This common phrase used by Christians, and first used in the letters of Paul, has caused a lot of confusion. It is as if our sinfulness caused him to be killed and his dying caused God to love us. It leaves us very guilty, usually grateful, but not really empowered or transformed. Redemption is something we “watch” more than participate in.
The Western mind prefers to interpret things “instrumentally” that is, in terms of cause and effect This is what Scholastic philosophy called an “efficient cause”, but it is not really helpful in understanding spiritual things. It is too linear, mechanical, and never gets close to the multilayered mystery of any event, least of all something as profound as this. Redemption becomes a kind of heavenly transaction between Jesus and God– but we are not really in on the deal. It happened then but not also now. I might be grateful but I am not really engaged.
So try this: “Christ died for our sins” means that he died in solidarity with– and in loving communion with–all human failure, mistakes, and absurdity–and thus made them non-absurd! (“With our sins” might be the more helpful preposition than “for our sins”.) All human suffering and even our failures can henceforth be seen as part of the entire mystery of transformation into God. Thus he rightly renamed (“redeemed”?) the dark side of everything, which is what always discourages and defeats us. Now we can be both grateful and highly motivated. Life and death are both good! We are now participants instead of spectators. We are still very grateful but now gratitude is the very ground floor of our universe, because nothing, absolutely nothing is wasted in the Divine Economy of Grace. All of your life and all of your dyings are indeed part of the deal!
“Let me tell you a secret: “We are not going to die, but we will all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51)