Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.