Corinthians 5:14–15:  For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (ESV)
The death of Christ is rightly regarded as one of the most important events in history. It is the death of Christ, following the incarnation, which sets up the resurrection, ascension, exaltation, and eventual return of Christ. Each must happen in succession like links in a chain, and none may be broken.
The fact that Christ died is disputed by few. The group known as docetists argued that Jesus only appeared to be human and therefore only appeared to die. But their concerns are not common today and can be soundly refuted. Instead, it is the meaning or the purpose of the death of Christ which is ground zero for much argument and discussion today.
The Meaning of Christ's Death
One of the main points in the passage above is the fact that Christ died for a purpose, and that purpose is for a radical change to occur in people's current life trajectory. Part of the purpose of Christ's death is that those who live might live differently. We can say then that Christ's death is intimately connected with our lives. We cannot separate our understanding of how we ought to live from our understanding of why Christ died. Christ made them inseparable on purpose.
Much ink has been spilled over the centuries on the meaning of Christ's death, and rightly so. Much ink is spilled in the Bible over it. Indeed, we could be accurate to say that the entire Bible hinges on the meaning of Christ's death. Suffice it to say then that this short post will fall far short of adequately representing the impact and gravity of the death of our savior.
We must be content for now to see the connection between the meaning of Christ's death and the purpose for our lives. There is a radical change that ought to take place, an alteration at the very root and foundaton of our beings which radiates out to the rest of our lives. And it begins with a fundamental change of the purpose for our lives. Christ died so that we would change what we live for. Christ's mission dramatically alters ours.
How does this radical change take place? Scripture makes clear that Christ died for our sins as a substitute for us (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3; 1 Pet. 2:24; Mark 10:45; Isaiah 53). Through faith in Christ, our sins can be forgiven, wiping out our debt which we had incurred against God. Not only that, but when we trust in Christ, his righteousness is also credited to our account, so that we not only are no longer debtors but are considered positively righteous (2 Cor. 5:21). This exchange is known as imputation.
Christ's death is what makes imputation possible. Apart from it, our sins would not be paid for and we would still face righteous punishment for them.
Christ's Death and Our Lives
How does all the above affect the way that we live? To make the appropriate connections, we cannot divorce Christ's death from his resurrection, ascension, exaltation or return. Christ must be taken as a whole, from his roots as eternal God to his destiny as the forever worshipped God-Man.
If we cannot separate Christ's death from the rest of his existence and mission, what can we highlight about the unique contribution of his death relative to our living for God through him? The key motivation in Paul's thought here seems to be that Christ's death enables our lives. And Christ's death not only enables our lives but provides a positive impulse toward that life.
The preceding leads me to a point that is sometimes missed among contemporary Christians: Christ's death not only pays for our sins (although this is an essential component of the meaning of his death), but is also the ground or foundation for how we live today. As a Christian, I understand from this verse that Christ's death should heavily inform the way I live. Christ's death that day on Calvary's hill provides the motivation and impulse for how I live every day in my town.
How is this so? What effect does Christ's death have? Certainly, we cannot ignore the substitution that occurred at Calvary. Christ's death paid for my sins. But whereas many of us seem to treat Christ's substitution for us as an isolated event, albeit with far-reaching consequences for believers in eternity, our passage seems to place the substitutionary work of Christ at the core of a network of dynamics that radiate outward in their effects on our lives.
One way of saying this is that I take my cue for how to live from Christ's death. Christ died to sin, and so should I. Christ died as a payment for the punishment that results from disobeying God, so upon trusting Christ I should no longer disobey him but obey him. And here is a crucial one for many: Christ died to pay for my sins, which means that I do not have to pay for them. The Christian life is not a layaway program where Christ's death is the initial payment and I can spend my life paying the rest by my good works. The death of Christ is the payment in full for my sins. There is no longer any payment for sin.
But the focus of the passage is set on one basic change: Christ's death for me motivates a new life for him. My life is no longer to be self-ward, but Godward.
This is the basic change in my living which I not only ought to be seeing but which I also ought to be pursuing. This passage begs the question of me, "Am I still living for myself, or for him who for my sake died and was raised?"
This passage, this obvious question, calls me to consider how I am living. The death of Christ demands that I do so. It is part of the purpose of his death. Fundamentally, Christ died that I might live. And this does not mean that I might live in general, but that I might live a certain kind of life. I believe Paul is getting at this same idea when he exhorts the Corinthians to sexual purity on the ground that they have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6).
All of us who are in Christ are bought with a price. He died for us so that we might live for him. Therefore, Christ's death doesn't merely influence the way we live; Christ's death grounds and defines the way we live.